Come and Die
When we believe, Jesus invites us to follow Him and live with Him as apprentices of His way. This is an invitation to come and die to ourselves in order to follow Him into a new life with the Father. To die to our sin, our brokenness, our plans to save ourselves, and our plans to make our own way in life. But in dying, we can experience the best kind of life possible.
To follow Christ means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”
“We are not meant to die merely in order to be dead. God could not want that for the creatures to whom He has given the breath of life. We die in order to live.”
Welcome to our 9:30 service. Welcome to all who are joining in our video café or online with our streaming. We’re so glad that you’re here with us today. We’re so glad that you get to be a part of this.
We are, this week, in Part 2 of our series “Follow Me.” And what we want to do as we begin our new ministry year, which we start and kickoff every September, is we want to begin this year together thinking about and considering Jesus’ invitation to “follow me,” and to look at what that means. What is Jesus asking us when he says “follow me?” What is he calling us to? There are different dimensions to that that we’re going to explore as we go through this series.
Last week, Joe kicked us off with the beginning of the invitation, which is, “come and see.” It’s a simple, beautiful invitation to everyone whether you believe in Jesus, whether you have no idea who he is, whether you’ve never heard about him before. The invitation begins, to follow Jesus by simply just, “come and see.”
“Come and see who I am.”
“Come spend time with me.”
“Come and consider what I’m saying and make up your own mind.”
It’s simple, it’s beautiful, it’s not threatening. Anyone can do it. That’s where the invitation to follow Jesus begins. With this simple call to come and see. But you know, one of the things that I’ve experienced is that things that start simple, sometimes as you learn more about them and as you mature in them, as you grow into them, they can get a lot more complicated and complex and they begin asking more of us. They begin getting a little more confusing and a little more difficult to navigate.
You know, things like math. Math begins in a great way, with Elmo and Big Bird and the number of the day. It’s just counting and it’s super simple. Then you move on to addition and subtraction and that’s not too bad. You get some pictures of apples and how many more and how many less do we have. It’s pretty easy. Then school starts and they add fractions, pieces of numbers, and multiplication and division. Then the alphabet gets involved, and I don’t know what that’s all about. The letters, they’re like, “there’s only 26 of us, so we’re getting involved in this number game.” And calculus? What is that all about? So yeah, math. Ugh.
Then there’s life. Think about how life starts. You’re born. You’re cute, even though you look like Winston Churchill, because all newborns look like Winston Churchill, it doesn’t matter, it’s just the way it is. You’re born and you don’t even have to move. People pick you up, they feed you. When you wake up, everyone else gets up. That’s the way it is. Then you get a little bit older and the biggest decision you have to make each day is which toy do I want to play with and in which order. That’s pretty cool. You get Sesame Street and all those other things. Then school starts and things get a little more complicated. Teachers start asking more of you. And then middle school and puberty and blegh.
Then you go to high school and you try to navigate how do I become an adult. Then you learn about bills and mortgages and things get real complicated and confusing in a hurry. They’re still complicated and confusing. I remember when I was a kid and I was like, “Hey, adults have this all figured out,” because it seemed like they did. Then I became an adult and I was like, “Man, that was disappointing.” I have no idea what I’m doing.
But here’s the other side of that coin. Things do get more complex and more confusing and they do ask more of us. But with that comes greater possibilities and greater freedom than we had before. With the complexity, with the confusion, with the bigger ask, comes new possibilities and new freedoms. As an adult, I can have ice cream for dinner if I want. I don’t. But I can. I have that freedom. I have that possibility. It’s not open to my kids. I couldn’t do that when I was a kid. I can stay up as late as I want. I can travel. I can drive. I can make decisions. I can purchase homes. There are all kinds of freedoms and possibilities that I have as an adult that I didn’t before, because I moved into the greater complexity and the bigger ask.
Now, math? Those freedoms and possibilities are things I’m just never going to know, and I’m okay with that. Some of you do know the greater possibility and freedom that math brings.
