Jesus is pretty straightforward when sharing with his disciples. He tells them that they must daily pick up their cross and follow him. In the beginning Jesus asks the twelve simply to follow. It is hard for us to know whether or not they knew why to follow him, but I think it is a safe bet that they had no idea what they were getting into when they left their lives to follow this radical teacher.
The call to discipleship for us is really no different than the call expressed by Jesus in Matthew's gospel. We must be people who won't simply believe, but rather become determined followers. This following, much like the apostles, begins with some basics but quickly turns to a decision point where we must enter into covenant with God that we will follow Christ...even to the cross.
The cross has a different image for us today than it did in the ancient world. You've probably heard before that the equivalent of wearing a cross around your neck then, would have been like wearing an electric chair today. I wouldn't say that's drastic, but it is dramatic. Things are always better in context.
The cross stood for punishment for crimes committed in the land. Pilate tries to stay the execution by stating that the crimes that are being accused of Jesus are far from death on a cross. However, politics played there part, a riotous crowd pushed against the decorum sensibilities of Pilate and not wanting to look like an inept leader, he gave in and gave Jesus over to the cross. So, no one would have worn a cross around their neck in that day. However, nor would anyone be picking one up to follow Jesus either.
Today the cross has more meaning than its tortuous beginnings. We have read the end of this story. We wear or display a symbol that communicates a story of sacrifice, salvation, and fulfillment of God's promise. Our gaze can be fixed upon the cross, not so we can watch the lamb be slain, but so that we can see the Lord have power and dominion over darkness, sin, and Satan. And so we pick up our own cross and follow Christ.
Many times we have taken this scripture about picking up our cross and make it about OUR sin, OUR dedication, OUR following, and OUR sacrifice. The cross may benefit us with everlasting life, but the cross has little to do with US and much to do with Christ. Christ wants us to pick up our cross daily and follow Him so that we have 20/20 vision for the Lord. The cross which was once a symbol of death and torture, has now become a symbol of God's sacrifice for all of creation.
So when we decide to become disciples and follow Jesus we will intersect the cross. We will intersect Jesus' persecution, Jesus' death, Jesus' sacrifice, Jesus' humility, and Jesus' salvation. With the cross on our own back during our every day, we learn how to face demons, destruction, death, darkness, and despair. But it isn't because we have a strong back. It is because we have a GREAT AND MIGHTY GOD! The cross keeps our focus on that fact and the fact that Jesus is a hero over death, a sacrifice for all, and a divine deliverer.
We will be just as prone to the evil and darkness of the world when we decide to be a disciple as we were before. The cross will make the pain and suffering alive in our eyes. The difference, though, is that when we intersect the cross we will also come to know the Triune God in new LIGHT.