Is Cross Carrying Passé?

Posted by on Sep 27, 2015 in Blog | 7 comments

After preaching I am often asked for a copy of my notes, so I thought I would place them on the blog – well some, at any rate. Here is the text of the message I preached at Carey today. It is part of a series on the portrait of Jesus that emerges from Matthew’s gospel, and this sermon is based on Matt 10, focusing on verses 34-42. As always feel free to use it in any way you like, though if you do reproduce it in some form, it would be nice if you would credit the source as brianharrisauthor.com

Hope it’s helpful…

Is Cross Carrying Passé?

Have you ever wondered what Jesus’ disciples expected when they answered his call, ‘Come, follow me’?

Presumably they expected there would be some significant gain for them – at the very least that it would beat their efforts at making a living via fishing, or in the case of the author of this gospel, Matthew, tax collecting.

So here’s the question. Did it?

On the one hand, obviously yes.

Think of the lasting fame they achieved. I did a quick Google search of churches in Australia named after St Matthew and came up with 52. Imagine, 2000 years after your death having 52 churches named after you in a country you would never have heard of, and in a country where the church isn’t even particularly strong. Now sadly Google wouldn’t oblige and tell me how many churches around the world are named St Matthew’s, but I imagine it runs into the thousands. Wow – that’s fame.

And Jesus’ disciples have that fame because they changed the world dramatically for the good. Wow – that’s significant.

Not that they did it for fame or significance. They answered the call to follow Jesus because somewhere deep inside of them, when they heard his invitation to follow him, they knew that God was at work. Exactly how they knew we can’t know, but they did – and they risked everything to follow Jesus

And that is the other side of the coin. While long after their death there is no doubt that they did the right thing, in their lifetime they would have seen relatively few direct benefits resulting from their obedient response. Indeed, Matthew, if the tradition of the church is accurate (and there is no strong reason to believe that it is not), was killed by the sword while preaching in Ethiopia – and his story of martyrdom was duplicated by almost all disciples; some say all bar John, though that is not certain. Dietrich Bonoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship has said, ‘When Christ calls a man he bids him, come and die with me’ – and the apostles’ story lends credence to the claim.

But Matthew 10 tells of a time long before any of this has happened. Its setting is spelled out in Matt 10:1 ‘Jesus called his disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.’

It was a heady time, the disciples entrusted with power and authority they had never anticipated. Lest they got too carried away, Jesus gives them a sober briefing on what to expect. In spite of their authority and power they would face significant challenges – they would be like ‘sheep amongst wolves’ v 16 – a rather alarming image if you give yourself time to think about it.

So if you ask the question ‘was it worth it for the disciples?’ you have to acknowledge this colliding truth: it was immeasurably worthwhile – it was enormously costly.

Our focus within Matt 10 is on v34-42. It doesn’t make very cheerful reading, but contains 4 principles that I want to highlight, as they remain as significant today as when the disciples first heard them

First let’s listen to the passage:

Matthew 10:34-42New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

34 ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn ‘“a man against his father,  a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”[a]

37 ‘Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

40 ‘Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.’

4 Principles…

So what are the 4 principles we can extract from this?

    • God first – even ahead of family (Matt 10:35-36) This is a tough one. Family gets to us like no one else does. The stories I love to tell are the stories of how faith in Jesus brings families together – restoring them like no one else can. And I have many, many such stories that I can tell – and I know that some of those stories are yours, for Jesus has helped many people here to a better and happier family life. But that is not the claim of this passage. Here we are reminded that sometimes the opposite takes place – that when we put our trust in Jesus our family might be outraged. At times that rage becomes violent. There are many stories of people who have been killed by family members because they dared to convert from a different faith to Christianity.

Jesus is reminding us of a difficult truth. If we worship family ahead of God, we have built an idol – and every idol will backfire against us.

In our day we are encouraged to allow family to become an idol – especially our children and grandchildren. We want the best for them. Yet in wanting the best, we might be short sighted, and close the door on something God is calling us to do because we believe it would be too difficult for the family.

I remember when I was called from New Zealand to Australia to take up the post as principal of Vose Seminary. I knew, like I knew, like I knew, that God had called me to this post. But the family was wonderfully happy and settled in New Zealand. It seemed too big an ask to suggest moving country again – indeed, one close friend whom I discussed it with said he thought it was reckless, perhaps irresponsible. And so initially Rosemary and I said no.

