Is today a good day to die?

Yesterday, out of my study of Scripture, I came to a realization about something.  There is a particular quote of Jesus that has been spiritualized and, as such, the force of what Jesus said has been greatly mitigated.  It is a quote which is found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and a related quote is found in John’s gospel.  What is this quote?  “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me, for whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  (Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:33-35; Luke 9:23-26)  There is also an additional time in Luke’s gospel where Jesus says something similar (Luke 17:33).  In John’s gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying, “The one who loves his life loses it, and the one hates his life in this world will keep it unto eternal life.”  (John 12:25)

I have seen many who have view and interpreted these words to be, in some way, speaking about the denial of one’s wants and desires; in other words, quality of life and giving that up for Christ’s sake in order to follow him.  Allow me to share why I now struggle with this approach.

The context in which Jesus said these words is that of physical death, that of his own on the cross. (Luke 17:33 is the exception because Jesus is talking about his return, not his death on the cross, but physical death is still the context because he references Lot’s wife)  By connecting these statements with his own actual, physical death, he is making a connection to the reality that any who follow him must be willing and prepared, each and every day, to give up his/her physical life for Jesus’ sake, just as Jesus would give up his life, and Jesus wasn’t talking about giving up his life in terms of desires and wants, but in not actually breathing any longer.  He’s talking about his followers being required to be willing and prepared, on a daily basis, to be martyrs for him.  He’s talking about a person denying his/her actual, breathing life, not some aspect of quality of life.  This speaks to the commitment level Jesus expected of any who would follow him.  Spiritualizing this statement actually lessens the severity, force, and extreme nature of what Jesus said.

So, if you are a follower of Jesus, when you arose from your bed this morning, were you ready and willing to be a martyr for the cause of Jesus today if God called you to be one?  Were you ready to take your last breathe today if that’s what God deemed would move forward the cause of Christ?  Tomorrow, will you be ready and prepared to die for the cause of Christ?  How about the day after?  Our level of readiness and willingness reveals the true depth of our belief in and commitment to Christ.

As Lt. Warf said in one of the Star Trek movies (the Next Generation editions), “Maybe today is a good day to die!” for the cause of Christ (italics mine).

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4 thoughts on “Is today a good day to die?

  1. But then what would you say about Jesus’ words when he said that if you’re eye causes you to sin, to pluck it out? I don’t think he was being literal there. Are you saying that the literalness of this particular passage is more of an exception than a rule? Or do we need to discern each and every passage of scripture to determine whether it’s literal or not since it’s not an all or nothing happenstance? That leaves a lot of room for one’s own interpretation. For instance, when I tried to point out to my Jehovah’s Witness friend that Jesus spoke about Hell numerous times, his response was that these passages were merely “parables” and he still refuses to believe that hell is a real place where unbelievers go. Can you cite a solid reason why you believe this passage which you’ve selected is literal and not merely symbolic?

    Another thought which I’ll pose in a question: what if a band of Muslim terrorists took several Americans hostage in Iran or wherever, and demanded that they renounce Christ or be killed or forced to watch the terrorists torture and kill their friends and family? If such a Christian were to renounce Christ with his lips (but not his heart) to save his son or daughter’s life, pretended to convert to the Muslim religion, and later when they returned to America they discarded the Muslim religion to “become Christians again,” in not “losing their life,” are they then surely going to hell when they do die?

    1. Every passage must be read in its context. To do so would be irresponsible, though it has been done often throughout history. With that said, you challenge me to cite a solid reason why I believe this passage is literal and not merely symbolic. Here’s my answer. In the context of what Jesus has just said to the disciples, that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. It is then that Peter makes his comment about never allowing that to happen and Jesus responds to Peter with his “Get behind me, Satan” reply. He then calls Peter a stumbling block and only having human, and not God’s, concerns in mind. Then he makes his statement about taking up one’s cross. So, throughout his comments, Jesus is talking about physical death, his own, and that those who would truly be his followers must also be willing to endure their own death for Jesus’ sake. Jesus is directly reprimanding and correcting Peter’s wrong view with a very strong and direct rebuttal. I only go with what the context reveals. Jesus isn’t going to talk about his actual death and then, when talking about his followers being willing to walk the same path, switch to a spiritualization of this.
      In your question regarding Jesus’ words about plucking out one’s eye if it offends you, his intent is to state that one must be willing to go to extremes if it becomes necessary to do so. Again, it is in the context of what he is saying.
      In answering your theoretical situation, isn’t it that type of situation to which Jesus is referring? It obviously would be a very difficult situation in which to be, but let me ask this question: what do Christians truly believe about life and death? Is death the end of life? It is not, yet if this hostage were to renounce Christ in order to not die or not have a friend or family member killed, that would show what s/he truly believed about life and death.
      Whether or not that person would be destined to hell if s/he made the decision to renounce so as to continue living, I will let God handle that.
      One last thing. The thrust of this post was to highlight that the spiritualizing of this passage has served to lessen the level of commitment Jesus demands, namely, a willingness to actually die, to become a martyr for the cause of Christ, should it be in God’s plan for us to be such. It is indeed a radical and extreme statement, but one that Jesus made.

      1. In light of what you said about taking it in its proper context, I can see why you made this assumption. In a way, it reminds me of something I once heard Pastor Marvin Smith say regarding the thought of being a martyr when he said that his reply would be, “Don’t threaten me with going to heaven!”

      2. I would call it a conclusion, not an assumption. An assumption is something that is taken as true without proof. I believe the context is quite clear and is proof. Therefore, it is a conclusion.

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