Excerpt taken from pages 27-30 from Joy Beyond Agony: Embracing the Cross of Christ, A Twelve-Lesson Bible Study by Jane Roach*.

The world today is into “brands” or visual identities. Individuals, organizations, and businesses spend time, effort, and money creating a logo and mission statement to communicate their values and practices. A brand should be simple and distinctive. What is the “brand” of Christianity? What sets Christianity apart from other world religions or religious beliefs?

When you see the cross, you do not think of Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, or any other religion. You think Christ, Christian, and Christianity. Paul said it clearly:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . We preach Christ crucified . . . Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:17–18, 23–24)

The cross is the central message of Christianity. Without it, there is no resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, or eternal life.

To be branded with Christ’s cross is not to wear a gold or silver cross around your neck, on your ears, or in your lapel. Those are only reminders of the brand. To be branded with the cross means to embrace and live by what the Bible says about the death of Christ on the cross and what it means for you.

The cross was no accident. Jesus was no victim. His cross was planned before the foundation of the world. It was his set purpose for coming to earth as a man. He came to die. Listen to what the Bible says about his commitment to the cross:

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)

Why would he do that?

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” (Luke 18:31–33)

Jesus spoke these words before the cross. Jesus knew all the things written about him. He knew the Old Testament. Knowing what lay ahead, he set his face, determined to go to Jerusalem. Why would he do that?

No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:18)

This is not suicide. Jesus alone had such God-given authority over his death and resurrection. No one else can truthfully make this claim.

Jesus also told us what it meant to follow his example of living in light of God’s eternal purpose:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:24–27)

He did not aim to have a great job, make a name for himself, earn a lot of money, or change the world by worldly methods. He would claim his kingdom by dying on a cross.

The Christian life is a paradox. We have to die to have life, give up to win, lose everything to save it, suffer to gain glory, experience sorrow to have joy. Were you raised to think like that? This is totally opposite to the way the world thinks or teaches. Sadly, it is also not what some churches teach or some professing Christians believe.

How then are we to live as Christians? The Bible charges us to follow Jesus.

Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)

What did Jesus endure on the cross? What does it mean that he despised the shame? We will answer these questions and keep before us the truth that death was not the end for Jesus. He was raised, exalted to the place of highest authority. He returned to the eternal glory with his Father that he had enjoyed in eternity past before he came to earth to be a true man. He endured the pain and suffering of dying in our place, on our behalf, because of the joy that he knew lay ahead.

Jesus took our place when he paid the penalty for our sin on the cross. Jesus’ example shows us what it means to take up our cross. How often do you read the accounts of the last week of Jesus’ life or hear them preached in your church? Perhaps you could tell the story; but it is possible to be very familiar with it and yet miss its intent. Following Jesus includes a sacrificial life of joy that prepares us to reign in glory with him. He has shown us how that is possible. He endured the agony of the cross because of the joy of being exalted at God’s right hand and being reunited with him as he had been in eternity past. He also had joy in anticipating his redeemed people who would spend eternity with him, see him in his glory as God, share his glory, and reign with him.

*Excerpt taken from pages 27-30 of Joy Beyond Agony: Embracing the Cross of Christ, A Twelve-Lesson Bible Study by Jane Roach, copy­right 2015, P&R Pub­lish­ing, Phillips­burg, NJ.