I was awakened by a dream-boy attacking me, trying to kill me with scissors. [I know, gross. Stick with me. There’s a point here.]
Aren’t you glad that’s how it happens (most of the time)? We wake up before the scene gets too bloody, before our free-falling body hits the sidewalk. Before death.
My dream-boy was dreamy until I asked him, “So, what do you think of Jesus?”
That’s when his eyes filled with hatred. That’s when he pulled the scissors out. That’s when I woke up, not afraid (surprisingly)…but, stunned at the vivid picture, which I had the strong impression was spiritual. This seemed to be confirmed when I unintentionally read John 16:2 the next morning— “The time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.” I didn’t read any personal prophesy into this, but took it as a reminder that people either love or hate Jesus. And that often means they will either love or hate His followers.
I thought about a passage I recently spent time with, Acts 17:16-34. Paul goes to Athens and talks about God with Jewish people, God-fearing Greeks, and philosophers. Much has been said and can be learned from this passage, but one thing that especially stood out to me was this: The resurrection of Jesus is where the rubber meets the road. My dream-boy was fine until the mention of Jesus. When Paul speaks about the resurrection of Jesus to the people of Athens, some sneer, some seek, and some are saved there and then.
And no wonder! The gospel hinges on the power and authority of God to defeat sin and death as displayed in the resurrection. Paul says that if Christ did not rise from the dead, our preaching is useless (1 Corinthians 15:14).
Every SOUL hinges on the resurrection of Jesus.
When we accept the death of Jesus on our behalf, when we accept that He rose from the grave, and follow Him as Lord, something miraculous happens: WE are raised from the dead.
And something else peculiarly miraculous happens: we’re able to die. We’re invited to die in a way that’s ONLY POSSIBLE through the resurrection of Jesus. We’re invited to allow the Spirit of God to breathe life that puts to death the death in us— to eradicate the brokenness that prevents us from living lives filled with the love and grace of God— our selfishness, our pride, our lust.
For life’s sake!
Wait, wait, wait. So what about my dream-boy-gone-stab-happy? Sometimes the whole “death to self” thing can seem separate from outward suffering for Christ— whether that looks like battling cancer in faithfulness to Christ, waking up extra early in faithfulness to Christ, or persecution and martyrdom in faithfulness to Christ. But the two are closely connected: If we haven’t died to ourselves, we’ll never be able to truly suffer for Christ or with Christ. We’ll suffer the big and small alright, but when we don’t surrender to God in our suffering, we miss out on intimacy with God and honoring Him with our circumstances.
Two days after my dream, I went searching for verses on prayer. I was looking in Acts and my eyes wandered over to the end of John (chapter 21) and Jesus’ conversation with Peter:
Jesus asks, “Do you love me more that these?” “Do you love me?” “Do you love me?”
Peter says yes each time.
Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”
Then, then Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
The tears came loose while I read. I pictured young Peter, in love with Jesus and also heartbroken about his previous failure, aware of his need and yet being commissioned— I pictured Peter, old, bent over from years of feeding the Flock, being dressed by someone else, being led where he does not want to go…to his own crucifixion.
As I saw him, used by God’s grace, surrendered, glorifying God as he was led to another rugged cross….I heard Jesus’ words: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).
One whose life ended so like Jesus’, on a cross— the rock the church is built on.
An old man, dressed by others, his arms outreached…the rock.
My heart was breaking in the pain of it and the glory and the reality of what the church is built on— ultimately THE Rock (the crucified and risen Jesus), but also those crucified and risen with Him. Crucifixion is part of the story of each Christ-follower— of every living stone (1 Peter 2:5) that makes up the church.
Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20a). I wonder if Paul’s heart filled. I wonder if he thought not only about Jesus’ death, but also Peter’s death. I wonder if he thought about the brothers and sisters he ordered to die before he encountered Jesus on the Damascus road or the variety of deaths he might suffer. I wonder if he was overwhelmed by the power of a God who could not only pay for his sins in full, but put to death his flesh and FILL him— a God who could enable him to live and die IN CHRIST.
Paul’s words fill me with wonder at the power of God. They fill me with bravery and confidence. CHRIST lives in me. I’ll proclaim it and proclaim it again with down-to-my-toes gratitude— my flesh is dead and my soul is alive because Jesus lives. I can be led wherever God wants to take me— even to places I do not want to go— because Jesus drank the cup He did not want to drink…and yet drank for the joy set before Him: The wrath of God meant for me.
I can, for the joy set before me, endure the cross because the Son of God defeated death and hell when He rose from the grave. Because He lives, sweet unity awaits me.