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So often we miss the contextual details of the biblical narrative. Most people don't know the cultural context of 1st Century Palestine. We forget that Jesus and the New Testament writers were real people that lived in the real world. We must never forget that the Bible was written in space and time. Unfortunately much of this cultural context is lost on us. Take, for instance, the following example...
Then Jesus called the crowd, along with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it. For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life?" - Mark 8:34-36
The interesting thing about this passage is that his audience knew exactly what it meant to "take up your cross.’’ Crucifixion was regularly used by the Roman occupation force as a means of keeping the Jewish population in line. It was a gruesome/tortuous method of execution, almost always committed alongside major travel routes for maximum exposure. It was reserved for serious offenders - a way of punishing its enemies. When Jesus used this phrase His hearers understood exactly what He was implying. It meant dying as an enemy of the State.
What does that have to do with us? We can’t expect everyone to like us as we follow Jesus. This goes against the part of us that wants to be liked. But we have to understand that as our culture wanders farther from God, genuine followers of Christ will be more counter-cultural.
Our insecurity drives us to seek affirmation. We want to be loved, liked and accepted. But Jesus was telling His audience that in order to follow Him they would end up as counter-cultural enemies of the State. The good news is that the darker the world around us grows, the brighter Christ’s light shines through us. And that’s a good thing because the light is supposed to shine in the darkness. (John 1:5) We need to let our light shine brightly!