The Glorious Art of Daily Death

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“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Yesterday was Palm Sunday. It was also the 72nd anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s death. Bonhoeffer was hanged for his involvement in an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. Both of these events remind us of the theme of death in scripture. Palm Sunday reminds us of the ultimate death. The atoning death of the Son of God. Bonhoeffer’s life and death remind us of the death that each follower of our risen Lord is called to. Jesus is not subtle about his call to a life of death, his invitation is to a cross:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [25] For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. [26] For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

– Matthew 16:24-26 (ESV)

What does it mean to take up your and follow Christ? Perhaps it can mean a few things, but the element I am struck with this morning is the ultimate submission demanded of the Christian. As with all things Christ calls us to, he first models and completes it for us. In Luke 22 we see a wonderfully intimate moment of prayer between Jesus and the Father.  In Jesus’ prayer of submission unto death, we learn something profound about the art of dying.

And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, [42] saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” [43] And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. [44] And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

– Luke 22:41-44 (ESV)

It is not incredibly likely that anyone reading this post will die as a martyr, but in Christ, each of us are called to death.  What does that death look like? Jesus models it. Alone with God, we say to him with all we are, “Not my will but yours be done.” Jesus hints at this in Matthew 16 as well. Of his followers he says, “let him deny himself.” Christ’s call is a call to radical submission to God. Day by day, moment by moment, we trudge forward into death. We lay aside our will and submit to God’s. Notice that it is in the moment of deadly submission that God sends angels to minister to Christ. Our God is not uncaring. He is not unkind towards his children. He invites us to walk in the path of the Son. With joy set before us, we pick up our cross press into Christ.

I can’t tell you exactly what this means in your life at this moment. But I would guess you already know.  Where is Jesus calling you to submit? Where is he inviting you to die? What are you holding on to that he has called you to lay down? What are you avoiding that he has called you to take up?

I want to encourage you to follow the Lord Jesus’ example and spend some time each day “in the garden.”  Gather your coffee and your Bible and spend some time before God saying, “not my will but yours be done.” In my experience, these moments devoted to aligning our will with God’s each day are not an optional piece of a faithful Christian life. They are absolutely necessary. These are the moments where we die. These are the moments where we find life.

Bonhoeffer said it like this:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our  lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.

Grace & Peace.

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