by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Series
Three times Jesus pleaded to our Lord for grace
Three times he was denied grace by the plan
Three times he was denied grace by a man
Three days he was denied grace by the debt
The third day our Lord Jesus became grace for us all
But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.
Isaiah 53:5-6 (NLT)
For some, this concept of dying to your old self (or ways) in order to experience new life is new and mysterious. For others, the concept is familiar and worn and so easily taken for granted because it remains mysterious and has not really been experienced. For those in the process of dying to the selfish ways of thinking and doing into the transformative experience of new life, it is never old or worn out since the experience is something of a miracle every moment that it is realized.
What does it mean: dying to self?
As you read this, I presume that you accept and believe that Jesus Christ, equal with God as a member of God, humbled Himself to the point of embryonic human likeness and capacity, emptying Himself of all divine authority in order to experience the human condition and plight on every level. I presume that you accept and believe historically that Jesus lived on earth as an infant that grew into a boy and then a man. I presume that you accept historically that Jesus was an innocent man having been convicted of a crime he did not commit, sentenced to death by execution, tortured and then crucified on a cross. I presume that you spiritually accept and believe that Jesus died on the cross as the one and only acceptable sacrifice for your sin, reconciling you into relationship with God through the process of justification—just as if you had never sinned: past, present, and future. I presume that you accept and believe historically that the tomb turned up empty on the third day just as Jesus and the prophets predicted it would. I presume you accept and believe spiritually that Jesus arose from the dead through the experience of resurrection and is fully alive today. I presume that you accept and believe that the Bible is the written Word of God without exception.
But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.” Luke 24:1-7 (NLT)
Finally, as you read this, I presume that you accept and believe that you have the opportunity to experience the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ—King of kings and Lord of lords—alive in you, directing your life; thoughts, desires, choices, and behavior. So, how does this translate into how you think, what you want, what you choose, and what you do?
I suppose the first question we should address is: Why did God give us into this human existence in the first place? Why are we here? Why do we need Jesus in the first place? Why didn’t God simply create us to live in the perfection of heaven from the beginning? I suppose if I was asked that question by my son or daughter, it would go something like this:
So God created us to live this human experience on planet earth. Our problem here is that we are not God and are therefore flawed and vulnerable to harm. He has a purpose for our lives that when left to figure it out on our own is a mystery to us. What does it all mean as you search for meaning, struggling through the obstacles laid out before you each day. What does it all mean considering the historical events throughout your life; hoping to rise up to each occasion, meeting the expectations hoisted upon you? What does it all mean in the face of the lies that you have come to believe about yourself and about your place in the world? How does what Jesus did according to the plan of God factor into your plans according to the systemic expectations you live with? How has painfully struggling to live up to a standard that you cannot possibly live up to worked out for you so far? What does it all mean?
I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down. For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. Galatians 2:18-21 (NLT)
Let’s examine this truth from the Word of God.
What exactly happened here that Paul the Apostle declares that the old self has been crucified with Christ? What did Jesus experience, and if what Paul said applies to each of us, how did we… or do we… participate in the experience? Jesus, in human likeness, was reduced to being fully human during his time on earth.
As God, Jesus willfully laid down His authority and capacity as God (Philippians 2:5-8). As a human being, Jesus Himself said that he had no authority and was entirely dependent on the authority and capacity of God in order to live the life he was called to live (John 5:30). While Jesus, as a man of flesh, did not have a sin nature, he certainly did take on a human nature. (Remember that Adam did not have a sin nature, either. It was in his human nature that he gave into his selfish motivation and sinned.) Jesus did have control over his ability to choose with responsibility and accountability for how he would choose to live out each day. His choice was to depend on God as the only means by which he would not yield to temptation to give in to his human urges and desires.
This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15 (NLT)
Advancing forward to the day of Christ’s betrayal, arrest, and surrender, let’s consider what Jesus experienced in his human flesh; physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Allow me the room to lay this out from various portions of Scripture so that we can more closely examine the experience of our Lord.