I want to suggest that following Jesus is one of these things that as we learn more about it, as we move into it, as we mature into following Him and move further into that invitation, that it’s one of those things that gets more complex. It’s one of those things that gets more confusing, and new variables are brought in. The ask becomes bigger. I think Jesus does this intentionally. As you look at the story of the Gospel, if you look at Jesus’ story as it unfolds. He begins with, “come and see,” which is for everyone. If that’s where you are today, if you’re just trying to figure out who Jesus is, don’t feel any pressure to move beyond “come and see.” Just be there with Jesus. But if you’ve been in “come and see” for a while or if you’re beyond that, if you’ve matured, that’s what Jesus intended. He reaches a point in his story as his ministry continues where he’s no longer content to let people stay at the “come and see” place. The invitation to “follow me” goes beyond “come and see” and he deliberately pushes people beyond that. When he does, new variables come into play. It gets more confusing. It’s a bigger ask. That’s what we’re going to look at today. It’s this new dimension where Jesus is going to take that next step and initiate a new invitation to “follow me.”
If you have a Bible, please turn to the Gospel of Luke. We’re going to be in chapter 9. We’re going to look at just one verse, where Jesus invites people to this next invitation of “follow me.”
If you don’t have a Bible, we would love to give you one. Just head out to the Welcome Desk and we would love to give you a Bible. It’s free, just ask for it and we’d be happy to give you one.
Let’s look at Luke. We’re going to be in chapter 9 and we’re just going to look at verse 23. This is Jesus moving people to the next invitation of “follow me.”
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Jesus has changed the invitation of following him from “come and see” to “come and die.” Well, that escalated quickly. Are you guys excited? Come and die? Yeah! Jesus, maybe, maybe a smaller step? We just went from the number of the day to differential equations. What’s going on here? That’s a big ask. Jesus just took this to 11.
What is this invitation to come and die? What does it mean? What is he talking about? Before we consider whether it’s worth accepting the invitation, let’s make sure we understand what this invitation is all about. What does Jesus mean when he says “come and die?” I think the invitation to come and die is often accepted without us even knowing it. I want to suggest that the invitation to come and die is accepted the moment we place our faith in Jesus. The moment we believe in Jesus, whether we know it or not, whether we realize it or not, we have accepted his invitation to follow him and to come and die. The reason for that is putting our faith in Jesus for salvation, for saying, “Jesus, I recognize that you’re the savior. I need someone to save me.” In that moment, we are abandoning our own plans to save ourself. Whatever project it was, whatever the thing in our life is that we think is going to fill us and make us whole, we put that down. We put it to death and we say, “Okay, I’m going to take your plan. I’m going to let you save me.”
The moment of belief, the moment we place our faith in Jesus, we have, whether we know it or not, accepted his invitation to come and die.
Just a little while ago we witnessed a baptism. Baptism is actually symbolic of accepting Jesus’ invitation to come and die. In the Biblical view, water represents judgment. That goes all the way back to the flood and Noah. The waters of judgement. What we’re doing in baptism is following Jesus into the waters of judgement and we’re coming out into new life on the other side. Being submerged and completely overwhelmed by God’s judgement and coming out on the other side. That’s what baptism symbolizes. It’s the visual representation of our decision to follow Jesus and to come and die.
But that is just the beginning. Jesus didn’t mean for our following him to end with just believing in him. He had so much more for us. We know that the invitation to come and die is so much bigger because of the words that Jesus uses. What does he say in this invitation? “Take up your cross daily.” Jesus’ invitation to come and die isn’t meant to be a one-and-done thing. This is meant to be a lifestyle. This is an invitation into a lifestyle, a way of life of following Jesus that says, “I will come and die.”
How do we do that? His words make it clear. “Deny yourself.” We begin by denying ourself. Choosing to put our own will aside. Jesus demonstrated this for us the night before he died. He was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew what was coming. He knew that his execution was going to happen the next day. He’s praying to his father, “Father, if there’s any way this cup can pass from me, let it be so. But not my will, but yours be done.” When we accept the invitation to follow Jesus we are accepting an invitation into a lifestyle where we choose, like Jesus, to deny ourself and to say, “Father, wherever you lead, I’m going to go. Whether I want to go there or not, I’m going to go there.” That’s a decision we have to make day in and day out, moment by moment. It’s not a one-and-done thing.
