Summary: Jesus invites us to share 1. In his death. 2. In his life. 3. In his resurrection.
Richard Bandler tells about visiting a psychiatric hospital and dealing with a man who believed that he was Jesus Christ. He did not believe it in a spiritual sense, but literally. Bandler walked in to the room to meet this man, and said: “Are you Jesus?” “Yes, my son,” came the reply. Bandler said, “Wait here. I’ll be back in just a minute.” The man was a little confused by his sudden departure, but Bandler returned in a few minutes with a measuring tape. He asked the man to hold out his arms, and as he did so Bandler measured the width of his outstretched arms and his height from head to toe. As soon as he was done measuring, he suddenly left again. The man claiming to be Jesus didn’t know what to think. But it was not long until Bandler came back. He was carrying a hammer, some large spiked nails, and two long boards. He began pounding the nails into the boards to form a cross — exactly the right size for the man who was claiming to be Jesus. “What are you doing?” the man asked, as his voice began to rise. As Bandler was putting the last nail in the cross, he asked, “Are you Jesus?” Once again the man replied, “Yes, my son.” Bandler said, “Then you know why I’m here.” Somehow, the man suddenly remembered who he really was. He began yelling: “I’m not Jesus! I’m not Jesus!” He was not nearly so interested in being Jesus at that point.
A lot of people would like to think they could be Jesus. They are amazed at his ability to heal. They are awestruck at his wisdom. They are attracted by his power. They think they would be like him, until they understand what he did and the sacrifices he made. They would like to live his life, but they would not like to die his death. But there is a very real sense in which he is asking all of us to exactly that.
I want to begin today by saying: Jesus invites us to share in his death. Jesus is asking all of us to join him in his death. It is not a literal death on a cross, or any other kind of physical death necessarily, but in a sense it is just as drastic and painful. We see this as he described his death and said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24). Farmers know that a seed that does not die is no good at all. If it just lays on the ground and never germinates, it remains a seed and never becomes the plant it was intended to be. When the right kind of seed lies in the ground and comes into contact with moisture, it looks like it is rotting, but as it dies a green shoot of life begins to protrude from it. It is being transformed. Death has transformed it. It dies to what it was, to become something else — something greater than its former self. Because of the death of that one seed, a plant will live which will produce a great deal of fruit, as well as many more seeds.
Like the seed, Jesus knew that his death would lead to life for many. It would also lead to life for himself. Think of what would have happened if Jesus had clung to his life and not been willing to die. There would have been no resurrection for him, or us. There would be no salvation from our sins. There would be no Savior to whom we could go for forgiveness. Jesus would have still been roaming the earth, instead of sitting at the right hand of the Father in glory interceding for us. If he were still here he would have continued to heal and teach, but we would still be in our sin. There would be no grace, only law.
Jesus knew that his death was necessary in order to bring eternal life to those who believed in him. Only by dying could they live. Jesus quickly followed by saying, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be” (John 12:25-26). If we are to follow Christ we must join him in a death like his.
What kind of death are we talking about? It is a death to self. It is dying to the life we want to live in order to live the life he wants us to live. If we hold on to our lives, our plans, our sin, then we will die spiritually. If we lay down our lives then we discover a life that we never knew was possible. I must die to what I was, to become something else — something greater than my former self. I must die to those plans that are not a part of his plan for me. I must die to the desire to control my life. I must die to pride, to demanding my own way, to stubbornness, to selfishness and to sin, if I am ever to come alive to God. But what I discover is that when I die to those things, I come alive for the first time. We say with the apostle Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). I only thought I was living before. There was no real contentment or fulfillment. I was just existing. In order to live I must die to anything that I am depending on for meaning, purpose and happiness other than God. There is no other way. But if I lose my life, I will find it. If I hold on to it, I will lose it. There are many people here today who could tell you that they have found life only by dying to their old life. They could also tell you that it was more than worth it.