Embracing the Reproach of the Cross
By LESLIE LUDY
Raucous laughter and pulsating music resounded through the crowded, chaotic street. Eric tried to keep his fellow missionaries in sight as hundreds of drunken revelers surged around them on all sides. Eric (who later became my husband) was twenty-three, and this was one of his first missionary assignments — doing street evangelism on Bourbon Street in New Orleans during Mardi Gras — and he was not at all comfortable being there. Especially when he realized that his fellow missionaries intended to make a bold Christian statement to the crowd of wild partiers by holding up a huge wooden cross and passing out tracts.
Eric felt there must be better ways to share the Gospel — ways that wouldn’t make him look like a fool. Holding up a huge cross in the middle of a sin-laden Mardi Gras celebration hardly seemed like a way to win the favor of the crowd. As the other missionaries set up the large wooden cross amid a swirling sea of boisterous partiers, Eric kept his distance.
Of course, he didn’t want to be part of the wild street crowd. But he also didn’t want to be part of the radical team of missionaries who were being ridiculed and scorned by everyone around them. So he remained halfway between the two, feeling miserable.
“Hey, Eric!” one of his team members suddenly motioned to him. “Can you come here and hold up the cross?” He froze on the spot. He’d been trying to stay as far away from the wooden cross as possible. How could he swallow his pride enough to hold it up in the middle of Bourbon Street?
Despite his hesitation, he suddenly found himself walking toward the wooden cross and placing his hand on it. The moment that he grabbed onto the cross and faced the partiers, he felt a strange emotion overtake him. Pure joy. A sense of radiant happiness flooded through him, and he couldn’t keep a smile from spreading across his face. Just a few minutes earlier, he’d been safe from public mockery, but he was restless and miserable. Now, though the object of ridicule, he felt excited and alive.
As Eric held onto the cross, he pondered the dramatic transformation that had taken place within his soul. There was no longer any question of where he stood. He had crossed the line and chosen his side, and there was no turning back. Everyone who saw him knew he was with Jesus. They laughed, they cursed, they spat, and they threw beer. They hated him because of the cross that he was holding — and he’d never been happier. As he clung to the cross, only one thing seemed important: standing boldly for the glory of his precious King. He had stumbled upon the secret to vibrant Christianity — not merely standing near the Cross, but lifting it high and gladly bearing its reproach.
The Offense of the Cross
A women’s ministry leader once told me that she felt the best way for Christian women to make an impact on the world for Christ was to be a part of the culture — to participate in the same activities, watch the same movies, and live the same general lifestyle as everybody else. She felt Christians should try as much as possible to “blend into the crowd” and be as non-offensive as possible in order to reach the world for Christ. This is a common mentality among Christians today. We have somehow adopted the idea that we can be better witnesses for Christ if we “tone down” our Christian witness and blend in with the world around us. Not to mention the fact that it’s far more comfortable to be a mousy, closet Christian than a bold, radical one. I mean, who wants to become an object of scorn when you could be liked and accepted?
So instead of holding up wooden crosses on Bourbon Street, we choose to mingle with the crowd instead and maybe slip in a few subtle hints about our beliefs if the opportunity happens to arise. Instead of living out our convictions boldly among our family and friends, we lower our standards so we can maintain our popularity and not offend anyone. This kind of flimsy Christianity may protect us from being mocked and reviled, but it will never change the world for Jesus Christ.
The Bible makes it clear: real Christianity means gladly bearing the reproach of Jesus Christ. Being hated and rejected by the world is part of following Jesus Christ. We cannot seek the applause of this world and the applause of heaven at the same time. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…” There is no way around it — when we stand boldly for Jesus Christ and His Cross, we will look completely absurd to the world around us, and according to Scripture, that’s actually a good thing!
Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Lk. 6:26) and, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn. 15:19).
In other words, if the world loves and applauds us, it’s very likely we are not living out our Christianity the way God intends us to. And if the world mocks and reviles us, it’s very likely we are. Why? Because “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). We must remember that suffering shame for Christ is not an optional part of the Christian life.
As Catherine Booth once said, “When the Church and the world can jog comfortably together, you may be sure there is something wrong. The world has not altered. Its spirit is exactly the same as it ever was, and if Christians were equally faithful and devoted to the Lord, and separated from the world, living so that their lives were a reproof to all ungodliness, the world would hate them as much as it ever did”.
