Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
In the Brice family, it was always a tradition for those who were skilled in basketball to play a game of Horse before playing a real game of basketball (i.e. three on three). Horse was considered a warmup before we indulged in games of intense Brice competition. Durrell, the oldest Brice male, would traditionally start our games of Horse by shooting the ball from the half court line. Durrell would make the shot every time and in amazement, Kevin, the youngest, would run up to the Durrell and say jokingly, “Wow, how am I supposed to do that?” Since Durrell made the shot, everyone would have to follow and attempt to make the same shot. If a person missed the shot, they would receive an “H.” Every time someone failed to follow the leader by making a shot, the individual would receive another letter—spelling “H-O-R-S-E”—and after five missed attempts, he or she would be eliminated from the game. The point of the game was to follow the leader’s shots and to successfully resemble the leader’s accomplishments by making the shot.
Throughout the gospel narratives, Jesus calls people to follow him. For example, in Matthew 16:24, he calls his disciples to deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow him. Like Kevin, disciples should ask questions like, “Wow, how am I supposed to do that?” Putting aside Kevin’s sarcasm, he was asking Durrell to show him how to make that shot so he could do what Durrell did. Christians today are still asking the questions, “What does it mean to deny yourself and pick up your cross? Why should we do it?” Those who read Matthew 16:24 with the desire to be disciples of Christ are asking, “How am I supposed to do that? What does that mean, and what does that look like?” In particular, what is it about the cross of Christ that is so central to the Christian faith? How does the cross of Christ shape our spiritual formation and missional partnership with God in this world?
There are a number of implications that the cross has for the Christian faith. In particular, let’s focus on the nakedness of Jesus on the cross. Notice the soldiers’ gambling over Jesus’ clothes (Matt 27:35). Was Jesus naked on the cross? Some say that Jesus was naked while others suggest that he was covered. Craig Blomberg states, “It is not clear if Jesus was left totally naked or allowed some kind of covering over his private parts” . MacArthur thinks that Jesus was “stripped naked” . The ESV Study Bible also takes this view: “Crucifixion performed naked and in public, and inflicting prolonged pain on the victim, was intended to cause shame as well as death” . Nakedness was a part of Rome’s process of crucifying someone. Nakedness added humiliation to the crucifixion. Although the Jews may have had some objections to this, we are not sure if the Romans would have honored their request even if such a request had been made.
Jesus’ body on the cross was bruised, bloody, battered, ugly, messy, dysfunctional, disgusting, and so much more. There are no words, imagery, or movies that can fully describe what Jesus might have looked like on the cross. If he was naked, everything was exposed and transparent before all of humanity. There was no hiding, no pretending, no secrets, no makeup, no “I’m doing well,” no smiling when he didn’t feel like it. Jesus’ physical body on the cross was the raw, unadulterated presentation of him encountering the cross.
Interestingly enough, the narrative of the cross also indicates who the physical witnesses were. The soldiers who didn’t care much about what was going on were present at the cross. Devoted female disciples were at the cross, while some of the male disciples were hiding behind rocks, afraid to be associated with Jesus. Jesus’ mother was at the cross, crying while being consoled by the disciples whom Jesus loved. There were Jews who were wagging their tongues at Jesus, and “religious preachers” who were quoting the Word at The Word (I am starting to preach right about here).
What is it about the cross of Christ that consciously or subconsciously draws people to the foot of the cross? Could it be that a broken, bruised, battered, bloody Jesus reflects the brokenness of humanity? Could it be that sinners can naturally relate to a Jesus who would put their sins on his body just so they can connect with a God who loves them, desires a relationship with them, and wants to transform them into a new image? After all, the scheme of God’s mission is to draw people to a reconciled relationship with him through the Lamb of God who would die on the cross for their sins.
Could it be then, that when Jesus calls disciples to pick up their cross, he is calling them to live a life of transparency? Stay tuned for part two.
 Blomberg, The New American Commentary: Matthew, p. 416.
 Study Bible on John 19:18; Albert Barnes, comment on Matthew 27:35; Barnes Notes.
 comment on Hebrews 12:2.
Steven J. Brice is a proud New Yorker. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Christian Counseling from Amberton University and a Master of Divinity degree in Missions from Abilene Christian University. Steven and his wife Regina live in Dallas with their son Brian and daughter Brooklynn. The Brices and a few friends are planning to move to Philadelphia to join in God’s mission there. Lastly, the Brice family are the successful owners of Brice Enterprise & Choice A Real Estate Services.