Did Jesus really have to die to save mankind? In the limited, contradictory framework of human logic, it may seem like a God who can do whatever He wants could easily avoid all of the suffering – and perhaps He could have. But what we do know is that Jesus chose the cross, proving to the world His ability to relate to our pain, His willingness to take our sin on Himself, and His supreme power over death. In the process, He exemplified a truth that applies to each of us every day.
In John 12, Jesus was nearing His crucifixion. “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.”
Here, Jesus explained a key reason for His death: the exponential expansion of salvation. But in the very next sentence, He ties it to the attitude of His followers: “Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.”
Among other mysterious and miraculous works, Jesus’ suffering and death illustrated a truth that we, His followers, must learn. In order to enter into His glory, we must die to self.
The interesting thing about Jesus’ usage of the wheat kernel is that in order for the harvest to come, the kernel must go through a complete transformation. It must cease being a kernel to become a stalk of wheat. That stalk of wheat then produces many kernels, which multiplies the fruitfulness of the field.
Do you want to enter into the glorious purpose of Jesus Christ? Do you want to live a fruitful life, reaping a harvest of lost souls? Then you must undergo a complete transformation and cease being what you once were. Paul put it this way: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT)
Other translations use the phrase “new creation” to describe believers. The idea is consistent with Jesus’ illustration of the wheat kernel – one thing dies in order to become something else.
Interestingly, the context of Paul’s statement is a discussion of the death and resurrection of Christ. “Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life,” Paul wrote. “He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.” (v 14-15)
Perhaps the biggest barrier in a Christian’s life is this desperate clinging to the old ways. We come to Christ looking for a new life, and rightly so. But without death, there is no resurrected life. In a graphic demonstration, Jesus showed us the necessity of death. His was literal, but ours is spiritual. The fleshly nature must die so that the spirit can truly live.
Jesus related this truth in a bit of a warning. “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Luke 9:23-25)
Jesus marries two concepts here: the symbol of suffering and death (“your cross”) and the perpetual nature of it (“daily”). Of course, the wonderful promise of life always follows. In every instance, the suffering and death precedes a glorious resurrection.
So how do we do this? We don’t literally carry crosses, though a few people, such as my friends Arthur Blessitt and Keith Wheeler, have been called to do so. Even their display symbolizes of a greater principle. It, too, is found in Jesus’ words and actions. “If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me,” He said while contemplating the cross. “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39, NLT)
This is the simplest definition of taking up the cross or dying to self: submission to the will of God. It requires subjugating our will to the purposes and plans of God. This is how we kill our old, sinful nature. The ultimate goal is the good news of salvation, but, as Jesus showed us personally, death to self through submission to God is a necessary step. So as we commemorate Christ’s crucifixion and celebrate His glorious resurrection, let us incorporate a lifestyle of submission in order to experience new life in Christ each and every day.