When Eric chose to embrace the cross on Bourbon Street instead of sheepishly keeping his distance from it, he discovered the power, joy, life, and wonder of boldly shining the light of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. Yes, the crowd hated and mocked him. But he had chosen to stand boldly with Jesus and, in a small measure, to share in the fellowship of the sufferings of his Lord. That night, he realized that it was a privilege and an honor to be treated as Christ was, just as Peter and the other apostles after they were beaten and imprisoned for their stand for the Gospel rejoiced that they were “counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).
Instead of avoiding the reproach of Christ, we are called to gladly and willingly embrace it. In fact, the Bible says that it is actually an honor and a privilege to suffer shame because we are standing with Him. (See 1 Peter 3:14; Philippians 1:29.)
Standing Boldly With Jesus
I will never forget the first time I was reviled because of my witness for Christ. I was sixteen, and had only recently radically surrendered my life to Him. Up until that point, I had been a “closet Christian,” never really letting the message of the Gospel transform my life or impact the world around me; never taking a bold stand for Jesus Christ. I had become skilled at blending into the crowd and never offending anyone. I had learned how to maintain my popularity status and still hang on to my Christian beliefs. But then I realized what true Christianity really was — not merely fitting Christ into my life, but building my life around Him; surrendering completely to Him and letting Him have His way within me, transforming me from the inside out. I began to understand that a vital part of the Gospel was boldly shining His light to the world around me. As Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
At the public high school I attended, I began to “shine the light of Christ” in whatever way I could; turning outward and smiling, showing concern for those around me, and sharing my faith and Christian convictions with others. I began to dress differently, talk differently, and act differently than I had before. No longer was popularity my goal. My desire was to glorify Jesus Christ with my life and decisions.
One day, as I was entering the gym locker room, I caught the eye of a young woman with dark heavy eyeliner, wearing strange gothic jewelry, metal chains, and black leather from head to toe. She stood scowling at me in hatred, though she didn’t even know my name. I ventured a smile in her direction and kept moving toward my locker. As I fiddled with the locker combination, I suddenly felt someone standing close behind me. Before I had chance to turn around, the girl in black had grabbed a fistful of my hair and jerked my head back so hard I could hardly breathe. “What is your problem!?” she screamed hysterically. “You think you’re better than me?”
I was completely bewildered as I turned slowly around to face her. But just as I was trying to think of a way to respond to this unexpected outburst, the bell rang and everyone scrambled out the door to get to class on time. Tears blinded my eyes as I shakily walked out of the locker room. What had I done to deserve such harsh treatment? I had only smiled at her. I was simply seeking to exude the light of Christ to everyone around me; I was certainly not trying to offend anyone. But inexplicably, this girl hated me. I was baffled.
As I searched for perspective in the Word of God, I began to realize that suffering reproach for Christ was not something to be ashamed of. Rather, it was a result of living the Christian life well: “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29). And Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (Jn. 15:18).
Though the incident in the locker room perplexed and upset me, I saw that I was being reviled not because there was something wrong with me, but because I was finally living a life that boldly declared, “I’m with Jesus.” Like Eric’s decision to stop blending in with the crowd and boldly hold up the wooden cross during Mardi Gras, I too had made a clear declaration of my position. And the world around me was beginning to take notice.
Bearing Reproach Well
In the years that have passed since the locker room scene, I’ve been reviled many times, in ways that have hurt me much worse than that momentary hair-pulling did. I wish I could say that I have learned how to automatically “leap for joy” whenever I am falsely accused, mistreated, or excluded because of my stand for Christ. But in all honestly, learning to bear the reproach of Christ well has been one of the most challenging lessons of my Christian walk. Being a sensitive person with a melancholy temperament, I tend to be deeply affected when I am treated unfairly. Self-pity comes knocking at the door of my heart, whispering indignant phrases like: “Poor thing, you don’t deserve this! This is so unjust! You should give up doing ministry; it’s not worth going through all of this pain.” If I listen to these lies, I soon find myself planning an escape to a far-away island, permanently changing my name, and living a wimpy, non-offensive Christian life as I cower in self-protection for the rest of my days.
I have found that learning to bear reproach for Christ well can make the difference between living a triumphant, outward Christianity or a defeated, inward one. Once you make a choice to live a life that declares, “I’m with Jesus,” it’s important to be ready for the persecution and revilement that will inevitably follow. I’d like to share three biblical principles that can help you prepare to suffer shame for Christ well:
ONE // Rejoice
Jesus made it very clear exactly how we are to respond to reviling and false accusation when He said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).
