Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NIV)
I don’t know about you, but I live life in two opposite directions. On the one hand, I find myself pursuing Jesus and following him faithfully, but on the other hand, I find myself dragging all of my shortcomings and faults that hold me back.
This two-sided struggle is — for me — captured in the paradoxical phrase “living the cross life.” The cross…a symbol of death…calls me to a new kind of life…the life of The One who was crucified on the cross. So, both “death” and “living” are bound up together in this “cross life.”
Jesus’ call to discipleship (see above) binds the two together as well saying that the disciple-life is a life of dying. Notice the focus–it’s on life, one that is characterized by dying. Dietrich Bonhöffer recognized this focus when he said that Jesus calls us to die to our own self and values, but that the call to discipleship is also about a new life.
Unfortunately, most of us didn’t get the memo; we don’t hear Jesus’ discipleship call clearly, so, we miss Bonhöffer’s point and make the Christian life all about dying. To put it another way, we are so focused on our shortcomings and faults that they become our preoccupation to the neglect of our living the Christ life. We’re stuck on our sin instead of experiencing the newness of life lived in the power of the spirit of the risen Jesus Christ.
We fix our eyes on the “crucifix” — a cross with the body of Jesus nailed to it — instead of the “cross” — a cross without the body of Jesus nailed to it. A dead Jesus on the cross demonstrates that God’s grace and forgiveness are now available, but it’s only through the resurrection — God’s “yes” to Jesus’ death on the cross — that we experience freedom from the power of sin and empowerment for living the Christ life.
Jesus’ resurrection makes available to us God’s forgiveness provided on the cross and empowers us to live our new life — the life of the indwelling Jesus Christ. So, our focus should be on the “living” and not the “dying”…the “following” and not simple the “denying.” Our focus should be on the resurrection and not the cross. In so doing we experience not only freedom from the penalty of sin, but also freedom from the power of sin.
Google “end times” and you’ll find all kinds of Christians pedalling images and charts detailing the sequence and chronology of events that surround the apocalyptic conclusion of history. Quite frankly, most of what you find are nothing more than meaningless discussions that overstep the boundaries of Scripture and divert one’s attention from the intent of those very Scriptures — living in the present under the influence of the future.
The fact of the matter that the beginning of the end took place 2,000 years ago with the first coming of Christ.. He proclaimed the coming of God’s “on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven” Kingdom through his life and introduced that Kingdom through his death and resurrection. In so doing, he began the end, so, we currently live in those “end times.” The conclusion of these “end times” is the preoccupation — dare I say obsession — of too many people who neglect to implement the fullness of the “end times” truths into their everyday living.
In our current sermon series on 1 Corinthians 15, we recently looked at the place of our resurrection at the conclusion of these “end times”…
1 Corinthians 15:22-26 (NIV)
22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
From this passage we can assume the following sequence of these concluding events:
- Jesus Christ returns
- We are resurrected
- Jesus will destroy all dominion, authority, power, and death
- Jesus will hand over the kingdom to God the Father
- The conclusion of the end times
In light of these truths — we didn’t map out this sequence on Sunday — we considered the following “on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven” implications:
- God cares for the whole person…including our bodies
- Jesus Christ enables us with power to overcome
- We live a transformed life to transform our world
Go ahead…if you want…and jump into the discussion about the “end times.” But be careful! Don’t get deceived by all the garbage that proclaims to be biblical truth. Don’t get distracted by endless speculation. Instead, give yourself to living the truth of the resurrected life that is yours now and in the future through Jesus Christ.
On a number of occasions, I’ve quoted “The Cross is Not Enough” (Clifford & Johnson). I can’t think of a recent read that has had a more profound personal effect on me. I reveiwed the book last June by saying:
“For me, this book sets right the biblical focus on a life-affirming, world-engaging, cross-incorporating, resurrection-empowered discipleship that has too often been eclipsed by a narrow focus on cross-centered propositionalism.”
[If you haven’t already seen it, click here to read the entire review.]
Their first resurrection theses — “The resurrection is the lynchpin of Christianity.” — is a summary of Paul’s argument in this past Sunday’s sermon text, 1 Corinthians 15:12-20. [See Sunday’s sermon slides here.] The resurrection, as Paul argues and Clifford & Johnson acknowledge, is essential to every dimension of our faith and living. For example:
- The resurrection brings divine meaning to the total agony and suffering of Christ on the cross.
- Jesus’s resurrection is God’s divine yes: I am forgiven.
- Without the resurrection of Christ there can be no future resurrection of the dead.
- Christian hope without the resurrection of the dead is an everlasting pie-in-the-sky existence.
- To deny the resurrection of Jesus is to deny the resurrection of the dead and to deny hope.
- The resurrection is true and it works!
It’s time that we recover the God-intended understanding of the cross and resurrection that holds both of these Christ-events together. Doing so will require a greater focus on the resurrection to set right the current imbalance. Doing so will enable us to experience the fullness of life made possible because the resurrected and living Christ is alive in us.