The other part is where we take up our cross daily and this is where Jesus really raises the bar. In his culture, the cross wasn’t something you wore around your neck. The cross was something you carried up a hill and you were executed on. What happens to a human body on the cross is so painful that the Romans actually invented a new word, excrutio, which we get the word excruciating from. It literally means ‘from the cross.’ The pain that a person experienced on this device was so intense that they needed a new word for it. What Jesus is saying – the people in his culture would have picked up on this – when he said “take up your cross daily,” is that when you accept this invitation, you’re accepting the possibility that Jesus may sometimes lead us into suffering, the same way he went into suffering by following the Father’s will.
For some people, that meant death. There were people who followed Jesus into literal death. But for most people, that’s not what this means and I don’t think that’s what Jesus was talking about because by saying, “take up your cross daily,” he can’t mean physical death. For some it means persecution. There are people who believe in Jesus around the world who are being persecuted because of their faith. Most of us, at least in our current time, will never experience that. But that doesn’t mean in our lives, we don’t sometimes get led into places of suffering, whether it’s illness – mental or physical- whether it’s the loss of a relationship, whether it’s the loss of a life of someone that we love, someone that we value. We will experience times of suffering, where things aren’t going the way we want them to. In that moment, what Jesus is saying is, “Follow me into that. See what I can do with that.” So that’s the invitation to come and die.
And looking closer, I don’t know if it sounds any better. How could that invitation to deny ourselves, to take up a cross daily, how could that possibly lead to greater possibilities and more freedom as it gets more complex and asks more of us? Because that’s a big ask. How could that possibly lead to more possibilities and freedom? Because denying myself, that seems like less possibilities and a whole lot less freedom. And dying? Dead people don’t make a lot of choices. They don’t have a lot of possibilities. There’s no freedom there. So how does this math work? What is going on here? What is Jesus talking about? What he’s presenting, this offer he’s presenting, doesn’t look like it leads to greater possibilities and more freedom in our lives. How do we work that out?
One of the things I’ve discovered in life is that conflict and misunderstanding is rooted in words and phrases that we use in common, but we don’t bring the same meaning to. I experienced this about 20 years ago. It was the first fight my wife and I ever had. We were engaged and we were moving toward our marriage so we were thinking about things to buy for the house we were going to get. We were at an auction and this door comes up for auction. It was an old farmhouse door, about nine feet tall and made of oak. It looked like it weighed about 150, 160 pounds. It was enormous. It was beautiful, clearly handmade. Diana looks over at me and says, “I want it. Get it.” I was like, “Oh. Um, ok,” And I asked a question that I thought was pretty simple. “What are you going to do with it?” None of the doors in our house were that tall. It’s not going to fit. And she says, “I don’t know.” The meaning I brought to the phrase, ‘I don’t know’ is “I don’t have anything I want to do with it. I just want it.” And I’m thinking, “Okay that’s great, but I’m the one that’s going to have to carry it. So maybe we don’t need the door.”
What I didn’t realize is that my wife was bringing a different meaning to the phrase ‘I don’t know.’ What she brought to that phrase was, “There’s about ten different things I can think to do with that door. That’s why I want it.” So we bought the door. It was actually a little heavier than I thought. And it does have a use. It’s going to be the headboard at our new house. It has not had a use for 20 years, but finally it is going to have a purpose! Woohoo!
This misunderstanding, this conflict, this fight that happened between us happened because she brought a different meaning and understanding of a phrase than I did to the conversation. We’re using the same word but it had different connotations for us. I think that’s one of the things that’s going on here. When Jesus says, “come and die,” we hear the word die and we think about it in our context. For us, death means the end of life. It means loss. It means we stop being alive, we stop having freedom, we stop operating in the world, we lose connection with things that we love. That’s what the word ‘die’ means to us.
