When my mother was in her last dying moments in the hospital, artificially kept alive by technology, I avoided going into her room for as long as possible.
Medically, I knew her death was unavoidable. Spiritually, I knew her death would lead to eternal life. But neither prepared me for the moment when she breathed her last.
Death should be universally hated. Some deaths produce a deeper grief than others, but any type of death should be counterintuitive to the human experience.
God never designed for us to die, or to even experience danger, injury, suffering, difficulty, trial or loss. Life giving way to life was the original plan.
So it should confuse us when the Creator of Life speaks positively about death: "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24)
That verse is one that all Christians memorize, but if we were standing in the crowd when Jesus said these words, we would have been shocked and perplexed.
It's only when we step back and examine the entire biblical narrative that we see a theme coursing through Scripture: death does lead to life, and life does lead to death.
Here are four examples that you'll be familiar with, so be sure to apply these to your everyday life by digging into the reflection questions at the end.
1. In the Garden, life led to death. Adam and Eve were tricked by the promise that they could be "like God." What could be more life-giving than being God himself? But it was all a sham, with deadly consequences.
2. On the Cross, death led to life. To repair what was broken in the Garden, Jesus freely sacrificed his own life to put sin to death. Through his death and resurrection, life was freely given to those who believe.
3. The world promises life, but in the end it leads to death. This is what I wrote about last week. Areas like individualism, lust, materialism and gluttony feel life-giving in the moment, but they ruin the body and soul.
4. Jesus promises life, if we die to self. The One who sacrificed his life so that we might have life now calls us, as his disciples, to sacrifice our lives for him. When we do, we'll experience the transcendent joys of God's eternal kingdom.
The call to deny yourself will be a challenge, but remember - it's a rescuing grace. You will never find life in your spouse, in your children, in accumulating possessions, in the esteem of friends, in the most beautiful location, or even in theological knowledge.
Taking up your Cross daily means putting to death your sinful and selfish desires and accepting a life-giving invitation that the Enemy and created world can never offer: the all-surpassing glory of knowing Christ.
This is the world's best prize. This is the universe's best banquet. This is the only thing that will give your life meaning and fill you with lasting joy.
- In the Garden, life led to death. Where is one particular area where you need to submit to God and allow him to rule your life unchallenged?
- On the Cross, death led to life. Do you fully rely on the Cross for life, or are there ways in which you try to persuade God, yourself and others that you are righteous on your own?
- The world promises life, but in the end it leads to death. What is one empty worldly promise that you are chasing, in the hope that it will satisfy your soul?
- Jesus promises life, if we die to self. What is one thing that you struggle to willingly sacrifice for the Kingdom of God?