Luke 9:23-24:”Then he [Jesus] said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.'”

One of the tell-tale signs that Jesus’ ministry on Earth was coming to a close were His early predictions of His upcoming arrest. He was on the road to Jerusalem where He knew He’d face certain death. Yet He kept on walking. His mind was made up. Approaching Jerusalem, Jesus addressed the crowd with the following words (Luke 9:24):

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it.”

Jesus walked the talk. He did not hang on to His own life; giving up His life He saved it as God resurrected Him on the Third Day; and by freely giving His life He ultimately saved the world.

When we departed from the Garden of Eden we left God and got further and further away from Him; God on the other hand did not leave us. Even though the human situation got really nasty, He still did not drop us like a hot potato. Instead, we experience the goodness of the Lord on any given day when He helps us out and leaves us gifts; He lets the Sun shine on the good and the bad. Some actually take offense to that and say: that’s not fair. Our God does not intend to be fair. Our God is extremely generous and very patient. Thank God that He is!

Our faltering attempts to live a good life on this planet have not gone unnoticed. God came to our rescue. Jesus’s death on the cross is a martyr’s death – He died the death of a criminal and didn’t deserve it. However, there’s more to the story: He died so we can live.

Similar to being caught in quicksand, our failures lead to yet more failures. Jesus broke this vicious cycle. He accepted the consequences of our shortcomings in our stead. The buck stops right there – at the cross. Jesus on the cross lived our pain, breathed in our brokenness and exhaled His last breath in death to save us from the repercussions of all our bad choices. Instead of punishment God’s open arms are wide, ready to receive us back.

Our heavenly Father loves to be gracious! Jesus is a hero in the Father’s eyes because what His heart wants most – extending grace to all His estranged children – is now happening on any given day. People realize one by one that they are loved by God and that the doors to reconciliation are wide open. Reunions take place. People find Heaven or Heaven finds them. Jesus’ sacrificial death enables grace upon grace.

The longer we live the more God’s belief in us strikes us. Yes, this is an astounding fact: God believes in us – so much so that He bet His Son’s life on it. He invests in us by withholding nothing and giving it all! If God so fully invests in us why wouldn’t we take a step of faith and invest in Him?

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Psalm 73:25-26: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Once I was in the hospital with congestive heart failure. If there is such a thing as muscle memory, that memory is indelibly written into my heart muscle. My heart remembers and my body remembers. My body also remembers how it felt like when all my organs worked seamlessly, but this physical reality does not last.

Physical reality, here it is: nothing we build lasts. Everything eventually turns into trash. Recyclable trash hopefully, but trash nonetheless! Here goes Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street:

“I have here a sneaker that’s tattered and worn
It’s all full of holes and the laces are torn
A gift from my mother the day I was born
I love it because it’s trash

Oh, I love trash!
Anything dirty or dingy or dusty
Anything ragged or rotten or rusty
Yes, I love trash”

Oscar the Grouch is right. We all love trash. We all love things that will eventually go away, don’t we? Not to mention people!

We can get a kick out of health and well-being while the hormone flow is just right, our brains function, we can articulate ourselves, we can move, we are unfettered by gravity. However, all these functionalities end up in dysfunction as we age. And what about people whose bodies feel like a war zone from infancy to adulthood?

The good news is: we are recyclable. Our souls live forever. Our being was not created to be thrown away. We are in for the long haul. Jesus came to restore us to functionality. Our bodies fall apart as we get older, but our being doesn’t. We’re still the same person we were when we were born, more experienced, yes, but still the same person. Death is a heartache all creatures on this planet have to go through. I still cry when I think of the moment when I held our senior cat in my arms watching her take her last breath. Death is a major dysfunction and we all suffer from it.

It’s faith that turns trash into gold. Futility and meaninglessness evaporates by the touch of His hand. Jesus is the resurrection and the Life.

My heart is set on eternity. I embrace the Almighty in my thoughts, and He gives me what nothing else in this world can give me: Life with a capital L: Life that defies death and futility and is filled to the brim with love.

John 11:25: “Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.'”

Death always means separation, because the dead are separate from the living. We dig graves for that very reason, and we say goodbye when a loved one passes; it often bugs us to no end when we didn’t have a chance to say goodbye before their passing. Death is final that way. On this side of heaven we won’t see this person again.

However, when it comes to death there’s still more separation involved than meets the eye.

  • There’s separation of body and soul, once our hearts stop beating. Not everybody is on board with an afterlife – assuming that once our bodies are dead, we are completely gone. Well, here is the good news: a person is way more than just a body (a good thing to remember if you happen to struggle with yours). The soul is the part that passes on, the body is the part that is buried in the ground.
  • And then there’s separation from God, also known as spiritual death. If one has a hard time grasping the fact that human beings have souls moving out of the body at the time of death, then spiritual death will probably make even less sense. Maybe it’s helpful to think of a spiritually dead person as a human being without conscience. We all are born with one. If we succeed in overriding this God-given inner compass we’ll be spiritually dead.

The Bible calls our physical passing “first death” and refers to our separation from God as “second death”. Getting separated from God is like severing roots from a thriving plant. Without roots this plant withers and dies. By the same token, without God our soul withers and dies. So theoretically, we could very well be physically alive but spiritually dead and vice versa. Worst case scenario: we’re both spiritually and physically dead.

Jesus’s resurrection is an amazing milestone in the history of mankind, because His resurrection counteracts both first and second death. Case in point: His body and soul were reunited when He rose from the grave, and He was restored to the Trinity when He went back to heaven. That is brokenness completely restored! Creation suffers from the death grip, animals included. All of this is reversed in one big swoop! The ripple effect is enormous. Can you imagine the kind of impact Jesus’s death and resurrection has made in the entire universe? Can you imagine what this means for you?