Die to live is an eternal truth represented by three crosses on Calvary. They speak of Christ’s identification with us and ours with Him, our daily choice.
For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. (Galatians 2:19)
The Spirit spoke something quietly into my spirit, reminding me that there were three crosses that day on Calvary. Of course, we know Christ hung between two thieves. We also know that His death was the only one imbued with the supernatural grace and mercy of God and the power to overcome Satan. While His death embodies the supernatural power of resurrection life and the awesome truths of salvation, it has another relevance. On the cross, Jesus showed us what it is to die to live.
Three crosses and the first die to live truth.
There is a wealth of poignant truth in the moving image of those three crosses on a lonely hillside. The most obvious is that Christ’s death was a sinner’s death. The first level of symbolism of placing Him between sinners was that in His death, He became a sinner so that He could be our substitution. He had to be ‘cursed’ as we are. A ‘glorified’ death would not suffice. In that moment, He assumed the full sin of the world and its consequences.
Hanging between two sinners places Christ squarely in the company of sinners. It declares without sugar-coating that He was truly the Son of Man in every respect. He demonstrates that death was required – a sinner’s death – before resurrection life could come into play. He had to break the slave-hold of Satan by becoming a ‘slave’ and overturning the slave regime from the inside out. As a sinner, He fulfilled the requirements of the Law which demanded the death penalty. His place between two thieves makes it absolutely inarguable that He fulfilled all these requirements. To die to live is the only way He could be victorious.
The second die to live truth.
This is similar to the first but has a deeper spiritual meaning. It speaks of Christ’s absolute spiritual obedience. In order to make the resurrection possible – and all that it brings – He had to die to live. In other words, He had to set His glorified, Son of God self aside. Jesus did not simply die physically. His true identity as the Son of God had to die so that He could become the Son of Man. His obedience was ‘even unto death’ – both a physical and a spiritual death.
It’s a sobering reality when we really think about it. At any point, Jesus could have summoned legions of angels to defend and protect Him. His intense, all-consuming agony in the Garden of Gethsemane provides a powerful and heart-rending glimpse of the terrible cost of this obedience. It’s not really possible for us to fully grasp what it meant to die to His spiritual, eternal, Lord of all self. Even living as a mortal man must have been a ruthless price. To then still have to die – and as the ‘lowest of the low’ – knowing He could easily choose otherwise, adds a vital and powerful dimension to our understanding of die to live.
The three crosses are our die to live example.
As I listened to the Spirit, I saw a third truth that adds us into the powerful metaphor of the three crosses. At face value, the one thief illustrates those who accept Christ and the other those who reject Him. On a deeper level, it reminds us that we have to choose. If we desire all that Christ stands for, that choice is to die to live. Placing those two crosses at Calvary is a visual reminder that resurrection or eternal life is only possible through death and through the cross. Just as Jesus willingly went to the cross, we have to willingly choose to follow Him. Death, whether spiritual or physical is inevitable. The cross is the place that determines what happens afterward.
Jesus told the repentant thief that He would see Him in paradise. In other words, He gave him the gift of life. That promise didn’t alter the truth that he would die. It didn’t miraculously rescue him. Instead, it provided a life that transcends the limitations and expectations of this world. The other thief died also, but without the eternal life in Christ on the other side of the cross. Like us, both those sinners had their moment of choice. One mocked, and the other repented. One chose to die, and the other chose to die to live. That examples is ever before us, a dramatic visual reminder that it’s a choice we cannot avoid.
The eternity of the cross and die to live.
That repentant sinner on Calvary had his immediate reward – eternity with Jesus. For us, the road is a lot longer. We have to ‘work out our salvation,’ and that road is always and only through the cross. In essence, the image of three crosses on Calvary reminds us that we belong there – not once, but every single day until we reach eternity. Our life, in other words, is to be lived on the cross. This isn’t a defeated life of constant condemnation. It’s a daily affirmation of our choice to die to live, to crucify self and identify with Christ, just as He fully identified with us.
That identification is ‘even unto death.’ For us, that means every day until we die. Like the repentant thief, we have the promise that we will see Jesus in eternity. Until then, that cross has our name on it. We are to remain there until we die. We must see die to live as an eternal, ever-present truth that will never change or go away. It’s a truth that must define every aspect of our lives until we are present in eternity. Each day demands a spiritual death of self until the day we die physically to live eternally and spiritually.
The joy inherent in die to live.
Those three crosses on Calvary provide a source of endless joy and encouragement. When we see them, we see Christ at the very centre. We see the resurrection life promised and His constant presence. Our joy lies in knowing He went before us, has made the way, and empowers us with His resurrection life. Each time we make the choice to live to die, to crucify self, He is there to receive us into His life. This is our joyous reminder that what He did, He did for us. To have the opportunity and the empowerment to die is no hardship when we see the life waiting beyond the cross.
Sweet Jesus, we are humbled by the magnitude and limitless grace of Your love. Help us to keep the image of those three crosses ever before us and to rejoice in the incredible privilege of following You to the cross. Give us willing and repentant hearts. Strengthen our spirits and empower our right choice. Release in us a spirit of obedience and thanksgiving, and teach us to die to live so that we may reflect You in our lives, and honour Your great love and sacrifice.