It’s my pleasure to introduce you today a friend and pastor, Jeff Landis. If you know Jeff, too, then you may think it’s odd that he wrote a post on “death to self” because Jeff is one of those “magnetic” persons who always has a smile on his face. Perhaps that’s because a dead man has no problems? (Not even taxes?) Haha! There’s nothing like a smile through tax time.
My first encounter with the teaching on “death to self” was through the Chinese scholar, Watchman Nee. I don’t think Jeff is pulling from Nee’s material, but I think you will be blessed with his message. Now, here’s Jeff!
Jesus invited his followers to pick up their cross and follow him (Luke 9:23). We can’t quite appreciate that living in America in the 21st century. None of us have ever witnessed a crucifixion unless we’ve gone to the movies. For that matter, none of us have ever seen a public execution either. Though we may not realize it, executions were once a common event in our country. However, the practice through the years came to a halt. Where I live near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the last public hanging took place 100 years ago in 1912.
It was just the opposite though in Jesus’ day. Crucifixions were a common sight. And those who were condemned to be crucified were forced to carry their own cross to the place of execution. It’s very conceivable that when Jesus challenged his listeners to pick up their cross, there were prisoners within sight carrying their crosses to their death. Jesus had a vivid illustration right at hand.
Needless to say, the call to pick up one’s cross was not a happy thought. It was gruesome, terrifying, and chilling. Many of Jesus’ listeners could have easily had nightmares from watching a relative suffer on the cross. One hoped that this would never be their lot in life. Nevertheless, Jesus said that his followers would pick up their cross daily. What does this mean for us?
Today, one can join the army and think of a career afterward. The percentage of people killed in battle today is very small. One can have high hopes of serving in the military, and afterward get on with life. In fact, some military personnel are actually caught off guard when they have to be in harm’s way. Historically, that wasn’t always the case.
Take the Civil War for example. Multitudes lost their lives, and many were crippled and maimed for life. The statistics weren’t in favor of longevity. It was similar in the Revolutionary War as well. The point is this, if you chose to enlist during the wars of the past, you had to mentally prepare yourself that you might not come back alive. When anyone marched off to war, “good byes” to family could very well be your last. They were somber occasions. You couldn’t enlist in 1863 with the same mentality of many who enlist in 2012. Pain, suffering, and death could very well be your destiny. You could not join the army with the confidence of returning home to farm, go off to college, or start a business. Similarly, you had to enter every battle with the mentality, “This could be it!” For those who wanted to save their lives, they were paralyzed with fear and didn’t make good soldiers.
I believe this was what Jesus meant when he said, “If any man would follow me, he must pick up his cross daily.” In fact just like the thousands of casualties that took place in the Civil War and the Revolutionary War, so multitudes of early Christians died for the faith. The first century Christians knew full well that embracing the cross, could easily mean death, imprisonment, or another form of suffering. Therefore, just as a soldier in the civil war had to mentally prepare for death, a soldier of the cross had to have that same mental understanding as well. Those who wanted to preserve their life were not good candidates for the Master. Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it” (Luke 9:24).
So how do we apply this for those who live in America in the 21st century? Well, Stay tuned for the second post that details how apply the cross to our daily lives.
Jeff Landis lives in Manheim Pa and is married to Karen, his wife of 35 years! They have 3 children of which 2 are married. Jeff graduated from Eastern Mennonite Seminary with an MDiv in 1984. He is a passionate lover of God and a gifted teacher who desires to see the body of Christ walk in true holiness. He currently is licensed under Life Center Ministries in Harrisburg and leads a Friday night prayer watch with the focus of prayer for revival. He fervently believes that II Chron. 7:12 is the key to revival: “If the Church in America will humble themselves and pray and seek God’s face, then will God hear from heaven and heal the land.” There is no lack on God’s end. He is waiting for the church in America to awake to her destiny.