What about the Cross?

What is the place of the cross? 
Is there a place for suffering in the modern church?  Turn on the radio, the television or the internet and you will find it again and again; everyday examples that much of what is preached about Christianity is preached without an idea of suffering. What is the role of suffering for the individual believer, when we consider the call to cross-bearing?  When looking at the words of such people as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die, “ or the more popular words of Joel Osteen, “Choosing to be positive and having a grateful attitude is going to determine how you’re going to live your life,’ we come away confused.  Two well known, religious individuals who speak on the matter of suffering related to discipleship and faithful cross bearing and their words contradict. However, Jesus clarifies greatly when he speaks of carrying the cross throughout the gospel of Matthew.  In the 16th chapter, Jesus shares in the context of Peter’s desire that Jesus not suffer death, a new reality.  That the call of the individual is to the cross, and that it is a call that embodies faithfulness; a faithfulness not based in human success, but based in a reality that Jesus is Lord; that God reigns and this understanding should have primacy within the life of the believer.  As one scholar said, “ self-denial is not so much about giving up chocolates at Lent as it is giving up on ourselves as lords; it is the decision to let another Lord rule one’s life.”  While this does not preach well in modern contexts, Jesus tells those present that the call of discipleship is about giving up on the “good life” and embracing God’s divine plan which may include suffering. Thus, the call of the cross is not only to death of self-interest, but it is also the call to ‘go public.’  Jesus then speaks about the primacy of God and our true place as individuals, and as a next step, he adds a call to take up the cross.  This is a call that should not only make us realize our status as believers, but this is also a hope that calls us to a greater ethic of life.  The call of the cross should result in a dramatic shifting from our self-interest to our call to public action as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Likewise, this call does not allow us to stay in the status quo, but challenges our presuppositions and invites us to take the gospel where we go.  This may result in suffering. It shows us that following in the footsteps of Jesus involves some heavy lifting.  As some scholars say “Cross –bearing (is) a willingness to be countercultural.”  However, this is not simply countercultural for the sake of being “different” in a culture that loves difference.  It is a call to take on the identity, mission and ministry of Christ, which are found in the cross.  The cross is not only a call.  It changes us, gives us identity and shares with us God’s mission for the world. So, what should the cross look like today?  It should not look any different than it did when Jesus first said these words.  These words are a reminder that the cross we bear is about self-sacrifice and not about self-interest.  The cross that we should be carrying will never be a stumbling block, but we know Peter’s desire to have a non-suffering Lord is a problem.  The call of the cross in today’s context is not a different call, but the same call; a call to follow after Jesus.

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