A Goodbye Story

The crucifixion of Christ was seemingly the final goodbye for sympathetic onlookers, early in the first century. Splintered, wooden beams served as the cross, the primary tool of the Roman Empire to inflict shame, humiliation, hatred, rejection, pain and a slow death on criminals that it deemed worthy of this end-of-life punishment. With tearful goodbyes the tiny remnant of gathered believers cried out to their Master and Messiah, hanging upon his cross and breathing His last breath, upon the hill of Calvary. By all appearances, the dying Jesus was the end of their hope, their last goodbye. Little did they know what was to come.

Believers today understand that Christ suffered and died on that torture device – the cross. None of us would want to go through that. So the church doesn’t talk much in specifics about the cross that is waiting for you and me. There seems to be a disconnect between the dying and what is to follow. From my experience growing up in church, I was aware of this cross that we are to bear as believers. But so much was missing. Not only did I never really learn what it means to be a cross bearer, but more importantly what it would lead to, once I accepted the invitation to take those steps toward my cross.

So what does it mean to be a cross bearer? What about my cross? What about yours? To know that the cross of Roman times meant certain death, by metaphorical application, then the cross we are to bear today also means death. Perhaps not literal, physical death, but more like total separation and surrender. Suffering through separation from my own will, and surrender to another will. Not a sermon theme very often.

So what is missing? The prolonged suffering and death of Jesus in the hands of a cruel authority was not the last goodbye that it seemed to his grieving followers. It was a goodbye, but it was to be followed by something far greater. After all, as we now know, there would be no resurrection and life without first there being a death. If the story ended with Christ’s death, there would be no church and no hope. It is but one side of a two-sided coin. Every step that Christ stumbled up the hill of Calvary to His death, was at the same time a step closer to Life. Believers at that time were blinded by the fear of death, not knowing where it would lead.

This is the goodbye – the cross that I need to bear daily in my own heart – and need to continue facing in this life. Surrendering my will. In your own life are there addictive attachments to the past, or to comfort, or to pride, or unhealthy relationships? Could there be destructive attitudes and thoughts stubbornly persisting? Every person experiences some of these things that have been rooted inside, springing up from an identity that is false, from self-talk that has lied for so long. Rather than continuing to struggle with these failures and weaknesses that batter us, our focus must be on dying to them, leaving them there at the cross. Separation, suffering, surrender. Digging deeper than our outward “sins” to the place from which it all springs.

It’s easy to just gloss over it all by religion, good morals, or good outward behavior, and to gravitate to the notion that we’re supposed to focus on dealing with all of our sin while doing good works to prove that we are “true Christians.” Note that these false teachings keep us focused on externals rather than dealing with our hearts from which all deceit flows.

Could it be that many believers live this way far too long? I did. I was looking good on the outside, but was unsettled and conflicted on the inside. Divided against myself, double-minded. I continued to betray my true self – the spirit in me was barely breathing. I was powerless, ineffective and unstable.

Throughout the pages of the Bible, God is speaking to the hearts of people above all else. We go around feeling guilt and shame for all the bad things that we do, or the bad thoughts we have, and then piling on the good works to cover it all up. This is an offense to the God who wants to be God of our hearts, who wants to know us, and us to know Him. He gives us our true identity to embrace. If He didn’t demonstrate His love for us enough by sending His own son – God in flesh – to die so that we could live free in Him, I don’t know what more He could do.

He asks us over and over to take up our own crosses and just say goodbye to the past – good or bad – and goodbye to putting band-aids on the externals. Goodbye to false identity and pretending. Lay it all down and look to Jesus, in whom we see the glory of God! He is our Savior but wants to be more. He wants to live within us, and to turn us loose in the power of His Spirit, to live free, transformed lives, and to experience the victory, the abundant and redeemed life. To give up living as the walking dead, and embrace His Truth about who we are as living, new creations! He wants to breathe life back into our spirits and revive us again, out of the grave.

He wants you and me to say Hello to Jesus.


Hello!

So herein lies the mystery. And there’re a fair number of believers that still don’t see it or just don’t respond to the call. It’s why so many others don’t go to church, or believe, or pay any attention to some Christians today. Though they may be saved and will spend their eternity with God, they are not living out among skeptics the empowered life, the resurrection life of freedom.

Personally, these are some of the steps I’ve taking up the hill to my cross, leading toward death…and life.

First step:  Through the process of surrender, I began to recognize one small step at a time that taking steps toward the death of my selfish will and all that it produced was not leading to the end of my life, happiness and fulfillment, but to a resurrection life in Christ – a full and free way to live – that I was not experiencing, but I wanted it.

Another step: When I finally began to see myself holding onto the past, and recognized the lies, arguments and strongholds that were keeping me distracted and blinded, I began to open up to the truth that God saw me differently, as His child. The lie was being exposed. The darkness of a futile future was retreating as the light pierced through.

