oday’s selected reading continues in the New Testament epistle of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Corinth, and more specifically, is found in the first seven verses of the chapter. When you take a careful and closer look at this particular passage you will quickly find that it essential at builds upon that which the apostle has previously written in the first chapter. When you come the the seventeenth verse of the first chapter you will find the apostle Paul writing unto the Corinthian congregation concerning the preaching of the gospel of God, and that while it was true he did baptize specific individuals within Corinth, the Lord did not send him to baptize. The apostle Paul recognized the divine mission and assignment that was given him by the Lord. For the apostle Paul there was only one mission, only one mandate that was given unto him by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand this reality and concept, for with it we understand about that mission and assignment which has been assigned unto us. In all reality, I am convinced that as surely as we must recognize and understand that which we have been called and sent to perform and accomplish on the earth, we must also recognize and understand that which we have not been called or sent to do. One of the greatest dangers and tragedies is when men and women may very well understand that which they have been called to do, and yet they make every attempt to engage in that for which and that to which they haven’t been called. The apostle Paul recognized that he hadn’t been called or sent to baptize but instead, he was both called and sent to preach the gospel of the cross and the gospel concerning Christ.
One of the most tremendous and profound realities concerning the preaching of the apostle Paul is that his gospel was very simple and very straightforward. For the apostle Paul the cross is as the central focus of his gospel, and he could not and would not preach anything but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The entire gospel and message which Paul preach centered upon the reality of the cross of Jesus Christ. Perhaps one of the greatest questions I can’t help but ask when I read and consider the words of the apostle Paul in the first chapter of this epistle—even that which is written and recorded in this particular set of verses—is how much of the gospel we preach is centered upon the cross of Jesus Christ. How much of that which we speak unto those around us has its foundation upon the cross of Jesus Christ? It’s worth noting how the apostle has actually written that he purposed to know nothing concerning the saints, save Jesus who is the Christ, and Him crucified. For the apostle Paul, this Jesus of Nazareth who had appeared to him while traveling on the road to Damascus had so dramatically altered and changed the course of his life. For the apostle Paul, Jesus Christ was the absolute center—both of his life, as well as his preaching. For the apostle Paul, the single greatest reality within an individual’s life is the person and cross of Jesus the Christ. Just as the nine planets within our galaxy revolve around the sun like clockwork each and every day of the year, so too do and so too must our lives rotate and revolve around the eternal Son every moment of every day of every week of every month of every year. Perhaps one of the greatest questions we must ask ourselves is whether or not our lives do in fact revolve around Jesus who is both Christ and Lord.
I absolutely love the words which the apostle Paul wrote within these particular verses, for the apostle Paul set the stage for the preaching of the cross of Jesus Christ as the central focus of his message. CARRYING OUR CROSS, YET PREACHING HIS! CARRYING OUR CROSS, YET PREACHING CHRIST’S! As I am sitting here right now I have to admit that I am incredibly captivated with and captivated by the reality that while we have been called to carry our own cross, we have also been called to preach the cross of Jesus Christ. It is true that each and every one of us has a cross which we must bear, yet with that being said, it is imperative that we recognize and understand that there is a cross we are called to carry, and there is a cross to preach. I fear there might be a number of men and women who might be willing to preach the cross which Jesus carried and which He died upon, yet they are unwilling to carry their own cross. What’s more, is that I am convinced there are those who might be willing to carry their own cross, yet when it comes to preaching the cross or Jesus Christ, they shy away from it. How many among us are not only carrying the cross which we have been called to, and are also preaching the cross which our Savior and Lord carried and died upon. When we preach the cross of Jesus Christ, I am convinced that we must not only preach the death upon that cross, but we must also preach the carrying of that cross. I would dare say that until and unless we are willing to understand the carrying of the cross which Jesus died upon, we cannot and will not understand the actual death upon the cross. What’s more, is that if we are to understand the cross which Jesus carried, we must also understand that not even Jesus Christ could carry His cross by Himself. It would require a man by the name of Simon to help Jesus carry His cross to the place where He would be crucified. What is most telling and most revealing about the path of the cross and the death of the cross is that not only did Jesus not carry His cross alone, but He also did not die alone. THERE WERE THREE CROSSES! THERE WAS ANOTHER TRAVELER ON THE PATH OF THE CROSS!
