Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matt 16:24 (NIV)
“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me." Matt 10:38
As Holy Week arrives and crucifixion themes are prevalent, I was thinking about my favorite movie for this time of year, The Robe. Released in 1953, it creates a story of a Roman military leader who witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus and ended up with Christ’s garment, the robe. That event set tribune Marcellus on a course to find out who Jesus really was. He eventually was executed for the pronouncement that Jesus was his King.
While The Robe is a complete work of fiction, it has several truths portrayed in it. Unlike many Easter films, it does not focus on the suffering of Jesus on the cross, but rather on what the cost of the cross is to those who follow the Jesus of the cross. Over the years, it has made me think about what Jesus wants from me. Does my encounter with Christ change the way I think and act? What am I willing to give up to follow Jesus? Others may have to ask, like Marcellus, if they can walk away from power and prestige to swear allegiance to Jesus, a politically incorrect leader.
One of Jesus’ parables deals with this cost. In Luke 14:28, Jesus uses the analogy of building a tower to tell his disciples that following him requires a deliberate decision. Following Christ will not lead to arriving on the top of the heap, but rather to an upside-down kingdom, one where the last will be first, and the first, last. Success is completely redefined in Christ’s kingdom. Am I willing to live with the consequences of this decision? To one inquirer, Jesus said that foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Jesus was not offering an easier life.
What I have to remind myself is that Jesus didn’t lay out a series of dos and don’ts, but He asks for my allegiance to a new way of thinking and acting, and that means I have to leave the world’s standards behind. I can’t walk with one foot in the world and the other in the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the closing scene of The Robe, the tribune Marcellus, who has been discounted by the empire as insane, faces the emperor and declares his allegiance to the Jesus he was asked to denounce. The death sentence is pronounced. The emperor now realizes that Marcellus truly believes that he will live in Christ’s kingdom. The ruler reacts like a madman, screeching that Marcellus and his betrothed, while headed to their execution, are really going into another kingdom. It is a dramatic portrayal of the truth I want to keep front and center: I already belong to another kingdom and death does not change that truth. But the daily challenge remains -- to be a faithful cross carrier.