I don’t know about you, but when I am falsely accused or reviled, the last thing in the world I feel like doing is rejoicing. I am much more inclined to throw myself a pity-party or indulge in an emotional venting session with someone close to me. It is completely counter-intuitive to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” in such a situation. But as I once heard a Christian speaker say, “You can’t be bitter and rejoice at the same time. You can’t feel sorry for yourself and rejoice at the same time. And you can’t be fearful and rejoice at the same time.” When we choose to rejoice — whether we feel like it or not — we put up a protective barrier against the wrong responses to revilement, such as bitterness, self-pity, and fear. Rejoicing is faith in action. It is choosing to agree with God who says that it is an honor, privilege, and gift to suffer shame for the sake of Christ, rather than to agree with the enemy who says it is a disgrace and a punishment.
Corrie ten Boom tells the story of meeting one of the men who had been responsible for the death of her sister in a German concentration camp. As he extended his hand to her, she had to make a choice. All she could feel was resentment, but she knew God was asking her to forgive. She told God, “I will take the step — You supply the feeling”. As she mechanically took his hand in a simple step of obedience, she suddenly felt flooded with an inexplicable love and grace for the man who had caused her family so much harm.
I have found rejoicing to be much the same kind of step of obedience. Regardless of how I feel, when I choose to say “Lord, I rejoice that I have been counted worthy to suffer this shame for You,” His grace inevitably flows into my soul and enables me to do what is completely unnatural — find true joy in the midst of revilement and reproach.
TWO // Bless
When we are insulted or mocked, our natural tendency is to respond in the same spirit. We often feel justified storming out of the room in a huff when we are insulted, or venting to someone else about how wrongly we’ve been treated. But 1 Peter 3:9 gives specific instructions for how we are to respond when we are reproached for standing with Jesus: “not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (NASB).
When Eric was growing up, his sister lived a set apart life for Christ while he wallowed in selfish mediocrity. He continually mocked her, scornfully called her “the saint,” and purposely distanced himself from her in public. Instead of lashing back at him in anger, his sister consistently prayed for him and loved him. Her decision to love and bless her brother in spite of his unfair treatment of her eventually became one of the keys that caused Eric to give his life to Jesus Christ. His sister was the first person he called when he surrendered his life to Christ.
Ask God for the grace to do what you cannot do in your own strength; to bless those who mock, mistreat, and revile you. Scripture tells us that when people mock us and see a godly response, it causes them to stop and re-evaluate their behavior: “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed” (1 Pet. 3:15-16).
And like Eric’s sister discovered, it may even change their lives for eternity.
THREE // Resist
I have found that the enemy often uses reviling to bring temptation into my life; temptation toward self-pity, bitterness, or discouragement. Instead of letting revilement or false accusation turn me inward and cause me to wallow in any of these sins, I must choose, in the strength of God, to resist the enemy’s agenda. One of the best ways to do this is to memorize Scripture and combat his lies with God’s truth. When he begins to whisper words to my soul like, “Poor you, I can’t believe how they are treating you!” or “You may as well just give up right now; it’s not worth going through all of this!”, I can be ready to hit back with a heavy dose of God’s amazing reality, such as “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:6).
If you find the enemy using false accusation or revilement to put temptation in front of you like bait, make a purposeful choice to resist him; by God’s grace, command your heart and mind to agree with truth instead of turning Satan’s lies over in your mind.
A Standing Ovation from the King
When the martyr Stephen was being stoned by a hateful mob, he couldn’t have been less popular in the world’s eyes. From a human perspective, he had reached the epitome of revilement and rejection. But just as the angry crowd was seeking to rid the earth of his life, Stephen was receiving a standing ovation from the King of all kings. (See Acts 7:54-60.)
The time has come for us to choose which kind of “standing ovation” we are going to seek — the world’s, or Christ’s. Only one kind of life is truly worth living; only one kind of life is an unstoppable force for the Kingdom of God. It’s a life that boldly, audaciously, unabashedly declares “I’m with Jesus!” and gladly embraces the reproach of Christ and the offense of the Cross. May we no longer be self-protective closet Christians, but Christians who count it a privilege to suffer shame for His Name’s sake … because He is worthy.