Pastor Craig Carter
Today is the first Sunday in Lent, a 40-day period that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.
Lent is a time set apart annually for Christians to return to the Lord through repentance and reflection so we can reorient our lives to God and His will. The term, Lent, comes from an Old English word meaning “springtime” since it always falls during this particular season of the year.
Based on my three decades of ministry experience, I generally expect attendance at our worship services to be pretty good during the season of Lent. That’s partly because of the good weather we can expect this time of the year. But it’s also because most of us realize that this is indeed a spiritually significant season.
The day following Lent, Easter Sunday, is generally the best attended day of the entire year for our church and for most other churches. But the Sunday after Easter and the Sundays following often see a dramatic drop-off in attendance.
Why do you think that is?
I think most people come to church on Easter because they enjoy the joy and excitement of the day. Something within each of us longs for the Easter message of hope and new life. We want to hear how Jesus was raised from the dead and we desire to believe that it can happen to us as well. It is fun to live, at least for one day, as “Easter people” with the anticipation of a new beginning and the hope of eternal life.
Unfortunately, those feelings are short-lived and many people fall back into familiar patterns. That’s because most folks don’t realize that there is no Easter without Good Friday. There is no resurrection without the crucifixion. There is no new life without death.
It’s exactly as Jesus predicted: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22 NIV)
Jesus understood that the path to the empty tomb had to pass through the cross.
Not only that, Christ claimed that His followers must travel the same route.
Then [Jesus] said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24 NIV)
Just as Christ could only be raised to eternal life through physical death, we too must spiritually die in order to truly live.
The Apostle Paul understood this principle and so he wrote to the Galatians: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NIV)
The word he used for “crucified” is a compound Greek verb. It literally means, “co-crucified.” It is as though he hung on the same cross as Jesus.
Later in that same letter, Paul shows us what that looks like: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. (Galatians 5:24 NLT)
So being crucified with Christ means renouncing our own self-interests and human tendencies (i.e. passions and desires).
During this season of Lent, we are going to explore what it means to be crucified with Christ. Specifically, what are some things that have to be nailed to the cross and left there?
But before we look at particular things that may be preventing us from truly enjoying abundant and eternal life, let’s consider what it takes to be crucified with Christ.
Being crucified with Christ requires…
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves…”
The New Living Translation puts it: “You must give up your own way…” So being crucified with Christ involves renouncing the right to having it our way and doing our own thing. It is a denial of ourselves, our wants, and our wishes.
Self-denial goes against what comes naturally and what our society teaches. We live in a “me-first,” “if it feels good do it” sort of world. Without a doubt, the way of the world is self-desire.
But as Paul told the Galatians, that is part of our sinful nature that needs to be nailed to the cross and crucified there.
This sort of denial is different from sacrificing someTHING for Christ (like we do in Lent). It is giving up someONE for Christ (as Paul puts it, “I no longer live…”)
It involves dethroning ourselves and enthroning God as the ruler of our lives.
It is detachment from self-interest and attachment to God and His will.
It’s saying as Jesus did, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
“…and take up their cross daily…”
This phrase has oftentimes been trivialized. We speak of an arthritic knee or annoying mother-in-law as a cross we have to bear.
But the cross Jesus spoke of is not a minor irritant. It was a vivid symbol of death and suffering during His day and age. In the ancient Roman world, anyone taking up a cross was on a one-way journey to death. Anyone who lives by this command sees his or her life as being over.
That means being crucified with Christ means we no longer have plans for our own life. “I no longer live…”
It also means we don’t look back, only ahead to what God has in store for us. “But Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God…”
And notice it’s not a once and for all decision as we must take up our cross daily. This truth caused Paul to say: “I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:31 ESV)
This kind of cross-bearing involves a daily willingness to give ourselves wholeheartedly to Christ, His will, and His ways.
As with self-denial, spiritual death does not come naturally for us because we are, by nature, comfort seekers, rather than cross bearers.
We must continually make conscious decisions to live sacrificially by faith in the One who loved us and gave himself for us.
We tend to consider a commitment to Christ as all or nothing. But conversion is moment by moment. Imagine having a $100 bill and, in an act of surrender, you hand the whole thing over to Jesus. He then hands it back and says, “Cash it in for change. Then give it back to me a little each day … a nickel here, a dime there.”
Here is what that might look like:
Instead of pretending to be asleep and waiting for your spouse to move, you get up to care for a sick child. You just picked up your cross.
When a surly neighbor gets admitted to the hospital, you mow their grass. You have been crucified with Christ.
Rather than yelling back when your boss rants and raves, you bite your tongue. You have died to self.
When a friend says all manner of evil against you, you pray, “Forgive them, Lord, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” You just surrendered your life for Christ’s sake.
You and I are to spend the entirety of our lives making daily sacrifices because, like Paul, we have been crucified with Christ and must die every day!
…and follow me.
The Greek root word of the verb, follow, means “path.” To follow someone means to go down the same path as them.
This word is used 77 times in the gospels and all but one refer to Jesus as the one being followed.
“[The disciples] left everything and followed Jesus, becoming His disciples, believing and trusting in Him and following His example.” (Luke 5:11 AMP)
So what does it mean to follow Jesus? It means complete obedience and total abandonment to the call of Christ on our lives. It is going where He wants us to go and doing what He wants us to do.
Being crucified with Christ involves such devotion that we choose to follow Christ at every turn, even when that turn takes us away from our own wants and wishes.
By embarking on that course of action, we find life, real life, abundant and eternal life.
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:24 NIV)
When you and I follow Jesus to the cross, we then receive the benefits of His glorious resurrection. Here’s how Paul described it to the Romans: For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. (Romans 6:4 NLT)
Is following Jesus difficult? Yes! Is it worth it? Absolutely!
From now until Easter, we’re going to look at what it means to live a life of denial, death, and devotion. Sounds like fun, huh? Okay, not really.
But I assure you, by being crucified with Christ we will be raised to new life in Him.
St. Francis of Assisi once described it like this: “It is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Before we go any further let me point out that it is spiritual “crucifixion,” not spiritual “suicide.” In other words: “I have been crucified,” not “I have crucified.”
This is not something we do ourselves (which our sinful nature tells us to attempt). Instead, we simply put ourselves in a position so that God can accomplish the task.
If you and I are to be crucified with Christ, God is going to have to do it. The only question is: Will we let Him?
Like Paul, are we willing to be crucified with Christ so that Christ may live in and through us?
If you are, you can express this desire by reciting these words of Paul: I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! (Philippians 3:10-11 NLT) Amen.