“My disciple must…take up their cross…”
We say of one with a disability, or one with an abusive upbringing, or of one who must daily provide exhausting care for another, we say that such a one “has a difficult cross to bear.” These may be unfortunate trials, but they are not at all the “cross” to which Jesus here refers.
To “bear one’s cross” is to bear the disgrace of the cross (Heb. 13:13). It is when a believer, having unashamedly professed one’s identification with Christ – whether by bold words, visible lifestyle, fruits of the Spirit, or separateness from the world – one bears the consequences of that profession whatever they may be. The Christian journeys toward death carrying with him this profession of faith under the Lordship of Jesus. It drags behind him making a furrow in the soil, a witness all can see. Those disturbed by this witness will further assault this saint, as they assaulted Christ. “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12).
Barnes speaks well on this:
When persons were condemned to be crucified, a part of the sentence was that they should carry the cross on which they were to die to the place of execution… The cross was usually composed of two rough beams of wood, united in the form of this figure of a cross It was an instrument of death… To carry it was burdensome, was disgraceful, was trying to the feelings, was an addition to the punishment. So “to carry the cross” is a figurative expression, denoting that we must endure whatever is burdensome, or is trying, or is considered disgraceful, in following Christ. It consists simply in doing our duty, let the people of the world think of it or speak of it as they may. It does not consist in making trouble for ourselves, or doing things merely “to be opposed;” it is doing just what is required of us in the Scriptures, let it produce whatever shame, disgrace, or pain it may. This every follower of Jesus is required to do. – Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
Jesus states this requirement in even starker fashion. He says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27). Not that one should have pure hate in one’s heart, but that one’s devotion to Christ surpasses one’s devotion to kin, even surpassing one’s sense of self-preservation of temporal life.
“I am not ashamed of the gospel,” wrote Paul (Rom. 1:16). Indeed, none of us should be. Did not Jesus warn, “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26). None of us want that!
“It is a great encouragement to us, when we meet with crosses,” writes Matthew Henry, “that in bearing them we follow Christ, who has showed us the way; and that if we follow him faithfully, he will lead us through sufferings like him, to glory with him.” Hence we are urged to “fix our eyes upon Jesus” (See Heb. 12:1-3).
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 nkjv)