1 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” 3 At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, 4 plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. 5 “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.” Matthew 26:1-4 (NLT)
20 When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table with the twelve disciples. 21 While they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” Matthew 26:20-21 (NLT)
36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”
42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. 44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Matthew 26: 36-44 (NLT)
41 He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44 He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. Luke 22: 41-44 (NLT)
45 Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!” 47 And even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests and elders of the people. Matthew 26:45-47 (NLT)
4 Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked. 5 “Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied. “I Am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) 6 As Jesus said “I Am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground! 7 Once more he asked them, “Who are you looking for?” And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.” 8 “I told you that I Am he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” 9 He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.” 10 Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. 11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?” John 18:4-11 (NLT)
There is a great deal to digest here in studying the event leading up to Christ’s crucifixion. Jesus knew that the time had come. In fact, it was Jesus who stirred up the pot and got the stew boiling when he defiantly ripped through the temple with a whip in front of everyone who was paying attention (as many as a million Jews were in the city of Jerusalem for Passover). In the midst of the crowd, the violent actions of Jesus got the attention of Temple leaders, including key Pharisees well connected to Roman authority. It was on now as it needed to be for Christ’s act of ultimate sacrifice to be realized.
Jesus had been betrayed by a friend he loved dearly, and went with his closest friends to a familiar olive garden to pray. This time of immense grief and torment reveals much about the state that Jesus was in as a fully human being apart from his divine nature. Jesus was alone—utterly alone as he prayed, depending on his Heavenly Father for any strength at all to get through this incredible distress.
We are told that Jesus asked God to consider another way to accomplish their eternal plan for you and me as he prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” We are told that He prayed the same thing again, and that as an angel from heaven descended to strengthen Jesus, it was not sufficient as Jesus prayed even harder; his physical body so distressed that blood vessels burst through his skin and Jesus sweat large drops of blood. I cannot begin to imagine his torment and struggle. And things were just getting started.
They came for him, armed with weapons in anticipation of a battle. Other Bible translations use words like ‘battalion’ and ‘contingent’ to describe the army that showed up to arrest Jesus. As many as 600 highly skilled Roman soldiers were on hand as they approached Jesus in the vicinity of the olive garden.
As they drew near, Jesus asked (keep in mind that he is not looking too good here), “Who are you looking for?” Led by Judas and Malchus (assistant to the high priest, very familiar with Jesus), apparently they did not immediately recognize him under perhaps moonlight and the glow of torches, as someone responded, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus responded, “I AM he.” This is incredible since though Jesus is fully human he reminds us all that He is still God, the great I AM. At his response, John the Disciple writes that “they all drew back and fell to the ground!” All 600 Roman soldiers in all of their combat garb were forced back and went down? Including Judas and Malchus? Or maybe Judas was left standing so that he could see the power of God at work in the vulnerable of moments.
Peter would draw his sword and seek to take off the head of Malchus. Peter was undeterred drawing his sword as this small Roman army was held down and unable to stop him. Apparently Malchus, pinned to the ground under the force of the Holy Spirit, turned away his head and Peter clipped his ear. Peter, one man in the moment, could have wiped out the entire battalion of Roman soldiers. When you really take a moment to think about this, it is an unbelievable event. It is everything that Peter, Judas, and all of the disciples had lived for over the past three years. Their time had come. Jesus would overthrow the Roman Empire and be king. They would all rule with him.
But that was not the plan. The plan was one of surrender and sacrifice. The Holy Spirit of God relented and the stunned army of soldiers returned to their feet and perhaps reluctantly approached Jesus. Jesus willingly surrendered and was taken away.
52 Then Jesus spoke to the leading priests, the captains of the Temple guard, and the elders who had come for him. “Am I some dangerous revolutionary,” he asked, “that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? 53 Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there every day. But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns.” 54 So they arrested him and led him to the high priest’s home. And Peter followed at a distance. 55 The guards lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter joined them there. Luke 22:52-54 (NLT)
The fact is… is that Jesus is just that: a dangerous revolutionary, and though the power of darkness continues to reign in the world, the revolution is coming. So, crucified with Christ having died into new life, we are participants in leading the greatest revolution in all of human history. More on that coming up.
