Anyone who does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. – Matthew 10.38
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11.28-30
These two verses seem at odds with each other, don’t they?
Let me explain. In the first verse, Jesus is talking to the disciples and he says, “Take up your cross.” They immediately knew what that would entail. The image of the Roman cross during the time when Jesus and the disciples walked the earth was anything but pleasant. It was gruesome, in fact. Everyone knew of the agony of the cross, the slow, painful death it would bring, and the humiliation it imposed. No, the cross was not a pleasant thought and carrying one surely meant carrying it to your death. And this was a death too painful to even really begin to imagine.
This is the cost of following Jesus. Right?
And I think every time I have heard that verse preached in a sermon, taught in a Sunday school class or written in a bible study, it always had to do with what it really meant to follow Jesus. And more often then not it had something to do with the fact that following Jesus was supposed to be hard. It was supposed to be difficult work. It was a lifestyle of abstaining from all the “fun” things in life and somehow shuffling into heaven, ragged, tired, beaten, bruised, but somehow victorious. It had something to do with “in this world you will have trouble.”
Maybe I’m crazy or it’s just me or whatever. But, for me, christianity looked like this growing up.
- Obey all the rules.
- Don’t go to parties.
- Alcohol is the devil.
- Be in church every Sunday, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.
- Make straight As.
- Don’t have sex before marriage.
- Prepared to get made fun of.
- Don’t say cuss words.
- Sing in the choir.
- Take notes in church.
But, carry your cross, right?
And then in the very next chapter in the same book he says, “take my yoke upon you, it’s easy.”
A yoke, if you aren’t familiar, is the heavy thing you put on the neck of some ox so they can carry something heavy. Yoke, by it’s very definition, means carrying a burden. Jesus just said the burden he was going to carry was the cross. And we all know this to be true. He literally carried the cross to the place where he was crucified.
Is this the calling we have received? To carry a cross? But how in the world is that an easy yoke? How is that an easy burden?
As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
We carry a cross. We have a yoke on our necks. We face death all day long. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Fortunately for us, the burden we carry is indeed an easy one. You see, Jesus already carried it. In His great outpouring of grace, there is truly nothing left for us to carry. Jesus is inviting us to carry something he already carried. He is inviting us to carry a cross which has no power. No condemnation. No humiliation. No shame.
Jesus walked to that hill with a wooden cross on his back, staring down death, so we wouldn’t have to. He died there. Suffered there. And then he played the God card and got up and walked out of the grave. No more shame. No more guilt. No more suffering. It is finished. Done.
The cross we bear has already been broken. The yoke we have on our neck is simply an invitation to walk in freedom, life, and the power of grace. The death we face all day long is a dragon which has already been slain and lies broken at the feet of our savior; at our feet.
So, let us, through the power of grace, pick up our cross, carry our yoke, and stare in the face of death, confidently acknowledging Christ’s finished work on the cross and walk forth in the victorious freedom offered freely to us.
Through him who loved us.