INTO THE DEATH ZONE
“Then he said to them all: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me”
Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, attracts many climbers from around the world to try and reach her lofty summit. Safety on a mountain like Mount Everest is paramount, one mistake and it could be the last thing you do. The climber will probably experience avalanches, hidden crevasses and extreme weather conditions while on the slopes of Mount Everest, all of which are beyond the climber’s control. One thing that climbers can have control over is human errors brought on by the affects of high altitude.
The region above 25,000 feet (7,600 meters) is called the death zone. The reason for this name is because nothing lives at that altitude or above and no human can survive long there due to the lack of oxygen in the thin air.
One famous climber, David Breashens from the U.S.A. stated that even using bottled oxygen, “standing on the summit feels like running on a treadmill and breathing through a straw.”
People who die during their climb on Mt. Everest are usually left behind. About 150 bodies have never been recovered. It is not uncommon to find corpses near the main climbing routes, mainly because it’s impossible for others to help stricken climbers. If you cannot make it out on your own…you are in serious trouble.
Climbers who have gained the summit and arrived safely back home have written and shared the experiences. They have said that climbing Everest is not just an ordinary experience; it’s a life or death experience. No matter how good a climber you are, there will always be dangers up in the death zone that are out of your control. I do not believe Mt. Everest is the most difficult mountain to climb, I believe that Mt. Calvary is. No one climbs Mt. Everest knowing they are going to die for sure. Your hopes are always “I’ll be alive after this journey.”
Mt. Calvary is different when Jesus invites us to follow him up that hill into the unknown. He makes it plain, “you’re gonna die”. The life you had, the one you cherish will no longer exist if you follow me up Mt. Calvary into the Death Zone.
Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, the German theologian, knew this truth. During the Nazi regime he chose to minister to his people and was part of the resistance. His friends got him out of Germany in 1939, but he could not stay in safety as so many perished. So he returned and was imprisoned in Schoenberg where he ministered to his fellow prisoners.
Bonnhoeffer said, “To endure the cross is not tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ”. On April 8, 1945 Bonnhoeffer held a last morning service for his fellow prisoners and then early in the morning of April 9th he was hanged. Bonnhoeffer’s final words to his fellow prisoners, “This is the end–for me the beginning of life…there is no greater privilege than answering Jesus’ call to come and die.”
Most of us will not face that kind of martyrdom. It amazes us when we hear stories of such faith and such courage. But the truth still remains for anyone who chooses to follow after Jesus. It’s an invitation to “come and die”.
For real discipleship to take place in our lives….
WE CAN’T PLAY DEAD
When Jesus says we’re to “take up our cross” daily there is no doubt about the implication. If you saw anyone in first century Rome, or Jerusalem (which was under Roman rule) carrying a cross, they were headed to their death. Crucifixion was purely a Roman invention and it was used, not just for execution, but for effect. The crucified body hung on the cross. Sometimes until it was completely destroyed by birds and time. It was a gruesome object lesson. Disobey Rome, here’s where you end up. Nobody played dead on the cross, despite what some would claim about Jesus.
He was scourged, punched, mocked. He carried his cross up the via Delarosa (the sorrowful way). They drove nails into his hands and feet, a spear pierced his heart. “He committed his spirit into His father’s hands…and he breathed his last.” Joseph of Arimetha and Nicodemus handled his body for burial. Death is unmistakable when you’re that close.
So the invitation for anyone who would follow after Jesus to take the next step and follow him into the unknown is “Follow me and die to self.” Not play dead, not act like you’re dead, but die and according to Dr. Luke,”daily.”
I was watching golf awhile back. It was the AT & T celebrity thing at Pebble Beach. And after one of the holes they were interviewing Kevin Costner and one of the commentators, Nick Faldo, said, “Man, can you put me in one of your movies? and Costner said, “Every time I put one of my friends in a movie it’s a death scene and they always take too long to die.” Faldo said, “Is there a right way to die?” And Costner said “Yeah, my way.”
We’ve all played dead as kids when we played army or cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians. It was dramatic, over the top, stretched out. (Act it out!) But far too many people seem to think they can play dead when it comes to their Christianity. I’ll play dead in Church, but self is alive on Saturday night, baby! I’ll play dead when I want to impress my Christian friends, but self lives when I want to live with my girlfriend, drink with my buddies. Basically I’ll play dead for appearance sake, but I still live for me in real life.
That’s exactly why Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)
Jesus made that statement to individuals who said “I will follow you wherever you go. But immediately after our text in Luke 9:23 Jesus presses home the point of real death verses playing dead, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (v 24).
You cannot act like you’re dying to self and be a genuine follower of Christ. Dying to self for the sake of Jesus is never easy; remember we are selfish by nature. Pleasing self comes oh so naturally, denying self is supernatural thing. And you can tell plainly if someone is acting out a role or dead and reborn. You see, Jesus’ footsteps did not end at the tomb.
He died, but rose to walk again. He conquered sin, our sin, by paying for its penalty on the cross. But not only did he conquer sin, he defeated our greatest enemy, DEATH by rising again. We are not only called to die, but Jesus calls us to follow him in new life. Let’s look at our footsteps from the tomb. We are….
NEW PEOPLE WITH NEW LIFE
The resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith. It’s why the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, Here’s the message of first importance “Christ died for our sins according to scripture. He was buried and he was raised on the third day according to scripture. He appeared to Peter, the 12, more than 500 of the brothers at the same time (most of them are still living as I write this) He appeared to James and then all the apostles and last of all he appeared to me. This is what we preach, this is what you believed” (1 Cor 15: 3-8).
He goes on to say, “If there is no resurrection then not even Christ has been raised and if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile. You are still in your sins and those who
have fallen asleep for Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ we are to
be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep”…. (1 Cor 15: 12, 17-20)
If there is no new life after death then we are lost, we are hopeless, we should be pitied more than anyone else. The resurrection is the proof that sin was defeated. When we’re baptized (immersed, buried) into Christ we are making a pledge to die, to have our sins buried. And we are rising to be new people with this new life.
Peter says, “This baptism which now saves you is not the washing of dirt from the body but the pledge to God of a good conscience. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21)
When we choose to give our lives to Jesus we are making a pledge to God. I give you my old life, I give you my sin, wash it away in His blood. Now let me live in the power of the resurrection.
How can that happen? How can I be a new man or woman with a new life? It’s only possible through a spiritual change, a rebirth if you will. God does for you what he did for Jesus, with the same spirit. Listen to Romans 8:10-11 (page 800).
The same spirit that raised Jesus from that physical death raises us from our spiritual death. He is the new life given. And He is given to us by God. Here’s what Paul told the Romans concerning this new life and new walk: Romans 6:3-8 (page 799)
It’s important we understand this doesn’t mean we will never sin again or battle with self. God’s spirit is housed in a body of flesh. But what it does mean without a doubt is people who have really died are now new. People who are losing their lives for Christ are radically different than they once were.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old is gone, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
Zacheus met Jesus and this money grubbing, tiny man became a generous giant of repentance. Saul met Jesus and this violent, arrogant Pharisee became a mission minded humble servant of God. Mary Magdalene had been possessed by demons that destroyed her life and she became a brand new, clean conscious follower of Jesus.
I could go on to mention Nicodemus the skeptic, Thomas the doubter, Peter the loud mouth, James and John the angry and self seeking. They were not just repaired. They were made brand new. Their lives were not just patched up, their lives were transformed…”In Christ.”
Carl Brand says something about this truth, “Though no one can go back and make a new beginning—anyone can start from now and make a new end.”