God asks us to take up our cross daily and follow Him. What does that mean?* It means we are to accept our own wounds and limitations as being nailed to the cross of Jesus and fully surrendered to Him. Jesus has experienced my pain and yours and made it His own. In our surrender to Him, He completely takes on Himself all our pain and suffering. So, we are to completely identify our lives with Christ - what He stands for and what He wants to accomplish through us. Our human frailties, which have caused us many painful experiences, we now fully accept and surrender to Christ. He has experienced our pain and suffering and made it His pain and suffering. Our lives are made fully complete through faith in Jesus - and in Him alone.
In His passion and death, Jesus fully experienced our pain and suffering and made it His own. In lovingly identifying with the crucified Christ, we enter into the work that He accomplished on the cross for all of us - His taking upon Himself all our pain, anxiety, fears, shame, self-hatred, and discouragement. It was all included in His cry, "My God, My God, why have You abandoned me?" (Mt 27:46) This was the moment of our redemption. His cry upon the Cross was our cry of alienation from God. And now, by completely surrendering to Him, our cry is taken up into His cry and transformed by His resurrection. Rather than condemning ourselves for our weaknesses and making self-conscious efforts to try harder, we surrender ourselves completely to the crucified Christ who shed His blood on the cross for us. There is no way of healing from the pain and suffering we have experienced in our lives except through the steadfast love of Jesus that forgives seventy times seven and keeps no score of wrongdoings.
The unmistakable sign of a Christian disciple who has actually experienced the forgiveness of Jesus is the Spirit-given capacity to forgive his or her enemies. Jesus says, "Love your enemies and do good … You will have great reward and be a child of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and to the selfish." (Lk 6:35) Jesus, the crucified Christ, is not only an example to the church. He is the living power and wisdom of God, who empowers us to reach out a hand of healing to those who have hurt us. As we more clearly hear Him pray for His murderers, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34), He is turning our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. At the foot of the cross of Jesus we are forgiven enemies of God, who are empowered to extend forgiveness to others.
In the agony of the cross Jesus has said to us, "I know every moment of the sin, selfishness, dishonesty and degraded love that has disfigured your life. Yet I do not judge you unworthy of compassion, forgiveness and salvation. Now be like that with others. Judge no one." It's only when we claim with heartfelt conviction the love of the crucified Christ and risen Lord, that we can overcome all fear of judgement. As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, as if we are what we have, as if we are what other people think of us, we will remain filled with judgments, evaluations and condemnations. We will continue to feel the need to "put people in their place." To the extent that we embrace the truth that our core identity is not rooted in our successes nor our popularity but in the passionate, pursuing, "reckless" love of God embodied in His crucified Son - to that degree we let go of our need to judge others. We're free from the need to judge them by claiming for ourselves the foundational truth, "I am a child of God." We are loved by our heavenly Father. This is what Jesus means when He says, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged." (Mt 7:1) John says it this way, "In love there is no room for fear." (1 Jn 4:18)
The only true wisdom we have is our own experience of the love of the crucified Christ. It's our awareness that nothing - not the negative judgments of others, nor our wrongful perception of ourselves; not our scandalous past, nor our fear, guilt, and self-loathing; not even death - can separate us from the love God made visible to us on the cross of Calvary. This awareness is where our true wisdom resides. There is no substitute for the gospel. It is the power and wisdom of the crucified Christ. When we are dying, we shouldn't want some trendy words given by someone for our comfort. Instead, we should want a priestly minister of God. We should want one who has struggled with his or her faith and still clings to Jesus. We should want somebody who has looked long and lovingly at the crucified Christ and experienced the healing found in our risen Savior and Lord.
It's the suffering Christ who "loved us and gave Himself up for us" (Eph 5:2) on the cross. The love of Jesus Christ on the cross is a divine reality. Our lives are utterly incomprehensible except in terms of Jesus' love. We ought to think that we would have remained with Mary Magdalene and John at the foot of the Cross as Jesus was murdered in the most brutal and dehumanizing way. And if we should speak to Mary and John of the Christian life, ministry, prayer or discipleship, we must speak of Jesus nailed to the cross and now risen in glory, or not at all. We would not burden them with our theological insights. We would not bore them with our ministerial successes or our gifts or anything else. We should be certain that they would only have one question for us: Do you know Jesus?
* As a faithful Protestant, I'm coming to terms with Brennan Manning's The Signature of Jesus. I believe that many of Jesus' disciples don't have a clear understanding of the crucified Christ. I'm thankful for clarifications made by Robin Riggs in The Lifestyle of the Cross.