Cross-carrying or rest? The Matthew 10:38 and 11:28 paradox.

Posted by on Mar 10, 2024 in Blog | 4 comments

back view shot of a man walking on the street while carrying a giant cross

In a church I served as pastor, several leaders from the church would meet for prayer before each service. Though sincere, the prayers were predictably repetitious and I’d often be able to pick what someone would pray before they said it. One favourite was the request that God would “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” It’s kinda clever, though now I’ve heard it in so many places I realise it didn’t have the originality I initially ascribed to it.

It points to an interesting little paradox.

Are churches about comforting disturbed people, or disturbing people out of their comfort zones? It’s hard to straddle both, and in my own preaching there have been many days where I’ve adopted an essentially pastoral position, reminding people of the relentless love of God and their lofty status as beloved children of God. But on other days I have been more prophet than pastor, urging people to be more, dare more, trust more.

Interestingly the response of the congregation has been much the same to both, though I have noticed that some people enthusiastically praise the “you are loved” sermons, while another group respond to the “be more” ones – usually assuming it didn’t apply to them, and making comments like “if only ‘dubious Christian named‘ had been here to listen to that. It’s exactly what s/he needed to hear!”

Actually Jesus faced a comparable dilemma.

Put Matt 10:38 alongside Matt 11:28 – “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Which is it to be? Realistically cross carrying and rest are not synonyms, so how are we to straddle the paradox?

Now I am enough of an exegete to know that we shouldn’t create straw men, and that a verse outside a context is a pretext. I am fully aware that it is possible to argue for the compatibility of both, and could do so myself.

Actually the argument I find most persuasive is that since Jesus has carried the cross for us, our cross carrying is of a completely different order, and that the more we trust in the grace, mercy and forgiveness found at the Cross, the more we find rest for our souls – but I don’t want to rush so quickly to “solution” that the paradox isn’t felt.

There is a strong push towards activism in Christianity.

You see it in the many Christians who have been burnt out as they have tried to be faithful to whatever they understood their call to be. In the end it came crashing down for them. Those more fortunate were then able to hear the invitation of Jesus “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened…” but others have been so badly impacted that they turn their back on everything, and adopt a “never again” attitude to all things linked to the church.

It’s a very serious issue, and it’s all the more likely to bite us if we are dismissive of it. Someone has said that “too long a sacrifice can turn a heart to stone” and it’s true. Attitudes of “whatever it takes and whatever the cost” are fine for short sprints, but disastrous for long distance races. And following Jesus is, as Eugene Peterson so beautifully reminds us, “A long obedience in the same direction.”

Not that the push to activism is recent. Historian David Bebbington reminds us that at one time it was calculated that the average Methodist minister worked a 90 hour week and as a result the denomination formed what they called the “Worn-out Ministers Fund”. When their clergy were too exhausted to carry on, the “worn-out ministers fund” would care for their financial needs. Once they recovered, they went back to their 90 hour weeks. We are indeed saved by grace, but often feel compelled to show that if we weren’t, we could at least have put in an almost-impressive show.

So what’s it to be – activism or rest? The point of paradox is that it is both.

If the story of Jesus does not move you to a new kind of love and action, you probably need to listen to the story again. But if you are fraught and weary, perhaps remember that regardless who carries the Cross (as Simon of Cyrene did) in reality it is Jesus who is crucified. In His death is our healing. In His death is our peace. In His death is our rest.

Oh Lord, please comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable.

As always, nice chatting…

Photo by Soul Winners For Christ on

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  1. Reminds me of B. B. Warfield’s idea of concursus.

    • Indeed. It is an astonishing privilege to in a small way work together with God.

  2. Comment *Good to hear encouragement on resting. God has me doing that in this season, ‘resting & waitig.’ Can be frustrating but I’m learning to view evangelism with new eyes as I watch & wait. Still working but with new eyes seeing this cultures needs so radically different in approach but still needing loving kindness, salvation & authenticity. Thanks Brian for inputting & being part of the journey. Blessings Janet.

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