Resurrection Day or Easter Sunday is done. Pretty baskets have been placed back on high shelves in closets, colorful translucent grass with bits of candy wrappers and shards of ‘real egg’ have been tossed in the trash, and fluffy bunnies are placed on little beds to collect dust for the rest of the year.
But what about Him? What have we done with Him? You know–with Jesus? Did we put our even-momentary thoughts of Jesus in a cupboard somewhere to be retrieved at Christmas time? Did we pray a prayer of thanksgiving for His sacrifice and then tuck the resurrection away as if it isn’t important enough to have a profound effect on the other 364 days of the year?
This week’s Ladies’ Study at church was in Chapter 5 of Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love. The chapter is entitled “Serving Leftovers to a Holy God” and in it, Chan asks us to really contemplate Matthew 16:24-25 where Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” I’m thinking that at some point in our lives, we might have read this and thought, “Naaahhhh! He can’t seriously mean to follow Him all the time! What about I take a break on Friday nights so I can go out drinking? Or what about that Sunday when church just seems less important than the bar-b-que at the beach? Is He serious?”
I know I thought this way for a very long time. In fact, most passages I read in the bible initially, I read with my own filtering lense. I decided what I liked and what I didn’t and that was that. There was no humility in that posture. I was the weed standing tall in the field telling God Himself what I “think” He’s saying. So today, He has shown me a very different perspective on those verses in Matthew.
When Jesus tells us to “take up your cross,” we might ask ourselves, what is MY cross? No, I highly doubt it is your nagging mother-in-law or jealous boyfriend. How do we figure out what our cross is? Well, we know of one infamous cross. The one that Jesus was crucified on. It was an object. It was a place of sacrifice. It was “seemingly” a final destination. It was memorable. It had purpose.
So when we take up our cross, it may mean focusing on our destination, which is eternal, in a memorable, sacrificial, purposeful way. The cross was a burden. If you are a follower of Jesus and have heard Him speak to you in the many ways that He does, you are probably keenly aware of the burdens He places on your heart. There lies “purpose.” And by following Him, we are to carry out His purpose with all of the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, love and patience that He graces us with. That is hard stuff. That’s why it’s a burden.
It’s a burden to “deny myself” because, for me anyway, that means to set aside the big and lofty goals that I have and accept His bigger and loftier goals. “Deny myself” means to come to God with every decision, every split in the road, every conflict, every victory and share it with Him and walk in obedience when He guides my steps with His wisdom. So what about that last part? “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The key seems to be the words “for my sake.” Our Heavenly Father would never ask us to give up anything for no purpose. He asks us to trade in our mediocre desires for His awesome plans. In that, we find our true, authentic life. The one we were meant to live.
After Jesus’ resurrection, the world would change dramatically. A handful of apostles would be the impetus to spread the gospel all over the world. And here it is. In my hands and in my heart today. Maybe even in yours. And if it isn’t, He invites us all to come to Him so you too could share in the knowledge of the Father through His son. I am grateful that Peter and Andrew traded in their plans to catch a lot of fish and followed Jesus’ plan. I am grateful that Matthew gave up all of the money he’d make as a tax collector and followed Jesus’ plan. Despite many rough moments, they and the other apostles, took up their crosses and here we are 2,000 years later, learning from them, about this Messiah they knew as Jesus Christ.
Easter bunnies are cute. Cadbury eggs are WOW! Sharing a lovely brunch with family is sweet. But let’s not put the truth of the Resurrection in a container to be saved for another year. Let’s wake up each new day giving thanks and renewing our sense of awe for what He has done and what He continues to do in our lives. Let’s not offer Him our leftovers but our whole selves as living sacrifices. That does require more than “minimal commitment,” and not all will say “Yes” to Him. Matthew 7:14 says, “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” I pray you find it.