A cross has come to mean different things to different people these days, virtually always associated with Jesus and His followers, Christians. But what did a cross represent at the time that Jesus carried it? Was it not associated with the worst kind of criminals, the condemned, those consigned to die for their wrongs against society? When Jesus carried the cross, it was society's strongest rejection of a man. To carry a cross was to carry condemnation, to be the object of justified ridicule and righteous scorn, for the courts of God-ordained govenrment have marked the person for destruction, so great is his offense. A cross was reserved for the worst losers, so unfit for the rest of society as to be justly defrocked of the right to live anymore.
A popular song cries, "I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me?" Message understood on a gut level.
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
"And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."
[See also: Matthew 10:38, Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, Luke 14:27]
Jesus said these things in a day and age when "the cross" meant something different than what comes to mind today. When this was first spoken, a cross was the symbol of a capitol criminal, a man condemned by society and government to the worst punishment they could deliver. The cross was society's official rejection, government-sanctioned condemnation, that was reserved for society's ultimate losers, the most powerful expression of society's disapproval of an individual.
Before Christ's own crucifixion, the cross represented capitol punishment, society's sentence that the person was not fit to live any longer. When Jesus spoke this, the cross meant the electric chair, death penalty by lethal injection, firing squad, or hangman's noose or guillotine, or worse, it was a public spectacle akin to being drawn & quartered or being burned alive in public view. All of this with the sanction of goverment for the protection of good society.
So, if carrying a cross meant all those things to everyone in the time of Christ, what did Jesus mean when He said, "Unless you take up your cross and follow Me, you are unfit to be my disciple"?
I am still extracting meaning from it for myself, but one thing I do get from it now is that Christ anticipated that it would be a normal part of the Christian experience to be the object of society's rejection & ridicule, scorn & even government-sanctioned punishment "for the protection of good society."
The righteous detest the dishonest;
the wicked detest the upright.
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
"'a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'
37 "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Another thing to add to this is that Jesus teaches us to make decisions in ways that are different than the way the world makes decisions. All of New Testament commands are toward the purpose of building up love & holiness whereas the world makes its decisions based upon building up money & fame. "You cannot serve both God and money," Jesus taught. There is a good deal of things that we do for God that interfere with accumulating money, and there are a good deal of things we do for holiness that interfere with building up fame for ouselves. So, not only are the wicked already looking for reasons to put us down, (as outlined above), but we Christians are following a way of life that neglects those things that they respect. How can you have much to show for yourself if you "give to everyone who asks and from him who wants to borrow do not turn away"? How can you command much respect if you let yourself be taken advantage of and then just turn the other cheek? Or quit a job or business deal because of unethical details?
So if there are times when you why at times you have little to show beyond your daily bread, meditate on these things and consider: you may just be on track as a disciple of the Lord. "Take up your cross and follow Me."
"Taking up your cross" can represent "associate yourself with losing in the sight of men" in order to win in the sight of God.
1 Peter 2:4-5
As you come to him, the living Stone — rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.