Today’s post is from my new book Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus). Last Saturday we posted Chapter 29: Surviving A Life Of Loving Like Jesus. Love Like Jesus is due to be published later this year.
“. . . nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
It’s Time to Die
In the previous chapter, we saw how important it is not to die indiscriminately. That chapter was written for people who can’t say no. This chapter is probably more important and for a greater number because this chapter is for all of us who don’t want to die. And at some point every one of us will have to. I’m not talking about the physical death of our bodies necessarily, but rather the time when the Holy Spirit will tell you, “Yes, it’s time. It’s your time to die now. It’s your time to submit to My will and not your own.”
You and I and every single Christ follower will encounter God in that way. Every one of us will be called upon by God to die, and frequently.
Frequently because love “does not insist on its own way.” (1 Corinthians 13:4) So loving like Jesus involves dying frequently. There are all kinds of ways to do that, there are all kinds of ways to die. You might be called to die by allowing that guy at work to take the choice assignment, or by agreeing to your wife buying a new pair of shoes, or even by simply turning off the TV and engaging with the kids.
Or, it could be something much harder.
A Tale of Two Fathers
When I was growing up in Chicago, I had this friend named Danny Rodriguez. He was a great kid from a great family. And his father, Mateo Rodriguez, was one of the nicest most likeable people in the neighborhood. Everyone loved Mateo. Tragically, Danny died in a car crash when he was still a young man. His father, the nicest and most likable person in the neighborhood, turned to alcohol for comfort. Not long after, he began beating his wife. His abusive behavior became worse and worse until she finally obtained a restraining order. One night Mateo showed up at his wife’s house drunk. He began banging on the door. She called the police. He pulled out a gun. There were shots fired. And when it was over, Mateo Rodriguez lay there dead on the doorstep.
There was another man in my neighborhood, the same age as Mateo. His name is Alex Rivera. But in the beginning, he had an entirely different reputation from Mateo. Alex had a reputation for his own crazy kind of meanness. He liked to hit women, rob the homeless, and engage in other cowardly behavior. Everyone in the neighborhood was sure Alex would die young or land in prison. And like Mateo, Alex also suffered a tragic loss. But he didn’t lose just one son, he lost two. The first died of cancer, the second died in a car crash. But unlike Mateo Rodriguez, Alex turned to Christ for comfort. And in the process he died to himself and he was transformed. He became a committed follower of Jesus who, to this day loves God and loves people.
And today, everyone seems to love Alex.
How Jesus Loved People
Speaking of Jesus, Matthew 26 says,
. . . he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
. . . for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)
So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. (Matthew 26:44)
It was time for Jesus to die. He just finished his last supper with his disciples. Judas was already on his way back accompanied by “a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.” (Matthew 26:47)
So it’s really looking like this is it, this is his time to die. And what does Jesus do? He goes to the garden and checks in with his Father, three times. And each time he says: your will Father, not mine. Three times he checks in. And after praying the same thing three times, out of love for his Father, and out of love for you, and out of love for me, he denies his own will and does what his Father wants him to do.
Jesus loved us to the point of death. He died on the cross for the sins of the world. But in a way, he died before he died on the cross: he died to himself, he died to his own will, when he said to his Father, three times, Your will Father, not mine.
Love Like Jesus
A.W. Tozer said the one who takes up his cross and follows Jesus has these attributes:
- He’s facing only one direction.
- He’s not going back.
- He has no plan of his own.
To love like Jesus, we have to die like Jesus. Our will has to die. Our plan has to die. And we have to submit to God’s way and God’s will and God’s plan, even as Jesus submitted to God’s way and God’s will and God’s plan. Jesus went to God three times to confirm it was God’s time for him to die. And then he died to himself. He surrendered his will. “Not as I will, but as you will,” he said to the Father.
And after submitting his will, Jesus followed through and did what he said he would do: he died, physically. And he died in a way we’ll never understand because he was separated from God for the first time while he hung there on the cross. And he bore the weight of the sins of the world. (see Matthew 27:11-66, 1 Peter 2:24)
So to love like Jesus, we must die as he died. And yes it has to happen in the Holy Spirit’s timing, we may even have to pray three times to confirm it, or more than three times. But we have to die to ourselves, as Jesus died, according to God’s Spirit.
The Difference Made By Dying
Both Mateo Rodriguez and Alex Rivera suffered a brutal loss, but each responded differently. What was it that caused one to go one way, and the other to go God’s way? I submit that it was the way in which each of them died. When Alex lost his sons, he decided to die to himself. He gave himself up for dead so to speak, and he submitted himself to God. Faith in God, complete humility, and absolute surrender are the keys to successfully surviving suffering.
He recognized he would never understand the why behind the loss of his two sons. He recognized God’s sovereignty. He realized God was his maker. God made his heart, soul, and mind.
Alex recognized that it makes sense that he, Alex, didn’t understand the tragedy in his life.
Not understanding is exactly what we would expect concerning the God who is the Creator of all things. He is the One who created the neutron star, a teaspoon of which would weigh six billion tons. He is the One who created the flea which can accelerate 20 times faster than the space shuttle. He is the One who created the people who built the space shuttle. He is the Creator of the caterpillar that metamorphosizes into a butterfly. And He is the Creator of the Butterfly Nebula. He is the One who created atoms, and the protons, neutrons, and electrons that make up atoms. He is the One who created the quarks that make up the protons and neutrons. And He is the One who created the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall, a structure made up of galaxies that may be the biggest thing in the universe.
