And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. Matt 10:38
Christianity as perceived by some is the stuff of “crowns”, a theology identified by popular labels such as prosperity, abundance and security. This is a form of Christianity which supposedly guarantees immunity from suffering and is akin to a “talisman” that prevents danger.
This version of Christianity, highly attractive in its selective approach to those who swim in shallow waters, is guilty of incoherent theology as it dabbles in prosperity and abundance alone. It does not acknowledge pain and suffering as a necessary reality that believers have to face. And truth be told, there is no Christianity without the cross. A cross-less Christianity is what springs forth from the inventive capabilities of men and not the word of God; the Bible warns us about them in Col 2:8, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ”.
These are those who cherry pick verses from scripture, turning a blind eye to things otherwise clearly mentioned in the word of God, so that they could make merchandise of spiritual things to the spiritually gullible. These are the current breed of peddlers in Christendom; case in point are those flamboyant preachers who wax eloquence as they go about exhorting people on what faith can do, they pour out a “tale of crowns”, all backed from scripture but incomplete as they make no reference to the “cross”.
The truth is that both the crown and the cross need faith. Hebrews 11:30 to 35 gloriously describes a category of people who went on to make great exploits through faith It is nothing but crowning glory to see them raise dead people to life, stop the mouths of lions, quench the violence of fire, escape the edge of the sword, subdue kingdoms and so on. Interestingly, verses 36 to 38 talks about another category of people who endured the cross by faith, but these were tortured, mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, wandered in sheepskin and so on. Further, the exploits that one reads about in verses 30 to 35 were the natural result of those who had calloused their shoulders with the marks of the cross, for the crown is not possible without it, this is one consistent pattern in Christianity, wether it be Jacob or Joseph, or Elijah or David or Stephen or John or Peter or Paul or the early church fathers or John Hus or Matin Luther or John Bunyan or Hudson Taylor or William Carey, the pattern has always been the same, the cross must precede the crown. Those living in the 21st century too must follow the same pattern. A cross-less christianity has always appealed to the carnal instincts in men, but that is nothing but wishful thinking.
1 Peter 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away, Rev 3:11 & 12 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
May I reiterate, though the “crown”, part of Christian symbology, conjures up images of victory in the midst of visible danger, it is just one facet of Christianity. There is a background to the crown, a background written by sweat and blood on the brazen soil of trials and tribulations. Let the charlatans say otherwise, but everyone who knows what “authentic christianity” is all about will thunder with passion that it is not the “crown” alone, that there is something that always precedes the crown: the cross. And, the cross is neither for the “weak at heart” nor for the “brave at heart”, it is for men and women who know what it takes to stand in the face of adversity, it is for people who know that if they faint in the day of adversity their strength is small, and truly enough, these men and women understand that their strength is small, their adversity real, but they all know of a greater reality called Jesus, they know that He is the one who gives power to the faint.
WHAT IS THE CROSS?
The cross is a figurative expression of persecutions, trials, tribulation and the likes that the believer experiences as he goes about obeying Christ. We end up taking the cross when something comes in the way of the honest expression of our faith in Christ. The cross is a beautiful symbol of suffering, for when you take it up you get to tangibly experience Christ working in you. The cross is what a Christian must sacrificilly endure as he obeys Christ in a fallen world, for taking the cross is the road that lead to infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, distresses or tribulations. In 2 Cor 11, the Apostle Paul goes on to describe the hardships he faced as a minister of Christ, verses 23 to 27, “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness”.
Also, 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”. When we live godly in Christ we are in for opposition, for we live in a highly polarised world where the children of darkness are in open conflict with the children of light. Everything that we do or say will be opposed wether it be our views about God, marriage, education, family, gender roles and so on. The bottom line is this: if we live godly in Christ then we must get ready to suffer persecution, get ready to take up the cross, there is no running away from it. But if we want to delve in political correctness, manipulation, lack of integrity and so on, we could very well avoid it, avoid the cross at our own peril, for the cross is our God given opportunity to conquer and to receive a crown, Jesus did that, and so did all the saints of yore. Whatever makes us think that we could do otherwise?
