Discipleship, Death, and Resurrection

“This is the end—for me, the beginning of life” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, February 4, 1906-April 9, 1945).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer with several of his students, ca. 1932. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, most of the Christian church celebrates Easter, commemorating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is also the 78th anniversary of the death of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose last words appear above. Just a few weeks before the end of World War II, he was executed in a concentration camp for his involvement in the resistance movement against Adolf Hitler.

The Nazi leaders thought they had silenced him, but instead, Bonhoeffer still speaks. Christians continue to buy his books and read his ideas. His classic devotional, The Cost of Discipleship, continues to challenge Christians to a radical devotion to Jesus Christ. (I listed this book as one that every Christian should read in a previous article.) Published in 1937, it contains the famous (and eerily prophetic, in his own life) proclamation:

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther’s who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at His call.”

Christ’s mission on Earth centered around the cross. He came to die for our sins. To experience life with Him, He called His followers to join Him on the journey.

Photo from PxHere.

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.For what good will it do a person if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul? Or what will a person give in exchange for his soul?’” (Matthew 16:24-26, New American Standard Bible).

Jesus literally took up His cross and gave His life. Most of the apostles similarly took up the cross. Ten of the original 12 apostles died as martyrs. Bonhoeffer took up his cross by surrendering a successful career and ministry. At one point, he resigned from a professorship in New York to return to Nazi Germany; he believed his ministry was more necessary in his native country and was willing to surrender prestige and safety to do God’s will. Bonhoeffer realized this life was not the sum of his existence. As he put it in his final words, his real life—an eternity in heaven with Christ—was just beginning when his earthly life ended.

On Easter, we remember that Jesus died for our sins but rose again and, in so doing, prepared the way for our eternal life. Let us live in the power of that resurrection as we fix our eyes on eternity.

Resurrection Of Jesus Empty Tomb drawing. Image via pixy.org. Published under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20, New American Standard Bible).

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen” (Book of Common Prayer).

What does “taking up your cross” mean to you? How have you experienced this in your life? Share your thoughts below.

Copyright © 2023 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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