When I read the words of the apostle Paul concerning the preaching of the cross of Jesus Christ, I can’t help but be completely and totally gripped and captivated by the incredible reality that when it comes to the preaching of the cross of Christ, it is not only necessary to preach the death upon the cross, but it is also necessary to preach the carrying of that cross. It’s worth noting that no Roman carried the cross of Jesus Christ upon which He was to die atop Golgotha on a hill outside of the city. There was no Jew, nor any group of Jews who were summoned to carry the cross which Jesus Christ was to die upon. When it came to Jesus’ being sentenced to die upon the cross of Jesus Christ, it was Jesus Himself who had to pick up and carry that cross. Of course we know and understand that there would come a point when the weight and burden of that cross would be too difficult and to much to bear by Himself along the Via Dolorosa, and as a result of this tremendous burden and weight, there would come another who would help Him carry His cross. We must recognize and understand that when it comes to the carrying of our own cross, there will most certainly and most definitely come a time when we are unable to carry the cross any further alone and in our own strength. Christ was able to carry His cross a certain distance and unto a certain place, and yet there would come that distinct moment when His body and His flesh would crumble and buckle under the weight and pressure of the cross. There would need to be another who would come alongside Jesus and who would help Him carry the cross the remaining distance to the place of His death. What an absolutely and remarkable concept this truly is, for if not even Jesus could carry His cross by Himself in His own strength, but would need the help and strength of another to get both the man and His cross to the designated place, we would be incredibly naïve to think that we are somehow any different. I am utterly and completely convinced that when it comes to carrying our own cross to the place of our death, there will most certainly come a point within our lives—perhaps multiple moments within our lives—when we will crumble and buckle under the weight, the pressure and the burden of the cross, and will find ourselves needing another to come alongside us to help us carry the cross to its final destination.
When we consider the cross of Jesus Christ, and when we consider the preaching of that cross, we must understand that there is both the path of the cross, as well as the destination of the cross. We cannot, we dare not, we should not preach only the destination of the cross without also preaching the path of the cross. I am convinced that there are very few among us who would be willing to preach—much less even speak about—the path of the cross, for sometimes the path of the cross is more difficult to bear than the destination itself. Consider what thoughts and emotions might very well have gone through the heart and mind of Jesus as He carried His cross through the streets of the city of Jerusalem. Consider what great anticipation and expectation must have filled and flooded the heart and soul of Jesus as He carried the cross—the instrument of His death—through the streets of the city. There is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if as Christ approached Golgotha—the place of the skull—there was within Him a sigh of relief, as He knew and understood that He had reached the destination of the cross. One of the most intriguing realities concerning the cross of Jesus Christ, and even the cross which we ourselves have been called to carry is that as certainly as there is a destination of the cross, there must also be a path of the cross. I can’t help but wonder how many of us are truly aware of the path of the cross, and how many of us truly recognize and understand how difficult the journey of death and crucifixion truly is within our lives. Oh, I can’t help but wonder what went through the mind of Isaac as he carried the wood needed for the sacrifice not knowing that he himself was going to be bound and laid upon the wood atop the altar. Isaac through whom the promise would come, and through whom all the nations would be blessed would carry the instrument of his death unto the place which would be revealed unto his father by the Lord of hosts. There is something about the journey we take with the instrument of our death upon our shoulders that creates such a great anticipation and expectation of the unknown within us. It is true that within our days and within this generation we don’t actually carry a physical cross upon our shoulders and upon our back, yet we carry the cross in a much deeper place. The cross which we have been called to carry, and the cross we have been called to bear is carried not upon external and outward flesh, but within our very heart and soul. The individual crosses we are called to carry aren’t visible to those around us, for they are carried within the depths of our beings—deep within our hearts and souls.
The more I consider the cross of Jesus Christ, the more I can’t help but consider that not only did Jesus the Christ carry His cross alone, but neither did He die upon that cross alone. There was another who would come alongside Jesus as He carried His cross to the place of His death, and even when He arrived at the place of His death, there would be two others who would by crucified in that very same place and on that very same day. I am convinced there is a tremendous truth that is found within this twin concept, for when it comes to the carrying of our own cross we must understand that not only do we not carry our cross alone, but we also don’t experience the full work of the cross alone. When Jesus was crucified upon the cross He had carried, and when that the vertical beam of that cross was planted into the ground, Jesus did not hang there upon that cross alone. I happen to find this to be absolutely incredible to read and consider, for when we think of Jesus’ death upon the cross, we tend to think of it as an isolated incident and event. What’s more is that when we consider the destination of our own death, we tend to think of it as an isolated incident and experience. The truth of the matter is that when we arrive in and when we arrive at the place of our death, we do not experience the working of the cross within our lives alone. Just as Jesus Himself did not hang upon the cross of Calvary alone, neither do we ourselves experience the work of the cross alone and by ourselves. This is an absolutely incredible reality and concept to think about and consider, for it reveals something truly powerful concerning the cross which the apostle Paul preached unto the Gentiles. If we are to truly understand the cross of Jesus Christ we must recognize and understand the path which Jesus took to bring the cross to the intended place of its work, as well as the destination of that cross and the work that would continue to have its work in the place of death. If I am being honest, I would dare state that the work of the cross did not begin at Calvary or atop Golgotha when both Jesus and the cross arrived at the prescribed place. WHEN THE CROSS ARRIVES AT ITS DESTINATION! WHERE THE INDIVIDUAL ARRIVES AT ITS DESTINATION!
