Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come after me they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. Matthew 16:24
Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come after me they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. Mark 8:34
Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come after me they must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”. Luke 9:23
Hallo! - is this man Colin Sedgwick losing his grip? He’s typed out the same verse three times! All right, he’s taken it once from Matthew, once from Mark and once from Luke, but still, it’s the same words. Oh dear! - poor chap.
Did you think something like that when you opened this blog? Well, it’s understandable if you did. But in fact - sorry, you were wrong. Please read again...
See it now? Yes, just one little word: daily. Luke has it, but Matthew and Mark don’t. Matthew and Mark make it seem that “taking up your cross” might be just a once-for-all event. But Luke explicitly makes it an everyday occurrence.
Well, I don’t think we need to choose between the different gospel writers, because they are all correct, and we need them all. (It does remind us, by the way, that they saw themselves as editors as well as reporters, happy to put a different slant on what they were reporting, according to the emphasis they wanted to bring out).
2016 is almost with us, and people everywhere will be making their New Year resolutions. It’s strange, really, that they do so, because you constantly hear them confessing with a rueful smile that those resolutions probably won’t last beyond the end of January.
But I think that at this time of the year it’s Luke’s slant, with that word “daily”, that most of us probably need most.
Certainly, yes, taking up your cross to follow Jesus is a once-for-all event, even if you can’t pin it down to a precise date. Many of us can look back and remember that event with great gladness. For me, it was when I was baptised as a fifteen-year-old boy. For you, it might have been your confirmation, or simply the day in your life when you “committed your life to Christ” or “made a decision to follow Jesus”, or “were born again”, or however it was expressed in your particular circles. Such memories can only be precious to any Christian.
But let’s be clear: that great, life-changing decision to follow Jesus must never be only a once-in-a-lifetime thing. No, as Luke’s account makes clear, it is a decision for every new day.
CS Lewis wrote somewhere that as Christians we must start every day as if it were from scratch. We can benefit from the past, of course, and hopefully we all do, but we can’t live on its capital. Like the people of Israel in the desert, yesterday’s manna is no good to us.
(This, incidentally, is why “words of testimony” in a meeting can be unhelpful. We’ve probably all heard people recalling their conversion-experience. But very often it’s ten, twenty or thirty years ago, and as you listen you find yourself thinking, “OK, this is great - but what about today, what about yesterday, what about now?”)
I can pretty well guarantee that if you make a New Year resolution along the lines “In 2016 I will be a far better, more committed Christian!” then you will fail. And then you will end up feeling guilty and depressed, like the drinker or gambler who vows to break their habit for the next year and then can’t keep it up.
No: the thing to do is to renew your commitment - to “take up your cross”, as Jesus puts it - each and every day, perhaps even every hour. If our Christian experience isn’t fresh and up-to-date, then it’s nothing.
There’s an old hymn (like the CS Lewis quote, I can’t place it now: perhaps you can help me?) that contained these words: “High heaven that heard the solemn vow, /That vow renewed shall daily hear...”
Yes! Let’s make that our aim.
So... What about New Year resolutions? Well yes, by all means make them if you really feel they can help you - at least it shows good intentions, and that can’t be bad. But here’s something far, far better - New Day resolutions. Less dramatic, certainly; less exciting, that too. But far more realistic. And, ultimately, far more satisfying and fulfilling.
One day at a time, Lord Jesus, one day at a time - help me to aim for nothing more, and to expect nothing less. Amen.