We know of a few occasions where Jesus used cross bearing as a way to understand what he meant by discipleship. You will find this language in Matthew 10:37-39 in the context of giving instructions to the disciples for their first “mission trip” to Judea. "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
Luke14:25-27 is where we find a moment when Jesus turns to the crowd that is following him with these word. Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Again in Matthew 16:24 we hear Jesus say to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." in the context of his own near future arrest (see also Luke 9:23-27 and Mark 8:34-9:1).
In using the cross and the idea of cross bearing, Jesus is taking a scene that many of those who heard him must have personally witnessed since Roman capital punishment was a public event complete with parading the convict through the streets carrying his own cross to the place of crucifixion. In the real world setting of those who heard Jesus, these words, “Take up your cross and follow me,” must have painted a startlingly graphic picture.
The cross is a powerful symbol and it is in his submission to death on the cross that Jesus, dare one say, ironically creates the possibility of a whole new creation, a new creation that includes us. Take some time to read the context and consider what it is that Jesus is calling us to. As you do, consider the idea of endings…for certainly at the very least, whatever else the cross meant, it certainly spoke loudly of endings! And just what is the end Jesus calls us too? At the same time don’t forget Easter! Though the cross speaks of endings, the cross of Christ becomes the gateway to life.
Symbols are powerful ways to communicate. Jesus used the cross as a way to communicate what being his disciple meant. Paul develops some of the meaning of the cross and we find that the cross of Christ was central to the message of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians he writes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God...for indeed Jews ask for signs (acts of power) and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:17-24 NASB95)
Power and wisdom - politics and knowledge – we crave and labor for both today as did our ancestors centuries ago. We have developed political theory beyond that of the first century and the political ideologies of the past few centuries have spawned how much human suffering in their pursuit of eliminating human suffering. We live in what is being called the information age. The U.S. Army understood this and a number of years ago went through a major top to bottom reinvention of itself in light of the information revolution (see Hope is not a Method, Gordon R. Sullivan and Michael V. Harper, Broadway Books, 1996). Jeremy Rifkin in his book, The Age of Access (J. P. Tracher/Putman, 2000) while not dealing directly with the issue of wisdom or knowledge or information (the three are not necessarily equivalents, but are often treated as such) recognizes that those who control the communications systems in an age of information will control much power.
Wisdom and signs, knowledge and power! And the message of the church is the message of the cross! The cross, where the power of the state exercises its ultimate and final power: death according to its best wisdom. Yet it was at the cross that God provided the means and possibility of both true wisdom and true power.