Sometimes our eagerness for practical bible application becomes woefully misguided. When we hastily push a text into our own respective situation we may blunt its force. This is a sad exercise, because the word is a sword that slices our soul, not a butter knife that scrapes our skin. Take Jesus’ words:
Whoever wants to be my disciple must take up his cross daily and follow me Luke 9:23
It’s not a terribly bad interpretation to say this verse applies to harvesting an habitual practice of self-sacrifice and self-denial. But when we accept such vague terms before long such “sacrifice” begins to look like fasting for a day or being nice to mean people. Pretty soon we’ve decided we are almost martyrs for enduring such “crosses” as headaches and past due mortgage notes.
At times we can be so ego-centric in our eisegesis we begin to sound like the deacon who said to his counseling pastor, “Pastor, I guess my anger is just the cross I’ll have to bear the rest of my life.” The pastor replied, “No, your anger is the cross your wife will have to bear the rest of your life.”
Application of a text means nothing if the meaning of a text is not unearthed first. Diluted milk is bad for the body, especially the bride’s.
The shocking force of the words would not be lost on Jesus’ first century audience. What they heard was, “Follow me, and you will be signing your own death sentence in your own blood.” Or in more contemporary speech, “Follow me and you will be tying the hangman’s noose around your own neck everyday of your life.”
This heavy rhetoric is no way to grow a religion or church. I’m sure our modern church growth experts could school the Son of God in “proper contextualization.”
In the Roman Empire, the cross was the beam condemned criminals carried to their place of execution. These words had haunting applications for a first century audience that we miss in our daily grind of skinny lattes, gas prices, and Facebook drama. Jesus was not metaphorically calling his disciples to daily tidy acts of servanthood and patience, though we should do those.
The proper response to Jesus’s strict call would sound a lot like Paul when he says “I count my life as nothing….”(Acts 20:24)
Everything in my old nature rails against the clear penetrating words of Jesus. That’s why God gives us the grace to present ourselves again and again as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:2)
Jesus was enlisting men and women in an impossible undertaking that would defy all odds and likely leave them dead by way of excruciating means. This could happen any moment. Under Roman and Jewish persecution it was a given to the early Christians that they would have to prepare literally “daily” for their own trial and funeral arrangements. To follow in Christ’s footsteps means to set one’s face like flint to Jerusalem, and to count it as an honor to die outside the gates like a street dog. He is our reward, and as long as we are with Him it is more than worth it.
I love the words of GK Chesterton: “Jesus promised the disciples three things-that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.”
Completely fearless because Christ was with them. Absurdly happy because Christ loved them. In constant trouble because Christ called them to fight for a different Kingdom.