The more I explore this idea that the sun is rising on us all, shining on the just and unjust alike, the more I find myself asking the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?”
If the disciplines are Kingdom Culture and the means by which personal transformation takes place, then was Jesus’ death just the appeasement of an angry god? A cosmic-scale legal transaction?
But that’s so impersonal, and apparently meaningless if we don’t get the disciplines right.
What are we trusting Christ for if his death and resurrection are only unmeasurable promises for the future and not agents of change for us today? If he truly has overthrown the kingdom of the evil one, and now sits as Lord at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:32-36), then what does my belief have to do with that?
Do I have to understand this story in a Jewish context in order to be a citizen of this new kingdom? Or can I simply walk in the light, practicing righteousness and loving my neighbor? After all, the death and resurrection of god to bring forth the new light is a pretty universal story.
We just celebrated it with all of its pagan trappings in place.
And we’ll celebrate it again next year when the sun is reborn three days after the darkest night of the year.
So why this story? Why death and resurrection? And how do we experience that in our lives today?
In John 12:24 Jesus said, “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.”
I’m so used to hearing this as a warning. We must die to self and bear fruit to Christ, because unfruitful branches are cast out, and fields that bear thorns and thistles are burned.
But this is not a warning, it’s an invitation. Jesus doesn’t set being fruitful up against being unfruitful; instead, he sets it up against being alone.
The New Living Translation reads, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But it’s death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives.”
He goes on to say, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.”
Jesus says that he is the grain of wheat which produces an entire wheat field. He is the mustard seed that grows into a tree and shelters the birds of the air, and we are its branches. His death and resurrection are the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, and he is inviting us to join him in its dawning.
This isn’t about us being reborn into our own former glory, like a boiled egg hatching a majestic bird. This is about us being reborn into his glory as citizens of his kingdom. Or, to use his own image of a vine and branches in John 15, we are being invited to grow forth from him.
There is so much to be said about this, like the loss of our own individual identity and our new identity being in him. No one says, “Wow, look at that vine branch!” Rather, they say, “Wow, look at that beautiful vine! It’s branches are so full.”
We are the fruit born of his seed, and the fruit we bear (Galatians 5:22), we bear not to be part of the vine but because we are part of the vine.
This is theosis.
We do not enter the kingdom of heaven through the vine, the vine is the kingdom of heaven. To abide in him is to be in the kingdom, and we abide in him by loving one another (John 15:9-12).
Which brings us back to the disciplines; the brass tacks, rubber meets the road, day to day application of all these ideas. How do we go about loving each other in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18)? How do we live out this resurrected, kingdom life?
We cultivate virtue into love.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-8)
Why this story of death and resurrection? Because it’s written into the very cosmos. It is the hero’s path laid out for us to follow.
Will you take the journey?
Buen Camino, my friends.