The Christian Call to Die
The Lord Jesus, not dissimilar to Kyle Reese, put a call of life and death to His followers. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Jesus clearly told His followers that anyone who wanted to follow Him would have to die to themselves so much so that they would even be willing to die physically. Jesus did not mince words. He did not sugarcoat the Christian life, and church tradition tells us each of the 12 disciples faced a “cross-bearing” death. Peter was crucified upside-down; James was stoned; Paul was beheaded; John the Baptist was beheaded even during the ministry of Jesus. John the Apostle was the only one to die a natural death, of course, that after he was boiled alive.
The disciples knew what it meant to take up the cross. They understood that to be a follower of Christ was to follow even to their death. Jesus calls each one of us to do the same. Christians deny themselves, even their own right to life. The Christian call is one to die. The Christian call is death to sin and perhaps death at the hands of sinners. “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For Bonhoeffer, Christ bid him come and die trying to stop the evils of the Nazi Regime. Christ bids each one of us come and die in the face of our own evils. Christ calls us to lose our life for the sake of the future.
The Meaning of Life in Death
In The Terminator, John Connor is the only hope for humanity. He must live, or else the mission will fail. Sarah Connor cannot risk her life; she must save it. This is not the case for Christians. Followers of Jesus are not meant to save their own lives. Jesus explained that if one of His followers escapes death, they actually lose their life: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
The very meaning of the Christians life is to be willing to die as our Savior died. To save your life and therefore “lose it,” I think is best illustrated in the life of Peter.
- “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you mean.’ And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, ‘This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ And again he denied it with an oath: ‘I do not know the man.’ After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:69-75)
That last line is the key: “He went out and wept bitterly.” Peter was riddled with regret because he was not willing to take up the cross. He was not willing to deny himself. Peter saved his life, but he lost the meaning to his life. Christians are made to die. We must be willing to die because our Lord and Savior died for us. He has called us to go where He has already gone. He took up death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). He calls us to go in His example because suffering leads to glory.
For the Sake of the Future
If Sarah Connor dies, the hope of humanity dies with her. This is typically how the “messiah” stories of pop-culture go. They must live because they are the only hope for the sake of the future. Jesus is an upside-down Messiah. In His kingdom the Messiah is betrayed, He willingly dies, and suffering leads to glory. His followers are empowered to do the same. His followers live in the same upside-down. We deny our own desires even to the point of death. The Messiah died for the sake of the future of His people. He calls His followers to do the same because suffering leads to glory.