The Way of the Cross

By Global Frontier Missions

Over the past few days, I read a book by Elisabeth Elliot. She was a linguist among unreached peoples in Ecuador, serving alongside her husband, Jim Elliot, to make Christ known where He was not yet known.

By the grace of God, they were successful, and around 40% of the tribe among whom they were working now know Christ … but not without great cost.

If you read her book, The Path of Loneliness, you’ll come across this poignant statement: “To walk with Him is to walk the Way of the Cross.”

She knew this all too well. Taking the gospel to the Aucas cost Jim Elliot his life. It cost Elisabeth Elliot her husband and her infant daughter’s father. The excruciating pain they experienced was just as real and tangible as the extraordinary spiritual joy and freedom the Aucas now have in Christ.

And yet isn’t that the gospel paradigm?

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Life springs forth out of death (John 12:24).

Resurrection isn’t possible without crucifixion (Mark 16:6).

“To walk with Him is to walk the Way of the Cross.” 

Within my limited, human comprehension, this makes sense to a certain degree. I understand the pattern, and I recognize this as the way of Christ’s Kingdom. And yet there remains a strange dichotomy within my soul when I think of pain and suffering as a result of following Christ.

Jesus clearly stated that the pain and suffering of the cross is the very reason He had come (John 12:27). So the Way of the Cross makes sense for Jesus. The “spiritual giants” of our faith had bold, miraculous, supernatural existences (Hebrews 11:32-38). In light of the lives they lived, the Way of the Cross seems fitting for them.

But when small, insignificant me is seeking to simply know Christ and make Him known, and I find myself in the Way of the Cross…well, I don’t have the same mental framework for that. Somehow, it doesn’t make sense. It’s not so fitting. And therein lies the incongruity.

Maybe you’re like me, and you’ve also struggled with having a ‘theology of suffering’ that doesn’t extend far enough to reach you and your life. John Piper has written that “this voluntary suffering and death to save others is not only the content but it is also the method of our mission. We proclaim the Good News of what He accomplished, and we join Him in the Calvary method. We embrace His sufferings for us, and we spread the gospel by our suffering with Him.” Pain in the path of obedience shouldn’t surprise us.

No doubt the Way of the Cross looks different for every person, and varies from season to season. There was a very painful chapter in my life where the Way of the Cross — living on mission with Jesus, and being the tangible expression of His love to the lost, weak, and marginalized of society — meant suffering through what felt like hell, leaving me with physical scars and emotional baggage that I’ll deal with until my race on this earth is finished. It was costly… It is costly.

The reality is, the Way of the Cross isn’t for a select few followers of Jesus. It’s not for the “advanced” in His Kingdom. It’s not for the incredibly bold, the especially strong, the incorrigibly faithful disciples. Jesus said that “if anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up His cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

“To walk with Him is to walk the Way of the Cross.”

To walk with Jesus is to share His heart, and to share His heart is to share His pain. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Are there joys and victories in following Christ? Absolutely! But in an age where consumerism is rampant, the temptation to sugarcoat the Way of the Cross is real. We must resist it, being watchful that we follow Christ for the sake of Christ, and not for the sake of what He can give us. The message of Christ is too precious for us to mitigate His mission in any way. 

Dare we hold back our lives from Him for fear of what the Way of the Cross may mean for us? The pain we will experience in the path of obedience is real, but oh! so is His glorious presence! Jesus is worth it (which is not something I say lightly). Let us walk forward in mission with Him, embracing the Way of the Cross, knowing that it is the promise of His presence that sustains us through whatever pain we may face (Matthew 28:20).

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

 

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