“Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.” (Luke 23:26 NKJV)
Can we choose our own martyrdom?
I remember that question being posed to me as a young believer, and it has been rolling around in my heart and mind ever since. Do we have the freedom to choose where we die to ourselves as Christians? Do we have the freedom to choose how we serve? How we lay our lives down for Christ? What does the answer mean for my life? My future? The way I make decisions?
The simple answer is no, we do not have the freedom to choose our martyrdom. Maybe a radical jihadi feels the freedom to give his life for a cause in the way he or she chooses, but in God’s kingdom that is not the case. Believers are called to share the truth of the gospel in love, and trust God when obedience to that call leads them to diverse circumstances, no matter what result of the obedience means for that said believer.
The answer touches on the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the life of a believer. The word Lord is probably understood best in the sense of a 5 star general, but it involves even more that. When a general commands a lesser ranking soldier to do something, there is no debate or discussion. There is obedience or consequences. What makes Jesus different from a general is the motivation He gives to submit to that Lordship. People join the military for a variety of reasons and then are forced to submit. I handed my life to Jesus because he loved me and gave His life for me first. He never forced me, He just showed me the way of life.
We do not like to think along those lines as Christians. Obey or consequences? We deeply value our freedom in Christ, and we should. The price was very great, and we are now free from sin and death. We just often misunderstand Christian freedom in today’s Christianity. True freedom in Christ is expressed in our newfound ability to no longer live a life of sin, and freely follow Jesus and His commands. Jesus said, “if you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). Our freedom allows us to obey Him, to love Him, and to love others in the way love was meant to be expressed.
Getting back to Simon. It says he was a Cyrenian, which means he came from Africa, and being in Jerusalem he was surely a Jew. 3 times a year Jewish people were required to come to the temple in Jerusalem: For the Passover, Feast of Weeks, and Feast of Tabernacles. Many Jews did not have the resource to obey this command, especially those who lived as far as Africa. Cyrene is modern-day Libya on the north coast of Africa, and Simon had made a long journey to come to the feast of the passover in Jerusalem. Maybe this was the first time he had ever been to Jerusalem. Either way, he had made a long journey for a very distinct purpose: celebrate the Passover in the Holy City. It is also safe to say that carrying the cross of a man named Jesus was not in the plans.
This is where the application for the believer is found. How often we say; God I want to worship you, I want to live for you. I want to serve you… but, not like this or like that. We have misconstrued freedom to justify disobedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as show our lack of faith in the sovereignty of almighty God, and the spheres of sacrifice and service He desires to place us in.
With that, here is the question: Have you allowed Jesus to lay His cross upon your life? The cross means sacrifice, and the loss of life so that you might find it. Have you allowed Jesus to be the Lord of your life and surrendered fully to Him? Or have you complained and kicked against the situations He has placed you in? Have you decided that you will only serve Jesus as it fits into your convenience, your comfort zone, your pre-determined notions for what is acceptable and what is just too much?
A true disciple lays their life down and picks up their cross freely. Their surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ has allowed them the freedom to follow and serve Him. There is no thought of where I want to serve, or how I want to serve. I am a slave to Jesus Christ, and I trust that as I follow and serve Him I will find the best life this side of heaven.
Meditate and Apply:
- Who is the Lord of my life?
- What areas of my life have I not surrendered to Jesus?
- Have I been unwilling to serve unless on my terms?
- Have I been comparing myself to others? Is that what God wants from my life?