If someone were to say that religion is supposed to bring about an abundant life, I think we’d all agree. If another were to say that Jesus came to give life, there should certainly be rousing approval. Christ came to give life back to the world, for as John writes in his Gospel, “In him was life” (John 1:4).
Yet, it doesn’t take long before we come across other statements in the Gospels where Jesus says he came to bring death. For example, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” The key is in seeing how death and life come together in his following statement: For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:23-24).
So how do we understand our Lord? How can he both come to bring death but also come to bring life? And where is he coming up with this stuff anyway? For the answer, we ought to look back to Jesus’ Bible, or what we call the Old Testament.
Take for example Genesis 12:1-3. Here we have Abram, part of the mass of a humanity clouded by the fallen dust of Babel’s tower and still wandering east of Eden. Abram is no better than the rest. Yet, God speaks to him words of life. He makes promises to Abram that he will give to him a great people in a place to call his own. God promises his presence to Abram along with a fascinating purpose. You could call these promises “The Four ‘P’s” – presence, place, people, and purpose – but Paul calls them the gospel (see Galatians 3:8).
These four ‘P’s were the very bricks that the dreams of the Babelites were made of: having one place to live, as one people, with the blessing of God’s presence and a fulfilled purpose, resulting in a great name (see Genesis 11:1-9). Yet, the only way to these promises of life was through death. In order for Abram to obtain the promises, he had to trust God and leave all of the false ways of seeking these things. God called him to “Go” from his country, or land (place). God called him to “Go” from his kindred and his father’s house (his people and the presence of their gods). And all this put together meant giving up any claim to the fame of a great name (purpose). Who would remember Abram now as anything more than a traitor, an abdicator?
So the only way to obtain the promises of life was to walk through death: death to the presence of false gods, death to the overestimation of people’s power, death to the pride of place, death to the human creation of purpose. Yet, through trusting the promise and leadership of this mysterious God, Abram would be led back into life the way it was always supposed to be, which fundamentally is friendship with God (see James 2:23).
This is where Jesus got his crazy ideas – and he lived them out to the fullest. Through his death he makes our death possible. Through his resurrection he has made real life possible. Jesus went and died and lived. Through faith in him we follow him into death; through trusting him we follow him into resurrection (see Romans 6:1-11). Go and die and live – this is God’s recipe for fixing a world gone wrong.
Questions for Consideration
- What do you most hate about the idea of Jesus calling us to die? (if Jesus’ call doesn’t rub you the wrong way then you might want to check your pulse)
- Where is the Spirit of Christ seeking to lead you away from falsehood?
- What do you most love about Jesus calling us to resurrection?
- Where is the Spirit of Jesus seeking to empower you into resurrection?