The crowd moved down the road in a bright wash of sunlight. They had paid dearly to go on this journey. All had left the comforts of home; many had left family and friends who refused to make the journey themselves. But the fellow-travelers soon became friends and family to one another, and as for home, they were headed for a new one—Gan Eden, the dwelling place of the Master.
When the travelers reached a fork in the road, someone pulled out a map and the group pressed in to see which path they should take. Well," said the one with the map, "both paths lead in the right direction. See?" he said, pointing to a place on the map, "this one to the left is the low road. It'll take us down through a forest on a pretty level path. The high road to the right looks like a rocky desert climb. We'd be exposed to the sun; very little shade. I think the choice is obvious."
There was a murmur of assent and a general nodding of heads. But one young woman spoke up. "Wait," she said. "The Master traveled the journey before us. I'd like to know which road He took. Is there some clue to help us find His path?" A few in the crowd nodded and looked expectantly to the man with the map. Most of the others had begun to make their way down the low road, toward the forest. "Listen," said the map holder impatiently, "both roads lead to the same place. Make things hard on yourself if you want to, but don't expect the rest of us to go along just because you want to prove how spiritual you are." He turned and followed the others.
The woman lowered her head. "I don't want to prove anything," she whispered to an unseen companion. "I just want to follow You." When she looked up, the crowd had disappeared. Only one elderly gentleman remained.
"The others took the low road, but it seems to me that you are right. Here's the clue you were looking for," he said and pointed to a set of footprints on the dirt road to the right. Then he pointed out a single, continuous groove that began in the wake of the footprints and trailed after them as far as the eye could see. "The high road is the right one to be sure," he said, "because the One who went this way was carrying a cross."
The Weight of the Cross
Christians in general and many Jewish believers in particular don't talk much about the cross. Many of the mishpochah feel an aversion to it as a symbol of persecution for our people. We should not allow the wrongful persecution of our Jewish people to obscure the true meaning of the cross and its significance for our own direction in life. We need to clarify what the cross symbolizes in our own hearts.
Some people hang the cross from their rear-view mirror; some wear it as a piece of jewelry. Most do not comprehend its weight, either in terms of the significance it holds, or the burden it imposes.
Y'shua didn't wear the cross; the cross wore Him! The cross is not a proper decoration,1 nor is it a symbol to provoke people to hatred and bigotry, though some misappropriate it for such purposes.
The cross as a symbol is a weighty reminder of the suffering, the separation and the pain Y'shua endured in order to reconcile us to the Father. It is an even weightier reminder that God has called us to endure some of that same suffering, separation and pain, because we are called to be and to do like Y'shua.
If we avoid the cross, we deny a call to suffer and to serve. There is no way to tailor or adjust the cross to make it comfortable. The cross is the instrument of service—the way by which Y'shua served God the Father, the way by which He served humanity. God chose the cross to convey His love to us, and it is the way by which we follow Him, whether we find ourselves scrubbing floors or scrubbing up for surgery. The weight of the cross in terms of significance is its crucial role in enabling us to fulfill our destiny.
Don't expect many people to encourage you to take the high road of cross-bearing. You might find yourself lonely, and you might be surprised at how some respond if you ask them to come along. Otherwise friendly fellow travelers might say you are being proud or obstinate or insensitive to the feelings of others when you are simply trying to obey the Master. People, even fellow believers, who do not choose to bear the cross sometimes belittle those who do. That suffering, that burden of loneliness is part of the weight of the cross.
It is not natural or ordinary to want the cross, and overcoming our natural tendencies is part of the weight, the burden, of cross-bearing. It is natural to take "the path of least resistance," a path that provides personal convenience and comfort. Most of us would prefer that path, and I confess that I prefer it without a doubt. It is not the road to evil doing or gross sin. It is simply the low road, the ordinary path that allows us to say, "No need to push myself. I'll get there eventually."
The monotony of the low road lulls us into complacency, allows us to be content to expect no more than what is ordinary for ourselves. The more accustomed we become to the low road, the more we begin to believe that we have a right to be and to do just like those around us.
