Have you ever wondered why the Christian faith focuses so much on dying?
Most of us know the logistics of Jesus’ death. Some of us may even come from traditions that teach the Stations of the Cross, as a reflective way to meet Jesus in his dying. But I am willing to bet that most of us have less understanding of the intentional approach Jesus took to death than we realize.
Before he went to the cross, Jesus had a lifestyle of death.
We can see this early on in the book of John, because out of obedience to his mother, Jesus set aside his own agenda to serve the hosts at the Wedding at Cana.
Jesus continues to die as Satan tempts him with physical desire, pride, and power in the Wilderness. In delaying healing Lazarus, Jesus dies to his community’s perfect opinions of him, and allows his friend Lazarus to die.
Before he went to the cross, Jesus shares his ultimate destiny with his disciples, inviting them to die too.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”Luke 9:23
First century Judeans would have known that to carry your cross meant that you were ultimately destined to die upon it. Jesus’s disciples may have wondered if he was inviting them into a group suicide.
While they probably didn’t enjoy the sound of death initially, it must have caught on, because only several decades later Paul declares,
“I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!”1 Corinthians 15:31
It seems that at some point, the Early Christians began to not just accept but even celebrate Jesus’s way of dying.
And that is for the best, because not one of us is able to follow Jesus without dying many times. We die in coming to faith initially, and hopefully many times after that.
“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”Luke 14:27
I say “hopefully”, because you cannot follow Jesus without some death. To follow Jesus without death would be a lot like the people compared to “seed among rocky ground” in the Parable of the Sower.
While we will all go through rocky seasons, we must accept Jesus’ invitation to die when trouble comes (as it will regardless). We cannot be distracted (v 15), we cannot reject death for the sake of comfort (v 16-17), and we must bear fruit (v 18-19). To disengage with these moments of death is to stop following Jesus, for his way leads to the cross. To disengage is to reject the necessary, sometimes costly transformation that is required in following him.
As we live, hopefully we will experience many deaths, including:
- Death to ambition
- Death to your reputation
- Death to your your specific plans for the future
- Death to your timings
- Death to the flesh (ie, physical desires)
- Death to relationships/your previous way of doing community
- Death to autonomy
Fortunately, Jesus was an expert at dying, and his death on the cross was only his final death.
Navigating Death like Jesus
The Bible gives us some clues about how Jesus engaged emotionally with his death. While Jesus was indeed a victim of political and religious violence, his decision-making process and internal choices may be even more instructive for our lives here on earth than the good news of his resurrection! This post will answer questions like:
Was Jesus passive in his death on the cross?
Why didn’t Jesus die a quick death? What was his internal activity while nailed to the cross?
How can we follow Jesus’ way of dying, even as we live?
The active way Jesus chose to die has implications for how we walk out seasons of surrender and death to our own agendas. All necessary deaths lead to the redemption of God.
Q: Was Jesus passive in his death on the cross?
A: A Choice in Life, and a Choice in Death
Before creation, Jesus was with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”John 17:5
Jesus actively chose to live as a human, in the flesh. Jesus chose to come to the Earth, leaving a place where he was the uncontested Authority, making himself small.
Even though Jesus was on the Earth, he retained his authority.
We know this by the degree to which demons feared him.
“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”Mark 1:24
And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.Mark 1:34
Instead of giving up his authority (not possible), Jesus gave up his right to be defined by his power. Even while he was on the Earth, Jesus’ power was mixed with and indivisible from the power of God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Instead of relinquishing or relying upon his own power, he chose to access divine power through his relationship with the Father only.
“So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.”John 5:19
“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”John 14:10
Jesus didn’t give up his authority and he didn’t give up his power, but he gave up his will. In spite of his authority and his divinity, he allows his death to happen because God’s way is better.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”Luke 22:42
Just as Jesus chose to leave his place of authority to come in the flesh, Jesus chose to give up his life.
The reason the Father loves Me is that I lay down My life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.
