“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Matt 16:24
That saying of Jesus may have sent chills down the backs of those listening.
They had all heard of crucifixion and perhaps some had witnessed it. Crucifixion was a horrible way to die.
Those condemned to this death were either tied or nailed on an erect cross. Their suffering could last for days, perhaps even weeks. Death was usually because of asphyxiation. The condemned would have to pull with his arms and push with his legs in order to breathe.
This is the reason the two men crucified with Jesus had their legs broken – to hasten death – and why Jesus’ legs were not broken because He was already dead. (John 19:34)
So to take up the cross meant that you were going to die.
Jesus said this was necessary if you wanted to follow Him.
Nowhere is this illustrated best than in the short story of a man caught on the way to Jerusalem that day with his two sons. No doubt they were there for the Feast of Pesach (Passover).
How exciting it would have been to witness the sacrifice of the Passover lamb and all that it entails. But there trip did not go as planned.
As the Romans and Jewish leaders were coming out of the city on the way to Golgotha, Jesus must have collapsed from the exhaustion of being up all night, the trials, the beatings, and now the carrying of His own cross.
Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross. Mark 15:21
I’m sure this dad did not want any part in the life and death of a condemned man. What if they decided to crucify him also? What if he was overlooked as an innocent bystander and the crowd spit and threw stones at him?
But he was forced into this service of taking up the cross and following Him.
Something happened at the end of this journey. When they reached Golgotha, it wasn’t Simon that died – it was Jesus.
It wasn’t Simon that was condemned – it was Jesus.
It wasn’t Simon that became cursed – it was Jesus.
It wasn’t Simon that laid down his life – it was Jesus.
And so it is for you too! When you take up your cross and follow Him, it is Jesus that takes the cross for you in the end.
You, as the condemned person, are set free as the Lord takes your place and dies for your sin.
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. John 15:13