Summary: When it comes to dying to ourselves: 1. Jesus is our example. 2. Willfulness is our problem. 3. Crucifixion is the answer.
In Luke 20:17-18 Jesus tells one of his most mysterious parables. He begins by quoting Psalm 118:22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” And then he says, “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” What a strange thing to say What could he possibly have meant? To understand Scripture accurately we always have to go to the context, the setting in which it was said. Jesus has just had a nasty confrontation with the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, and they were hostile towards him. They were deliberately looking for ways that they could trip him up and find fault with him, in order to eventually do away with him. It is in this setting that Jesus quotes Psalm 118 which was talking about the coming Messiah. It was to be expected that the Messiah would be rejected — even though he was the capstone of the building of God. Isaiah the prophet added that he would also be despised (Isaiah 53:3). Then Jesus used the image of the capstone — the large stone that would be placed on the top of the corner, the last stone to be placed in the walls to hold it together — to refer to himself. He was the capstone of God’s spiritual house. He was the Messiah, the One who held it together. He warned that to be careless with the capstone could lead to disaster, as those who worked with stone knew. They had seen more than one of their fellows crushed as they were careless in handling the great stone. In effect, Jesus was saying that those who are offended at Christ and reject him face ruin and disaster, for he is the way and the truth and the life. To reject him is to reject life. To receive him is to be a part of the life and kingdom he came to bring.
When I find God’s purpose for me, I find it in all its fullness. My life takes on a greater dimension than I ever imagined. The book of Ephesians ties it together when it says: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
What we are talking about today is how to find life — how to give Christ his rightful place in our lives and to die to ourselves in order that we might come alive to God. Our will must be crucified before we are able to discover the will of God. The first observation I would like to offer is that when it comes to dying to ourselves: Jesus is our example. By rights, Jesus could have remained in heaven and retained his rights as King of glory. He could have retained his divine prerogatives and power. Or, if he did come to earth, he could have come in the power and glory that belonged to him, and demanded to be treated as a king. He could have captured the attention and worship of the whole world by force. But he did not do that. He came as a child to an unknown peasant family. He lived in obscurity for his first 30 years. He never wrote a book or tried to set up a political movement. He touched lepers, gave dignity to the poor and washed his disciple’s feet. He gave up his throne in glory to walk the dust of earth. He was despised and rejected by men. He was cruelly treated, beaten and crucified. He died that we might live. In his own words, he said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
So when Jesus asks us to give up our lives, he has every right to do so. He gave up his life for us, and now he calls us to give up our lives for him. And in comparison to what he gave up, we are giving up very little. The Bible says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross ” (Philippians 2:5-8).