There are revivals happening all over the world – in Africa, in Asia, in South America; grass roots revivals reminiscent of the first century church; starting in back alleys, shanty towns, in poorly lit rooms, and in nondescript homes. The spirit of the Lord is moving, as the song writer says, “just like the day of Pentecost.” However, here at home, in America, we have seen a decline in church membership and more and more of our citizens are opting to define themselves as spiritual rather than Christian.
Even some of our most public pastors and ministers have chosen to teach a gospel of self-reliance, self-esteem, and self-determination, rather than one of discipleship, sacrifice, and yes – suffering. In his own words, Jesus defined the path he has called us to follow as one of struggle and sacrifice. He stated, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
The cross has held many meanings throughout its history. In the first century, before the death and resurrection of Jesus, it was a sign of oppression, injustice and shame. It was a tool used by Rome to not only oppress a people, but to be a constant reminder of their subjugation. Jerusalem was constantly in the shadow of the cross, a standing open sepulture whose dead was visible for viewing. Christianity took a symbol of oppression and turned it into a symbol of triumph. But, over the centuries the evolution of the cross has led us away from its true meaning.
In today’s culture, the cross is an accessory, a fashion statement of platinum, gold, or silver, garnished with rubies or diamonds. Today, we gladly take up the cross and follow Christ, pending it complements our outfit and is not too cumbersome a task. The cross now represents prosperity, security and belonging. However, that is not what the cross meant to the people who heard Jesus’ statement. To take up your cross was to put yourself on a path to Calvary, to certain death, to be
stripped bare and left in open view to the scorn and judgement of the world for the glory of God.
In our America today, taking up your cross would mean enduring suffering and shame and be stripped bare beside the immigrant, the outcast, the disenfranchised, the marginalized and the sinner for the gospel of Christ. For Jesus too was an outcast, a foreigner, marginalized, disenfranchised, and in his final hours bore all sin. In His time, Jesus was an outsider of questionable paternity from a worthless country. His very pedigree caused Nathanael to ask, “can anything good come out of Nazareth” (John 1:46)? Today’s America is populated by people from countries viewed very much as Nathaniel viewed Nazareth. How we engage them speaks to the very heart of Nathaniel’s question and begs the response, “who’s your savior?”
Jesus literally lived in the shadow of the cross and so did the people to whom he spoke. It was a constant reminder of the injustice and corrupt politics of the world. For the Christian the cross is not a place of rest, but the beginning of duty. There is a duality in living in the shadow of the cross. It is a reminder that there is suffering and injustice in the world and that God has overcome the world. At present, one does not negate the other. There will come a time when suffering comes to an end, but until Christ returns, his people are his hands and feet in the world.
We are called to a daily crucifixion, not just of the self, but for all humanity to the glory of God. Taking up our cross, enduring suffering and shame and stripped bare for the gospel. The gospel cannot be reduced to what feels good or builds our esteem. James Thompson stated, “the cross, not self-esteem, lies at the heart of Christianity.” And the cross is a place where sin and oppression and injustice are overcome through suffering. The cross for Jesus was suffering leading to triumph. We cannot reasonably expect the cross, for the Christian, to be only triumph without the gradation of
trial and suffering that builds faith and establishes Godly character.
Nikki Brown was born in Jamaica West Indies, but grew up in New York. She is currently working on her project for a Doctorate Degree in Ministry from South University. She co-leads local outreach at Capital Life Church in Arlington, VA which include homeless and prison ministry. She is passionate about writing and enjoys time with her kids and husband running around the DMV area.