by Julie Zine Coleman
Our family arrived at the Roosevelt Hotel the day of my cousin’s wedding late and flustered. We had experienced great difficulty navigating our car caravan through the busy Manhattan streets. Our cars pulled up in tandem under the marquis, hoping for assistance and directions to get us to the front desk quickly.
Two uniformed doormen stood watching us, but did not come to help with the large pile of luggage we pulled from the cars. They didn’t even hold the doors open for us as we struggled to bring our belongings up the stairs and inside. So much for New York hospitality. Miffed at their lack of assistance, I sent a meaningfully dirty look their way.
“I hope they are not thinking we are going to tip them,” I indignantly told my daughters-in-law.
Bethany looked over at the men. “Mom, I think they are airline pilots,” she said.
Uniforms identify the wearer with his place of business. For those observant enough to see the difference between a doorman and an airline pilot’s uniform (!!!), there is no question as to where they serve and what one can expect.
Jesus wanted His disciples to be easily identifiable in the world. He gave us a uniform of sorts to wear as well. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me,” He said (Luke 9:23 NASB). What did that mean? How would that identification look when fleshed out in His followers to the rest of the world?
The concept of being marked as God’s was not a new one. God directed Abraham in Genesis 17:10 to do this very thing. Every male was to be circumcised, beginning with Abraham and continuing down through the generations of descendants that would follow. It was a physical sign that revealed the people’s covenantal relationship with God. Yet it was not just an outward sign that God desired. “Circumcise your heart,” Moses told Israel, “And stiffen your neck no longer… You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.” (Deuteronomy 10:16, 20) Israel’s “uniform” of trust in and obedience to God would identify them as different from the surrounding nations.
To anyone living in the Roman Empire, Jesus’ instruction to “take up his cross and follow me” would have brought to mind a familiar, horrific image. Crucifixion was a brutal form of execution. Once condemned, the criminal would be made to put a crossbeam on his shoulders at the site of sentencing and carry it to the place where he would be crucified. Carrying the cross would be the final act of one’s life. Therefore, Jesus was clearly using this as a metaphor, since He instructed His disciples to carry their cross on a daily basis.
Christ’s first century followers knew crucifixion was a death sentence. Any possessions or wealth, along with rank or entitlement, were also forfeited at the time of sentencing. A crossbeam on one’s shoulders symbolized to the world that the carrier was under the authority of Rome.
When Jesus instructed his disciples to “take up [their] cross daily and follow me,” he was describing how his followers would identify with Him and thus be identified by others. Rather than an outward, physical sign, taking up the cross was an inward attitude that considered oneself dead to sin and alive in Christ. No longer would the disciples live for purely self-serving reasons. Theirs would be a life of surrender, yielding entitlement and self-interests to God, willingly placing themselves under His authority.
When surrounded by a world seeking to exalt itself, anyone with a uniform like that would be very easy to pick out of a crowd.
Christ calls us to take up our cross daily. It is not a once-in-a-lifetime commitment. Rather, it is a daily determination to put God’s priorities as first in our lives. It happens one small decision, one singular action at a time. We will not always succeed; in fact, we may well fail more than succeed. Yet our goal remains to make the fact we have been crucified with Christ a reality in our lives. Why? Because it is what identifies us as His.
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'” 1 Peter 1:14-16
This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).
About the author: Julie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.
Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.
Join the conversation: What does taking up your cross on a daily basis look like in your life?