“Come and Die with Me” (Part 1)
(Luke 9:23-24) “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his soul (life) will lose it, but whoever loses his soul (life) for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”
Today when you mention the cross many people think of the cross on a chain that people wear around their neck or dangle from their rear vision mirror in their car or associate it with the symbol of the cross on the wall at the front of the church auditorium or on the apex of a church steeple. In many churches the spiritual benefits of the cross related to our salvation are often preached about, which is necessary, and we are encouraged by the salvation that has come to us by the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. However, the deeper application of the cross related to us individually and personally in our daily lives is by and large neglected or superficially glossed over in the churches we attend.
Today in many pulpits and auditoriums instead of preaching on Christ crucified along with our fleshly natures with its appetites, desires and a love for the world and the things of this world, it is trendy motivational speaking pastors in skinny or torn jeans with designer clothes, accompanied by strobe lighting, loud amplified music and repetitious choruses, all designed to whip up the audience into some kind of euphoric spiritual state as if somehow all of this would bring down God’s power to perform miracles signs and wonders in their congregations.
The apostle Paul writing to the assembly at Corinth said; “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
Does this describe most preachers today in the western democracies associated with Judeo-Biblical Christianity? Paul was an apostle yet knew that preaching Christ crucified was the key to seeing the genuine spiritual power of God released into the lives of believers so that their faith would rest upon the power of God and not upon the wisdom of men. He was also painfully aware of his own total inability to say or to do anything effective for God by his own human strength or resilience.
There is much preaching and prophesying about spiritual blessings, abundance, prosperity, healing, miracles, signs and wonders and having it good in this world that does nothing as far as crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires that lay siege to the soul and produce actions that run contrary to the laws and commandments of God. If we really identified with Christ and Him crucified and shared in the power of His resurrected life and in the fellowship of His suffering we would indeed experience the power of His resurrected indestructible life that overcomes the world, the flesh and the devil (Philippians 3:10).
One way to facilitate this in our thinking and motivation is to take communion every day before the day starts to remind us of Christ crucified, not only to take away our sins, but that through His atoning blood we can be cleansed and loosed from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and from the pride of life which so easily entangles the soul making it unable to respond to the promptings of the Spirit of God. Proclaiming aloud what the Bible says the blood of Jesus does for us will break any satanic attack and nullify severe temptations to sin (Revelation 12:11).
The Crucified Lifestyle
When Paul was writing to the Galatian believers about the contrast between the fruit of the Spirit with the fruit of the fallen fleshly nature he said; “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25). This can only be done supernaturally when we allow the Lord Jesus through His Spirit to apply to our lives the work of the cross which will produce the crucified life.
This crucified life can only be imparted by the strength and power of the Holy Spirit but He needs our willingness to embrace it for our daily lives. Of course if we have been saved and know the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we still have to respond to this great Biblical mandate so that we will be empowered by Him to do everything He requires of us. Submitting our complete soul life to God and giving Him permission to crucify the flesh is a day by day spiritual discipline which we maintain by faith as we keep in step moment by moment with the Holy Spirit. With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
In Ephesians Chapter five Paul lists the lusts of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit and they are diametrically opposed to each other. We are also told that those who belong to Christ have already crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. This is only possible experientially when we willingly stay crucified with Christ (Galatians 5:16-25). Because the resurrected indestructible life of the Lord Jesus dwells in our inner spirit we have an obligation to willingly submit to the Spirit’s desires and claim His help. In this way He will give us the power to overcome everything the devil throws our way and the devil is a very clever pitcher who always aims at getting a strike against us. However, in the game of the bat and ball of life if we stand at the plate having the bat of the Holy Spirit swinging by faith then when the devil throws a pitch we will be able to knock it out of the ball park!
The Biblical Perspective
Another of Satan’s master strategies is to clutter our minds with doctrine and theology, which has its place, but subtly turn our focus away from the centrality of the cross in relation to crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires that go contrary to the will and to the laws and commandments of God. If we knew the importance of knowing Christ and him crucified then we would see clearly from the Word of God by the illumination of the Spirit of God, to lay aside our miss-directed human ideas and even sentimentality about the Lord Jesus and seek to have a truly Biblical perspective concerning Him. Many have the right Jesus but have Him all wrong! Many would have another Jesus as it were who is all light and love and makes no real demands upon those who seek to be His disciples.
