Sunday, August 9, 2009

An Intentional Death

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. (John 12:24-26, NKJV)
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John 12 tells the story of Mary (sister of Lazarus) anointing Jesus with a very costly perfume. This happens as a precursor to the Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem with all its pomp circumstance, so misunderstood by the people lining the road and watching the King. You may recall Jesus’ rebuke to those around him (including his disciples) who challenged the rationale behind Mary’s simple anointing. Jesus clearly states Mary, whether she knew it or not, did this as a pre-anointment to His pending death and burial.

Later in the chapter, after the fanfare has died away, Jesus give the bit of wisdom we have in our Bibles as verses 24-26. They speak of an intentional death, both on the part of Jesus and one that He requires of all who would truly follow him. Paul echoes this in Romans 12:1 where he writes “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” Again, we see the intentional nature of our required act in the service of our Lord and Savior.

I must confess, it is the intentional action that troubles me most. Frankly, I’d like it all to be thrust on me most of the time. If I can reduce my spirituality to some programmed, robotic state my life gets a lot easier. I’m not as accountable for what I do and my list of responsibilities shrinks drastically. It gives me a sanitized situation where everything runs, as they say in the computer world, as “ones and zeros”. But, that isn’t how God operates, nor is it the way He wants to relate to and with us.

And there is the rub … relationships. God by His very nature is a relational being. His infinite existence as the Trinity (and I won’t even pretend to understand or explain that) shows His relational basis for all He does and is. His choice from the beginning, starting with Adam, was about relationship that required intent on the part of His creation.

Jesus, as the ultimate fulfillment of God the Father’s relational plan, takes the intent a step farther. He wants us to die … just like the grain of wheat in our passage. He wants us to be willing to give up everything, lay it all aside, and follow him. He says if we don’t have that perspective, we stay stagnant and cannot produce any fruit. That is the pattern: give it all up, intentionally die, and produce fruit.

Of course, we must contend with the age-old saying about the core problem of a living sacrifice … it can also intentionally crawl off the altar. But, wasn’t that the problem from the beginning? Adam intentionally did what he did and we bear the same image. Thus, our intentional death has to be repeated over and over again as we constantly reaffirm our choice of follow Christ in obedience.

And while we never can do that perfectly, we can rejoice in the one-time-for-all permanence of Jesus original intentional death on the cross. Once for all, never to be repeated or needed again … the perfect intentional death and sacrifice so we can choose to follow Him and be part of His plan of redemption. When I think of it that way, perhaps the choice is a little easier to make.
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  1. Have you died? Have you put yourself in the willing position to give up your life, give over your will, and fall into the ground?
  2. What things or circumstances in your current life provide the biggest hindrance to your giving it all over to Christ? What would it take for you to give that up for Him?
  3. While the death is intentional and individual, the act needs to be done as part of a community. Have you put yourself in the company of fellow “grains of wheat” who are willing to intentionally die for Jesus? If not, what is holding you back?

NKJV - Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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