When Following Jesus Means Dying for Nothing

What if Jesus was serious about taking up our cross?

Last week, Betsy DeVos was officially sworn in as Secretary of Education, but she had already made headlines weeks earlier for her comments about guns in schools. Of course, this was largely due to her crediting "potential grizzlies" with the need for guns. Nevertheless, she reignited a necessary conversation that Christians need to have.

Christians are divided on whether it's a good idea to put guns in schools, but fewer are divided on the efficacy of self-defense in general. There are a number of stories where concealed carry permits have prevented injuries and in some cases fatalities. It's hard not to wonder how different situations like Sandy Hook or Columbine would've been if someone there had a gun.

Thirteen people were shot and killed in the Columbine school shooting, and another twenty-one were injured by gunfire. But if someone had a gun, maybe some of those kids would still be alive. Who knows, maybe none of them would've died. Instead of a modern-day story of martyrdom, Cassie Bernall might still be alive and well.

Cassie was the girl who allegedly confessed faith at her shooter's request before he took her life. Though an eyewitness account discredits this story, her myth had an undeniable effect on the Christian community. Books, TV specials, and another mediocre Michael W. Smith song all celebrated her courage to die for her faith.

For Christians, Cassie is a beloved role model who inspired many over the years to live their faith boldly. But her sacrifice, fabricated or not, didn't save any lives. She didn't throw herself on one of the gunmen or take the bullet intended for another. She just died. And her death did nothing to help her fellow victims.

We have a tendency to appreciate the spiritual realm only when it doesn't interfere with the physical. We're happy to speak of figurative sacrifice and hypothetical martyrdom, but when our actual safety is threatened, we revert right back to our default, self-preserving pragmatism.

The people of Jesus' day weren't any different. They were waiting for a messiah who would break the yoke of Rome and share his rule of the nations with them. They wanted a lion to tear their enemies to pieces but they got a lamb who's death did nothing for their plight. Yes, he died for their sins, but that didn't stop the Romans from sacking Jerusalem and destroying the temple only a few decades later.

Jesus didn't have to die. He did nothing wrong and was given every opportunity to walk away from this fate. When Peter drew his sword to protect him, Jesus reminded him that he had legions of angels at his disposal. Even on the cross, his accusers taunted him saying that if he was the Son of God, he should be able to save himself.

Instead of dying, Jesus could have wiped out the entire Roman Empire. He could have taken up the rule that Satan offered and destroyed that old devil in the process. We could be living in that kind of kingdom right now if he hadn't chosen sacrifice over self-preservation.

But Jesus wasn't interested in an earthly kingdom or the moth-ridden treasures of this world. He was preparing a better place for us. Rather than worrying about the destruction of his body, Jesus cared about the destruction of our souls. So he died for nothing by fleshly standards to secure a life we have to take on faith.

It's a great comfort knowing that Jesus died for us, or as we're prone to say, he died so we didn't have to. Some Christians actually believe we won't have to die at all and a secret rapture is imminent. But a more common belief is that being crucified with Christ is just a figure of speech.

On multiple occasions, the apostle Paul speaks of dying with Christ as the means of living with him. And for the most part, we interpret that to mean dying to sinful desires and putting away our old, fleshly selves. Certainly early Christians tasted death in much the same way as Jesus, but today in America we can afford a more flexible hermeneutic.

Being a Christian couldn't possibly mean dying physically, right? Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, but there must be a limit of either frequency or intensity (the disciples asked a similar question about forgiveness). He can't expect us to not defend ourselves or our families. He can't expect us to just die for nothing.

With God, no death is for nothing even when we lack the faith to accept it. For four hundred years, God willed his people into bondage because he was being patient and merciful to the evil peoples living in the land he promised their forefathers. But the Israelites who died in Egypt during this time didn't know that. Though God eventually delivered them, generations died thinking that God must've abandoned them. In their minds, they died for nothing.

Would you do the same? Would you sacrifice your life without any foreseeable good coming from it?
God promises to work all things for the good of those who love him, but he never promised to tell us or even show us how. Like the saints who died awaiting the promised savior they never met, God expects us to live by faith.

However, there is no faith in figurative language and youth group hypotheticals. Faith is active as we see with Abraham. Isaac was the promised heir to the covenant, yet God asked for his sacrifice--seemingly for nothing. Some imagine that God was testing Abraham or that he wasn't even sure what he would do, but James is clear: God was giving Abraham the opportunity to act on his faith. And though he didn't understand, Abraham trusted God.

Trusting God today means being willing to lay down our life, not taking that of another. Pacifism is often accused of cowardice, but it takes real courage to let your life be taken when you have the choice to walk away. Faith is the root of sacrifice; fear is the root of self-preservation.

America will tell you that it is shameful to not defend yourself or withhold force to protect your family, but like the rich young ruler, this is the sentiment of those who have grown to love the things of this world. The redeemed, on the other hand, groan inside their fleshly coffins--longing for that better country and knowing that our earthly lives are not ours to preserve.

Do not envy old age or a life free from sacrifice. The world around us may celebrate the taking of lives, but we glory in giving ours. They ridicule us for this just as they ridiculed Jesus on the cross, but take heart that God can do more with a life willing to die for nothing than a life that lives for itself.

Photo credit: stcpastor7 via Foter.com / CC BY-ND