Monday, May 4th, 2020
It almost goes without saying that this call to come and die is not gender specific; it also applies to women. When Christ calls anyone, he calls that person to come and die. This statement, however harsh, is true and worthy of full acceptance. If you do call yourself a Christian, you have received and accepted a friendly invitation to follow Jesus, and with that, a summons to come and die. If you have even the slightest lingering doubt about that claim, go read what Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark 8:34-38. Jesus there issues the call to each of his listeners to deny themselves and take up their respective crosses. That was how Jesus issued his invitation, his altar call. It was and is a clear call — a chillingly clear call to come and die.
How, then, are we supposed to die? What does it mean for you and for me to deny ourselves and take up our respective crosses? That’s a good question. Yes, it could mean physical death.
Pew-sitting Christians are likely to have heard biographical snippets about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a 20th Century German theologian — a theologian who ranks as a top-tier favorite of pastors and preachers, and deservedly so. Indeed, Bonhoeffer is doubly-deserving of honor. Not only did he pen the devotional classic The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer also died at the hands of the Nazis in the final days of the Third Reich. Many consider Bonhoeffer a modern-day martyr. I believe it is also fair and accurate to say that Bonhoeffer died precisely because he actively resisted a beastly antichrist. Bonhoeffer courageously resisted and defied Hitler. And Hitler was, by Revelation’s reckoning, a forerunner of the beast, that is, a type of the antichrist. Hitler qualifies as apocalyptic beast and an antichrist because he demanded absolute allegiance and loyalty — the kind of absolute loyalty that only Jesus Christ deserves. Jesus is Lord, not Adolf Hitler. Jesus Christ alone is worthy of our absolute allegiance.
Bonhoeffer died young. He died on Nazi gallows as a relatively young man. But Bonhoeffer’s words live on. Bonhoeffer’s words have outlived himself and Hitler. And someday Bonhoeffer himself will rise again from the dead. Not only Bonhoeffer, though — someday all martyred Christians will be resurrected in victory to life eternal. I hope you will be in that number. I hope you will be one of those martyrs. If you’re a bit confused by my martyr-speak, please go read my earlier blog post on the meaning of the word martyr. The word martyr originally meant witness.
This is all very morbid sounding, and thus somewhat repulsive: death, death, and more death. Jesus calls us each to deny ourselves and die. Jesus himself died young, by execution, upon a cross. Bonhoeffer also died a young martyr, executed by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer wrote a book about Jesus’ call to come and die. “Death, death, and more death — please talk about something else.”
Sorry, but the words of a martyr/witness will inevitably end in death. But they will also impart life. Faithful witnesses to Christ will speak words that result initially in the death of self, the death of ego, but then offer eternal life. As Proverbs 18:21 says, death and life are in the power of the tongue. That’s just a fact. If a martyr/witness conveys the gospel message faithfully, a listener will face a hard choice: to die to self now, or die in sin at the end. Death cannot be skirted. Death is unavoidable, either way. That all said, never forget that the gospel is truly good news, for it comes with the incomparable offer of life abundant and eternal. That is the most important part of the message entrusted to us. The cross comes first, but the victory of resurrection follows. That was the pattern for Christ, and is the pattern for each of us.