On two occasions Jesus drew a line in the sand for His disciples by telling them that true followers of His “take up their cross and follow Him.”  To understand this phrase we must forget the notion of the cross as a modern day icon of the Christian faith.  To a first century Jew living in that region, the cross signified a criminal’s death at the hands of a pagan foreign power.  To take up one’s own cross is to lift up the means of our own violent execution, place it on our back, and carry it to the place of our death.  With this challenge, Jesus is saying, “What awaits me is death. It will be gruesome and bloody. Are you with me?”

“Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken” is an early 19th century hymn written by the Scottish pastor, Henry F. Lyte, whose own father abandoned him at an early age.  It speaks of the cost, the realities, and the blessed hope of discipleship.  When we sing this song, we are saying that we have accepted all that the cross means.  We have left the pleasures and trappings of this world and embraced the persecution, the suffering, and all that being a follower of Christ entails.  We are saying, with Paul, “I am crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” (Galatians 2:20).

Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow Thee. Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my all shall be.

Perish every fond ambition, All I’ve sought or hoped or known. Yet how rich is my condition! God and Heaven are still mine own.

Taking up my cross involves sacrifice, self-denial, and humility. It also involves being fully aware that my depravity renders me deserving of the sentence that Christ received on my behalf. Because of His sacrifice, I owe Him everything. In giving up everything, I gain more than I can imagine.

For now, however, we live in world that is hostile to the gospel, passionately hates God and His Son, and subjects those who claim Him as king to constant persecution. And, Jesus said it would be like this.  All through His instructions in Matthew 10, Jesus tells His apostles that they will be hated because of Him.  He reiterated this to them in the upper room just prior to His arrest.

Let the world despise and leave me, They have left my Savior, too. Human hearts and looks deceive me; Thou art not, like them, untrue.

And while Thou shalt smile upon me, God of wisdom, love and might, Foes may hate and friends disown me, Show Thy face and all is bright.

Neither the condition of the world, nor the circumstances we face can diminish the joy we have in Christ. Friends will leave us, family will disappoint us, and wealth will fade away. Nevertheless, God’s wisdom, love and might will sustain us and envelope us in the joy Christ intended just prior to His own death (John 15:11).

At the moment before His arrest, Jesus admonished His disciples to remain close to Him in light of the many trials and persecutions they would face for the remainder of their time on earth. Any fame they would achieve would bring scorn, pain, and death.  Just like those men, we are called to live in surrender to the cause of Christ. Still, we know that come what may, the joy of the Lord will sustain us and He will be our refuge and strength.

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure! Come, disaster, scorn and pain! In Thy service, pain is pleasure; With Thy favor, loss is gain.

I have called Thee, Abba, Father; I have set my heart on Thee: Storms may howl, and clouds may gather, All must work for good to me.

Our greatest desire is to be counted among those whose lives are marked by our service to the Kingdom of Christ. We long to hear Him say, “Well done,” (Matt. 25:14-30).

The suffering of a woman in labor is known to be one of the most painful experiences a human can endure; but, at the moment she hold this precious treasure, the pain becomes an irrelevant memory. Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to childbirth for this very reason. The pain we endure in service and hope will be a distance memory when fully united with Him in glory.

Haste then on from grace to glory, Armed by faith, and winged by prayer, Heaven’s eternal day’s before thee, God’s own hand shall guide thee there.

Soon shall close thy earthly mission, Swift shall pass thy pilgrim days; Hope soon change to glad fruition, Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

Our days on this earth will soon pass and we will suddenly and joyfully be in the presence of our Lord and Savior. The hope that is in us will come to full knowledge and glory. We will then see the things we cannot even imagine now, and we will spend eternity learning more and more about our infinite God.

Here, we sing of things we know to be true—not because we have experienced them with our physical senses, but because the Spirit has revealed these things to us through God’s holy Word. As we sing, may we be mindful of our singular cause and the reason for our celebration.  We live, we struggle, and we endure all for the glory of His name.