The Way of the Cross

When Jesus dispatched his disciples to announce the “Good News” to the “lost sheep of Israel,” he warned that they would find themselves as “sheep among wolves.” Hostile men would haul them before “councils and whip them in their synagogues.” His followers would be hated “by all men for my sake.” That was the harsh reality they discovered, one faced later by many in the early Church. The very men who should have welcomed Israel’s Messiah instead fought what he represented tooth and nail.

However, to walk the same path of suffering and self-sacrifice as Jesus of Nazareth did is the only way to become his faithful disciple and achieve “greatness” in his Kingdom.

Rough Trail - Photo by John Thomas on Unsplash
[Photo by John Thomas on Unsplash]

The student is “
not above his master”! Only by “ENDURING TO THE END” will the disciple be saved. If they persecuted their Lord, the “enemies of the cross of Christ” certainly have no qualms about mistreating his followers.

Jesus NEVER promised his followers a life of ease and wealth. According to his clear teachings, they were to expect suffering and even persecution for his sake:

  • Think not that I came to send peace on the earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be they of his own household.”

The Nazarene does not wage war against humanity, but conflict begins whenever men reject him and his teachings. The persecution of his followers who emulate him is inevitable. While such warnings strike us as grim, he also warned:

  • He who does not take his cross to follow me is not worthy of me. For he that finds his life will lose it, and he that loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The faithful disciple will reap great rewards in the end, but the narrow road that leads to life is often rough and dangerous. Anyone who desires to become his disciple must first count the cost.

The call to follow the Crucified One is an ALL-OR-NOTHING PROPOSITION. The half-hearted man who does not give Jesus his total allegiance will fall by the wayside when times become difficult.

This does not mean that all disciples will experience persecution, but the potential and often real loss of property, health, freedom, and even life for his sake is the price of following the “Lamb wherever he leads.” The New Testament does not sugarcoat it.

For example, in Revelation, the followers of the slain “Lamb” are found standing majestically on “Mount Zion” with him. Before reaching that glorious summit, however, they first had to overcome the “Dragon,” and they did so by the “word and their testimony, and because THEY LOVED NOT THEIR LIVES EVEN UNTO DEATH.”

The implication of the last clause is martyrdom. In the same manner as did the “Faithful Witness” – Jesus – his disciples who “overcome” qualify to reign with him on his Father’s throne by remaining faithful even when doing so means suffering and death – (Revelation 1:4-6, 3:21, 12:11, 14:1-5).


Jesus foretold his arrest, trial, and execution to his disciples. But they either did not hear or were incapable of comprehending his words. In reaction, they began jockeying for position in the coming messianic kingdom. But he used the opportunity to teach them just what it meant to be the Messiah as well as his disciple.

James and John asked to sit at his right and left when Jesus came “in his glory,” positions of great honor and power. But their request only highlighted their cluelessness. As his words and DEEDS demonstrated, the servants of Jesus are summoned to serve others just as he did. Moreover, sacrifice, suffering, and death precede glory.

Jesus challenged James and John. “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” Jesus drank the “cup” of God’s wrath on behalf of others in his trial and execution - (Psalm 11:6, 16:5, Isaiah 57:17-22, Jeremiah 25:15-28).

When James and John declared they were well able to drink this “cup,” his response pointed to their ignorance. However, in the future, they would drink the same “cup” when they suffered for his sake.

This warning was not just for James and John, but also for all disciples. Collectively, his followers are destined to endure suffering, deprivation, and persecution for the Gospel. But since James and John desired high positions in his Kingdom, Jesus explained exactly what would entail:

  • You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones tyrannize them. Not so will it be among you. But whoever wishes to become great among you will be your servant, and whoever desires to be first among you will be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Contrary to the ways of this world, “greatness” is achieved by self-sacrificial service for others, NOT by achieving power, rank, and privilege, and certainly NOT BY EXERCISING DOMINION OVER OTHERS.


The one who wishes to become “great” must first become the “servant” of all. This term translates the Greek noun diakonos used elsewhere as a general term for “servant.” In ancient Greek, it referred to the slave who waited on tables. In the parallel passage recorded in Luke, Jesus applied it in that very manner:

  • Let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest and the leader as the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the ONE WHO SERVES? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves” - (Luke 22:26-27).

Jesus was explicit. The disciple who desires to become “great” must first become the “slave” or doulos of others, just as the Messiah came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul as a ransom instead of many.”

As for Jesus giving his life to “ransom” others, his words allude to a passage from the ‘Suffering Servant’ song in the Book of Isaiah:

  • Therefore, I will give him a portion among the great, BECAUSE he poured out to death HIS OWN SOUL, and with transgressors let himself be numbered, HE THE SIN OF MANY BARE, AND FOR TRANSGRESSORS INTERPOSES” - (Isaiah 53:10-12).

Giving his life as a ransom for “many” did not mean a limited or exclusive company. The term is a verbal link to the passage in Isaiah where “the many” refers to the “transgressors.” The contrast is not between “many” and “all,” but between the one Christ who gave his life and the many beneficiaries of his sacrificial act.

In Greco-Roman society, ransoms were paid to purchase the freedom of slaves. His statement was a declaration of his mission: To give his life to free others from enslavement to sin, death, and Satan.

By responding in this way, Jesus used his example to reveal what it meant for anyone to become his disciple, both then and now. His call to service is applicable to everyone who wishes to follow him. The self-seeking man or woman cannot be his disciple.

Thus, to follow the “Lamb wherever he goes” means walking the same path that Jesus did and living a cruciform life of service for others - to the poor, the weak, the disadvantaged, the marginalized, and especially to one’s “enemy,” just as Christ offered his life when we were “yet enemies of God.”



The Word Made Flesh

Language of the New Testament