I find it to be absolutely remarkable that Jesus would have to carry the instrument of His death upon His shoulders and back, and would have to carry it through the streets of Jerusalem until both the man and the cross arrived at the place of death. WHEN THE MAN AND THE CROSS ARRIVE AT THE PLACE OF DEATH! If we are to truly understand the cross of Jesus Christ we must understand that the work of the cross did not begin when the cross and the man arrived at the place of death. I firstly believe that the work of the cross began long before a single nail was pounded into the flesh of Jesus’ physical body. In all reality, I would dare say the work of the cross began long before it was even placed upon the back and shoulders of Jesus’ physical form, but would begin in the garden when He was betrayed by one of His own disciples and companions with a kiss. I am convinced the work of the cross would continue as Jesus stood trial—not only before Pilate, but also before Herod, and finally back before Pilate. I believe the work of the cross began within the life of Christ when He was spat upon and struck with the fists of angry malevolent men. I believe the work of the cross began within the life of Jesus when His garments were stripped from His physical body and He was struck repeatedly with Roman whips and cords. The work of the cross would continue within the life of Jesus when a crown of thorns was placed upon His head and a purple robe was placed upon His weakened form and flesh. THE WORK OF THE CROSS BEGINS LONG BEFORE WE EVER ENCOUNTER THE CROSS! There is this misguided perception that the work of the cross begins when we arrive that the place of death and when the nails are driven into our flesh. The truth of the matter is that the work of the cross begins before we are even forced to carry the cross upon our shoulders and back and thus bring it to the place of its intended purpose within our lives. I am convinced that as surely as there was a physical element to the work of the cross within the life of Jesus, I am convinced there is a mental and emotional element that surrounds it as well. There is a working of the cross which Jesus carried that was not seen by all the bystanders and spectators who watched Him carry His cross, and who even watched Him be nailed to the cross, and ultimately hang from and die upon the cross.
I am captivated by the tremendous reality that while the apostle Paul preached the cross of Jesus Christ, he also carried his own cross which the Lord ordained him to carry. In order to illustrate this point and reality all the more, I feel it necessary to turn and direct our attention to the words which the apostle Paul himself wrote in his second epistle to the saints which were at Corinth. If you turn and direct your attention to the eleventh chapter of this second epistle, you will find an incredible amount of language written concerning the intense struggle the apostle Paul faced and endured as he did indeed and did in fact carry his own cross within and throughout his life. If you begin reading with the sixteenth verse of the eleventh chapter you will find and read the following words:
“I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little. That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also. For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face. I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labour more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watching often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not? IF I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. IN Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands” (2 Corinthians 11:11-33).
When you read the words which the apostle Paul wrote within this second epistle unto the saints which were at Corinth, you get the strong sense of what the impact and effect the cross had within and upon his life. What’s more though, is that when you turn and direct your attention to an earlier chapter within this same epistle, you will find additional words which speak directly to the reality of the cross within the life of an individual. If you begin reading from the seventh verse of the fourth chapter you will find these words: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward men perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and enteral weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:7-18).
The apostle Paul firmly acknowledged and declared that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. The apostle Paul would go on to write and declare that the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. Pause for a moment and consider this reality, for as surely as the cross of Jesus Christ is the power of God within our lives, so also is the cross we are called to carry an expression of the power of God within our lives. And just what was the power of God within the cross which the apostle Paul spoke about? The answer to this is actually found in four distinct places within Scripture. The first is found in the epistle which the apostle wrote unto the Colossian congregation; the second is found in the epistle which was written to the Philippians congregation; the third is found in the epistle written unto the Hebrews; the fourth is found in the first epistle written by the apostle John. Consider the words which are recorded within the epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Colossian congregation:
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead boldly. And ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power: in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of the ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:8-15).
Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Philippi, and you will gain yet another wonderful description of the power of God that is displayed and manifested within and through the cross which Jesus the Christ died: “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in loneliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11).
Consider also the words which the author of the epistle of Hebrews wrote concerning the death of Jesus who is the Christ, and the tremendous power that was displayed and manifested as a direct result of it: “Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crowndest him with glory and honour, and dust set him over the works of thy hands: thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He that San dieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in Him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. Forasmuch Athens as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy Him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:8-18).
In the third chapter of the first epistle which the apostle John wrote unto the congregation which was at Ephesus we find and read these words within the third chapter: “And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil: for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth. Not his brother” (1 John 3:5-11).
I would also seek to highlight another passage found within Scripture that further illustrates this even further—a passage that is found in the sixth chapter of the epistle which Paul wrote unto the Romans. Beginning with the first verse of the chapter we read the following words: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not sere sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him: knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:1-14).