60 Then the high priest stood up before the others and asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” 61 But Jesus was silent and made no reply. Then the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 Jesus said, “I Am. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 63 Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Why do we need other witnesses? 64 You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” “Guilty!” they all cried. “He deserves to die!” 65 Then some of them began to spit at him, and they blindfolded him and beat him with their fists. “Prophesy to us,” they jeered. And the guards slapped him as they took him away. Mark 14:60-65 (NLT)
12 Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?” But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!” 15 So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.
16 The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard of the governor’s headquarters and called out the entire regiment. 17 They dressed him in a purple robe, and they wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head. 18 Then they saluted him and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” 19 And they struck him on the head with a reed stick, spit on him, and dropped to their knees in mock worship. 20 When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified. Mark 15:12-20 (NLT)
The experience of Christ’s crucifixion was beyond the dread he had experienced in the olive garden. The torture was beyond anything that I could possibly imagine. Historical literature suggests that Jesus carried the cross (the beam of the cross estimated to be 125 pounds up to 300 pounds if Jesus carried the cross as shown in the picture), strapped across his exposed flesh, as far as half of a mile to his execution, and he collapsed three times. It has been said that the sin of mankind took residence in that beam of wood and began to embed itself into the flesh of Jesus; that the gravity of our sin was so much to bear that Jesus collapsed under its weight. Simon the Cyrene would be summoned to help Jesus carry the burden of the cross the rest of the way.
As Jesus hung from the cross, he was alone in his suffering. So alone in the darkness of sin and its eternal consequence (whose sin? yours and mine), Jesus alienated himself from God. We know this because he cried out, “My God, My God, Why?!” Jesus suffered alone and abandoned from anything good or holy or merciful. He had left all authority with the Father as he left humbled himself to nothing as a man of flesh and blood. Jesus was left to die; and die he did; paying the debt for the sin of all who have ever lived.
Jesus had told his disciples that his death would be like Jonah in the belly of the whale (Jonah 2), but that he would suffer in the belly of the earth for three days and nights (Matthew 12:40). What did he mean by that? We know about Christ’s death on what we call Good Friday, and his resurrection on Sunday. What happened on Saturday? Some like to romanticize this notion that Jesus flew like Superman into hell, Sheol, Hades, purgatory, or whatever you want to call it, and rescued all who had perished before his act of mercy at the cross. Paul says it quite differently.
1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. 3 The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4 (NLT)
While I tend to prefer the New Living Translation of the Bible, it seems to be missing something, particularly in verse three. Please consider the New King James Translation:
1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4 (NKJV)
Do you see it? Do you see what Jesus experienced on the second day, between his crucifixion and resurrection? No one really talks about it. The soul of Jesus the human being, sacrificed for my sin, experienced condemnation on my behalf. He went all the way. Listen to how Jonah described his experience:
“ I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, and He answered me. “ Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice. 3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ 5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. 6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God.” Jonah 2:2-6 (NKJV)
The critical difference between Jonah and Jesus is that for Jonah, his terror was simulated condemnation as a representative symbol of the condemnation of souls beloved by the Creator. Jesus experienced the literal condemnation of selfish sin. What occurred in the physical realm concerning the crucifixion of Jesus I can imagine, as brutally terrifying and painful as it was. What did Jesus actually experience by way of condemnation, damned to some form of hell in the spiritual realm? I have no idea. Praise God that Jesus arose, resurrected as a man into new life, then exalted into His rightful place as God; King of kings and Lord of lords.
So what about this dying into new life crucified with Christ? What does this mean for you and for me?
Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Luke 9:23 (NKJV)
Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NLT)
To be crucified with Christ is not to hang on a cross. We will not die in the sin of all mankind. To take up our cross daily does not mean that we will be beaten to within an inch of our lives (although many have and will continue to be beaten, tortured and martyred for their faith in the risen Jesus) expected to carry on our ripped open flesh a 125 pound chunk of lumber. We are not buried with Christ, nor are we condemned with Christ. So what does it mean to be crucified with Christ and to take up our cross daily?
But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Romans 8:9-11 (NLT)
Pastor Fran Leeman speaks of living a “cross-shaped life”. This means that we are to deny our selfish desires and intentions, willingly dying to what we have known to be the remedy of our discontent, to live a separated life—separated into the life committed fully to will of God. He has commented on the gesture seen in Catholic mass and private prayer. (In general, the gesture of touching one’s forehead, then the chest, then the left shoulder, followed by the right shoulder, symbolizes Christ’s journey from heaven to earth, then his descent to hell following his death, and finally being exalted to the right hand of the Father. It also represents the triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.) Pastor Leeman stated that in the early century church, the demonstrative gesture of the cross represented a commitment to Christ’s command to take up one’s cross in commitment to a lifestyle conformed to living the way Jesus lived, humbly and willing to deny oneself sacrificially to the point of literally dying for the sake of the ultimate prize: resurrection.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11 (NLT)
To be crucified with Christ is to willingly surrender as Jesus did. Jesus did not want to experience the struggle and pain of crucifixion and condemnation. He prayed desperately that He not have to endure that. Yet, even while in a position of strength (remember His captors were pinned to the ground), Jesus willingly denied Himself, surrendering to the plan and purpose of God for His life, and for all life. The cross that Jesus carried possessed the weight of all of our sin, which knocked Him to the ground. The cross we carry contains the weight of our selfishness in our old nature. Our cross contains our desires of the flesh. The miracle is that we are no longer bound by them. In fact, Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy and His burden light. He is our Simon of Cyrene with one important difference. Jesus Christ is God and in reality bears the weight of our cross if and when……………. you let Him.
(The image to the right is that of two bulls sharing a device called a yoke, which allows the stronger abled bull to carry most of the weight, compensating for what the less abled bull cannot do adequately on its own. The burden of the less abled bull is light.)
As we admit the obvious: we are not in control, that we have made a mess of things, and we cannot fix ourselves; having believed that God is in control and that we are crucified with Christ in loving relationship with Him and under His merciful plan of grace; surrendered, we now deny ourselves, empowered by Jesus Christ to carry the cross of our selfish intentions, and commit to the new life we have inherited in our experience of resurrection. When we experience the miracle of being crucified with Christ through our willingness to surrender ourselves into the hands of the miracle maker we die into new life (Romans 12:1-2).
The truth of the crucifixion of Jesus, along with the eternal reality that you and I have been crucified with Him, unfortunately does not mean that we will never again make selfish mistakes (called sin), because we most certainly will. The miracle is that we have been absolutely forgiven of our sin (1 John 1:9), and our broken lives have been resurrected into new lives. The tragedy is for those who reject this truth and choose to align themselves eternally with their sin. Jesus, in His death on the cross, condemned our sin to the belly of the earth. To align oneself with sin outside of relationship with Christ is to choose an eternity of condemnation with that sin. To confess the sin and experience forgiveness in relationship with Christ is to be crucified with Christ, resurrected into eternity with Him. Hallelujah! Praise God for this!
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Romans 8:18-19 (NLT)
Please, take the time to meditate on this truth. If you have not already, take the time to read the scriptures linked throughout this writing. Please take the time to talk to the Sympathetic Savior who has blessed you with this wonderful opportunity to live a cross-shaped life. Finally, pray to get to know Jesus Christ in the fullness of who He is so that you may realize by experience the fullness of who you are in relationship with Him.
14 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NLT)
Walk, not according to the old system of expectations that keeps you stuck and holds you down, but live in the Spirit of the truth of what you have realized today.
God bless you.
From Ephesians 5:8-14 (NLT):
For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,
“Awake, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”