Jesus Took Up His Cross, Let Us Take Ours!

Many today insist they have a right to take out of this life what they want. More often than not you hear expressions like, “ You owe it to yourself!”, or “You’re worth it!” Indeed, in many ways this is a “grab it” kind of world, and one that has little regard for the consequences of being ‘on the take’. It appears that’s the way it was on the day when Pontius Pilate had handed Jesus over to the crowd to be crucified. The bible tells us, “ So the soldiers took charge of Jesus” although in the original language it simply says, “ So they took Jesus,” ( as per RSV John 19: 17a). While it isn’t clear whether it was the soldiers or the crowd that took Jesus away what is abundantly clear ‘they’ had no qualms about laying hands on Jesus, Son of God and Son of man! Now it is so that at various times people had tried to seize Jesus or lay hands on him in some rude way. So also this incident, recorded in John 19 comes as no surprise. The fact is they took Jesus because they were intent on putting him to death, even a very cruel death on a cross. So, “ Carrying his own cross, he went out to the Place of the Skull “ [ which in Aramaic is called Golgotha] . “Here”, writes John, “ they crucified him, and with him two others – one on either side and Jesus in the middle.” Someone has written that the prime movers in this event were only thinking of themselves and their own interests. Yet that could not be for then they would not have seized Jesus in this way. Instead they would have taken him into their hearts. That’s what people ought to do when they’re really thinking about themselves and their own interests. ( the late Dr. O. Hoffmann in “ How Do You Take Jesus?” ) That cross may make people wonder even today. People are impressed with the power to conquer. They are even impressed by the power to kill. Witness the enormous amount of violence on television as well as video games. Look at the headlines on the news as Russia laid hands on the Crimea or the latest statistics are published of those who perished in Syria at the hands of violent people. I must ask, “How do you take Jesus, who allows himself to be taken and goes out bearing his cross to the place of crucifixion?” How do you take him who was not ashamed to say, “ I am the way and the truth and the life” and, “ No one comes to Father except through me?” ( John 14:6) I hope it is not with a shrug of the shoulders or the grudging recognition that Jesus did suffer much at the hands of violent people.” It is true, death by crucifixion “ United in the highest degree the pains and infamy of all other punishments. The increased inflammation of the wounds, the unnatural position, the forced immobility and the local congestion and anguish would have been horrible indeed. ( W. Hendriksen in his “ John p. 427) Yet there was more, much more involved with Jesus’ suffering and death on a cross than the physical violence that was done to him. Was it an added insult on Pilate’s part to have Jesus crucified with two criminals, one on each side of him? Besides, and this is most important, we must not forget that death on a cross was cursed by God ( Deut. 21:23, Gal. 3:13). Before long, in those three hours of darkness that came over the land, Jesus would cry out, “ My God, my God why have you forsaken me”. ( Matthew 27:46) ) It was especially then that Jesus Christ tasted the horrors of hell, and the most extreme loneliness possible, shoved into the outer darkness because of our sins! Yes because of our sins! For Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for those who had sided with the devil, ever since man’s fall into sin in Paradise. He would be the ransom to appease the terrible wrath of God that should have fallen on you and me. He was hung on a cross with a criminal on both sides of him. One of them, though initially scorning Jesus later turned to him and implored, “ Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” ( Luke 23: 42). He did not abuse Jesus but he took the Son of God to be the Savior, no, better, his Savior! He asked the Lord to take hold of him in his mercy, his compassion, that he might not be eternally forgotten, but remembered when Jesus was re-united with his Father in heaven. You may remember Jesus’ answer recorded in Luke 23:43, “ Today you shall be with me in paradise”. Truly amazing is the grace, the undeserved favor of God. Golgotha, that, “Place of the skull,” that terrible place of suffering and death becomes instead a place of rescue and salvation. While many who stood at the foot of the cross hurled words of abuse and scorn and ridicule at Jesus, “Only Savior” look at the contrast. The contrast with this convicted robber, criminal, who in his hour of death longs to be with Jesus, in heaven. No, we may be sure this desire for salvation did not originate with himself. Humanly speaking, you would think Jesus would be the last one he would have turned to for Jesus was, as the prophet Isaiah had said, “ Despised and rejected of men,” ( Isaiah 53:3). How could he be expected to do anything for anyone? Just look at him, hanging on a cross, loaded down with sin and shame. But then there are only two ways to take Jesus. You can crucify him again and again with your rejection of him or…… you can submit to him and find in him all that you need for everlasting life. That seeking, and finding, and consequently, rejoicing, is a most marvellous gift worked in one’s heart by Jesus Christ himself. That, ’taking’ is a taking by faith and faith, is a most precious jewel, a treasure that is the result of God’s undeserved favor. How does Jesus want to be taken today? In the midst of this broken world in which so many are out to get only what they can for themselves before the “grim reaper” come and makes an end to things? Listen to what Jesus says; “ Come to me all you who are heavily burdened and have laboured long and I will give you rest” Matt. 11:28. Think of these words of Jesus to that criminal, “ Today you shall be with me in paradise” Luke 23:43. Jesus’ words to his disciples after his resurrection from the dead when he was preparing to go back home to heaven, “ Peace I leave with you …. My peace I give to you” John 14:27. This Jesus crucified on Calvary, is alive and well today. He rules on high and he has not lost his compassion for sinners. He takes what you’ve got, your guilt, your disappointment, your despair and your sorrow. Takes it into his own heart. His name is Jesus, Savior, and he will not turn away those who abandon their selfish and arrogant desires but seek to live, and to die, ‘in’ him. That is, in faithful, thankful, fellowship with him. Someone has said, “ He takes your death and mine and he turns it into life.” It’s his sure promise and he fulfils it because he is no more a suffering servant, a lamb led to the slaughter, but a triumphant King of Kings and Lord of lords. But then we need to follow him. Then you too need to look up to him. Then faith must be a living relationship to him in which you confess you do not belong to yourself but to Jesus Christ. O yes, that has meant physical and emotional suffering for many people. Today Christians, devoted to Jesus Christ don’t win too many popularity contests in this world. In many places they are persecuted, forsaken, dismissed. Yet you and I will want to remember Jesus’ words, “ Whoever loses his life for my sake…… will find it” The bible is clear, Followers of Jesus will surely have to suffer for his sake. But they have his sure promise that he will sustain them. He will keep them and grant them life that never ends! Well then, take up your cross and follow him. He bore his most heavy cross, not just the one made of wood which burdened his back but that cross of sin, our sin, our misery, my guilt, that weighed him down so that he was forsaken by his Father. That’s a cross which was impossible for you and me to carry. But he, Jesus, my Savior, did so. He did more. He sent down the Holy Spirit that you and I might be encouraged, whatever the cost, to follow him. So go to him, and ask him to take you into his presence and to keep you there, in his grace. For he is all-powerful, and he is faithful still.

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