Why did Jesus die? Part 7. Participation (Involvement)
Part 1: Our Involvement
In this seventh window or lens through which we look, we see the cross of Christ as ‘the way of love’ and a path to follow. You may have heard the expression, “We all have a cross to bear,” meaning we all have our own hardships to deal with, and the phrase is lifted right out of the Bible where Jesus said:
“If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24b)
What does Jesus mean when he asks us to deny ourselves and take up our cross? So far, all the perspectives we have had on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus have, to a greater or lesser extent, focused on God’s self-sacrificial love — the free gift of God’s grace to us. It is absolutely right to say there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love; no works we can complete, not even in part, to deserve God’s grace and mercy, however, although it is right and proper to celebrate God’s gift to us, it also comes at both involvement and a cost to ourselves. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Ephesus puts it like this:
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1)
We are to be imitators of Christ and ‘walk in love’ as Christ followed the path of love for us. Jesus denied himself and took up the cross for all humanity; he sacrificed himself and therefore we are to do the same. To deny or ‘sacrifice’ ourselves means to put God, others, and the environment first, and the very act of doing this is inherently costly. We have a job to do, and it will mean taking up our cross. One of the other New Testament writers puts this denying or sacrificing of ourselves like this:
“Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:15-16)
In other words, the fruit or results of those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord are the good works which we do.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
You see, if we zoom out, we discover the cross is the central act in a much bigger picture. Yes, Jesus died so we could be reconciled with God. Yes, Jesus died to fulfil the law that we could not keep, so that we could be forgiven, justified, and set free from sin. Yes, Jesus died to identify with the human condition and be an ever present support in times of suffering, and yes, through the cross the enemy and all evil was defeated. Yes, God the Holy Trinity did all these things because God loves us, but the story does not end there. The cross of Christ is not just a ‘nice thing’ that God does for us, a free ticket to heaven to which we reply, ‘thanks very much’ and pop it in our breast pockets only to pull it out on the day we die.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident, coined the term ‘cheap grace’ in his 1937 book The Cost of Discipleship. He defined it as,
“(Cheap Grace is) the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
Cheap grace is a shallow understanding of God’s grace that takes it for granted and does not require anything of us in return. It is the idea that we can be forgiven of our sins and go on living our lives as we please, without making any real changes. Yet, Jesus himself points us to the fact that there is a cost to discipleship; a cost to following him, and that cost is to deny ourselves and daily take up our cross.
God is at work in the world to bring about its restoration, redemption, and renewal. God is working towards a time when there will be no more suffering, when heaven and earth will again fully align, and there will be no more divisions between humanity and God. Another name for this Kingdom of God that will fully come again is ‘Eden’, and as the world started in Eden it will also end in Eden, and we have a role to play in getting it there. We are called to emulate the future Kingdom that is to come and make it present in the here and now.
But here’s the thing. We cannot do it on our own. Why? Well, we know why. We are unholy. We are frail, broken, and often sinful human beings. But as we have seen, Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness and makes us holy. As the apostle Peter wrote: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” Why? “That you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the means by which we are made holy — and this is the crux of it my dear friends — so that God can come and live in us. It is not simply so we can go to heaven when we die, but so we can be filled with God in the here and now and forever. We can be filled with the Holy Spirit.
|Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit|
It is why Jesus said in John 14:15-18:
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
We are empowered with God’s Spirit and it makes all the difference. The Holy Spirit — the Spirit of Jesus Christ — not only has a transformational effect in our own lives, changing us, literally from the inside out to become more Christlike, but is by very nature self-sacrificial and outward looking. The Spirit, if you will, is always looking to the interests of others.
When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we begin to see the world as God sees it. We see the pain, the hurt, the suffering and we want to help. We see the poor, the broken, and the marginalised, and we want to lift them up. We see the downtrodden, oppressed, and persecuted and we stand alongside them and fight their cause. We see the decimation of our planet, the squandering of resources, and the ‘throw away’ culture in which we live, and we call it out. Not in our own strength but in the strength and power with which we have been clothed with from on high. It is why the resurrected Jesus told his disciples to stay put until they had received the Holy Spirit.
“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49
For they could do nothing without God living in them, and when the Spirit came and filled them, look what happened. They began to walk in the way of love, and, through one person at a time, slowly began to change the world.
Friends, you were saved for a purpose, and that purpose was to bring heaven to earth wherever you are and whatever you do. Whether at home, in your workplace, in your schools or college, in the political arena, in your sports clubs, in your social clubs, in your family, in your relationships with others, in the environment, on land or in the sea, you are to be bringers of God’s kingdom, people who are joining in with the mission of God in the world, to bring about its restoration, its redemption, and its renewal.