Card Carrying and Cross Bearing

Jesus cross bearing

I’ve heard of the phrase “card carrying,” but wondered when it originated. I discovered one of the earliest uses of the term was found in a Daily People article written in 1912, describing “‘Union-card’ carrying members.” During the 1950s it was used as a label for members of the Communist Party. After the 1950s, the scope of the phrase has expanded to refer to:

  • A member of an organization, party, or group.
  • Someone devoted to furthering a group’s values and beliefs.

We have “card carrying” Republicans and Democrats today, but what about “card carrying” Christians? What would characterize them? We get a radical answer from Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 8:34-38. Then Jesus called the crowd to himself along with his disciples and told them, “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me continuously, 35because whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it. 36What profit will a person have if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? 37Indeed, what can a person give in exchange for his life? 38If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes with the holy angels in his Father’s glory.” (ISV)

This is Jesus’ advertising slogan for card carrying Christians. They must deny self, pick up their cross, and keep on following Jesus. They must be willing to lose their life for Jesus and his saving message. Some think that you can be a card carrying Christian without cross bearing, but not according to Jesus. What did Jesus intend to mean by the phrase “pick up your cross?”

“Pick up your cross” is a Roman phrase. This phrase most likely shocked and even disgusted Jesus’ original hearers because they were well aware of the purpose behind the practice of picking up ones cross as it pertained to crucifixion in the Roman Empire.

Crucifixion was generally associated with crimes against the state of Rome, whereas other forms of capital punishment were used for other crimes. As a rule, crucifixion was reserved for hardened criminals, rebellious slaves and rebels against the authority of Rome. Crucifixion was especially practiced on freedom fighters who tried to break away from Roman rule. Normally, in the Roman era the crucifixion process began with the rebel being tied to a pole and flogged with a whip that had sharp pieces of metal or glass. They would be flogged till their blood flowed. The Passion of the Christ film provided the most graphic and realistic picture of what took place during a flogging.

Jesus flogging

After the flogging, the victim was forced to pick up his cross beam and carry it on his shoulders to his place of execution. Here we see from The Passion the two criminals who would be crucified with Jesus carrying the roughly 100 pound cross beam to their place of execution.

cross bearing

Notice that the picking up of ones cross beam and carrying it to your place of execution was intended to be a public event. The condemned picked up their cross beam and carried it through the busy streets to their place of execution which was carried out in plain view of the people.

Jesus with criminals

We are told by Mark that those “passing by” were hurling insults at Jesus (Mark 15:29). Those in the city, and the everyday commuters in and out of the city, were confronted with the brutality of crucifixion.

But why did Rome want people to witness the execution of rebels?

Rome wanted everyone to know that those who wish to challenge the will of Rome—her authority to rule over others as she pleases—must suffer a humiliating defeat for all to see and fear. When Rome condemned a man to die for his rebellion, they would force him, as his last act, to publicly display submission or obedience to the authority against which he previously had rebelled. What better way to demonstrate this submission by having him carry the instrument of his judgment through the city; to a public place; while wearing a sign around his neck which said that he had been a rebel. In the act of cross bearing and crucifixion Rome was saying:

 Take notice everyone, this man used to resist the will of Rome, but you can plainly see that now he has submitted to her will.

So when Jesus said “If anyone wants to follow me, he must . . . pick up his cross,” he was using a figure of speech that would have been easily understood by those under Roman rule to mean: “to submit to or obey the will of another.” That this is what Jesus intended to mean by “pick up your cross” finds support in Mark 8:31ff. Jesus says to his disciples that he must suffer, be rejected, killed, and rise again after three days. But Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him. Jesus responds with a stronger rebuke,

“Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mark 8:33)

Why does Jesus call Peter Satan? Because Satan is seen throughout Scripture as one who opposes God’s will and God’s way, and Peter is acting just like Satan by opposing Jesus’ plan to obey the Father’s will. Peter needs to fall in behind of Jesus, pick up his cross, and follow Jesus in the path of self-denial and obedience to the will of God.

Peter was rebuked another time by Jesus for trying to oppose Jesus’ plan to obey the Father’s will. You remember the scene. Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane about to be arrested by some soldiers who were led by the chief priests and Pharisees. Peter responds by drawing out his sword and cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus immediately commands Peter,

“Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11)

Jesus was talking about drinking the cup of suffering and death. Of course, it was just moments earlier that Jesus prayed in the Garden:

Jesus praying in Garden

I am grateful that King Jesus said “No” to living to please self, and kept on saying “Yes” to obeying the Father’s will in the face of a humiliating death. He did it so that he could create a bunch of card carrying Christians who follow him in the path of self-denial and cross bearing—radically devoted to obeying God’s will.

In the next post we will look more at the meaning of cross bearing. Be blessed.

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