When I first became a Christian, I’m pretty sure I didn’t sign up for being nailed to a cross. Yet, that’s exactly what Jesus says we can look forward to when we become his follower. The more time I spend with him, the more convinced I become that the path that he guides me on leads to disgrace and death in the eyes of the world.
It’s not surprising that we Christians tend to downplay this reality. If you’re looking to recruit people to attend your churches, buy your books, and listen to your sermons, a message of sacrifice and death-to-self is probably not going to be the most effective way to gather a crowd. The cross is many things, but it’s certainly no marketing tool.
Even in an increasingly skeptical society like ours, it’s still a lot easier to talk about the resurrection than the crucifixion. Non-Christians may not believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead, but a lot of folks are still drawn to the metaphor. We all want to be transformed. Everybody wants to rise from the dead and live in glory. Abundant life is not a hard sell.
It’s another matter entirely, however, when we face the real cost of this overflowing life that Jesus promises us. There is beauty and power in the resurrection of Jesus, but we cannot lay hold of this new life without taking part in his death. As tantalizing as the resurrection life sounds, I haven’t met many people who are eager to be nailed to the cross. I’m definitely not.
It’s tempting to skip the cross altogether, to go straight from Gethsemane to the empty tomb. A lot of Christians only talk about Jesus’ teaching and his resurrection, skipping over Golgotha altogether. Other times, we take an entirely different tack, elevating Jesus’ death on the cross to such a high theological level that it becomes almost irrelevant to mere mortals such as ourselves. We breathe a sigh of relief and thank God that it is finished. Jesus died on the cross so that we don’t have to.
Yet, when we avoid the cross – whether by spiritualizing Jesus’ painful death, or bypassing it altogether – we are ultimately unfaithful to the heart of the gospel. Fleeing the cross, we abandon the very path that Jesus has given us to walk. It is only when we embrace the crucifixion – not simply as a past event, but as an ongoing reality that we are called to experience as followers of Jesus – that we truly become his disciples.
What does this look like for you? What are those areas of your life that Jesus is calling you to yield to the cross? Are you ready to lose your life in ways that you can’t even imagine now, in order to enter the reality of abundant life that comes through and beyond the cross?