Throwing Out Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23

Originally published April 1992

The Bible.Just the title gives it this grand introduction.The pages have this sacred thinness which gives a mystical sound when they are turned. The smell from the leather cover indicates its grandeur.Then there are the words, those nuggets of truth to live by.A soothing balm to comfort the troubled soul.Light upon the dark path of life.So we approach the Bible (most often in our troubled times) as this mystical book for the help we need.

Sometimes the above happens for me.The Word of God did bring comfort to my troubled soul and it was a glorious feeling—like God and I truly connected.Sometimes that happens.

 

But more often when I read the Word of God, it is not this mystical book, it is a mystery book.The more I read, the more questions I have, the more I have to search out my life.Gone is this grandeur (which the Bible mistakenly receives) and in comes common sweat.The Bible becomes the book from which I learn from instead of a magical cure for the pain I feel.

Then there are the parts in the Bible I would just as soon throw out.They don’t fit into my line of theology so I’d rather throw them out than try to see how they fit in God’s theology.After all, isn’t my theology what today’s world needs to be reached with?

One part of scripture I’ve always thrown out is “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”That is a hard one to justify throwing out because it is found not once on some obscure page, but three times in the gospels—Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:3, and Luke 9:23.Plus all three authors recorded the exact same words with the exception of Luke.He added the word “daily.”All three authors have different accounts of Jesus’ last words on the cross but they all agreed on this part of Jesus’ teaching, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

But you have to throw out this part of scripture.Who is going to become a Christian if you tell them they have to carry a cross.Doesn’t sound like too much for to me.Doesn’t sound like the mighty joy you receive when Christ enters your life?It sounds like it would be better to not be a Christian.

So how do I deal with this prominent scripture in my life and in the preaching of the gospel?

The cross is a picture of suffering and even agony.Who wants to pick that up?But then when in life are we without suffering?With Christ or without Christ, we all face some kind of pain.Maybe this cross has something more to offer than apparent suffering.Didn’t Jesus’ ultimate victory over Satan come through the cross?Didn’t my redemption from my sins come through the cross?

The cross holds the promises we look for.We all deal with the disappointments and pains of life.The cross reminds us that, yes, there was pain and agony but also complete victory.In a world where life takes many rotten turns, we have something to pick up that gives us victory.There is hope.

This is the message that can be preached from these prominent verses in the Gospels.Teenagers, as well as adults, need to understand this basic principle of the Christian walk.We promise our new converts love, a new life, a new start, acceptance.But as you know, not too long after they have made this lifechanging decision, something happens to shake this newfound faith.When they understand the cross and the pain as well as promise it brings, we have the followers Jesus is calling.

Pick up your cross.Teach the cross.There is hope.But be ready, sometimes it is heavy.