Today I received a wonderful little volume by D. A. Carson entitled Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. I figured this to be an appropriate exegetical supplement to the passion narratives that I read at this time of the year. It didn’t take Dr. Carson long, however, to deliver a powerful body-blow to my spiritual apathy when he described the calling of Jesus to the disciples. Read for yourself:
It is at this juncture that Jesus universalizes the principle that is at stake: “If anyone would come after me,” he says, “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (vv. 24-25). This expression “to take up one’s cross” is not an idiom by which to refer to some trivial annoyance — an ingrown toenail, perhaps, or a toothache, or an awkward in-law: “We all have our crosses to bear.” No, in the first century it was as culturally unthinkable to make jokes about crucifixion as it would be today to make jokes about Auschwitz. To take up your cross does not mean to move forward with courage despite the fact you lost your job or your spouse. It means you are under sentence of death; you are taking up the horizontal cross-member on your way to the place of crucifixion. You have abandoned all hope of life in this world. And then, Jesus, says, and only then, are we ready to follow him.
— D. A. Carson