But God does not let you off the hook so easily. The story is long and known to many of you, so I won’t repeat it here, but after God made it triply clear that we were supposed to make this move, we said yes, but did so wondering if God would really take care of our children – 2 teenagers at that time, and one near teenager. We had so many unsettling questions. Would they adjust to a new culture? Would they make friends? Would their friends be OK? What would the spiritual impact of the move be on them?

For us, the story has had a wonderfully happy outcome. God provided for our children in ways we hadn’t imagined, and more than a decade later we are so grateful for all that he did. But at the time it seemed reckless, and we simply had to trust that if you put God first, other things will be sorted, even when it seems improbable. 

    • Cross carrying is expected (Matt 10:38) When I was a teenager sermons about cross carrying were popular. It is interesting how times change. We speak about this requirement of discipleship in muted tones, if at all. Somehow cross carrying seems passé – so very yesterday. But this statement of Jesus has never disappeared ‘Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.’

Notice, it is your cross that you have to carry… and each person’s cross is a little different. For some it a particular sacrifice that has to be made. For others a dream that needs to be let go of. For most it is the daily challenge to put God first. This often works its way out in simple but practical ways, like being willing to put the needs of others ahead of our own – and doing so as an act of worship to Jesus. This is the ‘me- first’ generation, and such acts, being so counter-cultural, are often powerful and convicting and used by God.

Because it is your cross that you must carry, it will usually be something you can name – some particular thing that is not easy for you to do, but you do it out of love for Jesus… Indeed, you do it as a sacred trust from Jesus.

Cross carrying is not some kind of sadistic expectation from God. While difficult, it is not meaningless or arbitrary. Jesus carries his cross for the greater good of the world. Whilst our cross carrying will not be as lofty, it is required because usually great good cannot come about without some sacrifice. When we take up our cross we commit ourselves to the purposes of God and carry it in the hope that God will bring good from it. We may or may not see the good that comes. Each of the disciples carried their particular crosses. They died with the Christian faith still in its infancy. By faith they believed that great good would come about – but the tide had certainly not turned at the time of their death – if anything, things seemed worse than ever. Part of cross carrying might be that you do not see the benefit of it. It is simply a matter of trust. We carry the cross assigned to us in the conviction that God will bring good from it – and we may or may not see the good that comes.

  • Losing is finding/ Loss is gain (Matt 10:39) V39 is another of the challenging statements in this passage, ‘Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.’ It is one of life’s great paradoxes. The things we try the hardest to get often prove elusive, whilst those we hold lightly, come to us. Jesus is saying that losing is finding and loss is gain.

The principle is not really that hard to grasp. Hopefully by now you will have noticed that my Lite and Easy diet is kicking in. I am 9kg lighter and am within my correct BMI range. I have discovered that you have to say no to a lot of things to lose weight. I never realised what a celebratory community we are at Vose until I started on Lite n Easy. Every second day it seems as though it is someone’s birthday or there has been some breakthrough which we need to affirm – invariably with food. It is hard to sit at a table groaning with cheese cake, carrot cake, rocky road and the like – and to keep having to say ‘no thanks, this green tea is really yummy and more than enough for me.’ I often felt I was missing out on so much. It has taken a while but now I’ve noticed that something I hoped for but wasn’t sure would happen… is happening. I’m feeling great. I have heaps more energy, and I feel healthier and I no longer feel that I am losing something when I say no to carrot cake. To lose is to gain. And the gain is real and so much more valuable.

Now let’s be clear about this. Jesus definitely wasn’t talking about dieting when he said that those who find their lives lose them and those who lose them find them. But he was reminding us that our deepest joy and self discovery comes when we take the more difficult route – that of saying yes to God’s agenda rather than our own. He said essentially the same thing in Matthew 6:33 ‘But seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well…’ God first, and somehow everything else falls into place. It is hard to give up our own agenda. It can seem so important. But when we loosen our grip on it, and reach out for God’s agenda, what starts out as seeming unattractive, like losing our lives, eventually becomes the source of our deepest joy and satisfaction – the way we most truly find our life.

The 14th century mystic Meister Eckhart said it well when he wrote: ‘God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.’  He wanted us to ask what we might need to subtract from our lives to make room for God. It could be subtracting regret, resentment, jealousy, disappointment, fear, envy… As each goes, there is suddenly more room for God. To lose is to gain.

