The Meaning of the Cross, by Louis A. Dole

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“Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, he cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:27

Readings

Isaiah 53 · John 19:12-24

Sermon

This world was intended as a place of preparation for heaven. If there were no relation between this world and the next, it is obvious that our time spent here would have no meaning. And if life here is for preparation for heaven, we need to have a right concept of what heaven is.

Strange ideas of heaven have been devised by men. It has even been regarded as a kingdom of which someone had the key and admitted whom he pleased. Also it has been taught that the Lord by suffering death on the cross took upon Himself the punishment that the Father considered was due to men. And there are some sects who think that no one can be saved but their own members, or that salvation is dependent upon the observance of some formal rite.

The true way of life is the way to heaven, for the laws of a good life are the same on earth as in heaven. And these laws are unchangeable. Two and two make four not only sometimes but always. The laws of right calculation never vary. Any deviation brings disaster.

It is just the same in the realm of spirit. There is no magic involved, no instantaneous transformation of a sinner into a saint. Heaven is open to all who walk in the way that leads to it. The Lord came to show us this way, and to give us the power to walk in it. One of these laws the Lord gives in the text: “Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, he cannot be my disciple.” What does this mean? Does it mean that the way to heaven is the way of pain or suffering? Surely this cannot be. Anything further removed from a genuine Christian outlook on life would be hard to imagine, for the Lord came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly, and that His joy might be in us and that our joy might be full.

Yet in the words “Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, he cannot be my disciple” the Lord states the terms of Christian discipleship. They are very simple but very searching. There are those who have met reverses, who have been afflicted with sickness and bereavements, who say, “This is my cross. It is heavy, but I must bear it.” They think of their outward trials as the cross they are to bear. But the cross stands for something much more fundamental than this, for something that the well equally with the sick have to bear.

The Lord spoke of His crucifixion as the laying down of His life. And He emphasized the fact that it would be a willing surrender. When the time came, it would seem as if evil men were controlling His life, but in reality it would not be so. “I lay it down of myself,” He said weeks before the day of crucifixion came. “No man taketh it from me.” “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” This laying down of life was the complete laying down of all desire to be esteemed or to be vindicated in men’s eyes. There was the laying down of every feeling of bitterness in being reviled and of resentment in being wronged. This is what the cross stands for. When the Lord says, “Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, he cannot be my disciple,” He is saying in words much more expressive than any which we can frame, “Whoever is not willing to lay down his lower, self-seeking life, he need not hope to be my disciple.”

The heavenly world is an unselfish one. There everyone has delight in adding to the happiness of others. We cannot hope for the joy of heaven if we are living the life of selfishness. The selfish man is out of place in heaven. Generosity, unselfishness, and service to the community is the lesson these words teach.

But it is said, “It is a hard thing that is required of us. It is impossible.” Yes, it is a cross impossible to bear in our own strength.

If we live for the sake of worldly prosperity, worldly honor and position, whatever services to the world we render will have selfishness within them. It is a fact, often overlooked, that there may be no difference in the external life between the devout Christian and the most cunning rogue; the distinction is an internal one, in that the former acts from love to the Lord and the neighbor, and looks upon his daily life as worship of the Lord, while the latter finds simply that such a life pays him better than an evil one would do.

Many think of the giving up of pleasures and amusements as bearing the cross. Yet one may give up all of these and not be a Christian. The world with all its pleasures is given us to enjoy. The true Christian religion is not a negative religion. It is well to consider our text in relation to those other words of the Lord which seem to teach the opposite: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; … For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

No one has ever found happiness in self-seeking. At first self-seeking is hard to give up but as progress is made, life becomes more and more happy. Service of self is the hard yoke, love of the Lord and the neighbor makes our burdens easy.

“Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, he cannot be my disciple.” “He cannot be my disciple.” The word “disciple” means a learner. The disciples were men whose belief was strong enough and their interest great enough to enable them to give up and become learners. Only so could they come to know of the Lord and of His kingdom. More and more the truths of His wisdom, and His love appealed to them. And the more they learned from Him, the more they found themselves united to Him. He became more than their teacher; He became their inspiration and their life. They gave up many things. We become disciples in the same vital way. A selfish man makes himself the center of his thought and acts.

The purpose of life is to seek to be led by the Lord. There is no other way to happiness or to heaven.

“Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, he cannot be my disciple.” We cannot become even learners until we take this step.

Amen

Read the original sermon in PDF format

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