By Matt Friend

“Why????”

You shout that one-word question into the cold night sky. You mutter it under your breath. You ask it in your prayers and with any friends or family you might be lucky enough to see during this time of quarantine and global pandemic.

Why am I: losing my job, receiving a salary-cut, getting sick, watching a loved one die, seeing my retirement dwindle away, forced to look for a second job, disabled, struggling to pay my rent, so anxious, so lonely, so afraid, so enslaved by my cravings and addictions?

Though it won’t answer all your questions, the following truth will help you make sense of your pain…

No cross, no crown.

For centuries the world has phrased this ancient principle in multiple different ways:

  • A weightlifter declares, “No pain, no gain!”
  • A father tells his son, “Work comes before winning.”
  • A coach tells her team, “Sacrifice comes before success.”
  • An advisor counsels an investor, “Payment comes before payout.”
  • The climbing instructor encourages, “The hard climb precedes the mountaintop view.”

In an age of 1-click shopping, 24-hour shipping, and lightning-fast internet, this truth is often hidden behind a spinning carnival of technicolor and titillating temptations. But it’s still true…

No cross, no crown.

Jesus tried to teach this principle to his disciples, just days before his own crucifixion.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again… Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Mark 8:31-38 (NIV)

He taught the same principle in Mark chapters 9 and 10.

His followers were confused. They rightly understood who Jesus was. They recognized Him as the anointed King, the Messiah, the one sent from heaven to save God’s people. But they misunderstand the nature and timeline of Jesus’ kingdom. They had hoped Jesus was coming to overthrow the Romans and establish an earthly kingdom of health, wealth, and prosperity, but they were wrong.

Those conquests are still in our future when Jesus returns; however, for now, He reminds us that the road to the crown must first pass through the cross.

No cross. No crown.

For centuries, Jesus-followers have said the same thing in many different ways:

“He that hath no cross deserves no crown.” –Francis Quarles

“No thorns, no throne. No gall, no glory. No cross, no crown.” –William Penn

“There are no crown wearers in heaven who were not cross-bearers here below.” –Charles Spurgeon

“A cheap Christianity without a cross will prove in the end a useless Christianity, without a crown.” –J. C. Ryle

“Some of us want the crown before the cross.” –Billy Graham

However we phrase it, this important truth remains…

No cross. No crown.

When we’re going through seasons of confusion, fear, helplessness, hopelessness, isolation, boredom, anxiety, depression, restriction, frustration, doubt, skepticism, escapism, or anger… how does this ancient truth invite us to respond?

#1 – By putting God’s plans before our own plans

For reasons that we may not understand on this side of heaven, God’s sovereign plans often include suffering. His worldview includes temporary seasons of pain, loss, and heartache.

Does ours?

May we respond with faith in an ever-loving God, just as Charles Spurgeon did when he penned the following words over 150 years ago during a bout with depression, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”

How can we respond this way? Only when we are convinced of the life-changing principle:

No cross. No crown.

How else does this ancient truth invite us to respond?

I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages. -Charles Spurgeon Click To Tweet

#2 – By putting others’ needs before our own needs

In this same conversation of suffering and pain, Jesus advised his inner-circle…

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” –Mark 9:33-37 (NIV)

Think about it.

It costs almost nothing to love a person whose life is put-together and who has no major needs. But the moment we try to love someone who is emotionally, physically, or spiritually wounded… it costs us something.

Do you remember Lily Potter, the mother of Harry Potter? In the first book of the series, the evil Lord Voldemort tries to kill Harry, but he can’t touch him. When the villain tries to lay hands on Harry, he experiences agonizing pain, and so his plan is thwarted. Harry later asks Dumbledore, his mentor, “Why couldn’t Voldemort touch me?”

Dumbledore replies, “Your mother died to save you. Love as powerful as your mother’s leaves its own mark. To have been loved so deeply will give you some protection forever.”

How can we respond this way? Only when we are convinced of the life-changing principle:

No cross. No crown.

In what final way does this ancient truth invite us to respond?

It costs almost nothing to love a person whose life is put-together and who has no major needs. But the moment we try to love someone who is emotionally, physically, or spiritually wounded... it costs us something. Click To Tweet

#3 – By putting others’ glory before our own glory

In this same dialogue with Jesus (Mark 10), James and John asked to be Jesus’ prime minister and chief of staff. They wanted to share in the moment of his greatest glory.

What’s the irony of their request? They had no idea that the moment of Jesus’ greatest glory was about to be revealed on a cross. So, Jesus reminds them, “You have no idea what you’re asking.”

Like these disciples missed it, where are we missing it? Where are we seeking our own glory at work, at home, or on social media?

To a world drunk on self-glory, Jesus calls us to remember this life-changing principle, especially when we are suffering…

No cross. No crown.

Though a believer’s suffering can lead to eternal reward, there’s only one cross that results in our crown: the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is good news! God sent His son, Jesus Christ, into the world: to live a sinless life, to suffer and die on the cross as the substitute for our sins (absorbing the punishment we rightfully deserve), to rise again, to ascend back into heaven, and to grant forgiveness, righteousness, His Spirit, and eternal life at the moment anyone repents and believes.

Today, throw all your confidence, all your hopes, and all your dreams onto the sovereign mercy of Jesus of Nazareth!

It’s only because of His cross that we can receive a crown.

Though a believer’s suffering can lead to eternal reward, there’s only one cross that results in our crown: the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Click To Tweet

Matt Friend, a Charleston native and tenth generation West Virginian, has served in pastoral ministry since 2002, and as the Senior Pastor of Bible Center Church since 2016. He and Sarah (his high school sweetheart and wife) are raising two daughters, Katie and Riley, and one son, Kadyn. Together, they are advocates for adoption and all things Charleston. In his free time he enjoys reading, running, kayaking, and spending time with his family and two dogs, Queso and Sabi.

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