Stuart MacLean of the CBC’s Vinyl Café, shares an interesting concept when telling the story of how he quit smoking. He remarks that when he decided to quit, he didn’t make the decision once, for all. Instead, he decided to quit every morning for about 6 years.
Each day he would wake up and forget that he had quit smoking. He would look at his bedside table for a cigarette and a lighter before he remembered that he no longer had any cigarettes. He would have to quit all over again; weighing the decision heavily in his mind.
I was reminded of this story recently when I was asked whether I had quit smoking. It was pledge week at Brock University and all the clubs were out in the halls sharing their purpose with the rest of the school. The federal government had sent some public service people who were signing up people for a “Weedless Week”. As I pushed through the crush of people swarming the tables I was handed a clipboard and asked if I had quit smoking yet.
I was stumped. I didn’t smoke, and was confused as to which response would provide the quickest escape. When I quizzically replied, “Yes” they wanted to know when. “Well, today I suppose.”
“Great!”, the volunteer exclaimed as he handed me a clipboard. “Just fill this out and we’ll be in touch.” Since then they have been so supportive! The next week they emailed to ask how it was going. When I reported that I hadn’t touched a cigarette all week they were thrilled! “Keep up the great work” they replied.
While I don’t wish to make light of any person’s struggle for mastery over any addiction, a significant parallel exists between a smoker’s daily decision to quit smoking and a Christian’s daily decision to allow Christ to have mastery over them.
I am not a Christian because of a decision I made on September 4th, 1983. I am a Christian because I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2: 20). I am a Christian as the result of a daily decision, but a decision to do what?
How curious a transformation the cross has made in the 2000 years since Jesus’ resurrection. This instrument of humiliation and torture has been reinvented into a symbol of faith. I watched with interest a few months ago as a group of teens carried a cross from Montréal to Toronto and I wondered about the cross and what it means to me. In a recent Bible study at Tintern, we looked at how Jesus used the word cross, even before he was crucified. We read scriptures like:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “ If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
Matthew 16: 24
A cross is commonly seen as a burden, or a challenge. People frequently refer to difficulties when saying, “This is my cross to bear.” In addition the cross is also seen as a physical representation of the gospel. The crusades were led by those carrying crosses and banners to “the lost”. I think neither of these ideas effectively represent the image that Jesus had when we were told to “take up our cross”.
The cross is poorly suited to be a symbol of the good news. The cross is not where we get our power. We are transformed at cross but we are brought to life by an empty tomb. We are molded by the cross but empowered by the resurrection. We need empty tombs on necklaces or in front of church buildings.
Similarly, the cross is not simply a burden in these scriptures. It is a call to self-denial. From the context one can see that Christ speaks of sacrifice. We must be willing to give up family, friends, even life itself in the pursuit of righteousness and the gospel.
A first century Jew would shocked at the use of the word “cross” in Jesus teachings. They each knew what it meant to “pick up a cross”. People who picked up crosses, picked up little else after that; they were taking their last walk. Jesus wanted them to kill themselves?
In these verses Jesus spoke of the human desires, the sinful tendencies, that compete for our attention. Paul explained this further in the sixth chapter of Romans
…our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Rom. 6: 6-7
When you carry a 1st century cross you will find your hands full; there is no room for personal agendas, pride, lust, jealousy, or any other sin. Death to self and the deeds of the flesh will bring Christ to life in you. We can begin to live the abundant life today, with the help of Jesus. Choose to carry a 1st century cross today.