To know Him as He really is there is no more accurate picture than in his suffering and death. Nothing is more grossly neglected in many pulpits than the cross of the Lord Jesus. The cross is ruthless and desolate yet it is the unswerving plumbline of God by which He measures true Biblical spirituality and by which everything spiritually itself must be analysed. If the source and foundation of our lives as New Covenant believers is not Christ and Him crucified then everything else in our lives will be out of kilter.
United by the Cross
If Christ and Him crucified was really preached in the assemblies of believers under the anointing of the Holy Spirit then the fellowships would be united. We see this aptly demonstrated in the first century Body of the Messiah (Acts 2:42-47; 4:29-35). What these first century believers did is the blueprint for the Body of the Messiah period! In the assembly at Jerusalem the first thing they did after they were all, baptised with the Holy Spirit and 3,000 were saved, was to all devote themselves to the apostle’s doctrine and everything flowed from that. The Spirit of truth united them in the apostle’s doctrine which we have in the entire New Testament. There is no higher authority other than the Word of God for the New Covenant believer!
Paul and the apostles all preached Christ and Him crucified as the central theme of their ministry and this produced effective Biblical evangelism accompanied by discipleship only possible by living the crucified life personally and corporately as a fellowship. The believers in Acts chapters two and four were of one heart and soul. They all possessed the thoughts, the feeling and the purposes of the Holy Spirit and He directed them in everything they said and did as an assembly. How many assemblies operate like this today? If they were living the truly crucified life then they would have the power of the indestructible resurrection life of the Lord Jesus at work in their midst through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
When we are engaged in a service of worship singing and praising God are we seeing a crucified Christ in all that is being conducted or some kind of “buddy” and everything is hunky dory with Him and us? Are we worshipping and praising Him for who He is or because we want some blessing from Him or some immediate alleviation from a problem we have or receive some miracle? Often God uses the everyday circumstances of our lives to enable us to recognise those areas that need to be brought to the cross and have nails put through them.
Whether it is lustful thoughts, pride, jealousy or inappropriate forms of entertainment, whether it is unjustified anger, overindulgence of our fleshly bodily appetites with food and expensive clothes, or having to work through difficulties in a marriage, or with an obstinate child that drives us up the wall. It may be with a boss that makes life hard for his employees, or a church member we cannot stand to talk to and cannot forgive if they have offended us. These are just some of the areas that the Holy Spirit will allow us to experience because He wants us to know experimentally what it really means to be daily crucified with Christ. It is all the works of the flesh that Christ is wanting crucified, not to make life difficult but to bring us to the point where we see these trials and tests as light and momentary afflictions preparing us for the eternal weight of glory that awaits us.
Fixing Our Eyes upon the Cross
The apostle Paul writes; “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory that is far beyond comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). If anyone had problems and difficulties the Apostle Paul had them yet despite their severity he had his eyes fixed on his eternal reward which would far outweigh any affliction in this present life and there were many to be had as an apostle. Even the Lord Jesus Himself learnt obedience from the things He suffered. As we read; “Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect (perfected by His suffering even though He was without sin of any kind), He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him” (Hebrews 5:8-9).
God will give us ample opportunities every day to put the nails through many things or attitudes in our life that are not in line with His Word as revealed in both Testaments and reflect the true character of the Lord Jesus. This is where “the rubber hits the road” for all of us who are New Covenant believers, who are being conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus, a conformity to His character to which we have been pre-destined by God (Romans 8:29). Proof of our predestination is a growing conformity in our lives to the character and nature of the Lord Jesus.
Daily crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires is by no means easy for any of us because we are so used to the flesh having its way in our daily lives, especially in a self-indulgent society where there is no real persecution or restraint but plenty of material prosperity and pleasures to be had. However, all this is changing rapidly as we see democracy and our freedoms in the western democracies historically associated with Judeo-Christianity being eroded every day.
The Brutality of Crucifixion
Now there have been many artistic renderings or depictions of the Lord Jesus hanging on the cross yet no picture, how graphically portrayed, can really show what it must have been like for anyone crucified under Rome in the first century as our Lord Jesus was crucified. It was the worst and cruellest method of execution.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica gives us a description of Roman crucifixion…
“There were various methods of performing the execution. Usually, the condemned man, after being whipped, or “scourged,” dragged the crossbeam of his cross to the place of punishment, where the upright shaft was already fixed in the ground. Stripped of his clothing either then or earlier at his scourging, he was bound fast with outstretched arms to the crossbeam or nailed firmly to it through the wrists. The crossbeam was then raised high against the upright shaft and made fast to it about 9 to 12 feet (approximately 3 metres) from the ground.
