I was speaking with my 6-year-old about death (his grandfather had recently died). I asked him, “How does one get to heaven?” to which he responded simply, “Die.”
Pretty good theology. The greatest of lives opens up to us after we die. The happiest day in the church year follows two days after the darkest day as we see God doing His best after humanity has done its worst.
It need not surprise us. We see the rhythm of death and life in night and day, winter and spring, seedtime and harvest, labor and birth. So we need not be caught off guard that death precedes new life — but we usually are. The disciples were, even the most believing ones, and so are we.
When we discover that what Jesus really means is that we also are to take up our cross and die, we find that hard to believe. “He died so I might live,” we reason. Yes, but He also died so we might die — die to personal ambition, to success, to happiness, to personal rights, to freedom of opinion. No one is as free as the person who has said “yes” to death and now walks in resurrection living. If you really want to live — try dying!
Dying Precedes Resurrection Living
Joan fought with her sister throughout their childhood years. Nothing changed in college as they continued to fight for their father’s affection and for the number one place. Joan came to the Lord at a campus Christian meeting. Convicted about her rivalry with her sister, she decided to die to the need to be first, to be unconditionally understood. It opened up a new relationship, not only with her sister, but with her parents as well. Joan could tell us that if you really want to live — try dying!
The disciples enjoyed following Jesus until He started talking about dying; then it got difficult. Peter tried adjusting the plan and received a hard rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan.” The devil’s theology offers a resurrection life without dying first, and he has marketed his teaching in the church today.
Instead of telling people to deny themselves, some preachers encourage them to affirm, enjoy, improve, and assert themselves. The prophets of success are modeling their message with multiple homes, extravagant life styles, and promises of unlimited opportunity. The cross is barely given honorable mention.
Jesus neither taught nor modeled this gospel. His passion and death were public and painful, slow and shameful. Those who follow Him will experience some of the same. When we take up our cross, it is for one purpose — to die on.
And we do not carry out the crucifixion — others crucify us. The pain is caused by the injustice and we become resentful. We lose sleep thinking about it. If we are being wrongfully accused, unfairly sued or deceitfully taken advantage of, we find how painful death can be.
Look at the suffering of Jesus. The creation placed its Creator on trial, an absurdity beyond description. Six mock trials, marked with spitting, beating and slander were not something to look forward to. Neither was the tortuous death that followed.
A couple of years ago, The Los Angeles Times reported on a soccer game between England and Italy. After the game English hoods tore down fences, charged the Italian crowd, and caused the death of many. I was sick as I pondered that grave injustice. Yet, the cross of Jesus was far worse. Raging animals in religious clothes blasphemed against the Son of God — while they accused Him of the same crime. We may have polished jewelry in the shape of crosses, but the heavy, rough wooden one was not a pleasant burden for Jesus.
He knew that death preceded resurrection. He repeated the message many times, but the disciples were not in the frame of mind to hear. Even so, He died. The Apostles’ Creed says that He “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.”
You do not bury people unless they have died. His heart quit pumping blood. Mark writes that “Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last” (Mark 15:27). His lungs quit filling with air, His eyes closed. He was as dead as any dead person could be. He was not pretending, nor was He unconscious. I stress this because some say it only appeared as though He died. Muslims say that a substitute died in His place. Some theologians say that it doesn’t make any difference if He died or not.
The record of Scripture makes it clear that Jesus died. He announced that He must “be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31; Mark 10:34). The apostles, speaking to the religious leaders after Christ’s resurrection boldly declared, “You killed the prince of life” (Acts 3:15). The whole New Testament gives consistent witness that God raised Jesus from being dead (Acts 4:10; Acts 13:30; Romans 4:17; Romans 4:24; Romans 10:9; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Peter 1:21).
As Jesus died physically, so His followers are called to die to the life of self. Paul often spoke of the process of dying. He said that “while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifest in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 5:11-12). In other words — no death, no new life.
In the context of one of the most triumphant sections of Scripture, Paul quotes from the Old Testament where it says, “For thy sake we are being put to death all day long” (Romans 8:36). He told the wavering Galatians, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Romans 5:24). He wrote that he wanted to become like Jesus in His death, so that he could experience the power of the resurrection (Philippians 3:10). Clearly, you can’t have one without the other. If you really want to live — try dying!
Death doesn’t come easy for us. We will want to speak up and defend our actions, and the Lord will say “Keep your mouth closed.” If we don’t, He will need to take us through that trial another time. A civil war rages within us.
How do you know if you are dead? Check your pulse. Is there a response? Do you react to the situation? When Jesus was reviled, Peter tells us He did not revile in return (1 Peter 2:23). Isaiah says that “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
When someone else receives credit for our work, when we are wrongly accused, when we are coldly ignored, we have the opportunity of dying. Sometimes our deaths are so temporary. Or maybe we are just knocked unconscious. Then we revive.
We may give up pie for Lent, or vow to be nice to our spouse for a week, but then we bounce back to life — self life. When we have had all we can take, we finally let the family or the office hear about it. In the midst of conflict we find out whether we are committed to following Jesus to the cross or to staying alive to self.
Joseph, the favorite son, had it so good. The blessing of his father included a new coat. He dreamed of success, but it took thirteen painful years for the dream to be fulfilled. During that waiting period, he suffered one death after another — injustice, ridicule, shame, rejection. And yet he responded in such a way that God was able to bring a death in him, preparing him for great authority. Joseph could say to us, “If you really want to live — try dying!”
Resurrection Living Follows Death
Death is the first movement of the symphony. The second virtually explodes with life. Observe what happened the moment Jesus died: spiritual power was released. “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split, and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Matthew 24:51-54). And the centurion believed.
