Learning to Carry Her Cross (click to view/download originally published pdf file)
27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Yvonne Was Learning to Carry Her Cross. That’s what I finally figured out. Yvonne was learning to carry her cross. All those times over the years when she was so weak and ill that I thought hers was surely the next funeral I would do, I wondered, “Lord, what are you doing? Why are you prolonging this? She’s so frail. She’s in so much pain. Why don’t you just take her? What do you have planned for her here?” I can’t claim to know all the hidden counsels of God, but I did finally find a general yet very profound and instructive answer in his revealed Word: The Lord was teaching Yvonne to carry her cross.
And, oh, what a blessing—yet one that so very few people understand. And here I’m not just talking about people who have never heard of Christ. I’m also talking about people who know the story of Christ well. I’m talking about believers and unbelievers alike.
This text illustrates the point, because Peter plainly had saving faith. “You are the Christ,” he says in verse 29. His confession of faith is solid and genuine—so much so, in fact, that, in the parallel account from Matthew, Christ calls Peter’s confession the rock on which the church is built. Yet, a few verses later, what does Jesus say to Peter? “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
Satan! It’s hard to imagine a more stinging rebuke from Christ than that! And it comes after a solid confession of faith! How can this be?
That, my friends, is one of the most important questions you can ask about the Scriptures, and the amount of time God took in teaching it to Yvonne over years illustrates just how difficult the answer is to understand. Jesus said it like this: “If anyone would come after me, 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 and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
This is not an easy lesson for us to learn. The state of America’s Christian churches makes it even harder. We can barely even speak of this lesson because American churches so regularly talk about faith and Bible study as ways of solving your problems, easing your discomforts and even making you wealthy! But, again, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, 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 and for the gospel will save it.” Not only is faith in Christ not a way to take away all your discomforts, but Jesus uses his very crucifixion as an illustration of exactly what the Christian life is all about!
And for us who knew Yvonne’s pain from the last several years well, we have a modern-day illustration of that crucifixion. That’s not to say that if you’re Christian you will suffer with similar diseases. Rather, you can see in Yvonne’s life an example of how God uses all things to crucify our sinful nature and the pride in self that comes with it.
It’s no accident that Jesus closes his lesson on carrying the cross by saying, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” That’s because the hardest thing for a sinner to do—even the sinner who has received the gospel of forgiveness through Christ—is to let God’s Word have the final say in all things. Our sinful natures will always cry out that God is being unfair and unmerciful, that he is generally not doing his job the way he ought to. But to follow Christ is to see in Jesus’ suffering the punishment that should have rightfully been ours. To follow Christ is to be born anew in our understanding of God’s mercy and of his gracious, good will by seeing that unparalleled act of love. “Carrying the cross” refers to any struggle that comes with daily crucifying that old, sinful attitude, that distrust and rebellion against God.
That is what I saw happening in Yvonne through her suffering over the past several years. That suffering would make her think about God, question God. And that questioning would drive her back to the Word again and again, where any distrust from her sinful nature would be revealed. The Word would nail that distrust down, and again and again the Lord would then give her the miraculous gift both to receive his answers and to receive his forgiveness with thanks and praise through our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Yvonne was learning to carry her cross. I saw it again and again. And as that sinful nature was nailed to the cross again and again, and as the Word worked faith in God through the forgiveness Jesus has earned, we talked repeatedly about how the loss of a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, might eventually bring others to the cross of Christ on a day like today, a day where our need for comfort would bring us once again to view his extraordinary sacrifice, and this would lead us to repentance, to the nailing of our own sinful pride to the cross while giving thanks and praise to God for his mercy and forgiveness. New lives would come forth, and the final comfort for all would be that this new life is eternal, a life that death cannot end, for we shall see each other—hold each other—again, just as Jesus died and rose again, and now lives and rules eternally for us. Amen.