Couldn't Jesus have said something else - couldn't' he have extended a better invitation?
- Come eat with me and experience my fulfillment
- Come do life with me and experience my companionship and call me friend
- Come sing and dance with me and experience my joy and happiness
That is the kind of invitation I want from Jesus; one that invites me to experience happiness and joy and even a little success.
But that was not his invitation, he says "come die with" - come take up a cross with me, come experience my death.
And with this short interaction, Jesus forces us to redefine discipleship in way that makes something inside almost all us want to shout out like Peter, "Never, Lord!"
But this is just a natural response because from the cradle on, we are taught that the goal of life is to preserve it.
From the moment we are strapped into our child safety seats to the day we are lying in a hospital room with tubes in our bodies, the continual message is: preserve, protect, sustain, secure! We want to extend life as long as possible - as if this is it and our prize is longevity!
And it's not just the extension of life that we value but it is also the maximization of it.
The message that we have absorbed as a culture is that the quality of life is directly related to the quantity of things we have been able to secure. Our lives are defined by titles and trophies, pleasures and privileges. The more we have, the more fulfilled we are!
And then, along comes Jesus and he dares to tell us that we have defined life too superficially, too selfishly, too stupidly. He looks right in our eyes, and tells us that we are barely touching life as God intended it.
And then he challenges us to complete the circle of grace and not just demand it for ourselves because we've got a ticket.
He calls us to patrol the pleasures we've allowed to invade and conquer our lives and our hearts and he demands us that we be willing to offer grace to those who wish to harm us or even take our lives.
And if we are truly listening to him, then we have to recognize that the way we have been taught to define life, has to die. It has to be lost. It has to be named and nailed and annihilated.
If we want to follow Jesus, than something has to die. And that is going to be painful and hard because it will demand the same perseverance we see in Jesus as he carries his cross.
- It will mean that there are times that we will feel forsaken by God
- It will put us in a place of vulnerability as the crowds mock us
- It will mean cleaving to our spiritual family the way Mary and John were called to by Christ at the cross
- It will require a daily commitment of our spirit into the father's hands.
- It means having a trusting obedience until God's work in and through us is completed and we can say "It is finished."
But that is difficult for many of us to hear because the kind of Jesus we want to follow is one that makes us feel spiritual without much cost. The kind of faith we want to have is one that allows us to wear a cross as Jewelry without feeling any need to bear a cross as a disciple. It is much easier to follow a Jesus that reinforces our lifestyle and allows us to go on with life as we have it.
But this is what Jesus makes clear: Life in communion with God doesn't come from simply wearing a cross; it comes from bearing a cross. Somebody or something has to die.
It is interesting to me that every Easter; churches all across America see a significant rise in attendance in their worship services. And for new churches, Easter is typically seen as a great launching point because people want to go to church on Easter.
In fact, a room full of people gathered in this very room a few weeks ago to celebrate Easter with us. The energy of a full room could be felt as we celebrated what Jesus had done for us on the cross but the problem is that if an Easter gathering is the pinnacle of our faith than we have missed much of the meaning of Easter.
The invitation Christ gave to us when he said; "come die with me" is just as crucial because this invitation is the path to communion with God himself. It is the only way to gain an unshakeable faith, it is the only way to experience an unconquerable hope and it is the only way to a life-changing love more precious than we could ever accumulate in this world.
Shortly before He was arrested, Jesus said to Peter and the other disciples,
"no one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord" and then he said these words
Read John 12:23-26
We gather every week to remember that Jesus chose to take up his cross, to pay the ultimate price for human sin, that you and I might be forgiven and live forever with God.
But don't let the cross be a symbol of the life that Jesus had, let it be a signpost to the life Christ calls you to in this world.