When Death Means Life…
The events of Jesus’s death are horrific anyway you look at them. To be betrayed, beaten, abused, cursed, rejected and ridiculed has to be one of the worst endings imaginable. To look at all He went through (fully as a man) without redemptive eyes is to also make these events hopeless. Jesus died on the cross – a real death – a painful death, but He didn’t die a hopeless death because while He was busying dying, His Father was busy redeeming. Redemption has been the plan from the beginning. The minute Eve bit into the apple of betrayal, separating mankind from the relational side of the Father, He started working on a way back. To not be with His children was an unbearable sentence, even if they brought it upon themselves. After a long road of supplemental options, Jesus became the end all. He lived a perfect life, walking so closely instep with the Spirit sin didn’t taint His heart and because of His purity He could provide us with an unblemished sacrifice. Jesus would lay down His life so we could finally have ours.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Death had to be the way because the Kingdom of God is upside down and to die is truly to live. The symbolism of the cross wasn’t anything new to the disciples. Jesus had talked about it many times before. He made it clear, if any would follow Him, they must deny themselves, giving up their lives—spiritually, symbolically, and even physically. His words carried weight because He led by example.
“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.”
Trying to save our earthly lives will result in losing our Kingdom lives. Jesus led by example and His death becomes a life we are called to imitate. Reading through the events of the cross in Mark 15, three things immediately grab my attention about the way Jesus died and our call to imitate Him.
- Even though redemption implies new life – death and surrender are never easy
He struggled. Oh how He struggled. Imagine the sickness in His stomach as He served His disciples in the upper room. The fear in His steps as they made their way to the garden. The trembling in His voice as He knelt before His Father asking if there were any other way.
Jesus was fully man and in those final moments He fully struggled with His call to come and die. Beaten, mocked, ridiculed; my how the tides had turned. The same crowd who laid down their coats for Him to walk on were now raising their fist for Him to die by.
On the cross, as His death neared, He cried out, “‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).”
On this side we know what came after the cross, but in those final moments there was a real death happening. Living with redemptive eyes means death doesn’t mark the end, it actually signifies the beginning. Like Jesus, we have been invited to end our earthly lives and step into our Kingdom lives. Redemption saves us for eternity, but it also saves us for right now. The invitation is not the Kingdom someday; because of Jesus, it is the Kingdom now.
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
Surrender and death are hard, but redemption is good. Jesus was able to push through and let go only because of where He fixed His eyes. Though He was dying, He knew His death initiated His life and therefore He pressed on.
2.) Even though dying is hard, because of redemption we can die gracefully
Standing before Pilot, it would appear, He allowed His accusers to win. His refusal to fight back looked like defeat. But His victory didn’t come in fighting for His life – it came in surrendering to His death
He didn’t have to fight to live because He was actually fighting to die.
The soldiers mocked Him. They put a crown of thorns on his head, spit on Him, called out, ‘hail the King of the Jews!’ The Religious leaders taunted him, “You were going to tear down the temple in three days and rebuild it and you can’t even save yourself right now.” The pain of their insults and the pain of His body were very real and yet Jesus stayed grace filled.
“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
We can lay down our lives gracefully because Jesus already fought and won the battle and His victory promises our redemption.
In the beginning the deaths I needed to die were obvious. Letting go of old friends, who led me the wrong direction. Changing channels, both on the television and radio, that led my mind to opposite places. Laying down shame and guilt and the inability to make the right decision. I died, a thousand deaths as the Father worked to redeem the outside of my life. And then slowly the deaths became less obvious. Would I die to my need to be in control? My fear of being left alone, forgotten, replaced? Would I die to my trust issues? My wonderings if God as my Father, would inevitably let me down? Would I die to my need to perform? To have an audience? And to strive toward being the most impressive person in the room? If they were impressed with me, they wouldn’t leave me, right? If they needed me, I would have a place? Fear, insecurity, performance, all wrapped up in some of the most delicate boxes.
Would I find the grace to dig these lies up, so He could empower me to put them down? Dying in this inner place, was hard work, but as I released the pressure to fight for my future, I discovered I could die gracefully.
Eugene Peterson, “Our whole spiritual life is learning how to die well.”
Three year olds in Target throw themselves on the ground, kicking and screaming because letting go of the stickers in the moment feels like the end and to be real honest, I totally get their reaction, in a larger sense. Letting go of what is, in the moment tempts me to be a three year old. I want to hold on, kick and scream, fight and defend because it feels like too much. But because the promise of redemption, I don’t have to fear death.
God doesn’t ask us to let go of things to tease us. He has so much to put in our hands, but He won’t compete with what’s already there.
If something in your life is on its last breath – it might just be because there is something else waiting to be born. My prayer lately has been, “God will you just help me die quickly.” The reality is, I want all He has for me. I want the fullness of His Kingdom right here and right now. I don’t want it later. I don’t want it at the end. I want it now and so when my flesh wants to hold on, I’ve learned to call upon the Spirit of God within me to empower release. I’ve never wanted back what I’ve given to Him. How quickly my kids change when I’ve refocused their eyes from the one “no” and back to the many “yes’s.”
The agony of death is harder the longer we stay focused on it. Jesus surrendered His life quickly because He was already looking toward redemption.We too, can die gracefully because to die is to truly live.
3.) When we die gracefully other people see the power of God
In Luke’s account of the Gospel, we see the immediate impact of Jesus’ sacrifice. When, in response to the other criminal mocking Jesus – the criminal on the other side came to defend the Jesus he didn’t even know,”we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. And he was saying, Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:41-42)
Moments later when the centurion standing next to the cross saw how Jesus died, the only thing he could say was, “surely this man was the son of God.” Jesus didn’t have to say anything, He simply did it. As He surrendered and died, the world around Him shifted.
There is such power in letting go gracefully – when we hold loosely to the things of this world it’s only because we believe in the power of redemption. When we don’t cling to what we think we know but rest in who we know – we impact the world around us without even trying because we weren’t created to hold on to anything other than Jesus. The weight of the world is too much for us. Freedom comes in letting go and Jesus led by example. He didn’t ask the disciples to do anything He wasn’t willing to do himself.
It felt like death to take my family and walk away from life as we knew it at the Cincinnati Vineyard. But if we truly believed in the power of redemption and the heart of our Father, then our steps would show it. Sometimes redemption happens immediately and as soon as you turn toward the Kingdom, you experience your breakthrough, but other times it lingers. It’s taken time, but we are beginning to see what redemption looks like in regards to this death. New life has come and we are learning to walk again. I’m so thankful He took His time walking out this plan because we needed it. The time in between changed us. In the middle we have been formed and shaped and on the other side we will come out differently.
Because He is the Redeemer of all things He has given me back more than I could ever imagine. He is also the Redeemer of all your things and I don’t doubt – that thing in your life you won’t let die- if you pull the plug – He will redeem it in a way that blows your mind. Sometimes we spend all of our energy trying to keep alive the one thing He is waiting for us to let die. To think the resurrection only saves you in your physical death is to sell the message of the cross short. Jesus died so you could have life now, in the full.
“How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.”