Another step: This led to an identity shift in me, a sort of awakening to who I am in Christ, who paid all my debt already.

Another step: The Word of God began to live again in me. As I read it, I would reflect on my life with every word I read, as if it was written to me in my specific situation. I noted things on every page of my Bible. Worship music began to bring a new love and vibrancy in my daily walk, and my spirit began to awaken to the truths in Scripture in a new way, like I was reading it for the first time. I began to long for fellowship with other believers inside and outside of the church.

Another step: The power of sin and the lies waned, replaced by the power of the Spirit of the resurrected Christ.

Another step: I found that it is not a single moment in time, a single step, or overnight change, but it is a steady process – many steps – over time of daily taking up my cross to walk in my identity as a new creation. This is the goodbye to hello life!

We are the imperfect “jars of clay” into which God longs to pour the fullness of Himself, here and now. Many passages in Scripture call this true freedom, and life, and power. And it is! Truth planted in us. A river of Life pouring from within. Joy radiating from us. The Light of Life glowing in our spirits. Divine strength empowered by our weakness. Our hearts – and even our mortal flesh – imbued with the life and Spirit of Christ.

Let’s just stop for a second and look at a few passages in letters written to the early believers, back in the days when they were first called Christians. In these passages and many others, we can see the connection between goodbye and hello: the cross, empty tomb and resurrected life! The mystery revealed. The early disciples of the church, inspired by the very heart of God, were willing to die physically – and many did – so that we could know this mystery, the Truth.

Christ not only through His death on the cross gives us eternal life, but only through our daily death on our crosses (goodbye) can we experience His resurrection life in us (hello)!

The Word

…We have died to sin once and for all, as a dead man passes away from this life. So how could we live under sin’s rule a moment longer?

To the Christians in Rome from Paul, AD 57 (Romans 6:2, The Passion Translation (TPT)

But when the Spirit of Christ empowers your life, you are not dominated by the flesh but by the Spirit…. Now Christ lives his life in you! And even though your body may be dead because of the effects of sin, his life-giving Spirit imparts life to you because you are fully accepted by God. Yes, God raised Jesus to life! And since God’s Spirit of Resurrection lives in you, he will also raise your dying body to life by the same Spirit that breathes life into you!

Romans 8:9-11, TPT

For when you live controlled by the flesh, you are about to die. But if the life of the Spirit puts to death the corrupt ways of the flesh, we then taste his abundant life.

Romans 8:13, TPT

We continually share in the death of Jesus in our own bodies so that the resurrection life of Jesus will be revealed through our humanity.We consider living to mean that we are constantly being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that the life of Jesus will be revealed through our humanity.So, then, death is at work in us but it releases life in you.

To the Christians in Corinth from Paul, AD 54 (II Corinthians 4:10-12, TPT)

For it is Christ’s love that fuels our passion and holds us tightly, because we are convinced that he has given his life for all of us. This means all died with him, so that those who live should no longer live self-absorbed lives but lives that are poured out for him—the one who died for us and now lives again. 

II Corinthians 5:14-15, TPT

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. My old identity has been co-crucified with Christ and no longer lives. And now the essence of this new life is no longer mine, for the Anointed One lives his life through me—we live in union as one! My new life is empowered by the faith of the Son of God who loves me so much that he gave himself for me, dispensing his life into mine!

Paul to the believers in Galatia, AD 48 (Galatians 2:19-20, TPT)

For you were included in the death of Christ and have died with him to the religious system and powers of this world. Don’t retreat back to being bullied by the standards and opinions of religion.

Paul in his letter to the believers in Colossae around AD 60, a few years before his death (Colossians 2:20, TPT)

Live as one who has died to every form of sexual sin and impurity. Live as one who has died to the desires for forbidden things….

Colossians 3:5, TPT

…To truly know him meant letting go of everything from my past… so that I may be enriched in the reality of knowing Jesus Christ…. And I continually long to know the wonders of Jesus and to experience the overflowing power of his resurrection working in me. I will be one with him in his sufferings and become like him in his death. Only then will I be able to experience complete oneness with him in his resurrection from the realm of death…. I run with passion into his abundance so that I may reach the purpose for which Christ Jesus laid hold of me to make me his own. I don’t depend on my own strength to accomplish this; however I do have one compelling focus: I forget all of the past as I fasten my heart to the future instead. I run straight for the divine invitation of reaching the heavenly goal and gaining the victory-prize through the anointing of Jesus. So let all who are fully mature have this same passion, and if anyone is not yet gripped by these desires, God will reveal it to them.

Scripture excerpts above taken from Philippians, chapter 3, The Passion Translation (TPT) – Biblegateway.com

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