Matthew 16:24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
What does Jesus mean by this, that we are to take up our own crosses, and follow Him? What did it mean for Jesus to take up His cross ? What was the motivating power behind Jesus life and death?
Love. What is the essential and intrinsic nature and characteristic of love? The world today is immensely confused over the meaning of love. That half the marriages celebrated today (including within the church) end up in divorce bears testimony to this confusion. The fact that an institution supposedly based on love has a 50% chance of ending up in acrimony, bitterness and estrangement shows clearly that the ‘love’ for a great many of those marrying couples was temporary, conditional, and limited in it’s enduring quality and considering the glittering career today of marriage counselors I would suggest the quality of marriage leaves much to be desired also. Is that real love? Something that is temporary? Something dependent on circumstances? Is love ‘true’ when times are good but fades away like a fleeting shadow at the first sign of trouble?
Even in the spiritual world of Christianity, there is a great misapprehension of the nature of love. A great variety and confusion exists in doctrinal belief because so many do not understand the true nature of God, Who the scriptures tell us, is Love.
A correct understanding of the nature of God would afford us a correct understanding of the nature of love. (And vice-versa). So let us look to the scriptures, and in particular Jesus, to find out what God is like.
As I said earlier, God is Love. (1 Jn 4:8) Coll. 1:19 tells us that “it pleased the Father that in Him (Jesus) should all fullness dwell”. Later in Coll. 2:9 it says “in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily”. Jesus said Himself to Phillip, “Have I been so long with you Phillip, and yet thou hast not known Me? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father…” (Jn 14:9) And again in Collosians, it says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. (1:15)
So if we desire to know what true love is, because God is love and Jesus is the image of God, then all we need do is look to see how Jesus loved. A great place to start I think is Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Chapter 2 begins with Paul exhorting his readers to be united in their walk of discipleship, and that the prime factor that unites them is love. He then exhorts us to all that we ought to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, and proceeds to to give us a brilliantly simple summary of the gospel (Phil.2:1-11) in which he explains that the mind of love that belongs to God was expressed through His Son by an act of self sacrificial humility culminating in His death. In fact, Paul says that God loves us so much that as far as Jesus was concerned, being in the form of God was not worthwhile so long as we were lost!! He laid aside His omnipotence for us, yet we with-hold our means to help one another! Jesus laid aside His omnipresence for us yet we baulk at walking over the road to help our neighbour! Jesus laid aside His omniscience yet we are reluctant to share with those who don’t know Him how He has saved us! Reputation and honour are relegated to the bottom of the ladder and serving others raised to the top of those virtues best cherished. And man instituted slavery! Man’s natural inclination is not to love, but to serve self.
To achieve His aim of saving us, Jesus stepped down from His throne of honour glory majesty and power where He rightly received the due worship and adoration from countless numbers of heavenly creatures to become a helpless baby in the womb of an unmarried teen-ager in an occupied country where He was completely dependant upon the whims , fancies, loves, hates, and the myriad of emotions, dreams, ambitions, hopes, and all the hang-ups of human sin and degeneracy, in order to live out His mission. His purpose was so steadfast, His faithfulness so enduring, His grace and love so sure, that He endured everything that degeneracy could throw at Him. Insult, hatred, antipathy, disbelief, persecution, mocking, torture and finally death.
My friends, that is Love. That is real Love. It is the very same love in fact , and no lesser version of it, that Paul exhorts us to emulate when he says “Let this mind be in you which also was in Christ Jesus”. It is the very same love that Paul extols in Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it”. It is the very same love that is listed in the fruit of the Spirit. Selfless, sacrificial, benevolent, kind-hearted, gentle and truthful. A far cry from the emotional counterfeit that the world offers and so many practice. The love that God offers you through Jesus is the real thing. And He would have us share that very same love with others. Our wives, our children, our brothers and sisters and our neighbours.It is the love that world, now dying in sin and despair, needs so desperately.
It is a love that endures hardship, spurns hatred, and overcomes unbelief. It never fails, never gives up, never lets go, yet allows the freedom for those to whom it is directed to choose whether to accept and return it, or reject it and resist it. Amazing love!!! Yet we persecute those who disagree with us over doctrine and use the name of God to pronounce them heretics and then kill them! A writer of the late 18th century had these wise words to say regarding freedom.” There can be no more conclusive evidence that we possess the spirit of Satan (as opposed to the Spirit of God’s love) than the disposition to hurt and destroy those who do not appreciate our work, or who act contrary to our ideas.”
Can we love like that? Can man, or woman, love so selflessly that he/she would give hi life for his enemy? Ordinarily, the answer would have to be no. Man is not capable of such love. While on rare occasions we may see and witness wonderful expressions of self sacrificial heroism for strangers by people in emergency situations like firemen etc., but is it love that motivates such acts, or is it duty or patriotism or something else? Sin and the human condition caused by 1000’s of years of moral compromise and degeneracy and selfish gratification has distorted man’s moral reasoning to such an extent that even our prayers need ‘cleaning up’ by our Mediator in heaven.
Yet Jesus Himself, when challenged with the question “What is the greatest commandment”? replied “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind and soul. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. (Math 22:34-40). Elsewhere He gave as the 11th commandment: “A new commandment I give unto you, ‘that ye love one another as I have loved you, that ye also love one another’. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples.”
Though in and of ourselves we are incapable of such love, God does not command us to do anything without also giving us the means by which to obey. It is up to us whether we desire to love as He loves and surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit that He may empower us. Thus the degree of love He calls us to transcends any emotional level and becomes a matter of choice. We choose to obey, He empowers us. We choose to love, He fills us with His Spirit and we become partakers of His divine nature. And the world is fed by the food we share. Prisoners are visited. Our homes become sanctuaries. We clothe and shelter those who are cold, homeless, poor and in need.
As the world witnesses and benefits from our love, two things happen. First and foremost, the world, perhaps for the first time, sees God. We, through our love, destroy Satan’s sophistries and lies regarding the nature and character of God. Much of the world believe God to be capricious, judgemental, cruel, despotic, legalistic, demanding and spiteful. But through love, not only do you prove Satan a liar, and lead people to the truth, but you also vindicate the true nature and character of God to the universe and when this age closes, all will agree and testify with you, throughout the ceaseless ages, that God is love.
The second thing that happens as we express the love of God for humanity, is that by so doing we secure our salvation, for when Jesus comes He will say to you, “Come ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…for inasmuch as ye have (loved) one of these the least of My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”
This is what it means by taking up our cross and following Jesus. It means sacrificing self for others. It means surrendering ones life for the betterment of his neighbour. It means self must die daily that Christ may live His life through us by His Spirit that we may play our part in lifting mankind up to a position where he can have express faith in a God who in the words of Jeremiah,
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an end and a hope.