In the Bible we read that Moses explained the facts of life to the Israelites and then gave them a choice. Basically, if they followed the rules all would go well – even very well – but if they didn’t things would turn out very badly!
Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!
Deuteronomy 30:19 NLT
Sounds like a no-brainer, though of course they made the wrong choice over and over again!
But for the student-apprentice of Jesus it’s quite different. We are asked to choose death, then, paradoxically we receive life.
Jesus tells His disciples to take up their cross.
But what’s His point? That it’s difficult or heavy? No. Here’s how Peter Enns puts it (The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs).
Crosses are heavy, yes, but that’s not the point. You don’t take up a cross simply to carry it. You take up your cross to die on it. That’s the point of crosses. Following Jesus isn’t like a burden we carry on our shoulders. It’s an internal process so radical and painful that the best way to describe it for people of that day is as the act of being bound and nailed like a criminal to a piece of wood lifted above the ground where you are left hanging in naked humiliation and intense pain until you suffocate.
Jesus is asking us to die to our own desires and agendas and take on His. It’s a choice that confronts us many times each day and we are asked to choose death.
Here’s Peter Enns again:
Dying leads to real living—“Christ who lives in me,” a life so deeply connected to the divine that we no longer live, but our lives are “hidden with Christ in God.” Dying “with” Jesus leads to new life now, what Paul calls a movement “from death to life” (Romans 6:1–14). This is good news, the best news. When we “die,” God doesn’t leave us dead. God brings us back to life—“raising us from the dead,” as Paul puts it. We die in order to be raised, and not just in a future one-day-at-the-end-of-the-world way we talk about at funerals. Dying and rising is how followers of Jesus live and experience God in the present.
Death: it’s what Jesus chose for us, if we really want to be His student-apprentices we can do no less.