A Ruthless Cross! A Light Yoke?
Author: Yan Wing
Translator: Kaylee Ho
The cross is originally a cruel, terrifying, and shameful torture device. I once visited a Jewish synagogue in Haifa, Israel and couldn’t find any crosses there. To this day, the Jewish people still regard the cross as a symbol of shame and stay away from the cross. On the contrary, there are crosses everywhere inside and outside of the Christian churches. They have been beautified and transformed into various aesthetic styles. I once came across a lady wearing a green jade cross on her chest, and I asked if she was Christian. She answered, “No, it’s just a piece of jewelry.” How incredible it is for us to use a once terrifying torture tool as an accessory today!
Often, the Christian view of the cross has turned away from its original meaning – Christians beautify it, sanctify it, and even turn it into an object of worship. This view of the cross is unfitting. In fact, believers should worship the crucified Christ, not the cross. Paul’s theology of the cross is based on: “for I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). His theology of the cross is not about the cross itself, but Jesus, who was crucified on the cross.
What is the symbol of the cross? It is death, and it is a painful and humiliating death. The modern theologian Bonhoeffer said that when Christ wants us to follow Him, he wants the followers to die. He was right, but these words are quite strong. Believers have been startled and almost turned away. Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). They heard it, postponed it, and even avoided it as long as they could.
The cross is awe-inspiring and reverent because what the cross represents is sin and death. Did Christ want the disciples to take up their own crosses to die? After Christ accomplished the work of redemption, Christ’s disciples are no longer under punishment, but under the grace of the gospel. Christ alone has borne the cross for us, and Christ alone has borne all our heavy burdens. As long as we disciples accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we should be able to rest under the cross. In the Bible Christ has solemnly told his disciples, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
What is this “yoke” that Christ speaks of? A yoke is a harness that an ox or donkey carries on its back in order to pull a plow or cart. It is a tool to be pulled hard, and it takes considerable labor and responsibility. Likewise, a born-again believer should willfully and automatically bear the responsibility of preaching the gospel. Whether this responsibility is a heavy burden or “an easy and light yoke” – it all depends on whether the person can fully trust in the Lord. If we trust only ourselves, we will surely feel the burden. But if we come before the Lord in humility and obedience, we can ask the Lord to graciously carry the cross with us. Only then would we feel easy and light, and be able to find rest.
Christ has taught us a valuable lesson in these two passages: First, we must understand what the true Christian value is. We must also make the distinction between the world and eternal life. If we cannot give up everything in the world, we will have nothing to do with eternal life, let alone following the Lord! But if we know the true value of life and deny ourselves to follow the Lord, bearing the cross would not be a problem. Otherwise, bearing the cross will be a heavy burden full of pain. Once we recognize the true meaning of life and make the right choice, we will consider everything in the world as garbage (Philippians 3:8) and thus the cross we carry will become light. Be meek and lowly like Christ. Take Paul as an example – despite ending his life on earth in prison, he remained meek and lowly in his heart, which led to great joy (Philippians 4:4). Where can one find joy when one loses his or her freedom in prison and lives in hardship? But Paul was able to write a letter of joy to the church in Philippi from prison. The “yoke” that Paul carried was the same yoke that Jesus carried.
Is the cross a heavy burden or a light yoke? Let us all ponder and appreciate the true value of life. Thereafter, let us think about what kind of yoke we are carrying in this life.