Crucifixion was Rome’s way of dealing with people it didn’t like. Crucifixion was Rome’s way of dealing with enemies. Its gruesome nature was a part of Rome telling people they’d best behave or they might find themselves hanging from a cross one day.
Jesus had a discussion with his disciples that put the figure of the cross front and center. In Luke 9, Jesus told the men following him that if they were his disciples, they must deny self and take up a cross. The condemned was required to carry his own cross to the place of execution. The figure is clear.
Risk has always been a part of following Jesus. Roman disciples of Jesus were taken to the Coliseum where they were torn apart by lions or crucified or burned. The apostle Paul was arrested by the Jews in Jerusalem at the Temple, sent to the Roman governor in Caesarea and appealed to Caesar. Later, he was arrested again and was killed. Most of Jesus’ apostles met their deaths while serving God.
Yet today many people are convinced that becoming a member of a church is more like a rite of passage for a social club than carrying a cross. But there are still places in the world where serving Jesus could bring one a jail sentence or even a beating.
Yes, there is still opposition to the truth of God’s word. In the United States, it may not manifest itself in imprisonment or beatings, but there are other ways true disciples can suffer for believing and teaching the truth of God’s word. There are economic and social pressures that are as devastating as physical punishment.
Following Jesus as a faithful disciple is worth the cost. It is worth it because inside of every person is an immortal soul. Carrying a cross is every bit as daunting now as it was in the days of Roman crucifixion but “heaven will surely be worth it all.”