Embracing the Cross - Bob Sawvelle

Making Disciples in the Nations

Whenever I return from an overseas missions trip, I’m reminded of a couple of things. First, we are “blessed beyond blessed” in the USA. Seriously, we have little reason to complain about anything—ever!

Most of our nation has an abundance of food, clothing, housing, cars, etc. Sure, there are many needy who require our continued assistance; I’m not ignoring their plight. But as a whole, our nation is rich beyond compare. Our roads and infrastructure are “stellar” compared with developing nations. Our school systems, although struggling, are available to all. Health care, despite cost and the insurance debacle, still offers some of the best medical care available in the world. The list goes on of our abundance and blessings in the USA. Truly, we are blessed.

The second thing I am reminded of when traveling overseas is the systemic poverty and suffering much of the world lives in. Granted, most of the nations I travel to are not “vacation destinations,” they are developing nations that need help and the gospel of the Kingdom.

Last week I returned from a ministry trip in India. The time was fruitful and impacting as my assistant pastor and I taught pastors and leaders in a three-day conference and ministered in village churches for two days. Such amazing leaders and people who daily endure extreme hardships and persecution—yet they consistently manifest the peace and joy of Christ. A reminder to all of us who are in better circumstances to be grateful for sure, but also a reminder to daily remain in God’s peace and joy as followers of Jesus.

Fear, worry, and anxiety rule many in our society, and across the world, even among believers. How then can a follower of Christ remain in his peace and joy beyond the hardships, suffering, and evil in our world?

Take Up Your Cross?

Jesus makes a dramatic statement in Mark’s gospel, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34 NKJV)

Shocking to hear for those early followers of Christ. For those in the first century, the Roman cross symbolized an agonizing death for condemned criminals. But what does the cross symbolize for those who follow Jesus today? How are we to embrace the cross and follow Jesus?

Consider that when Jesus made this statement to his disciples he was headed to his death on a cross. He intended, both then and now, for all who follow Him to go to “the cross” as well. Our lives begin at the cross, where we are identified with Jesus in his death, resurrection, and ascension (see Romans 6:3-6). As a follower of Jesus, you are living both as dead and yet fully alive in Christ!

Paul succinctly said in his letter to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20 NKJV)

To follow Jesus, as he intended, requires a dying to selfish agendas and radical obedience to him, which can only be realized through complete surrender to Christ and your new birth effected by Holy Spirit. In Christ, you are now living from his ascension glory and his love deposited in your heart—following him faithfully is your new norm!

Are you ready to lose your life for Jesus?

Jesus further added, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35 NKJV)

Christian discipleship is not just radical self-denial to fleshly desire, but a death to one’s personal ambitions and wants that contradict following Jesus. To truly follow Jesus means a surrender of your whole being to Him—a denial of selfish motivations.

It is said of the Moravian missionaries of the 18th century, that they would shout to their loved ones from the ships they were embarking on to reach the unreached, To win for the lamb who was slain the rewards of His suffering! Their loved ones would echo this saying back to them, knowing full well they may never see them again. In truth, all who follow Christ are His “missionaries.”

Conversely, whoever loses their life for Jesus and the gospel will save it. The only way to really live is to surrender all to Jesus, follow Him obediently, and give yourself away for Him and for the gospel. This is contrary to human reasoning and instinct! This does not mean you are to leave everything and go abroad to serve Jesus. Rather, your heart allegiance is to Jesus first and you are willing to minister for him to others as Holy Spirit leads—to your family, neighbors, co-workers, strangers, etc. Jesus is asking for a radical, personal allegiance to himself!

Embrace the cross and follow Jesus!

To Share His glory requires a sharing of His suffering

Paul writes in in his letters of partaking of God’s glory. In 2 Corinthians 3, he describes how we are “being changed from glory to glory” as we gaze upon the Lord. The Bible also tells us that the world will be filled with the “knowledge of the glory of the Lord.” There are many aspects to God’s glory, his weighty presence manifested in our midst.

One of the ways God’s glory increases in our life is through suffering—did you just say suffering?! This doesn’t line-up with my health and wealth gospel, Pastor! Consider what Paul said in his letter to the Roman believers,

For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” (Rom. 8:16-18 NLT)

Did you catch this, “But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” “To truly partake of God’s glory means embracing the suffering and trials in life—learning to trust Jesus completely, relying on Holy Spirit to guide and comfort through all of life’s circumstances. Your trials, as Paul also explains in Romans 5, are working something in you—it’s the very glory of God radiating through you!

