Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
“We all have our cross to bear,” says the popular proverb, but most who say so have no idea of the meaning of Jesus’ words. He spoke them right after rebuking Peter, who thought that he knew better than Jesus how to accomplish God’s purposes.
Jesus had been explaining that He must suffer many things and even die before He would rise again, but Peter thought there must be a shortcut. Jesus replied (if I may summarize Mark 8:33-38), “Get behind me, Satan! There are no shortcuts! The cross must do its work.”
The work of a cross was to shame, to make the offender suffer, to kill him and to give warning to others about the consequences of crossing the authorities. But these aren’t the purposes Jesus has in mind. God’s perspective on the cross is very different from Satan’s.
Both have death in mind, but Satan used the cross to kill the person; God uses it to kill the self. When Jesus says to “take up (your) cross,” He means that we should willingly carry the tool that God will use to kill our sinful nature and make us more like Christ.
What the “cross” looks like is different for every person. For some, it’s a challenging circumstance that brings them to the end of their own resources or abilities. For some, it’s something difficult and painful from their past. For others, it’s a disability, a limitation, a weakness, a failure… It could even be a persistent struggle with sin. It’s whatever God uses to bring us into complete dependence upon Him.
Too often, we give Satan power to use these things to shame us, to make us suffer and to destroy us. Instead, we should turn them over to God, who makes ALL things work together for the good of those who love Him. God is not the author or creator of the cross, but He will use it to put to death anything that is not like His Son.
Where Satan intends shame, God develops humility. Where Satan intends suffering, God develops dependence. Where Satan intends death, God gives life. Where Satan intends a warning, God provides a testimony.