Why would we think that we would understand the actions of a being like that? That would be like a flea understanding the actions of the man who wrote the article about the flea accelerating faster than the space shuttle. It makes sense that the flea doesn’t understand the actions of the author of the article describing him.
In the same way it makes sense that you and I don’t understand the actions of the Author of the human being, who is also the Author of the universe the human being lives in.
Alex recognized that “these are but the outer fringe of his works.” (Job 26:14 NIV) Alex recognized he will never understand all the whys behind the business of a Person like Him. He knew he could never understand why.
But he also knew his personal pain could not be because God does not love him. Because God lost his son too. And He suffered that loss so we can be with Him in heaven.
So Alex decided to die.
Do you see the irony here? When Alex lost his sons yet decided to surrender his will, when he died to himself in that way, that is precisely what allowed him to be reborn — as a follower of Jesus.
Then there’s Mateo. Mateo lost his son but made a decision not to die. Mateo decided he would rather rage than to surrender his will like Alex, and like Jesus. And when he made that decision to remain in his rage, and not to die, he lost the opportunity to be reborn. And do you see the irony here as well? The irony is, in the end, Mateo’s own rage consumed him, and he died anyway. But not in the way that leads to rebirth, but in the way that leads to a dark and tragic end.
Having Your Own Way
Many of you reading this book live in a privileged culture. In most cultures throughout history there was an emphasis on changing yourself to adapt to your environment. But in modern culture, in the industrialized nations, we emphasize changing our surroundings through technology to adapt the environment to ourselves. We’re used to fulfilling our desires, pretty much on demand. Many of us live our lives with the goal of remaining undisturbed. Because if we’re undisturbed, we can pursue our own entertainment.
On the surface that might seem like a good way to go, but in the end it’s shallow. Soren Kierkegaard said, “The person whose life is dominated by entertainment is not master of himself at all. He is a slave to his impulses.”
When we live for entertainment, when we succumb to our impulse to turn to entertainment, it’s often at the expense of turning toward God. The video game or the game on TV instead of church, reading a book instead of praying to God, reading words on social networks instead of reading God’s words.
And look at what God says about people who decide not to die to themselves. He first describes these people as those who
. . . although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools . . . (Romans 1:21-22)
And now watch what happens. In the next verse God gives them up to their desires. When He lets them turn away from Him, he does it by letting them have their own way.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts . . . (Romans 1:24 NIV)
Your desires. Having it your way. Refusing to die and to allow God to have it His way, as Jesus did in the garden, it might seem good in the moment, but it leads to death. The wrong kind of death. Insisting on your way over God’s way leads to a darkened heart, and ultimately to a dark and tragic end.
To Love Like Jesus, Die Like Jesus
In 1963 they found some seeds in the food stores at Masada. These were the 2,000-year-old food stores of the Jewish zealots who killed themselves while they were under siege so they wouldn’t be taken captive by the Romans. Today in Israel, inside a laboratory, scientists are growing a tree (related to the date palm) from one of those 2,000-year-old seeds.
But for 2,000 years that seed from Masada remained undisturbed, and as long as it remained undisturbed, it remained a tiny seed. Then in 2005 it died and was buried, inside the lab in Israel. In 2015 it became a father. Scientists used it to pollinate a modern day female date palm, so now it can reproduce.
For you and for me, fruit is born when we let go of our desire to remain undisturbed. Fruit is born when we die to our own desires and live for Jesus. Fruit is born when you surrender your life to him and let him have you, all of you.
A grain of wheat is tiny, and it remains tiny if it doesn’t die. But if it does die and fall into the earth, it can produce more wheat that can produce yet more, until it’s yielded a great field of wheat.
You and I are the same.
When we’re all about self, when we strive to remain undisturbed, we’re tiny, we’re small.
Small of soul.
But if we’ll die, for Jesus’ sake, that changes. If we die like Jesus, we can bear fruit like Jesus.
If we die like Jesus, we can love like Jesus.
So do whatever you have to do, to bring yourself to the place where you surrender your will to God. If Jesus prayed three times, then you and I might have to pray three dozen times, or 3,000 times. But do you see? That doesn’t matter. Even if we have to pray 3,000 times, we have to do it, because what’s at stake is too great.
What’s at stake is our call to love like Jesus.
What’s at stake is our relationship with the Creator in heaven. What’s at stake are the relationships with those who see Jesus when they look at you.
What’s at stake is all of eternity.
So to love like Jesus, die.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
–Jesus Christ, John 12:24-25
- From my notes on Joel Stephens’s excellent teaching. Heard on July 8, 2018 at Foundation Bible Fellowship, Ashland, OR
- 15 Amazing Science Facts That Will Blow Your Mind, How It Works Daily, 2016, URL: https://www.howitworksdaily.com/15-amazing-science-facts-that-will-blow-your-mind/
- John Roach, Methuselah Palm Grown From 2,000-Year-Old Seed Is a Father, National Geographic, March 24, 2015, URL: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/03/150324-ancient-methuselah-date-palm-sprout-science/