Jesus is bringing something totally different to this word. In Jesus, death is the pathway to resurrection life. In Jesus, death becomes something different. When Jesus says, “come and die,” that’s not the end. He’s leading somewhere different. He knows that death is the pathway to resurrection life. He showed us this, because Jesus denied himself, accepted the will of the Father, went to the cross, suffered and died and three days later, he rose in glory, to new and greater life. In so doing, he offers us an invitation to go with him into that new life, into greater life than we’ve ever imagined before.
In the moment of belief, whether we know it or not, the moment we accept that invitation, we have entered into resurrection life, because of something Jesus knows about the way life works. There are ways of life that lead to death. There are ways we can direct our life and things we can set our hearts upon that actually lead us into death. We’ve all experienced this, whether it’s pleasure, or success, or power, or comfort, or travel. There are things we set our heart upon that we think are going to bring us life and they always come up short. When those things become ultimate things, they never satisfy. They always lead to death.
In fact, in October, we’re going to begin a series called “gods” where we’re going to look at these things, these good things that God gives us that we make into ultimate things, that become gods in our life and we’re going to look at what that does and how we can prioritize those things and how we can use them properly. I’m looking forward to that. It’s in a few weeks.
Jesus knows when we set our heart on those things, our way of life leads to death. He also knows that there’s a way of death that leads to life. To deny yourself, to pick up your cross daily, and to follow him. How does that work?
When I first became a pastor here, we got a phone call one day saying that a man from our church was in the final stages of bladder cancer. He had lost his battle with cancer. I’d never done anything like this before. This was my first one, I was like, “Oh, this is big.” He was in his early fifties and I went and visited with him in his home. He was in hospice. We were praying and talking and I got to know him a little bit. As we were doing so, he said to me, “This is the best thing that ever happened to me.” And I was like, “Okay, you’re going to have to explain that. Your body is being eaten by this disease and you’re about to lose the life that you have, and your marriage, and your job, and your friends. How could this possibly be the best thing that ever happened to you?” He said, “Because of this, because I’m dying, I’ve learned to appreciate every relationship that I’ve ever had. I’m so tuned into God’s goodness and the things that he’s given me. I appreciate them so much more. I used to take them for granted. This is the best thing that ever happened to me. The other reason, the most important reason, because I was facing death, I met the One who could give me life.”
It was because he was facing death, because he knew his life was going to end, that he met Jesus. It changed how he approached death. It changed everything about his life and about his death. Not all of us will experience something like that, but all of us will go into suffering. As I’ve talked with people throughout the church, as I’ve heard your stories, one of the things I often hear is the times of your worst suffering have often produced some of the most incredible things in your life. Not that those things are good. Those things were terrible. But some of you have had the courage to move into those things and to follow Jesus into “come and die” and say, “okay Father, if this is where you’re leading, this is where I’m going to go.“ God has transformed those things in your lives. To take something that was horrible and bring something amazing out of it in you and through you and into the lives of other people. That’s how Jesus works.
I experienced this. In the middle of depression, the deepest parts of my depression a few years ago, I was talking with my counselor and she said, “If you could snap your fingers and make all this go away, would you?” And I don’t know where this came from, but I immediately said, “No. Wouldn’t do it. Wouldn’t take the offer.” And I was at the lowest point that I was going to be. She said, “Well, why?” And I said, “This is where God has me right now and he’s doing something I don’t understand it but I’m absolutely certain that he’s doing something. And this is where I need to be, because if this is where he is then this is where I’ve got to be, as much as I hate it.
It was another year and a half, two years before I finally got out of all of that. But let me tell you, because of what I experienced, for whatever reason, God used that in my life. I’m a better husband. I’m a better pastor. I’m a better father. I’m a better follower of Jesus. He’s used it to produce compassion, understanding, and empathy. He’s brought so much fruit out of that experience. I never would have thought that going in. But that’s how this works. That’s how this invitation to “come and die” is all about. That’s the invitation.
