HAVE YOU not often heard a good brother or sister testify to some great pressing trial or condition hard to bear, and then conclude by saying with resignation: But I suppose that is my cross, and by the help of God I bear it?"
But what is the difference between crosses and burdens? Many times we speak of our crosses when really we mean burdens. What is the nature of a cross and of a burden?
A Burden is something you bear which you have accumulated as a load without seeking it. Men often speak of their daily toil, the stress and strain of life, their berreavements and sorrows and perplexities as crosses. But these are not crosses; they are burdens. The list is as long as human frailties and conditions add up: Failing eyesight, loss Of health, chronic sicknesses, invalidity, persecution from others in the family or from outer circles of social life, loss of property, poverty, unhappy situations generally, loss of loved ones, and all the common sorrows and misfortunes of life. These are our burdens, not our crosses.
A cross is an instrument of death. There were about three forms of crosses. One with the arms and beam above the cross piece; one with the cross piece, but no extending upright above it; and another like an X. Throughout the history of the cross as an institution it has meant but one thing - death. It is not to be borne as a burden; it is to die upon. It marks the pathway of death, becomes the instrument of death, and has no other meaning. It is not a burden, and was never used as something to be a penal encumbrance.
Burdens are universal, but crosses are not. The only cross the majority of people carry, if any, is a little gold one on a chain or necklace. The cross is by no means universal, and in miany parts of the world, and in many strata of society, and in many individual lives, it is unknown. Burdens are known everywhere.
There is no place where man lives or has lived where burdens have not made their mark. Wherever there is human life there are burdens.
The difference in races, nations, continents, customs, philosophy, or manner of life and thought make no difference about burdens. They are everywhere man is found.
Crosses are only where we take them up; where life is challenged and responds of its own free will and accord.
BURDENS cannot be escaped; crosses can. "We are conscripted for our burdens; we must volunteer for our crosses." It should be noted that Jesus had His burdens. That was the price of His humanity. All humanity is thus affected. Jesus grew weary; He was often perplexed; many times disappointed. "He was a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief." He was despised and rejected and certainly felt the sting of all this.
I wish to emphasize the fact that this was not His Cross. Buried deep beneath His burdens lay the Cross. Back of its shrouded mystery lay the pathway to eternal suffering, to torment, to answer for the sins of men and to destroy the wrongs that wreck men's lives and bring their burdens.
Burdens come from sin and error. Crosses come from God. The Cross was that which God designed to liberate men from heir burdens. The hopelessness of the struggle against sin and ruin, against disease and heartache, against failure and disappointment, was ever hanging about the neck of man to drag him down and make life a burden to him. The Cross is the way out of sin and misery, and Jesus took that way for man. Having met death and passed through it with victory, He waves hope back to men who struggle with burdens.
To those who are "weary and heavy laden" - to men of burden - He cries: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." This He prescribes as the panacea for all burdens. Die out and leave them. Let that which can be touched with burden - this pride and blindness and the flesh with all its limitations and feebleness - die out in its own strength and quit trying to win that way. Let the Cross kill all within us that hurts. Then let us rise in the power and glory ot the new understanding, with victory over burdens.
But Jesus might have escaped the Cross. He did not have to set His face toward Jerusalem. But He did! HE VOLUNTEERED for the Cross!
And that is the way it must be taken up. Jesus did not say: "Now, you will all have your crosses to bear, so be patient and trust." He said: "If any man WILL come after me, let him deny himself, and TAKE UP his cross and follow me." He was calling for volunteers. All who take the Cross must volunteer.
BUT NOW, do I mean to say that if we take the Cross there will be no suffering? Ah, there is a difference between suffering and burdens. To suffer is one thing; but to suffer for a purpose is another. Jesus suffered more than the mind of man can know. But the Cross made Him suffer for a purpose so glorious that it was not a burden to Him.
Here is a woman who lies in a hospital, burned almost to death. She suffers agonies. But she was burned by catching her clothes on fire while she was drunk. This is indeed a burden. On another bed lies another woman, burned just as badly and suffering as much agony, as far as bodily pain is concerned. But by her bed is a sweet little girl, talking and caressing her mother. That mother burned herself saving that little girl from the fire. She suffered for a purpose, and the presence of that dear child makes her agony, not a burden, but a glory and a victory.
That is what the Cross does; it gives meaning aad promise to burdens and turns them into progress of the soul. They become stepping stones instead of stumbling stones.
In 1840 Livingstone went to Africa, and there he labored for thirty-three years. Three weeks before his death he wrote in his journal: "I am pale, bloodless, and weak, from bleeding profusely ever since the thirty-first of March last" (that was eleven days). Yes, Livingstone would have had burdens if he had stayed at home. But he could have stayed at home and escaped his Cross. But there in that dark continent his Cross gave meaning to his suffering and transformed it from a burden into glory.
Many could have escaped the Cross. Only those who have taken it up for Christ's sake, and by their own choice, have found the answer to burdens.
You who are weary and heavy laden, Jesus offers to take your burden if you will take the Cross. It is the mystery of divine power to bear all things for Jesus' sake.
Perhaps I should close there, but let me make it clear. When Jesus takes your burden, does He keep you from sickness, from pain, from inconveneince, from sorrow? Not at all. When you take your Cross you will likely come into more pain and sorrow and heartache. But just as Moses put the tree in the bitter waters of Marah, so Jesus will put glory into your burdens and give them a meaning.
The old man of pride and selfishness and self-concern will die out on the Cross. He will no longer be hurt by the burdens of life. The new man of surrender will in the burdens the pathway to glory. The Cross will sweeten them all and give them purpose. The the "joy set before us" will call us on to victory in the life that we now live by the faith of the Son of God.
[Western Recorder, April 16, 1942; it is the Kentucky Baptist State paper. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.
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