In Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, Admiral Kirk said, how we face death is at least as important as how we face life. Later, he is confronted by his son, David, with the truth that until Spock died, he had never really faced death. I cheated death, he said, and patted myself on my back for my ingenuity.
Cheating death was never an option for Jesus.
Biologically speaking, the kernel, or wheat berry, is the seed from which a wheat plant grows. Contained within each kernel are acres and acres of wheat. Wheat is one of the world’s most important food crops. It is believed that wild relatives of wheat first grew in the Middle East. Wheat was one of the first plants to be cultivated. It was grown about 11,000 years ago.
Enormous changes in people’s lives occurred because of wheat being grown. People began growing their own food and no longer needed to wander in search of it. Permanent settlements were established because wheat provided people with a stable food supply. Soon people grew enough wheat to feed people from other lands. Once there was extra wheat available, trade between various cultures developed.
By 4,000 B.C. wheat farming had spread to Asia, Europe and North Africa. New species of wheat developed because early farmers probably selected kernels from their best wheat plants to use as seeds for planting the following year’s crop. That way, only the best wheat qualities were passed from one generation to the next. Soon wheat became an important worldwide crop.
Remember, all of this began when a kernel of wheat fell to the ground and died. The only way it can accomplish that massive worldwide growth is to die. In the world of wheat, death is necessary for life. In the world, life precedes death. In the Kingdom of God, death precedes life. Eternal life. The only life that really matters. Jesus of Nazareth demonstrated this principle for us on a Roman cross many years ago.
The cross is the center of human history. We mark our calendars by it. We make jewelry, tattoos, and steeples with the cross. For Christians, the cross is the centerpiece of their faith. It’s the cornerstone of their belief system. It is a symbol. A symbol of what?
That’s right. The cross is a place to go and die. Die is a verb. It is something you do – not something you wear around your neck or tattoo on your ankle. Jesus didn’t go to the cross to cater to the paparazzi. There was no red-carpet event for him. Quite the opposite. The cross is the place where you go to die. Jesus knew what was coming.
As he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was under such stress and anguish that his capillary actions shifted. This is a medical phenomenon known as hematidrosis, where extreme emotional and physical stress causes the blood to form small clots that exit through the pores. He was literally sweating tiny clots or drops of blood.
A mob appeared and Jesus was arrested. He was first taken before Herod. Herod didn’t know what to do with him. Technically, Jesus had done nothing wrong. Herod then had Jesus taken before Caiaphas. Caiaphas was not in the proper jurisdiction, so he sent Jesus back to Herod. Again, Herod found no fault. The religious elite accused Jesus of telling people not to pay their taxes. Now Herod had something to work with.
I have learned over the years that when it comes to money, the local church will stand firm to protect their assets. You mess with the funds, and you have made an enemy. A formidable one.
Grace? No way.
Forgiveness? Not happening.
Mercy? Forget it.
Help? Get a job! God helps those who help themselves (this phrase is not in the Bible).
Jesus was falsely accused, by the way. None of the accusations were true at all. That didn’t matter to the hostile crowd. If it even appears that you are interfering with the money, you’re done. The people wanted him crucified. For political reasons most likely, Herod ordered that Jesus be flogged and then crucified. Roman soldiers took him away.
Flogging was a brutal punishment. If they followed standard Roman procedure, they would have tied him between two posts, hoisting him up where just the balls of his feet were touching the ground. This gave definition to the muscles. Romans were very skilled at this type of punishment. Keep in mind that Jesus had already been badly beaten before all of this happened.
The soldiers would then each grab a whip that had shards of glass, teeth, and stones woven into it. One soldier would start at the top, and the other would start at the bottom. In nearly perfect sync, they wrapped the whips around him and pulled with successive yanks that stripped the flesh right off his body. They took their time and did a very thorough job. His blood pressure dropped precipitously, and he was barely alive. The soldiers stopped the torture at just the right moment so he wouldn’t die. His beard had been pulled from his face, and the Bible mentions that if you knew him before, you would not have recognized him after. His mother, his friends, and the religious leaders stood there and watched. There was nothing they could do to help Jesus.
Untied and forced to a standing position, he was then forced to carry the beam of his own cross uphill. As he did, the people who had praised him with hosannas less than one week prior, were punching and spitting at him while others hurled obscenities. His tongue was swollen from dehydration; he continued his long journey to the cross.
On the palm side of your hand there is a small indention between where your hand and wrist meet. Six to eight-inch spikes were driven into that spot on both hands, and then to his feet. The cross was lifted and dropped into a hole with such force that it separated his joints.
Hanging there, pinioned as he was to the cross, the fluids in his body began to fill inside of his midsection. He could inhale but not exhale. He was literally drowning. In fact, if you pierced his side, out would flow blood mixed with water. And there Jesus hung, suspended between eternity.
But they could not kill him! On the cross, he was the Captain, not the captured. He was the victor, not the victim. He was giving orders from the cross.
“Mother, behold your son.”
“Son, behold your mother.”
“Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
“It is finished.”
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
The mob didn’t kill him. He decided when it was time for his spirit to depart, not them.
And then he died.
The only thing he stood to gain from all that physical torture and death was forgiveness for you and for me. John the Baptist once said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” How did he take them away? By dying.
Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it will not bear any fruit.
On the third day, Jesus was vibrating at such a high energy level that death and the tomb could not keep him dead. The stone of his borrowed tomb rolled away, and he was no longer there. The fifteenth-century Easter hymn, O filii et filiae, refers to three women going to the tomb on Easter morning to anoint the body of Jesus. The original Latin version of the hymn identifies the women as Mary Magdalene, Mary of Joseph, and a woman named Salome. Matthew 28 only mentions Mary and Mary Magdalene. Regardless, they went to freshen Jesus’ decaying body and quickly discovered he was no longer there!
The women ran back to the men and told them what they had seen (the first ever sharing of the good news was done by women!). The men then ran to the empty tomb to verify what the women had said. Peter the disciple peeked into the tomb and saw the Lord’s clothes neatly folded. The men who followed Jesus for three years looked in the tomb and saw laundry. The women looked in and saw resurrection.
Death precedes resurrection in God’s Kingdom, not the other way around.
By now you must be wondering, what does all this have to do with me??? Fair question. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus give us a blueprint of how we are to live now that sin has been eradicated. As I see it, following the risen Jesus gives us three types of lives to live interchangeably.
- Crucified living. Like the kernel of wheat, we must be willing to die to ourselves. Not a physical death. It is more of putting to death our selfish opinions, motives, and desires, so that we can freely express the pure, unadulterated love of Jesus to the world.
- Resurrected living. The resurrection of Jesus is not just an historical fact; it is also a lifestyle. He didn’t overcome death on our behalf so we could say, “Way to go, God!” Remember that in the Kingdom of God, death precedes resurrection. It will never be any other way. When we die to ourselves, we magnify Jesus and put his perfect love on display to the world. Which brings to number three…
- Exchanged living. Jesus literally exchanged our humanity for his righteousness. He gave us what we could not give ourselves on the cross. Imagine the worst thing you’ve ever done. Recall the way it made you feel. Now take that bad feeling and multiply it by every human being who has ever lived, is alive now, and will live in the future. Then take all of that combined guilt and shame and put it into one man’s heart. Jesus literally became unrighteous so we could be righteous. He did this because he loves us, and for no other reason!
Romans 6:7 tells us that we are saved from sin and the consequences of sin. Period. There are no prayers to recite; there are no hands to shake; there are no cards to fill out. Jesus took care of everything for us. We are declared not guilty. The world calls us sinners. God calls us sons and daughters. You are as saved and free as you will ever need to be. Our choice now is to daily visit the cross, the empty grave, and to embrace the righteousness we have been freely given, and live our lives connecting to that divine energy we now live in.
You say, Wait a minute! That is universalism! No, it is truth. Jesus said, it is finished (completed, done, ended, closed, mission accomplished). He did not say, it is not quite finished. He does not need to go to the cross again. Romans 6 says that Jesus died once for all. Question: how many is all? Does the sum of all indicate that anyone is left out? Of course, it doesn’t. All means all. Period. Jesus took care of it.
My son, Cody, has taught me more about God than anyone on Earth. Especially when he was just a small boy. In first and second grade, he seemed to be a magnet for bullies. There were specifically two boys giving him trouble. We spoke with his teacher and the problem seemed to stop for a short while. A noticeably short while.
I was picking him up and as he was getting in the car, I could tell he had tears in his eyes.
“What’s wrong, son? Are you okay?”
“(The two boys) picked on me again.”
“Where are they?”
I began to see red. I am generally a quiet, patient, and easygoing person. When someone hurts my children, however, Papa Bear comes out.
“Cody let’s go talk to your teacher right now. I have had it with those two.”
“No, Dad. I don’t want to.”
“Well let’s go see those bullies and I will give them the what-for!”
“No, Dad. I don’t want to do that either.”
It seemed like my boy was cowering to these two creeps. I wanted to confront them.
“Cody, why don’t you want to do anything to settle this? When we get home, I will teach you what my father taught me about bullies. If you hit them exactly right, you will break their noses. Then they will back off!”
I was livid. I was not going to let this go. My son was hurting, and I needed to fix it.
“I can’t fight them, Dad. I just can’t.”
“Sure, you can. I will show you how! Why won’t you let me?”
My son looked at me and said something that I will never forget as long as I live.
“Dad, if I hurt them, then I can’t show them the love of Jesus.”
My heart dropped into my stomach. The red went away. I was the pastor of a thriving church at the time, and yet my emotional default for bullying was revenge with extreme prejudice. Cody’s default was Jesus. I was so ashamed. I apologized to Cody for my behavior and told him that we would pray for those boys every day. We did that. They eventually moved on to some other kid or stopped bullying. I hope it was the latter.
Die. It is the impulse of the selfless person. Denying yourself in favor of others is what Jesus modeled for us, and my son knew this at such a young age. I take no credit for that. Jesus made an impression on him, and it showed. He passed by revenge and went straight to forgiveness and compassion.
Following Jesus has nothing to do with saying the right words, memorizing Scripture, attending worship, giving money, witnessing to the lost, or shining your shoes. It is about freely giving love, compassion, and forgiveness to those who don’t deserve it – no matter what it costs.
That is the place where miracles happen.
That is where people are healed!
That is where death becomes life!
That is resurrection living!