Death Defanged

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Good Friday 2023

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The message of the cross of Christ would have no power or authority whatever apart from the profound vindication of that crucifixion that gloriously occurred three days later. The crucifixion makes no sense apart from that triumph of life over death, but with that vindication, the meaning of the cross itself comes into focus.

Because of this, as we tell the story, we find ourselves always going back to that blackest of moments, the time of the Lord’s anguished cry of dereliction. Paul tells the Corinthians that he had resolved to know nothing among them except Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). He also says that every time we break bread and drink the wine of the new covenant, we are proclaiming His death until He comes again (1 Cor. 11:26). On top of that, the Lord Himself predicted that when He was lifted up on the cross, that all men would be drawn to Him. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). It is that death that exhibits that fascinating power. It is His death that has the authority to draw men to Himself.

So we do not talk about the cross all the time as though the resurrection never happened. Rather, we talk about the cross all the time because the resurrection has enabled us to talk about the cross all the time.

We do this in part because what the resurrection means for us is walking in newness of life (Rom. 6:4)—but without a stark reckoning at the cross, we will have a tendency to think that we are walking in newness of life when we have simply rearranged some of our old furniture. The cross is where deep repentance happens. The cross is where repentance goes down to the bone. The cross is what deals with the sin that was dealing with us.

And at the very center of this efficacious and powerful work, we find that the cross is God’s appointed instrument for the crucifixion of all envy. This is a truly pervasive sin, and throughout all human history, throughout our lives, but we often don’t recognize it in ourselves because it does most of its pernicious work out of our lizard brain.    

“A stone is heavy, and the sand weighty; But a fool’s wrath is heavier than them both. Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; But who is able to stand before envy?”

Proverbs 27:3–4 (KJV)

Envy is a formidable sin, and the only thing that is powerful enough to dispatch it is the death of Christ on the cross. Because envy took Christ to the place where he died, Christ is the one who put envy itself to death.

Christ was sent to the cross because of envy, as Pilate plainly recognized.

“Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.”

Matthew 27:17–18 (KJV)

This envy meant that they wanted His power, His gifts, His authority, His charisma, and they couldn’t have any of it. He taught with authority, and not like the scribes, and this meant that the scribes were left alone in their own clouds of dust, teaching like scribes. And because envy is deadlier than covetousness, wanting not only to have what the other has, but also wanting to destroy the other’s enjoyment of it, the Lord clearly had to die. Because they couldn’t be like Jesus, it was necessary to kill Jesus.

But what they did not know is that God had placed a hidden trap for them in this. They did not know that the sin that drove them to strive for His crucifixion was the very same sin that was doomed by His crucifixion. If the rulers of this age . . .

Here is what the apostle Paul says about it:

“Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

1 Corinthians 2:6–8 (KJV)

All their kingdoms, all their power, all their machinations, all their plots, all their strategies, all their conspiracies, depend upon envy. They run on envy. It is their natural fuel. And in the cross of Christ we see this sin of envy defanged and rendered helpless.

But how? How does this work? Envy only works because the self is constantly alive to self. Envy draws its motive power from the utter centrality of “me” in every human heart. And what invitation is given to us in the cross of Christ?

We are all invited to come and die.

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?”

Romans 6:3 (KJV)

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 2:20 (KJV)

When Christ came out of the tomb on that glorious Resurrection Day, He walked out into a graveyard. When Mary Magdalene embraced Him, she did so in a graveyard. This is a metaphor for the whole world. Christ, the Incarnation of Life itself, walked into the world of the dead (Eph. 2:1-2). From that moment on, a message of new life in a creation has been preached in the great boneyard of our broken and sorry planet.

And this means that everyone you know falls into one of two categories. They are either dead, or they are among those who have died. And what happens the dead die? What happens to them could only happen through the cross of Christ. When the dead die, when the envy dies, the dead rise to life again, and follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Those footsteps are what we must walk in as we take up our cross daily in order to follow Christ. And because it is the path where the ego dies, it is the way of life.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.