Jesus continued speaking to the multitudes that day who were going along with Him by saying,
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:27).
This is the second requirement Jesus laid down to be His disciple. What did He mean? Are disciples required to literally carry large beams of wood with them? No, Jesus was again using hyperbole.
Most, if not all, of the people in Jesus’ Jewish audience would have witnessed condemned criminals dying on crosses. The Romans crucified criminals along major thoroughfares outside the city gates to maximize crucifixion’s effect as a deterrent to crime.
For this reason, I suspect that the phrase, “Carry your cross” was a common expression back in Jesus’ day. Every person who was crucified had heard a Roman soldier say, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Those were words the condemned dreaded, as they knew it marked the beginning of hours and days of gruesome agony. So such a phrase could have easily become a common expression that meant, “Accept the inevitable hardship that is coming your way.”
I imagine fathers saying to their sons, “Son, I know you hate to dig out the latrine. It’s a smelly, dirty job. But it’s your responsibility once a month, so take up your cross. Go dig out the latrine.” I imagine wives saying to their husbands, “My dear, I know how you hate to pay taxes to the Romans. But today our taxes are due, and the Tax Collector is coming up our road right now. So take up your cross. Go pay the man.”
Taking up one’s cross is synonymous with self-denial, and Jesus used it in that sense in Matthew 16:24: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” It could be paraphrased, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him put aside his own agenda, embrace the inevitable hardship that is coming as a consequence of his decision, and follow Me.”
So, true disciples are willing to suffer for the sake of following Jesus. They’ve already counted the cost before they began, and knowing that hardship is inevitable, launched out with determination to finish the race. This interpretation is supported by what Jesus said next about counting the cost of following Him. Two illustrations made His point:
For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks terms of peace.
Jesus’ point could not be clearer: “If you want to be My disciple, count the cost in advance, lest you quit when the going gets rough. True disciples accept the hardship that comes as a result of following Me.”