An essential accessory for many Christians? A cross necklace. But Jesus didn’t mean wearing this symbol closely identified with the Christian faith when He directed His disciples to take up their cross daily and follow Him. (Luke 9:23) And He certainly didn’t contemplate believers walking around each day under the weight of a physical cross. Since Jesus clearly instructed taking up a cross, Christians are forced to determine just what His words require them to do.
The Cross as a Symbol of Faith
Given Jesus’ death by crucifixion, could anything serve as a more powerful symbol of belief in Him than a cross? Indeed, people view a cross as the defining symbol of Christianity. Displaying this accessory announces the wearer’s commitment to their faith. Specifically, a cross brings attention to the love of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice to save all people. That nobody appears on a cross hanging from a necklace points to the hope provided by Jesus’ resurrection.
The Crucifixion Story
Although the end of the crucifixion story fills followers of Christ with hope, Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23 focus on the word cross. The Biblical account puts the cross in a much different perspective than what a beautiful cross necklace conveys.
Mark 15 relates the events of the last day of Jesus’ life as a human. After Pontius Pilate granted permission for Jesus to be crucified, the story took a grim turn. The Roman soldiers flogged Jesus. Flogging involves a severe beating with a whip or rod. So, before Jesus even headed to Golgotha, the place of crucifixion, He was tortured. Despite His weakened condition after flogging, the soldiers made Jesus carry His own cross. (John 19:17) The weight of the instrument of death became too much for Jesus to handle, so the Romans pulled a man from the crowd, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross for Jesus. (Mark 15:21).
The gruesome means of execution required Jesus to be nailed to a cross and raised high above the crowd. He hung in this barbaric fashion for about six hours before His death. Those executed in this fashion succumb to a combination of constrained blood circulation, organ failure, and asphyxiation as their body strains under their own weight. This ugly death in no way compares to a beautiful cross necklace.
What is a Believer’s Cross?
Jesus’ disciples lived when crucifixion served as a method of capital punishment by the Romans. The occupying Romans intended it to be a gruesome spectacle that would deter others from committing similar offenses. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion. Jesus told His followers to take up a cross indicating He expected them to do something very hard. But what? The cross believers must bear was not literal but figurative.
Images of death went hand in hand with a cross. And Jesus had death in mind. The death He referred to? Dying to self. He called for self-denial for the sake of God’s kingdom. God’s will, and not the believer’s, must be the priority. Jesus Himself exemplified self-denial when he prayed “yet not my will, but yours be done” in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Luke 22:42, NIV)
Taking up the Cross Is a Series of Choices
Jesus intentionally used the word “daily” in His directive about taking up your cross. Daily indicates an ongoing need to make a choice to follow God and His leading. Believers can choose to deny themselves or to follow their own desires. We can give in to temptation or we can resist it. Such choices present themselves multiple times each day.
What does this series of choices entail? A choice does not have to be earth-shattering, like submitting to crucifixion. The choice may simply be to resist the urge to snap back at someone who annoys you, making you feel better but offering a poor witness of your faith. Patience is, of course, a fruit of the spirit. The choice may be to comply with God’s leading to sacrifice a few minutes of your free time to meet a friend going through a difficult time. If God is love, shouldn’t Jesus’ followers be caring for those who need a listening ear and a kind heart?
A Cross Necklace Does Have a Purpose Though
Even though a cross necklace may not be what Jesus had in mind in Luke 9:23, the accessory still serves an important purpose. Yes, the jewelry is a statement to those you encounter of your Christian faith. But, perhaps even more importantly, it can remind the wearer that, just as the necklace is constantly around their neck, so must their everyday decisions be constantly geared towards following Jesus.