Why would anyone willingly take on a life like this? It seems ridiculous that anyone would choose this kind of lifestyle. What motivation could possibly be important enough to sacrifice a good, comfortable life for a lifestyle that involves a certain amount of poverty, social rejection and death?
Let us put willing suffering in context, though. We know that if the stakes are high enough, people are willing to lay down their lives for any number of reasons. Those who are concerned about the welfare of their nation will willingly lay down their lives for the many, and so join the armed forces—even though it means that they will be facing suffering and death. A parent will lay down his or her life for a child in danger. Those who are concerned with social consciousness might possibly set aside loftier ambitions or even live in poverty in order to assist those in need. Even more common are those who are willing to face jail time, personal disaster or even death in order to gain a few hours of pleasure in drugs or alcohol.
Choosing suffering, then is not abnormal. The real question then is what is one truly devoted to, and what will really make changes in life. No matter what the rest of the world says, those of us who believe in Jesus agree with him that the only way life will improve is by the way of the cross.
How does the cross work? In summary, the cross is accepting a life of sacrifice, even to the point of martyrdom. The reason that this action does anything at all is because it allows God to use his power for the suffering. God wants to show his power and mercy in situations of true justice, but that means that someone must be suffering unjustly. Then God will move in and assist those who are devoted to him and in need. Thus, the righteous needy, or those who “take up the cross” for Jesus become the focal point to focus the power of God on earth.
So what does the cross do? How will following Jesus and taking up his suffering help my life or the lives of those around me?
1. Taking up the cross results in resurrection
We all have to face death at one time or another. Death is an unknown factor, a fear to be embraced, whether willingly or unwillingly. Most people deal with death by avoiding it—either by ignoring that it exists, or by trying everything they can to put it off. Jesus, however claims that the best way to overcome death is to accept it for his sake (Mark 8:35). That whoever dies for the sake of complete devotion to God and in actions which benefit others will come out on the other side of death alive (Mark 10:17-21). Death, Jesus says, cannot control those who are completely surrendered to God and his love, and God in his power, will restore the one who dies for Him. Thus, while medicine and health products all fail in dealing with death, the cross succeeds.
2. Taking up the cross results in self-control
Stoicism is an ancient philosophy that promotes the ideal of complete self-control as the most beneficial life to live. To a certain degree, they have a point—having control over one’s desires allows one to make good choices for oneself. Jesus said, though, that the best reason to have control over one’s own desires is to be able to do God’s desires, for the benefit of everyone, not just oneself. The question that still remains, though is, how does one gain self-control? Stoicism suggests that self-control is within everyone’s grasp, if only they would accept it. Jesus, however, recognizes that our desires are often out of our control and that we need a power outside of ourselves to help us gain self-control. Jesus himself accepted the fact that he would suffer and die for the sake of God, and all else seemed insignificant in comparison with God’s will (Mark 14:36-38). Jesus also said that to those who accept his way of life, he would give them the Spirit of God to empower them to live his life (John 14:16-17).
3. Taking up the cross results in personal peace
Most people are looking for peace in their lives. Contentment and satisfaction with one’s life is almost impossible to find. To gain peace, most people pursue work, a good relationship with their family, more entertainment, or various kinds of pleasure. Jesus doesn’t deny that these things can give you peace, but he also warns that all of these in this age are ultimately unsatisfying. Jobs don’t actually provide what one needs, family is unfaithful, entertainment is fleeting and much pleasure leads to death. Jesus says that to gain true peace, one needs to surrender all that one has and to pursue Jesus and his way of life (Matthew 5:11-12; Mark 10:17-21, 29-30). To take up the cross gains peace for oneself for now and for all the future.
4. Taking up the cross creates a just government
Most people see that the political system in which they live could use improvement. Some governments are tyrannical, not caring about the needs of their own people or of other peoples, but only their own power. To take down a corrupt government and replace it with a just one is revolution—which is exactly what Jesus was intending to do. But his method of changing a corrupt government was not to gather up an army or to create a democracy—his method was the way of the cross, which he laid out in the Beatitudes, based on Psalm 37. The power of God works in favor of the righteous poor and oppressed, and it works against the oppressors and the wicked (Luke 14:11). So if the righteous poor place themselves in a position to be oppressed by the powerful, then God will take the corrupt government out. This is exactly what Jesus did and God acted righteously—destroying the Jewish government in 70AD.
5. Taking up the cross results in political rule
Many people want to have political ambitions. Perhaps to create a more just system, perhaps to gain power for themselves, perhaps to help others. But most people see political rule as a straight-forward function. Some will work as lobbyists, some will vote or boycott, some will try to take the government over. But Jesus’ approach to gain political rule was radical. He said that if anyone had political ambitions, then they had to first be slaves (Mark 10:43-45). The one who would lower themselves the most will be raised by God to be the highest, but the one who raised their position the most would be defeated by God (Luke 14:11). So Jesus set himself out to serve others by dying for them—becoming the lowest of all—so that he might be raised to the greatest political position— the right hand of the Father. And this principle still works for those who follow Jesus (Luke 22:26-27).
6. Taking up the cross helps those in need
Many people want to help the needy—to do work for refugees, the homeless, the war ravaged, and others who are oppressed or helpless. But the way of the world to help those in need is to gain a lot of resources and give it to them. There is nothing wrong with this, for Jesus himself presents that as a part of the way of the cross (Mark 10:21). But most people feel that if you have given all of your resources—given up everything, your whole life so that you have nothing left—that all there is left is foolishness. Jesus’ way is exactly that: give up everything— your possessions, your relationships, even your life— until there is nothing left (Mark 10:33-34;Luke 14:25-33). And it is at this point that God will continue the work in power. And God’s power and truth is what the needy actually need to deliver them out of poverty and oppression.
The Way of the Cross is the key to release the power of God.