What a statement for Jesus to make. It seems too difficult to actually follow through with.
LUKE 9:24 | And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
“Deny self? I kind of get that. But did he say ‘take up your cross?’”
The first-century audience who first heard these words pour forth from Jesus’ mouth would not have thought about the beautiful charms that we wear around our necks as jewelry, either being used as a reminder of the love and mercy and grace of God, or merely being a fashion statement. What they would have thought about when they heard “cross” in that day would have been the horrors of crucifixion.
So for Jesus to make that statement was epic. And yet, Jesus has never asked us to do anything that he himself was not willing to do first. Today, as we remember Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we sit in silence and times of reflection to honor Jesus. He took our cross. He took our place. And yet, there was someone else who carried that cross beside Jesus.
At one point along the Via Dolorosa Jesus collapsed out of pure exhaustion. Can’t you picture him stumble, only to fall flat to the ground, resulting in the cross beam of the cross crashing and resting across Jesus’ back? But he had to keep going. He was sentenced to die. So a Roman guard called an audible and brought over a dad of two boys named Simon. “Pick up the cross and carry it.” As Simon moved forward with obedient hesitation to help this man carry his cross, the crowd looked on at what would happen next.
Maybe it happened like this: that Simon went over and lifted the 120-pound cross-beam off of the back of Jesus. As he stood there holding that up as it leaned against him, Simon reached down with his other hand to help the Omnipotent one get back to his feet as his knees wobbled, almost giving way. And then, what if at that moment Jesus just stared straight into the soul of Simon, whispering these words: “Father, I want Simon and his boys, Alexander and Rufus, to be with me where I am and to see me in all of my glory.” And after Jesus muttered those words from bloodied and parched lips, what if he began to walk again toward Golgatha with sheer determination and mission across his blood-soaked face, with Simon following right behind him.
Simon would have taken it the rest of the way to Golgotha. When they reached “the place of the skull,” Simon would drop the cross-beam. I picture him trying to get out of there as quick as possible and yet unable to because of the draw of Jesus. So maybe Simon turned around as he walked away in haste, once again pausing and gazing into the piercing stare of his unrecognizable Savior as the guards stripped Jesus and laid him upon the cross that Simon had just finished carrying.
Maybe Simon then decided to stay, witness his 6-hour ordeal on the cross.
And after everything was all finished, and 14 years had passed from that incident, I wonder if his mind always went to the cross every time he heard one of the apostles make this statement: “If anyone wants to be found worthy to be a disciple of Jesus, he must deny himself, pick up his cross daily, and follow Jesus.” And with a tear streaming down his face, he remembered the cross that he carried for Jesus which was actually the cross that Jesus bore for him and for the rest of us.
All because Jesus wanted us.