How often do we hear the expression: “Well, I guess that’s my cross to bear” referring to some situation that requires someone to put up with adverse circumstances. Too often we encounter this attitude that Christ had to bear suffering on the cross, so we each will have our suffering to do also. After all, isn’t that what Jesus was referring to when in Luke 9:23 He said: “… If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me”?
The People’s New Testament expresses this way of thinking when it comments as follows concerning Matthew 10:38 and Luke 9:23: “The cross is the pain of the self-denial required. The cross is the symbol of doing our duty, even at the cost of the most painful death. Christ obeyed God, and carried out his work of the salvation of men, though it required him to die upon the cross in order to do it. And ever since, the cross has stood as the emblem, not of suffering, but of suffering for the sake of Christ and his gospel.”
However, the Bible does not refer to the Cross as an emblem of suffering but rather as the place where Jesus died for our sins. It was on the Cross that God “…made him [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). It was there at the Cross God accomplished “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross (Colossians 2:14).” While the Cross was indeed a place of suffering for Christ the emphasis of Scripture is that it is the place of redemption, the place where “….our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforh we should not serve sin (Romans 6:6).
Paul, in his epistles, speaks much about the fact that believers are identified with Jesus’ death on the Cross. For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead (2 Corinthians 5:14). “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:11). I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
When Jesus said each one is to take up his own cross, He was not referring to the suffering each would experience but rather to the fact that we must identify with His substitutionary death for us on that Cross. We need to account that our sin natures were crucified on that Cross. This is what brings us salvation and this is what gives us the power to live a victorious Christian life. Yes, Christians will suffer many things for the cause of the Gospel, but Jesus came to give us abundant life (John 10:10). “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden,” He said, “and I will give you rest”. Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” Even in our sufferings He gives us rest.
The Cross is to be a symbol of our victory in Christ over sin and death. To take up the Cross is to identify with Christ’s sustitutionary death and to account that our old nature is dead and that through the power of the Holy Spirit we live unto Christ. The verse in Luke says to take up the Cross daily. We are to daily account ourselves dead to sin and alive unto Christ. In Matthew, we see that we are to deny ourselves. We deny our self sufficiency. We cannot save ourselves. No amount of good works or suffering on our parts can get us in bit closer to heaven. Only Calvary can.