Once we acclimate ourselves to the low road, there seems to be something distinctly undemocratic about that high road. The Declaration of Independence tells us, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." The lure of the low road is in its very ordinariness and its assurance that travelers ought to have the maximum amount of comfort and the minimum pain.
But how do those "inalienable rights" fare under the scrutiny of our Messiah's command to take up our cross and follow Him? How much happiness can we afford to pursue in view of the words of Y'shua: "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39)?
"Truths" that ordinary citizens of this planet hold to be self-evident can become traps for those who are pursuing the way of Y'shua, the way of the cross. The weight of the cross is that He commanded us to take the way of service and self-sacrifice. We recognize the rights of others to pursue happiness. But what we recognize for ourselves is that we have extraordinary obligations that outweigh the rights others hold so dear. Do we have rights? Yes! We have the rights God gives to His own children—we are heirs with Y'shua. And that means we have inherited His cross and all it truly symbolizes.
The Way of the Cross
Every day, we face innumerable choices. Throughout life we make hundreds of thousands of decisions. Not all are the "high road/load road" variety, but there are more of those types of choices than most of us realize. How often do you find yourself with a choice of how to direct your actions, your words …even how to direct your thoughts? We need to stop more often and think about which path Y'shua would take.
Choosing the high road changes the way we relate to the world. Some take pride in the fact that their group or their way of doing things has not raised any opposition from the Jewish community. But what road must we take to find such acceptance? Could it be that the Jewish community doesn't object to that person or group because people haven't really understood the message? What we believe about Jesus is radical. It has always been a threat to the status quo and still is. Some people make concessions for the sake of giving the gospel a good image among unbelievers, forgetting that the image of Y'shua was to endure rejection from unbelievers. Regardless of the method one might use, anyone who clearly communicates that Jews as well as Gentiles need to trust Jesus as Messiah and sin-bearer will be opposed.
In taking the high road we show our commitment not only by what we give but also by what we give up. People naturally want to be affirmed, to be considered special. We need more people who are willing to be rejected by the world and want to be special only to the Lord.
When Y'shua said, "If I be lifted up I'll draw all men to me," He wasn't talking about being exalted. He wasn't talking about being feted. He wasn't talking about being celebrated. He was talking about being lifted up onto a cross.
It would seem that God allows two ways for the believer, the high road and the low road. Yet He calls on His very best to make the commitment to the extraordinary path that few would choose. I admire those who have made the sacrifice to leave their homes and go overseas. For example, some of our mishpochah have chosen to live and serve in Russia, sometimes having less than ideal conditions for themselves and their family. These people have chosen the high road, the way of the cross.
For some people, taking the high road means giving up a lucrative career because God has called them to be evangelists. For others, it means staying in a secular career where they are passed over for promotions because they refuse to take the low road concerning certain business practices.
Children also face decisions, just as adults do. Should they run away from the child who is said to have "cooties," or reach out to him or her and take the consequences? We cannot dictate these choices to children. We can only show them by example that we must sometimes make choices that do not put us in the best light as far as the world is concerned.
Each of us can recognize the "forks in the road" if we train ourselves to look for them. Here are some examples of choices we might face.
- Like any mishpochah, within the family of Jewish believers, we don't agree on everything. What if an unbeliever tells you that you are "better" than someone else in the mishpochah because you don't do such and such? How would you answer such an unbeliever?
- Imagine that you've just returned a day early from your vacation. Someone has left a "distress" message on your answering machine, hoping to speak to you as soon as possible. He or she doesn't expect you back in town for another day. When do you call such a person?
- A co-worker speaks to you in a way that he or she would never want to be spoken to. The "fork" in your road begins with what you think and continues with what you say. High road? Low road?
- Your unbelieving family has invited you to a reunion on the condition that you do not mention Y'shua, no matter which way the conversation might turn. What do you do?
The way of the cross always involves our willingness to endure some degree of sacrifice or suffering. Some suffering comes either as a result of our own sin or as a natural occurrence in this life, but the suffering of the cross means we willingly allow ourselves to undergo undeserved suffering. Y'shua was not the victim of a mob. He said plainly, "You have no power over me." Peter tells us, "For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps" (1 Peter 2:19-21).