Next, the feet were tightly bound or nailed to the upright shaft. A ledge inserted about halfway up the upright shaft gave some support to the body; evidence for a similar ledge for the feet is rare and late. Over the criminal’s head was placed a notice stating his name and his crime. Death ultimately occurred through a combination of constrained blood circulation, organ failure, and asphyxiation as the body strained under its own weight. It could be hastened by shattering the legs (crurifragium) with an iron club, which prevented them from supporting the body’s weight and made inhalation more difficult, accelerating both asphyxiation and shock.”
A Different Picture Today
Today we have a different picture of the cross of Christ as we see wealth, opulence, religious ceremonies of one sort or another, euphoric loud and noisy amplified worship meetings, strobe lighting, worship leaders treated like rock stars, trendily dressed pastors preaching self- motivational talks laced here and there with Bible verses usually out of all context and used as a prop for their views. We have beautiful churches and wealthy pastors living in mansions while at the same time fleecing their flocks of their hard-earned dollars! When we contemplate the death of our Lord Jesus and what crucifixion was really like, and when we read that we are to be crucified with Christ, it paints a different picture than the one being portrayed in most Christian assemblies. Preaching Christ crucified makes a demand on us and our pre-occupation with pampering and pleasing our flesh even in worship if it is not under the control of the Holy Spirit. In many Churches we have “a bloodless Christianity.”
Who can in reality really picture our Lord Jesus hanging on a cross? Does not the prophet Isaiah tell us that our Lord Jesus on the cross “Just as there were many who were appalled at him-his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness” (Isaiah 52:14). Something was so unhuman yet supernatural about our Lord Jesus hanging on the cross that a pagan, rough, uneducated, blaspheming Roman soldier, who neither feared God or man, as he looked upon that ripped, torn bloody body of quivering flesh said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” That pagan man saw a crucified Christ. Does the pagan and ungodly society in which we live in our western democracies see a crucified Church? In countries like North Korea, China, Iran, and Pakistan and in most Islamic countries around the world a crucified Church is seen. In these countries untold millions are coming to faith in the Messiah our Lord Jesus and for the most part it is a death sentence and a far cry from the sort of ‘Church’ we see today in the west!
Today we have an infestation of so called ‘apostles’, ‘prophets’ and pastors, methods and programmes and in reality for the most part many peddling the Word of God for profit or preaching ease, comfort, prosperity and having things good in this world. It is a Laodicean Church by and large! Let the hyper faith prosperity preachers take their ‘doctrines’ to Islamic countries where believers are killed every day for their faith and tell those dear beleaguered and persecuted saints of God that they do not have to suffer because they are kings kids and that God wants them to be prosperous and successful in this world. These dear saints know experientially and physically what it really means to be crucified with Christ and understand what the Lord Jesus is inviting them and saying to them; “Come and die with Me.” It is not something that is forced upon His followers but a voluntary response of faith, love and obedience that He is requiring. As yet we in the west have not had to suffer persecution but it is coming. What do these trendy, popular super rich hyper faith prosperity, seeker friendly and purpose driven preachers know about preaching Christ and Him crucified or preaching about the crucified lifestyle that the Lord Jesus says one must embrace willingly if they are to be His true disciple?
No Tolerance for ‘Pain’
We live in a generation that has no tolerance for pain. The cross itself reveals the darkest and deepest means of suffering. The Jesus today in most western churches is somewhat sentimental, a dispenser of good things, not offensive, tolerant, mild, gentle and rather acquiescing, indulgent and soppy. God must correct our perception of the Lord Jesus and of ourselves in our relationship to Him. At the cross truth itself was being crucified. Those who preach the cross will face persecution because they propagate the truth uncompromisingly and do not sell it down the river for filthy lucre’s sake (money). The influence of the world that has infiltrated the wider Body of the Messiah diminishes the Biblical view of the cross and its ramifications for us as aliens and strangers and pilgrims in this world. The apostle Paul had it right when he declared; “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). And again he declares; “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
Crucified to the World
It is only in embracing the cross can it crucify us and those fleshly sinful desires and passions deep down on the inside of us that are engaged in a tug of war with the desires of the Holy Spirit living in us if we have indeed been spiritually reborn from above (Galatians 5:16-18). Only by embracing the cross and identifying with the crucified Christ will we know His resurrection power but this aspect of scripture has been sadly neglected. People will have Alpha, Purpose Driven, Seeker friendly programmes and modern methods of heady and euphoric worship just like the world does it but very few will have the cross at the centre of their activities. What we must realise is that which is esteemed by man is an abomination to God! Did not the Lord Jesus say to the money loving, money grabbing Pharisees who were scoffing at Him; “You are the ones who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is prized among men is detestable before God” (Luke 16:15).
