“The Father loves me because I give my life in order to take it back again. No one takes my life from me. I give my life of my own free will. I have the authority to give my life, and I have the authority to take my life back again. This is what my Father ordered me to do.” John 10:17-18
Jesus shares these words in context of being the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the flock. He speaks prophetically of the time He will give up His life at the cross and take it back as He resurrects from the grave.
What is most striking is Jesus comment, “No one takes my life from me. I give my life of my own free will.” Although Jesus was taken away like a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7), He knew this was the method God the Father had chosen in order to work out His plan of redemption for humankind. Jesus follows through to the cross, not as a vicitim, but as one who clearly knows God’s plan, and willingly submits His life to fullfill the Father’s purpose.
The lesson for the disciple of Jesus to learn here is that in all things, we have the choice to obey or disobey. In choosing to disobey, we must be prepared for the negative consequences and the correction that will follow. When we choose to obey, we must do so prepared for the possibility of suffering for righteousness.
When we know that obedience will result in suffering, it is easy to opt out or procrastinate in following through with what God is calling us to do. We may even try to dodge our conscience by saying, “God knows I’m not martyr material so I’m going to back out of this. He knows my heart.” Some overtly choose to disobey out of plain fear and carry the burden of shame and fall into the sleep of spiritual complacency afterwards. Others obey with the noble intention of honoring God but end up complaining and growing bitter as the harsh reality of suffering and persecution tests their faith. The problem with all these very human responses is the inward focus of victimization rather than the heavenward gaze of appointed victory.
When a person suffers unjustly, it is easy for them to focus on the offence against their personal right and the pain it causes rather than see it as a casualty of war. It is easy for those of us who take on the mentality of a victim to lay ourselves down in the valley of defeat and self-pity and forget that we are in the middle of a spiritual battle against evil. Every time we pick up the Sword of the Spirit of Truth, we enter a battleground. War is not for victims but warriors who are armoured in full Gospel gear. And those who persevere in battle through the pain, will see the day of victory. That is a right that God sanctioned through Christ’s resurrection.
The secret behind Jesus’ bold obedience unto death is that He didn’t see Himself as a victim. He saw way beyond the cross. He says, “I have the authority (right) to take my life back.” Jesus’ fearlessness was fueled by knowing His authority (right) to resurrect. He knew that He would only suffer for a season, but in due time, He’d get His life back and by having gone through the exercise of His obedience, God’s purpose would be fulfilled. The fruit that Jesus produced by His obedience was salvation for Adam’s seed.
As human beings, we are created with the capacity to choose between right and wrong. As true worshipers of Christ, there is only one path to follow; there are no shades of right and wrong except obedience even to the point of death. And we don’t obey grudgingly, calculating our gains and losses in our trials for the Kingdom of God. We have the authority, the right to lay down our lives not as slaves of fear but as a free people who know the Father’s business and are willing to contribute to the success of His plans by doing our part at the price required at the cross. We joyfully obey under every circumstance because we have the authority to take back our lives, not as it once was before our death, but in its glorified, resurrected character.
Worship is simple when we strip everything to only two guaranteed rights. The right to die and the right to be resurrected. As St. Paul says, if we are not a people who believe in the resurrection, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Perhaps the grumbling, self-pitying disciple suffers from a bad case of food poisoning caused by a half-cooked Gospel that only preaches the cross and withholds the treasures of the resurrection. In God’s Kingdom, there is no resurrection without death and no death that isn’t followed by resurrection. This is our inherited right in Christ.
We do not have to wait to be raptured to taste the benefit of the empty tomb in this life time. The very power that was exerted to raise Christ from the dead, is the same power that gives us victory in every battle to help us usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.