With Good Friday and Easter coming to us this week, we have a much-needed opportunity to consider afresh our Christian duty to follow our King to the grave and out of it. We, of course, will do this once and for all when we die physically and rise again at the return of our Lord. But I want to speak to the thousands of deaths and resurrections that we will live through in this life.
We will live through death and resurrection whether we like it or not. No one can avoid the turn of the seasons. But, living through them and living through them well are not the same thing. There is a way to run with God through the deaths and resurrections. And there is a way to be drug through them kicking and screaming. The latter road is a tumultuous life centered on self and leaves one jerking himself and others around. The former road, on which you run with God through the valleys and peaks, requires faith and understanding. The man taking the former road knows what all of the dying and rising is about.
The apostle Peter missed this point of death and resurrection. He had in mind the things of man rather than the things of God. His error is a warning to us all, especially because he had just hit the bull’s eye the minute prior to his blunder. Peter had just confessed rightly that Jesus was the Christ (Matthew 16:16). Then upon hearing that Jesus was going to the cross, he attempted to divert Christ from that cross. Jesus rebukes Peter and delivers the famous words, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Now Christ does not only say to die. He says to die for him—”whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). Now one’s intentions are not insignificant when it comes to dying for Christ. But intention is not enough. A man can determine to go live in the jungle alone and die for Christ. In this venture, his heart may be steadfast and true. But however genuine his intent, that kind of death is not what Christ required. What death then is required?
Our answer is found in the context of the passage. Jesus goes on to say, “Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28). Christ, the Son of man, came in his kingdom upon his resurrection and ascension. The prophet Daniel spoke of the very moment when the Son of man entered into that kingdom, “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
King David sang of this day one thousand years before it came to pass, saying, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in” (Psalm 24:7). What David saw by faith, Daniel saw by vision. What’s more, we now live two thousand years downstream from the very moment the Resurrected Christ entered those everlasting doors to exercise everlasting dominion. When Christ was speaking to the disciples at Caesarea Philippi, he had not yet entered into his kingdom. But he wanted the disciples to know that he was soon to do so. And it was in this context that he told them that they must take up their cross and die.
Here’s the payoff. Many godly Christians think of dying for Christ. They view their lives as a sacrificial offering unto the Lord. And they know that through their sacrificial life they are becoming more like the Christ. And to all of this we render loud hallelujahs and amens. But there is a much-neglected dimension to our dying. And it just so happens that this is the dimension we need in our culturally tumultuous times. I refer to dying for Christ’s kingdom. By kingdom I do not mean an idea, and neither do I mean something that is merely in heaven. Rather I mean that the saints must die for the very real kingdom of the Resurrected Christ. And doing so will involve dying for others, particularly for others that do not deserve it, disagree with you on a variety of matters, and may downright get on your nerves.
In other words, the saints must learn to die for all baptized Christians. This includes the Baptists and the Anglicans, the Methodists and the Presbyterians, the Charismatics and the Fundamentalists who think the Charismatics shouldn’t be dancing, the Presbyterians shouldn’t be drinking, and nobody is going to heaven but them. Now such a “big tent” sentiment has a way of sounding fluffy and idealistic to Reformed Evangelicals. And the fact that it does so shows us how much we need the point which is neither puffy nor dreamy. Consider what Christ said of his kingdom—”Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just” (Matthew 13:47-49).
So the net is the kingdom of heaven and the net is full of good and bad fish. We are to love this kingdom and die for this kingdom into which Christ has come. One of the reasons for our great trouble is that we have forgotten that there is a net. We mistakenly reduce Christianity to one fish swimming in the ocean toward the heavenly coral reef. Now, praise God for the personal pilgrimage motif. It is thoroughly biblical. We will never have less. But we must have more. God tells us that we have been transferred from the power of darkness “into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:13). And come to find out there are other fish in this kingdom. And Christ tells us that there are some bad fish in this kingdom. Even so, we are to seek first this kingdom (Matthew 6:33).
If I were the devil in this particular cultural moment of identity-groups-gone-wild, I would try to play it both ways and chop the bride up into a thousand pieces. The first move would be to get the saints caring more about their ethnic, sexual, or socioeconomic group than they do about their union with all saints in the kingdom. The second move would be to get the other saints, who can’t be played by the first error, to renounce group identity altogether and opt for going it alone, just me and Jesus. Those given to the first error rightly understand that there is a we and a them. And they are often willing to die and rise for that group and the kingdom it represents. But they die for the wrong group and the wrong kingdom. Those given to the second error have given up on the plural altogether and by necessity then have given up on the kingdom. It follows that they have nothing really to live and die for.
But Christ shows us a different way entirely. He went to the cross, knowing that the path was death, resurrection, kingdom. He indeed has done this once and for all. And he calls us to follow him, sacrificing ourselves for him. If you ask, “Where is he?” The answer appears in the words of Christ when he says Paul, who had been persecuting the church, “Why do you persecute me” (Acts 9:4)? The answer comes again in Christ’s words at the final judgment when he says, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).