Joy Inexpressible and Full of Glory

Peter, in writing to early Christians experiencing suffering and persecution, provides these words of encouragement, “In this you greatly rejoice…Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,” and in the NLT “…Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.” (see 1 Pet. 1:1-9)

Peter is describing a type of joy and rejoicing that is consistent and “glorious” that it is impossible to truly express with words… it is an inexpressible joy that is distinct from suffering and external circumstances.

Consider that joy was the ability Jesus had to endure the cross, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2)

Joy is not just a characteristic of Kingdom life, it is a powerful spiritual force of the Kingdom.

Joy is an enduring quality that sustains a person through challenging times. Joy is the balance to suffering. To only focus on suffering, or joy, is an imbalance, both are held in tension to each other.

Joy is a characteristic entirely different from happiness. Happiness depends on happenings—joy depends upon our reliance on the presence of God in the happenings.

Happiness can be fleeting as circumstances change. On a sunny day, driving a new car, with money in the bank, most people are happy. But on a cloudy day, driving an old clunker, with no money in the bank, most people are unhappy. However, when we are truly loving Jesus and abiding in him, his peace and joy remains a constant, regardless of the circumstances we may find ourselves in.

The Basis for Inexpressible Joy

There are “Past Grounds” for Rejoicing…

We have been “set apart” (made holy, sanctified) by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (1 Pet 1:2). At conversion, we were “baptized” into Christ by the Spirit

We have been “sprinkled” with the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:2). His blood atones for our sin and justifies with God.

We have been “born again” to a living hope (1 Pet 1:3). The Spirit bears witness of this reality!

There are “Present” Grounds for Rejoicing…

We are “kept” by the power of God through faith (1 Pet 1:5). His power working in us, to not only keep us, but to transform us, to empower us. We simply aren’t the same and enables us to rejoice even in trial (1 Pet 1:6).

No matter the degree of suffering experienced, in Christ there is joy to match it! Peter explains this later in his letter, 1 Pet 4:12-13, and which he and the rest of the apostles exemplified in Acts 5:40-41.

Informed Christians understand the purifying nature of such trials, 1 Pet 1:7; (see 2 Cor 4:17-18). Knowing what trials can produce, joy is possible in trials, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NLT).

There are “Future” Grounds for Rejoicing…

We have an “inheritance” reserved for us in heaven (1 Pet 1:4). We are heirs of God!

We look forward to the “salvation” which will be revealed in the last time (1 Pet 1:5, cf. 1:9) We are saved, but the fullness of that salvation is yet to be revealed.

All these blessings, past, present and future, serve as the basis for inexpressible joy.

But how can Christians be sure to possess this joy?

In 1 Pet. 1:8, Peter alludes to two things which I suggest are necessary to possess this Inexpressible Joy, 1) believe in and 2) love Jesus … Vs. 8 “whom having not seen you love”

Jesus is the ultimate source for being able to rejoice in all things, Jesus is the source of our salvation and joy. Consider Paul’s words, Phil 4:4Rejoice in the Lord always …”

But it’s not enough to have mental assent or academic knowledge of this truth. To believe in Jesus, whom we can’t see, requires a faith that trusts. Trusting in His commands to be for our ultimate good. Trusting in His promises to be fulfilled. The kind of trust that prompts us to obey Jesus wholeheartedly. A faith based on His word and empowered by the Spirit. This is the type of faith that will embrace the cross (suffering) and follow Jesus resolutely.

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:23 NKJV) Jesus has promised that if we truly love him, he and the father will be with us.

Jesus promises all disciples of all ages that if we obey his commands, we will remain in his love and his joy (John 15:11). If we are abiding in Jesus, we can receive His joy which is inexpressible! With this type of faith, and his peace and joy flowing from our hearts, we can embrace the challenges of life and follow Jesus wholeheartedly.

Let Jesus ravish your heart today, it begins with complete surrender and no compromise!

Bob Sawvelle


For a more in-depth look at this topic, be sure to watch the Passion Church message, “Embrace the Cross“:

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