THE CROSS, WHY?
The cross is needed to build Christian character. Look at the Biblical pattern for character building in Romans 5: 3&4 – And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
Tribulation worketh patience is the equivalent of saying that affliction accomplishes steadfastness, (quality of a man who would not swerve from his deliberate purpose).
And patience, experience is the equivalent of saying that steadfastness accomplishes Christian character .
The cross, your gateway to affliction, is the bedrock on which steadfastness is built. No affliction, no steadfastness. No steadfastness, no Christian character.
It goes without saying that the human race loves pleasure, we are all hedonists in varying degrees. And the problem with hedonism is that it is self-seeking, and for every self-seeking person Christianity is a liability, a paradox. For the Christian just like his master, Christ, ought to be self-less and not self-seeking. The character building pattern that begins with affliction, leading to steadfastness and character formation is one that is designed by God himself to make you a little more like Him with every passing day, and it is to that end, Paul says, “we glory in tribulation”.
James 1 :12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
When he is tried, he shall receive the crown. The cross is the prelude to the crown, there is no crown without the cross, had it been, Jesus would have got His without the cross. He didn’t. He looked at it in the eye, endured it and defeated it, and so must every Christian handle the cross, for Jesus is our model when it comes to suffering, 1 Peter 2: 20 & 21 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.
THE EMPOWERMENT FOR THE CROSS
The cross is not for the “faint at heart”, we need divine empowerment for it. Jesus said my yoke is easy and my burden is light. These are comforting words, for they were not spoken by man but the creator of the universe. We have the great assurance that what He has said, He will perform. Therefore, we have all reasons to brighten up despite the darkness.
We will do well to understand that when we cast our eyes on Jesus, the reality does not change, the fact that we are walking on deep waters, but this is what it does, it brings us face to face with the one who is the maker of that reality. Life does not get more real than seeing Him, for when you come face to face with Jesus, you have come face to face with the greatest transformative reality that exists, and in seeing Him you receive strengthening beyond your wildest imagination. And that I believe is all that we need to face our giants, one at at time. Also, no where in the scripture does God offer His glorious power and strength but for building “patience (steadfastness) in you, read Col 1:11 – Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.
THE ATTITUDE WHILST TAKING THE CROSS
James 1: My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
The attitude is one of joyfulness despite the overwhelming pain. Your plans could fail, but God’s plans will stand, and that is what should matter, for in the standing of God’s plans and purposes, you will stand.
AND FINALLY, THE CROSS, BECAUSE:
1 JESUS ASKS US TO TAKE IT UP.
Mark 8: 34 to 37 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
He, Jesus, asks us to deny ourselves, and to deny ourselves is to deny our prerogatives and our choices. It is not easy to deny ourselves, in-fact it is overwhelmingly painful, it needs divine help, it needs the grace of God. For you need to crucify yourself, become dead on the cross of Christ, before you take up the cross. It is a tall order, it is too lofty for human standards, it can only be effected in a person by the Spirit of God, and when a man or a woman assisted by the Spirit of God, denies himself or herself, he is ready to take the cross.
2 IT IS THE ROUTE TO THE KINGDOM.
ACTS 14:22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
It does not just say “tribulation”, however, it says “much tribulation”. Tribulation in the greek is “thlipsis” which can be transalated: pressure (literally or figuratively), affliction, anguish, burden, persecution, trouble etc.
The road that leads to the Kingdom is one that of “much tribulation”.
3 JESUS IS OUR EXAMPLE
1 Peter 2: 20 & 21 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:
4 IT IS APPOINTED
I Th 3: 3 & 4 That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.
1 Peter 4:19 Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
Phi 1:29 For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;
5 IT IS MAN’S OPPORTUNITY TO SEE GOD AT WORK
Rom 5: 3 & 4 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.
2 Cor 12: 9 & 10 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
The House, Saturday, 14th July, 2018