Choosing the high road will have an impact on the way we relate to the circumstances of life. Each of us needs to ask, "What have I given up, what have I endured for the Lord that I did not have to endure?"
The Wonder of the Cross
Forgive the mention of a rather silly movie, The Santa Clause, to illustrate an important point. I didn't see the film, but I did see it advertised on television. In the preview, an "average Joe" encounters Santa Claus, who, due to an accident, is unable to carry out his duties. He asks this average Joe to take his place, and when the guy dons the red suit, gradual changes begin taking place. His hair begins to turn white. He finds himself with a paunch around his middle. And of course, his beard grows at an amazing rate. Confused by these changes, he turns to a friend who shrugs and says, "Hey, you put on the suit, you become the big guy." Or something like that.
Well, God did not send His son into the world to slide down chimneys, but Y'shua did come to bring the gift of eternal life—and that gift was made possible through the cross. There is something about taking up that cross that works a gradual and, yes, mystical transformation. We start to become more like Y'shua when we take on that cross. That is why we need to take the high road. There is no sense in suffering for suffering's sake. There is no reason to take pride in persecution. But when we suffer because of our faith in Jesus, and when we accept rejection for His sake, He uses our cross-bearing miraculously to transform us.
Sharing the burden of the cross changes us in ways that no amount of studying, or singing, or even praying can do. That doesn't mean that suffering for the Lord brings instantaneous spiritual maturity. But I would challenge you to consider whether any of us can hope to be like Jesus if we are not willing to take the path that leads to hardship and rejection.
There is a high road and a low road. The low road is to accept whatever you can get. The high road is to deny self and pick up your cross and follow Him. When you take the high road, you accept that anyone who doesn't understand Y'shua is not going to understand you. Anyone who hates the gospel will hate you. But that isn't all. When you love Y'shua, you love who He loves. And anyone who loves Y'shua will love you.
To follow in Y'shua's footsteps means that we not only share in His sufferings, but we also share in His victory.
As our Substitute He went to the cross alone, without us, to pay the penalty of our sins; as our Representative, He took us with Him to the cross, and there in the sight of God, we all died together with Christ. We may be forgiven because He died in our stead; we may be delivered because we died with Him. God's way of deliverance for us, a race of hopeless incurables, is to put us away in the cross of His Son, and then to make a new beginning by recreating us in union with Him, the Risen, Living One.2
Our strength, that is the strength of the believer, is in allowing ourselves to be crucified. If we have died and our lives are in Messiah, what have we to fear?
Cross bearing is not joyless. Pain and anguish are mingled with the joy and satisfaction of fellowship with one another and fellowship with God. Someday the pain and anguish will be wiped away and the joy and satisfaction will burst into full bloom, when the road to Calvary brings us face to face with the Crucified and Risen Lord.
The woman struggled on, much more slowly than when she began. No longer young, her feet and hands were callused and misshapen from years of grappling with the rocky terrain. Her face was worn and wrinkled by sun and wind. Her back was bent from the constant strain of climbing. Her traveling companion now leaned on her shoulder for support. As they made their way slowly over the next rise their eyes brightened. At last they beheld that for which they had been longing throughout the seemingly endless journey. There before them lay Gan Eden. The mere sight of it was strength to their bones. Their pace quickened, and they no longer needed to lean on one another. Their eyes shone to see the Master awaiting them at the entrance. He had come Himself to receive them! And as they stepped down off that high road into a luxurious carpet of thick grass, they stood in silent awe because the place and person of the Master was so glorious and magnificent that words would fail to describe it. Yet there were words spoken, words from the Master. His welcome transformed each scar from every wound suffered along the way into a radiant beam of light. The travelers found they had no more aches, nor pain, nor sorrow. They had only joy at their Master's greeting: "Well done, good and faithful servants."
- This is not to say that it is inappropriate to wear a cross, with or without a Star of David. Some people choose to wear an outward sign of an inward commitment. But if the cross has no bearing on how a person lives his or her life, then to wear it as an ornament is grievous.
- Miles J. Stanford, The Complete Green Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983), 4.