Do we have a growing distaste for the world and for the things of this world? Do we see ourselves as aliens, strangers and as pilgrims passing through to a better destination? Are we longing for that better country, a heavenly one and who are not ashamed to call God their God who has prepared that city for them where there are pleasures forever more at His right hand? (Hebrews 11:16) (Psalm 16:11). Are we like our father in the faith Abraham who was looking forward to that same city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God? (Hebrews 11:10).
Where Our Will and God’s Will Cross
When one comes to faith in the Lord Jesus do they make a decision based on the promise of comfort, ease, security or financial blessing and health? The real issue for God is Christ and the issue of Christ is the cross. As the late Derek prince said; “the cross is where our will and God’s will cross!” We hardly hear anything about the cross being relevant to our daily living especially in our personal relationships where we will be tested in the home, in the work place, at school or university, or in the fellowship of the local church we attend. As for God’s glory only a crucified Christ will draw ‘sinners’ to be saved and saints to be sanctified and delivered from this present evil age with all of its mesmerising trappings! Unless we embrace the cross of Christ personally and corporately into our daily lives and corporate activity within the local fellowship we attend we will be powerless to affect the world for Him even though our amplified worship lifts off the roof of the Church as it were!
Turning the World Upside Down
It was at Thessalonica that the religious Jews in their rage at not being able to capture Paul and Silas, raided Jason’s house and dragged him and the other brothers to the city officials shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have now come here.” Can that be said of the western Church today with its wealth and opulence and living at ease in Zion? How was it that these first century working men known as apostles were able to turn the world upside down for the Lord Jesus? They understood what it meant to embrace the cross of Christ and ultimately they all died for embracing it except John. Only a crucified Body of the Messiah will make the world see the crucified Christ and also cause the Jewish people to supernaturally by the revelation of the Spirit to recognise their suffering Messiah reflected in His body the faithful Church.
The Lord’s Discipline
In reality in our churches in the western democracies we have avoided the cross because we have no tolerance for suffering for His name sake even though He said we would (John 15:18-21). Added to this we have no tolerance for the discipline of the Lord which will be painful at times but yield forth the fruits of His righteousness in those who have been trained by it. As the author of Hebrews writes; “Our fathers disciplined us for a short time as they thought best, but God disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields a harvest of righteousness and peace to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10-11). Only when we embrace the cross will this become a reality for us. Therefore we need to strengthen our limp hands and weak knees, making straight paths for our feet so that the spiritually lame may not be disabled, but rather healed!” (Hebrews 12:12).
Self-denial in any form is a form of suffering and embracing the cross will include self-denial. This is not some warm and fuzzy feeling or sentimental action but an action of the will that will be very painful at times because it goes contrary to the dictates and demands of our fallen sinful self-centred nature. Naturally we do not love God or others if the truth be known. We are only capable of loving in the way God loves if His love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Our faith is a faith that works by love (Romans 5:5) (Galatians 5:6). We need to release that love to others exercising by faith that God will work through us. Agape love is primarily an action of the will and not an emotion although God will give us the right emotional response required for the situation we are facing that requires that kind of love.
While human generated acts of love and kindness are reflections of God’s love, because we are made in His image and likeness, they do tend to produce a form of self-righteousness and a tendency to pride because the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked and who can know it apart from God Himself and those who have been spiritually reborn from above by the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 17:9) (John 3:3). It is only by embracing the cross by faith that self-denial and self-righteousness and pride and the works of the flesh in us will be exposed to the light and will need to be renounced if we are to serve the Lord effectively. Only embracing the cross of Christ by a faith that contains in it a willingness to obey can achieve this and when we do the blessed Holy Spirit is close at hand to empower us to act as the Lord Jesus Himself would act in the situation that requires a manifestation of his love
A Crucified Assembly?
