Right now it’s summer! When I’m wearing flip-flops to the grocery store and running the air conditioner in my car it’s hard to remember the frigid days of January, and still harder to imagine a climate colder than Grand Rapids, Michigan in the dead of winter. But of course there are many places that are colder, more remote, and far more harsh—such as Siberia!
During the height of the Communist rule in the former Soviet Union, Pastor Ivan Minailo was exiled to prison in Siberia. His crime? He refused to betray Jesus and his five small congregations by becoming a stealth informant for the secret police. As he and nine hundred other “criminals” were marched to a remote prison camp, Ivan’s feet became severely frost-bitten and swollen to the point where he almost needed to have them amputated, yet he willingly carried his cross through the snows of Siberia.
As Ivan demonstrated, our willingness to pay the price of a cross is the pivotal issue when it comes to our devotion to Jesus. Jesus put this in cement when He said, “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38). I guess that means, if we refuse to bear the cross we are given, then we can’t really call ourselves followers of Christ.
Since the stakes are so high, let me take a minute to clarify what it means to bear a cross for Christ. Cross-bearing is when I am willingly inclined to endure suffering that comes as a result of following Christ. It requires a willing heart. As it did for Ivan, our experience on earth will bring us to crossroads where we must choose: Christ or comfort, Jesus or ease, and even, sometimes, worship or wealth. Followers of Jesus make the hard choices because of who Jesus is—the Son of God, eternally worthy of our whole existence.
Sometimes I wonder why Jesus drew such a hard line in the sand when it came to cross-bearing. I mean, why couldn’t the Christian life just be a bit more of a cakewalk? And then I think it’s because He knew that living to please our Father in heaven would be a rough assignment in a world that is under the control of the archenemy of God. During His ministry on earth, Jesus endured a lot of things—painful rejection, cruel and unfair criticism, marginalization, physical torture, the betrayal of a dear friend, and finally crucifixion—all to be faithful to His Father. Spiritually speaking, this world is a tough and sometimes hostile place to live if you’re following Christ.
Of course, cross-bearing does not exclude us from the grace of good times and the enjoyment of things He has provided for us. Thank God for the grace of seasons where our crosses are rather light. But cross-bearing does mean that, like Ivan and millions of others, when push comes to shove we choose the “Jesus way” even if it means loss and suffering.
So here’s the rest of the story: Ivan suffered under the brutal elements of Siberia and the cruel taskmasters of the prison camp for 10 years before he was released. But regardless of his suffering, he sought to use the season of difficulty to lift Jesus up. As he worked in villages as a prisoner, he led people to Jesus and, get this, today there are churches throughout Siberia that were established by the witness of prison laborers who exalted Jesus in the midst of their suffering.
I wonder—is Jesus worth everything and anything to you? What will you decide the next time you have to choose between carrying your cross and laying it down for a more comfortable existence? Here’s the bottom line: Authentic followers of Jesus are glad to pick up a cross to prove to our leader that He is more important to us than anything else in our lives!
- Cross-bearing is an individual experience. How does Luke 14:27 support this? Why is this important?
- Track down a copy of Fox’s Book of Martyrs. Read a few of the accounts. Is there any cost too great for following Christ?
- Why is it significant that we willingly bear the cross we are given? How did Jesus lay down His life for us? Read Matthew 10:38; Luke 14:27; Mark 8:31-37; and John 12:25. Then spend some time journaling on this topic.