“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” – Luke 9:23
Hardly anyone understood what Jesus was really all about. They saw Him as a majestic, conquering figure, but didn’t know how He was going to be majestic and conquering. It’s like following a rising politician in our nation; he gives emotional speeches about his heart for the poor, the sick, the lame, and gives a declaration about how it all will change. He preaches hope and entices a great following. Imagine, for a moment, joining in this politician’s movement.
You show up to all his debates and pep rallies with your t-shirts and buttons and American flags thinking this man will change everything forever. You believe that this man will overthrow the establishment of the IRS and re-establish the mythological America we were raised to believe in. A couple years go by and you’re still excited about it all, but then you catch little phrases of this politician’s speeches; “I’m going to be delivered into the hands of men. And they will kill me.” At first it’s slightly shocking, but you figure that he’s talking nothing but metaphor. You shrug it off and move on, even though you notice a few less followers at his next pep rally.
And then he says stuff like, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own family and even his own life, he cannot vote for me,” and, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Now you start getting a little freaked out, but you figure that he actually is the real deal; that since he is willing to sacrifice himself he’s asking his voters to do the same – for the good of the cause and that whole bit. You don’t think he’s actually talking about anything literal. I mean, what other kingdom is there, right? – you might reason.
And then, when many followers have fled the movement, you receive a phone call in the middle of the night saying he’s been arrested on illegitimate charges. You rush to the courthouse, hoping that it’s all not true, but yet see all the cameras and journalists filming your beloved politician in handcuffs. Several people ask you if you had followed him, if you had been misled by him, and you – not seeing any other supporters in the crowd – deny that you had even heard of the guy.
You go back home that night, never get a wink of sleep thinking about what happened. Another supporter calls you up early in the morning and says, “They killed him… He’s dead.” You drop the phone and fall to your knees in complete shock.
No, this isn’t exactly what happened with Christ’s crucifixion; they certainly believed He was something more than a politician. But yet Jesus’ disciples believed He would overthrow the Roman Empire and establish an entirely new kingdom. They believed He was more than a politician, but yet that He would conquer all the politicians. They expected a worldly kingdom, but then He died. All of their expectations about Jesus and His movement were instantly shattered.
Too often I think we take the cross for granted. We wear it around our necks, on bracelets around our wrists, on fancy t-shirts, etched on our skin in tattoos, and put it loud and proud on bumper stickers – all the while not picturing an actual human-being ripped open from His flogging and having His blood drip down off the cross, forming puddles on the ground. Today, our crosses have more political connotations than anything spiritual. Taking up our crosses daily doesn’t mean putting on your necklace, bracelet, or t-shirt; it means surrendering up your own will, your own desires for the sake of Jesus.
This Easter season has really called me to reflect over what it means to follow Jesus, what it means to be a part of His movement. I’ve spent some time in the religious routine of things; believing all the right things, saying all the right things, and voting on all the right areas (or at least pretending to). But time after time after time of reading the Gospels and seeing the gruesome death that was Jesus’, I can’t help but realize that I’ve got it all wrong with my routines.
Jesus was more than a politician, more than a mere moral figure, more than a prophet, and more than a holiday. He wants more than our nice Tweets and Facebook posts about Good Friday; more than our ritual of attending church on Easter Sunday; and more than our public commitment. He wants us to act out His teachings, His Word, and His love when no one is looking. He wants us to believe, yes, but to act upon that belief. He wants all of us, our entire selves.
Today I’ll be spending most of my time (outside of work) in the Gospels, dwelling on the meaning of the crucifixion – of why Jesus willingly went to the cross. I would invite anyone to do the same – especially if you’re new to Christianity. Too often we can get swept up in religious piety that demands nothing more than our casual commitment. Jesus, however, asks for all or nothing.