We need to ask ourselves this question. Does the assembly of believers we attend have a crucified Christ at the centre of its corporate life, worship and preaching? Superficiality seems to be the going trend in many churches today. You have repetitious choruses, loud amplified music, heady and euphoric style of performance based worship laced with personal prophecies of one sort or another aimed at making their audience feel good and having their itching ears scratched with what they want to hear without any reference to the crucified life God requires?
Today we see a new breed of CEO’s running the Churches by and large like a business enterprise and utilising secular methods of marketing strategies for growing their congregations. These pastors are busy building their petty kingdoms and revelling in their own publicity and prominence but are not living or preaching the crucified lifestyle. Many are living in the lap of luxury and avoiding the weightier matters of the law such as the coming judgement, hell and the end-times and especially concerning God’s prophetic purposes for Israel and by extension and inclusion the faithful Church.
The Gospel of the Kingdom needs to be preached in the Church as well as in the world. It is the gospel but it includes the Second Coming of the Messiah our Lord Jesus to set up His Davidic kingdom on earth after He has destroyed all opposition which is the motivation for living the crucified life. Many in churches are living a religiously satisfied life as they engage in worship and church activities but shy away from any idea that they are being called by God to be daily crucified with Christ which means primarily rejection and alienation by the world. As James writes “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever chooses to be a friend of the world renders himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Many today sit in church pews and revel in being told how much God loves them and wants to bless them especially in wealth and health and deliver them from their emotional struggles of one sort or another but who do not want to hear about hell and the judgement to come and that all of us must stand before God to give an account to Him as to how we have lived down here in this life. Many today do not want to hear about the end-times or about God’s prophetic purposes for Israel and the response He requires from them related to the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. Anti-Semitism is running rife within the wider Body of the Messiah today and getting worse every day. As for the blood of the Messiah and its dynamic spiritual power to deliver is from slavery to the world, the flesh and the devil himself, it is unfashionable in many churches to emphasise it apart from when we are taking communion.
Either what we speak is the truth or we should not speak at all. Millions in churches around the world are trying to keep God’s laws and commandments as a religious duty but failing to do so because they have not realised, or do not want to realise, that the only way forward spiritually is to embrace the invitation of the Lord Jesus “Come and die with Me.” It is only at the foot of the cross that we are crucified to the world and the world crucified to us along with our sinful passions and desires. Only at the foot of the cross will we receive the supernatural strength to walk moment by moment by faith in step with the Holy Spirit. Only His strength and power will enable us to continuously subdue the flesh with its appetites and desires that run contrary to what God desires. As the apostle Paul writes; “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation, but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:12-14).
Crucifixion, Death, Burial, Resurrection
Without a crucifixion, death and burial there can be no resurrection spiritually speaking. As Paul writes; “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). It is only the truth of the cross that will distinguish between reality and fantasy. The centrality of the cross must be the plumbline for our lives and for the corporate life of the local assembly we attend. At the cross of Jesus there were two types of onlookers. One group wanted the Lord Jesus to come down and to prove Himself by doing some spectacular miracle or deed of power, much like many in churches today who are trying to make the Lord Jesus come down and to do some miracles at their beck and call, yet missing the cross altogether. The crucified Messiah is absent in their meetings even though their praises, whoops and hollers and amplifiers are hitting the rafters!
Then you have those, like that rough uncultured, pagan centurion, who, when gazing up at that crucified, quivering, twisted and torn body of flesh that was our Lord Jesus and hardly recognisable as human, he was able to say “Truly this man was the Son of God!” It is also like the two thieves crucified on either side of the Lord Jesus. One was only interested in being saved so he could go on living his self-centred self-indulgent sinful life and for what he could gain for his own comfort as it were in this present life.
However, the other thief, recognising and acknowledging his sin, asked the Lord Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom and the Lord Jesus told him straight away that he would be with Him in paradise that very day. That thief had a supernatural revelation that his sin and self-centred life was being crucified in Christ and that as he embraced the cross, even though he died physically and that to the world he had known, he had the assurance that he would rise again!
It is only recognising a crucified Christ and our willingness to be crucified with Him that we will be truly empowered by the blessed Holy Spirit Himself to worship the Lord Jesus and to serve the living Triune God as He is meant to be worshipped and served, and at the end of our life enter into His eternal glory! May the Messiah our Lord Jesus empower us who believe in Him to accept His invitation. “Come and die with Me.” Selah.