Jesus wants us to see something else very important. We are absolutely mistaken if we think this is about heaven. Heaven is where we ultimately wind up, but this is about resurrection life now. In the moment we believe, heaven is a done deal. What is probably most important for us to understand is that we can begin living resurrection life right now. That’s what Jesus is inviting us into and he tells a story about “come and die.” He gives an illustration that helps us understand this and it’s not a heavenly illustration, it’s a right here, right now illustration. It’s found in the book of John, in chapter 12. Jesus is trying to explain to his followers what “come and die” is all about. He says this in John 12:24.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Jesus was talking in an agrarian society. Most of his audience were farmers. I love what he does here. Instead of giving a definition, and defining what “come and die” is, he tells a story. He gives us a word picture that they would have connected to, that his audience would have seen, because it’s something they experienced day in and day out. What “come and die” is all about is just like the kernel of wheat. When it falls into the earth and dies, it becomes stalks of wheat. It becomes something exponentially greater than it was before. Something that produces fruit and can give life. It can produce more wheat. It can feed others. But in order for that to happen, the seed has to die. In order for the acorn to become an oak tree, it has to die to being an acorn. Unless it does, it will never experience the much greater life of being the tree. Unless the kernel of wheat dies, it will never experience the much greater life of being stalks of wheat that can bear fruit and can feed others.
That’s what Jesus is offering us. That’s what he’s saying when he says, “come and die.” Die to what you are so I can make you into something greater. That’s the invitation and we have a choice as to whether we do that, because Jesus says, “take up your cross daily.” In that part of the invitation we know that it’s our decision day in and day out as to whether or not we’re going to accept that. And here’s the sad fact: not everyone does. Not every grain of wheat that dies, grows into maturity to feed others. Some grains of wheat are pulled out, some are cut down too short. But here’s the amazing thing. Unlike the grains of wheat, unlike the acorn, we have a choice as to whether or not we want to accept the invitation. The invitation is to come and die, to deny yourself and take up your cross daily and Jesus says I will give you real, abundant, resurrection life. I will take the things that are dead in your life. I will take the suffering and I will bring from that greater life than you could ever imagine and almost never looks the way we think it is going to look. It never plays out the way we think it’s going to. It’s confusing and it’s difficult and it’s a big ask. But the possibilities and freedoms that come from it and more than we could imagine. Jesus promises this to people who would follow him. I’s an invitation I hope more and more we accept as a church and it’s something that we have to do together. Each and every day to choose to deny ourselves and pick up our cross daily and follow.
To close today, I want to do something a little bit different. I want to pray scripture over us. This is from the letter from Paul to the Philippians. It’s probably my favorite book in scripture. Paul was someone who accepted the invitation to come and die and he eventually literally did. He was killed for his faith, and along the way, he was shipwrecked and he was whipped, and he was tortured, but he talks about contentment and he talks about joy probably more than any other thing.
In accepting that invitation, he accepted joy and life beyond more than anything he could have imagined, and oh, did he produce fruit. We’re in this room today because of what he did. He’s the one most responsible for spreading Christianity in the western world. He wrote about what it meant to him to “come and die.” I want to pray that over us. I want you to just listen and see if, think about, is this the prayer of my heart and maybe pray that God would make this the cry of our heart.
Let’s pray together: Father, we pray that you would make this true in our lives, that you would give us a longing to see you this way. Paul writes,
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Have you ever had to give up something in order to follow Jesus? What was that like for you? Why did you do it?
This week we celebrated baptism together. Is baptism about finding Jesus or following Him?
How does Jesus invitation to come and die connect to finding Him? Following Him?
At LifePoint, we believe that salvation – believing in Jesus for salvation – and discipleship – following in the way of Jesus to live in abundant life – are distinct; the second does not automatically follow from the first. Even though they are distinct, they are nevertheless connected. How?
Jesus said that in order to follow Him, we must “pick up our cross daily.” This obviously cannot mean dying physically each day, so what does it mean? What are some ways that we can take up our cross daily?
Read Philippians 3:7-11 together and talk about what you think Paul is trying to communicate in this passage. Does this passage encourage you or bother you? To what degree does your life reflect these words?
What is one thing you can die to this week in order to follow Jesus more closely?
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