Taking the Cross

“And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

After two millennia of veneration of the cross, it is easy for us to forget what the cross meant in first century Judea.  It was a symbol of Roman power, the fate for any who dared to stand against Rome.  It represented a horrifying way to die, perhaps the most cruel form of punishment and death ever invented by mankind.

For Jews crucifixion was even worse.  Death on a tree meant being accursed (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).  There was no glory in a cross, at least in the way that men consider glory.

These realities, therefore, were what came to mind to the disciples listening to Jesus.  A cross meant humiliation, shame, being despised, reckoned as accursed and defiled.  This was no “easy street.”

We also have to remember that at this point, Jesus has not yet been crucified.  While Jesus no doubt knew what would eventually befall Him, we should not interpret this verse as meaning that Christians must be physically crucified.  Such is not Jesus’ point.

Jesus is telling all those who would be His disciples that if they really want to be worthy of Jesus and eternal life, they must live a “crucified life.”  They must bear the shame and humiliation that comes from serving Jesus.  If they are considered cursed by man, so be it, if they may only win Christ.

Jesus’ disciples must renounce all that they have and, in a type, die in Him.  It is no longer to be about oneself.  It is now all about Christ.

“Taking the cross” is not a statement about wearing jewelry; it is a statement of the humiliation and sacrifice necessary to follow Jesus.  Many are called to do so, yet precious few answer.  What will it be?

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

Ethan R. Longhenry

Samson and Revenge

And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, “O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28).

The Judges author presents the story of Samson as a cycle of vengeance.  The father of the Timnite shames Samson, and in revenge, he has the grain of Philistia burned.  In revenge, they kill the Timnite and her father, and seek to do to Samson what Samson did to them.  Samson then kills more Philistines (Judges 15).  The Philistines, through Delilah, figure out how to capture Samson, and blind him in vengeance for what he did to them.  And here, at the end of his life, Samson asks God to give him strength to get revenge on Philistia for his eye.

What is the result? The death of thousands, but no real change.  Philistia is still in control, and Israel is still humbled before them.  Samson’s vengeance is not enough to save Israel.

Samson’s life provides a vivid demonstration of the fruitlessness of the cycle of vengeance.  Its desire is never satisfied; there is always some new affront that requires restitution.  This is not God’s way in His Kingdom.

Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written,
“‘Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense,’ saith the Lord.”
“But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:19-21).

Only by loving our enemies can we win them over or to at least demonstrate that we are God’s children (Matthew 5:43-45, Luke 6:27-36).  Let us leave judgment in God’s hands, and love all men!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Fear Not

“And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

It is surprising to learn that God’s most oft-repeated command in the Bible is not to love or to believe, but to not be afraid.

Fear is a strong and basic impulse within mankind; it often serves us well, and can keep us from getting ourselves into too much trouble.

Nevertheless, fear is often used to manipulate.  Politicians attempt to instill fear in order to win votes.  Marketers use it to get you to buy their products.  Many fan the flames of fear to promote hatred.  The greatest atrocities of mankind are often perpetuated as a response to fear.

Fear is often the opposite of sober-mindedness (1 Peter 4:7).  We must take God’s command to not fear seriously.  What would we fear?  Persecution?  Torture?  Death?  While none of these things are pleasant, they pale in comparison to being cast into the trash pit of perpetual fire!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in considering this verse, said, “Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men.”  Whenever we become afraid of men and what men can do, we show that we do not really trust in God, and do not reverence and respect Him as we ought.  When we trust in God, respecting and revering Him, we know that no matter how terrible it may seem, men can do nothing to separate us from the love and peace of God.

In the end, what else are we really seeking?  Why, then, do we fear?

Ethan R. Longhenry

Gideon’s Tests

And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, “Arise, get thee down into the camp; for I have delivered it into thy hand. But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Purah thy servant down to the camp: and thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thy hands be strengthened to go down into the camp” (Judges 7:9-11a).

If we consider the story of Gideon as described in Judges 6-8, we are struck by Gideon’s constant testing of God.  What is he trying to accomplish?

Is he timid?  He was willing to tear down the Baal and Asherah of his father’s people, and went within earshot of the enemy camp at God’s instruction.  He certainly is bold when he wants to be!

So what does Gideon seek?  The answer is not specifically revealed, but it seems to be that he seeks reassurance of God’s presence.  Gideon has enough faith to trust in God; he just wants to make sure that God is still with him in his endeavors.

What about us?  Do we seek God’s reassurance that He is with us in our endeavors? Do we want to make sure that what we are striving to do is, in fact, what God desires us to do?

We are to be people who walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Let us find reassurance in the Author and Finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ, and in the confidence of His Word (cf. Hebrews 12:2)!

Ethan R. Longhenry