This charge I have received from My Father.”John 10:17-18
Jesus retained all authority…
“Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”Matthew 26:53
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”Matthew 28:18
And all power…
“You make him to rule over the words of your hands;
You have put all things under his feet.Psalm 8:6
And still chose to die.
Better than animals, who
- Cannot choose death voluntarily (no free will)
- Who cannot experience or empathize with being human
- Whose souls cannot be perfect
He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.Hebrews 9:12
Christ chose to die.
Instead of defending himself…
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”Isaiah 53:7
Jesus trusted the father’s power to raise him from the dead and vindicate him.
But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”Isaiah 49:4
Jesus trusts the father’s power to glorify him.
“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”John 17:5
it was not just Jesus’ righteousness, but his willingness to suffer at the right time that made him our path to the Father.
For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and decrees. He did this to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace and reconciling both of them to God in one body through the cross, by which He extinguished their hostility.Ephesians 2:14-16
By being numbered with the transgressors, Christ experientially atoned for the sins we have committed intentionally. We know that Jesus received the full measure of God’s punishment, from all humans across the ages. Due to the scale of his atonement (for all humankind) and the purity with which he chose his fate…
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.Isaiah 53:6
For all the minor deaths we experience (and even actual death, in the case of martyrs), he still only keeps us in the shadow of death. He demonstrates a small piece of his experience to us so that we will understand him, but he keeps us from the severity of his own cost.
Q: Why didn’t Jesus die a quick death? Apart from dying, what exactly was Jesus doing on the cross, as he was nailed there?
A: Jesus was Lost in Intercession (and still is)
After having made an internal choice to die, despite the lack of understanding of his friends…
Jesus remained active on the cross.
While Jesus did many things on the cross, his primary duty was intercession.
Just like when Jesus prayed for his friends, entrusting them over to God in John 17,
And when he stayed awake to plead with the Father in the Garden of Gethesamane for himself and the world,
Interceding so intensely that he experienced Hematohidrosis and his sweat became blood,
And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.Luke 22:44
Jesus continued interceding on the cross.
We know this because of the wording of Isaiah 53:10:
In this verse, the word “soul” is nap̄·šōw (Strong’s 5315). It is the same word used in Genesis 42:21 when Joseph pleads with his brothers not to kill him or sell him into slavery. It is the same word used to describe the covenental bond between Jonathan and David.
Choosing God isn’t rational, it doesn’t make natural sense. Choosing God enough to die certainly didn’t make much sense, yet it is the decision God required of Jesus. He requires us to choose death too, through Christ.
Jesus prayed with his soul engaged, if not his mind. The Holy Spirit prays in this same, groaning, intense way for us at all times.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.8:26-27
With his body already torn, Jesus’ soul made intercession for us until the hour of his death.
He was so engaged in this work of intercession that the Father leaves us another clue as a prophetic act: the Water that comes out of Jesus’ side when he is pierced (John 19:34).
The water isn’t a sign of Christ’s purity, it is a sign of intercession in that he was filled with the living water of the Holy Spirit, groaning along with God’s spirit for the work to be finished.
Despite the mockery and torture he was experiencing,
Those who sit at the gate mock me, and I am the song of the drunkards.Psalm 69:12
“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.Mathew 27:42
Despite any demonic scare tactics he may have experienced,
Jesus remained actively engaged in prayer for you and I.
Eventually after about 6 hours of interceding for us from the cross, a soldier prophetically offered him the bitter wine (Luke 23:36).
I personally believe that while Jesus hung on the cross, his soul interceded for every kind of sin, physical illness, and demonic oppression. He did this so that when we believe in him, we can be set free from sickness and evil power. I personally believe that God waited for the soldier to offer him the bitter wine until this labor of intercession had been completed.
Instead of trying to physically or mentally escape pain, Jesus’ soul was engaged behind the scenes and he leveraged the abundance of his suffering for our healing in an active sense.
Once he had sipped the bitter wine as a final prophetic act, Jesus surrendered with finality his spirit unto God, entrusting God to make up the difference.
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.Luke 23:46
To this day, Jesus is still interceding for us! He is currently sitting at the right hand of God, pouring out intercession for us that we be empowered by the Holy Spirit and have the capacity to endure.
“Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us”Romans 8:34
Jesus was lifted up on the cross, but it is his finished work on the cross that draws all nations to him.
“And when I am lifted up from the Earth, I will draw all people to myself.”John 12:32
He had to endure the cross to be revealed as a fully formed, new Adam, who would obey the Father’s will until the end.
Even today, Jesus has surrendered his own sense of timing to obey the Father. He so trusts the Father that he actually doesn’t know when his time of return will be, giving the right to know his timings to the Father only. We know that he will come back to the Earth to reclaim his Bride (the Church, people who love him). He is not in a hurry, but has trusted the time of that reunification to his Father. In the meantime, he prays for his people to be perfected, and the Holy Spirit actions his prayers. He considers our full preparation worth the cost.
Implications: Navigating Death Like Christ
“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”Colossians 3:3
Based on Jesus’ finished work on the cross, when we experience little deaths, we have an example to follow. Here are some specific ways we can apply the Jesus way of dying to our own lives.
Jesus perceived that the Father had called him to death, and accepted it. Instead of withholding from God areas of our lives that need to die, significantly change, or come to an end, we must allow God access. We must agree that his ways are better and allow loss. Choosing to let God bring you through loss isn’t failure but obedience.
Do not Cling to Self Defense
Just as Jesus relinquishes his own power, does not seek vindication from people, and allows his ultimate vindication to come from the Father, so we must also leave our justification up to God. We will need to accept that others do not understand and simply obey God with or without their approval.
Remain Actively Engaged
Instead of avoiding death, disengaging when we are tired, or inviting distraction, Jesus remains actively engaged in his process until the end. If you are in the furnace and need help to continue to die well, ask God to send ministering angels to strengthen you and give you the capacity to endure.
Trust in God’s Redemption
None of us fully know our timings, or how long we will need to endure. However, we know that it wont always be like this, because our God is a God of reversals and redemption. If you entrust your spirit over to God, he will redeem your pain and provide you a hope and a future.
We know that in seasons of loss and dying, God will not permit our pain [especially the worst of our pain] to be wasted. He will find a way to redeem it and heal us.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28
Day of Redemption: The Law of Reversals
In his death, Christ initiated a Law of Reversals: that as God comes to reverse the effects of sin, as he comes to judge and make justice,
Jesus exposes our poverty of Spirit for what it is, and shows us that we are in need of a Savior:
Even if man fails to value his cost, Creation will worship Jesus! Burdened by the effects of the people’s sins, Creation groaned to see the day of Christ. Now, Creation longs for his return. Creation will praise him altogether once again.
He Re-took his Throne
When Jesus put his hope in God, God vindicated Jesus!
The Father so valued the cost of his Son that he has given him a name above every name, to receive worship from all. His reward will last for eternity.
Jesus ascended to Heaven and sat back down on his throne, fully restored to glory. Through his finished work on the cross and through us, Jesus created even more glory for himself! As a conduit for the Trinity’s creative power to re-create anyone who would believe through him, Jesus’ fathers an entirely new generation of born again people, born into God’s family through their faith in him. This new generation is counted as his offspring. As the Church multiples in number, these are the children she bears him.
His honor cannot be taken, it is permanently established. Can anyone tear him off his throne?
We may face intimidation and persecution before we see the final chapters of his story come to life. But we know that he who re-ascended to his throne and sat down in glory cannot be removed from it.
A Prayer to Die Like Jesus
Lord, help us to live and die like you.
Help us to value your cost and let it define our entire lives, from beginning to end.
Let us receive your invitation to die and not run or distract ourselves from the many eventual deaths we may experience.
Keep us in just the shadow of death and deliver us,
We choose your ways over our own and celebrate what you have done for us.
We give ourselves away and trust you to steer properly,
We trust you to finish the work that you started and ask that you give us the capacity to endure.
We know that you wont leave, but we ask for grace to sense you very close.
We are grateful for the work you did on our behalf, and we ask that you would help us choose you with all of our souls.