  • Help comes from unexpected places (Matt 10:40-42) Jesus finishes on a more cheerful note. While we will encounter opposition and difficulties, there will also be those who support and help us on the way. Be it a welcome we didn’t anticipate, or even a cup of cold water unexpectedly provided, there will be encouragements along the way. Jesus is also clear that those who provide them will not be overlooked. It is a theme picked up again in Matt 25:31-46, that whatever we do for those who seem vulnerable and struggling, we actually do for Jesus. Acts of kindness and small steps of faith are noticed and remembered by God. Indeed, this is often the way we take our first small and faltering step towards God – and even as we reach towards God we find that He is reaching out to us – has died for us, at Calvary…

And lest we forget…

So put yourself in the shoes of those early disciples. Jesus has just given you this remarkable news – you are given the power and authority to overcome evil and to heal. You are enormously excited. You are living the dream. This is so much more exciting than fishing or collecting taxes.

But then Jesus starts to speak soberly and urgently. It isn’t going to be all that easy. Families might be separated and cross carrying is required and a willingness to lose our life seems a pre-requisite. How would you feel on hearing that? Perhaps for a moment you might think, just too hard. Can you hear yourself saying, ‘Cross carrying – so what’s appealing about that?’

As we finish, please don’t forget a crucial truth. There is the risk that we get so carried away with what we must do, and the cost we might incur, that we forget that while we might carry the cross for Jesus, He is the one who is crucified. Whatever our struggles might be, they pale into insignificance compared to what He has done for us. And Jesus never calls us to walk a road he has not already walked before. That knowledge sets us free to readily say yes to the call of Jesus – where ever it might lead…

7 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m wondering if you always write out the text of your messages or do you sometimes speak from a more basic framework?

    • I try to work from a fairly full script, though I don’t read it, and actually very rarely refer to the notes at all. So why then a fairly full script? I find that writing it out helps me to be sure in my own mind that I know what I want to say and that I can be confident that it makes sense. It also helps to think about how long it will take to say it and gives me at least one possible way to say it.

      But once written, I feel free to abandon it. So I am just back from preaching this message for the second time today, and in both cases I left out point four (help comes from unexpected places). Just didn’t seem necessary and I didn’t want to break the flow of what I felt God was doing. And both times I added an extra illustration that is not in the script that is on the blog… the point on cross carrying required where an illustration just seemed necessary at the time, though not when I wrote it.

      So I guess I am saying that I find a full script helps me to be sure that I have prepared properly, but I then try to remain open to what I sense God is trying to do at the time.

      And yes, it did take a little bit of extra work tidying the script up to be ready to post on the blog – though I am sure that a fair number of typos still slipped through. But then I figured it was worth the time as it makes is accessible to a wider audience. If you are going to do the work, why not make it available to as many as possible…

      Thanks for asking.

      • Thanks. That’s really helpful. I do something similar when speaking.

        I often hear of people who just write down their main points but I find it helpful to write out a message as I would speak it to clarify my thoughts and get the right flow.

        I refer to my notes sometimes more, sometimes less when presenting but I find the process of writing helpful. Most times I just glance at the notes when speaking to ensure I’m following the flow of the message.

        Again, thanks. As someone who has never undertaken formal studies I’m always keen to learn from others with wider experience.

  2. Thank you, Brian. I’ll be using this message (with my own illustrations) when I preach at Como next week. I find it’s too easy to neglect the gospel in the desire to speak on other ‘important’ matters. You remind me that the gospel must always be preached! Bless you for your ministry to me and to others. (And thanks too to Rodney for the question. I enjoyed reading both your responses.)

  3. Thanks Steve. Delighted if you are able to use it.

  4. Thanks Brian for an awesome article, I’m going to discuss this with some of my youth leaders.

    It reminds me of something that’s really been on my mind lately, the word ‘careful’. Growing up in the church, a lot of youth devotions/Sunday school lessons seemed to be centered around the idea of being careful not to slip into certain things/relationships. But I have realized that a lot of kids ‘go off the rails’ not because they are being too reckless but actually because they are being careful. Careful to fit in with the right people, not rock the social apple cart at school/work/uni and not run the risk of being considered weird to society.

    At the end of the day, being a Christian is becoming less and less of a socially acceptable activity. Maybe we need a little more ‘Holy recklessness’ -being willing to lose our lives for the sake of him. As scary as this might be, at least it’s not boring and boring is what I find young people hate more than anything.

    Anyway, thanks again:)

    • Holy recklessness… I like that. Thanks Peter.

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