Following in the footsteps of Christ is no easy task. Christ tells us right up front that we will face persecution, for He was persecuted. He tells us that He had nowhere to lay His head, and that we must be prepared to take up our crosses.
That last challenge, to take up our crosses, is difficult for many 21st century Christians to understand. At least, it is difficult for us to understand it in the same way that first century Christians understood it.
The cross was more than a symbol of shame; it was the ultimate shame and disgrace. Criminals were put to death on the cross. Traitors were hung on a cross, and enemies of the state. Unlike contemporary capital punishment, like the electric chair or lethal injection, the cross was not a quick death and certainly not merciful. It created a tortuous and lingering death, one that was excruciatingly (the word excruciating, in fact, means “of the cross”) painful, and designed to make a public spectacle, an example.
To take up our crosses means to deny ourselves of our carnal desires. It means to rid our hearts of its perverted, sinful nature and fill it with the nature of Christ. To take up our crosses means to be willing to lay down our lives for Christ, and in a more practical sense, it means to give our lives to Christ.
What’s more, we are to deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily. This willingness to give our lives to Christ and for Christ is the key to following in Christ’s footsteps. The journey is a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute, and breath-by-breath surrender to God.
When we walk daily in absolute surrender to Christ, our hearts reflect His heart, and our desires are to grow ever closer to God.
To paraphrase Dr Charles Stanley, before we can live, we must be prepared to die.