The women were coming early Sunday morning to anoint the body of Jesus with spices. But the body of Jesus does not need the fluids of death nor flowers of spring; neither do the lives of God’s resurrection people — they smell radiantly fresh. When God brings newness out of the old, it pulses with new life. The four accounts of the resurrection in the Gospels speak to us of the marks of the Christ-life that follow on the heels of death.
The resurrection brings a new faith
When Rees Howells, a Welsh coal miner, came to realize as a young man what the Lord was asking of him, he cried for days. He lost seven pounds in the ensuing struggle over the right of choice, the drive of ambition, the pull of reputation, the freedom of owning his own home, and the desire for money.
The Lord told him what was at stake: “On no account will I allow you to cherish a single thought of self, and the life I will in you will be 100%.” When Howells came to the point of full surrender, faith burst forth from him. He became a powerful speaker and an even greater intercessor.
Some of us live like the post-crucifixion disciples in the gloom of what has happened to us. The two men on the road to Emmaus said to the visitor, “We had hoped …” Their dreams were destroyed by death.
It is most hard to believe that the best could come when the worst has taken place. The resurrection of Jesus, however, tells us that God is able to make vital that which has gone to the grave. Christ is tender with those who have experienced a separation with life because He knows the sorrow and He promises to turn it to joy.
Peter reminds Christians of the God “who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). This hope outlasts time. The peasant girl who knows she is destined to marry the prince when she reaches a certain age lives like a princess though presently in poverty. So, too, the child of God rejoices in the dawning of the new day, though life includes pain.
Those who these days adorn the graves of loved ones can rejoice that Jesus has the keys of life and death. We may try to keep the grave-top looking colorful, but Jesus has the keys to the precious contents. And He promises, “I will raise him up.” Resurrection faith turns doubt to belief, discouragement to hope. Jesus does not condemn our unbelief, but He moves us beyond it. If you really want to live — try dying!
The resurrection brings a new commission
What could be more radical than for a group of provincial Galileans to be told, “Go into all the world”? All four Gospels record some kind of mandate from the Master to win the world. He sends His disciples forth under His authority to be His resurrection body in the earth.
How far do our goals extend? Have we heard the call of Christ that takes us beyond ourselves? Past getting married, or having children, or securing a raise, or buying a home, or being successful? Has a directive from heaven gripped our soul like it did with Rees Howells? Then something died in us to make room for the new commission.
Jesus did not come with His call to skeptics. He appeared to Cleopas, not Caiaphas; to Peter, not Pilate. He commissions them to tell their world that He is alive. The cross alone — without the resurrection – is easier to handle. People die all the time. They just stay dead. Not so the Son of God. The message of the resurrection is an insult to the twentieth century mind as it was to the sophisticated Greeks. But God’s people have news for the twentieth century — Jesus is alive. The resurrection is God’s mighty “yes” to death. We have news for every university professor, every scientist, every unbeliever — Jesus Christ is alive.
The world needs to hear this message, but somehow it believes that our message is “Go to church.” I am amazed that when I begin sharing the Gospel with people, they bring up the matter of church long before I do. “Oh, I’m a Methodist,” they say, or “I was brought up in the church, but I don’t go every Sunday now.” They think our message is: “Go to church. It’s good for you. Everyone should go to church. Religious people go to church. Bad people go to bars instead of church. Good people go to church. Real good people go to church two times a week. Fanatical people go to church five times a week. Whatever you do, go to church. Even if your life is falling apart and you are rotten to people, get to church on Sunday. It will give you a good feeling.”
A man told me recently, “I can go into a Catholic church anytime and get a good feeling.” Religion to him was getting that good feeling inside a church.
The message Jesus has given to us is not “Go to church.” It is that Jesus died for our sins and was raised up by God and is alive today. You can debate which church to attend, but you cannot properly debate the Lordship of Christ. His Father ended the argument with the resurrection. Those who die to themselves, live the resurrection — and share it. If you really want to live — try dying!
The resurrection brings a new power
A minister struggled with his identity as a “successful pastor.” He went to seminars to find out how to be a better administrator, facilitator, counselor, evangelist. He applied the latest church-growth principles. He was dying to be a successful pastor — and finally he did.
A more mature colleague encouraged him to yield up his ambitions, to die to the notion of success and surrender to the working of the Spirit. It was not easy for him to give up the controls. His hands had been glued to the panel for his whole ministry. Now he was letting go, and it seemed right, but it was scary.
God confirmed his decision by giving him new power in the pulpit. People noticed the difference. The pastor was not so pushy. He was more gentle, more free. He led many in his congregation into the renewing work of the Spirit.
Peter’s post-resurrection preaching demonstrated that something in the fisherman had died, making room for the power of God. Jesus had told the disciples, “Wait in Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”
Death is the reduction of the influence of the flesh to zero. Then the power of the Almighty begins to show itself. Death means there is no new life unless God resurrects it. What God brings past the grave is one thing — the life of His Son! Paul announced that the power at work within our very bodies is the exalted life of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:19-20). And the same Spirit that raised up our Lord “will also give life to (our) mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells (us)” (Romans 8:11).
Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you” (Luke 24:49). John says that Jesus breathed on them and declared, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit of God is a post-resurrection gift of Jesus which brings the resurrection life of Christ to us.
Death and resurrection are one united whole. If you accept death, like Jesus you will experience resurrection life. The glorious truth of the risen Lord is not an add-on to His death. It is central to the plan of God. If you really want to live — try dying!

Share This On: