About ten years ago over 500 Christians were slaughtered in Nigeria). Well-armed Muslims extremists were shouting “allahu akbar, allahu akbar” (Allah is the greatest) as they killed the Christians. A pastor’s wife was decapitated and buried. The Sunday after the incident people gathered in the church that was partly burned down, to praise God and to affirm their faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). Many people interpret these verses as some burden they must carry in their lives: a strained relationship, a thankless job, an illness. With self-pitying pride, they say, “That’s my cross I have to carry.” Such an interpretation is not what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”
When Jesus carried his cross up Golgotha to be crucified, no one was thinking of the cross as a mere symbol of a burden to carry. In those days the cross meant only one thing: death by the most painful and humiliating means developed by human beings. For Jesus the cross was an instrument of death and total sacrifice. Jesus said that we should take up our cross and follow Him. In the next verse Jesus says we must give our lives to Him. Hence, “taking up your cross” means to put to death my own natural self, my own will. It is a process towards a total sacrifice of self, in order to do the will of Jesus, a total dedication of my life to God. We are guided by the Holy Spirit (our Helper) to do what Christ asks of us. The nature of Jesus starts to grow in us. This will lead us to willingly deny ourselves: our own prejudices, our own interests, our own feelings, our own comforts. …he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me (Matt. 10:38).
A well-known Christian mission organization, Open Doors, estimates that 100 million Christians worldwide suffer from some form of persecution for their faith in Christ, such as discrimination, alienation, rape, imprisonment, torture and death. One of the many stories Open Doors tells is the following: “Wasihun remembers it like yesterday – the day his father was beaten and stabbed to death. A gang broke into their home in Ethiopia. The gang killed his father and left him (Wasihun), his mother and his sisters to get along all by themselves – all because his father was a Christian ”. It especially happens in Muslim countries, but also in many other parts of the world. These people, our brothers and sisters in Christ, are in desperate need of our prayers and help. (See their webpage).
Jesus said: “For whoever desires to save his life shall lose it, and whoever desires to lose his life for My sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:25, 26). When you forgive people you will have peace, when you give joy to others, you will experience joy.
Jesus said: “Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers” (Matt. 5:11). There are many accounts of people who were tortured severely because of their faith and yet, when they survived, they rejoiced even more in the Lord. Because to belong to God is the most wonderful thing that could happen to you. Despite taking up your cross? No, precisely because of that!
Lord Jesus, thank you that we can trust You. Please help us to take up our cross and follow You. Praise and glory be to You. Amen