The first sign of spring in my city is the burgeoning buds of cherry blossoms. Washington, DC is known for the beautiful blossoms that appear throughout the city, snowing their white-pink petals. It’s beautiful. And it’s a reminder that we made it through another winter, warmer days are coming, and life is emerging from dormancy once again.
It’s the same reminder each year in the church calendar. Through Lent and into Holy Week, we remember the preparation and work of Jesus leading up to his sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus took a journey in his life through suffering and into death, with the hope and glory of the resurrection that followed. What makes Friday so good is that it wasn’t the end. Light conquered darkness, life vanquished death, and Jesus made a way for us through his finished work.
Death Is Necessary
These aren’t new truths. They’re the bedrock of Christianity and the center of God’s work in redeeming all things. And yet, knowing the facts of the gospel is not the same as seeing the path to which the gospel calls us. If we follow Jesus, our lives will look like his. We will suffer, we will face death, and the hope we have is that resurrected life is better than avoiding suffering and death. In leading a church, there are some things that have to die within us:
1. Our image of what church planting and pastoring might be
If someone told most church planters what planting was going to actually be like, there’s no way we would sign up for it. When we plant churches, we dream about lost people being saved, Christians connecting in community, and a steady growth in size and depth of faith that goes uninterrupted forevermore. If we follow Jesus, our lives will look like his. We will suffer, we will face death, and the hope we have is that resurrected life is better than avoiding suffering and death. Click To Tweet
There’s no way to prepare your heart for the weighty privilege of stepping into people’s darkest moments in suffering to help carry the weight. There’s a unique pain in losing relationships because people see you as a position more than a person. The longer we cling to our ideals of what pastoring is, the less we will be able to embrace the real path Jesus calls us to walk.
2. Our desire to be the church we were two years ago
We’ve walked through a global pandemic. People aren’t the same. No church is the same as it was before it. As we struggle to return to whatever “normal” might be, people are carrying expectations that life will snap back to pre-pandemic experiences. It’s unrealistic, and those expectations lead to discontent and frustration. Some people are not coming back. Others have become part of the church. It’s a new church and God is still at work, but we have to let go of what it was before.
3. Our expectations of perfection
When we expect anyone or anything to be perfect, we place a weight on it that will crush us in the end. Our expectations of perfect marriages, kids, sermons, churches, and dreams of ministry opportunity and kingdom impact must all be laid at God’s feet. As we join Jesus’s cry in Gethsemane, “Your will be done,” we are freed to enjoy the grace of God in all these areas without expecting them to be our saviors or prove our worth.
Our salvation is secured through union with Christ as we look to him in faith; we’ve already been crucified with him! But the more we’re willing to embrace the downward slope of suffering into death, following the path of Jesus, the more we will be freed to experience hope and resurrected life.
Death Is Not the End
Some reading this can only think about all the other ways we need to die to ourselves and our dreams. If that’s you, you need to hear that Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Yes, we preach and rely on his bloody and sacrificial death on the cross, but the cross is only good because resurrection followed. We can’t experience resurrection without death. We can’t experience true life without resurrection. We can’t experience resurrection without death. We can’t experience true life without resurrection. Click To Tweet
Easter Sunday can be surprisingly discouraging for preachers because we feel the pressure of hitting a home run. It’s all for good reasons. We hope new people and nonbelievers will be there. We desperately want to convey the power, joy, hope, and peace that the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us. This is the key belief of all Christianity, and we want to help people experience the fullness of Christ.
Dear friend, don’t make the mistake this Easter Sunday of preaching the resurrection as the hope and joy of others while living your own life shrouded in the darkness, fear, and silence of Saturday. Sunday morning has come, a new day dawned, and Jesus is making all things new. When he said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” he meant that for you, too.
Many of us are all too aware of our failures and weaknesses but struggle to experience the hope and joy of resurrection life. The reason we put our flesh to death, by the power of God’s Spirit working in us, is so we can be freed to life. As D. A. Carson has said, we aren’t suffering from anything that a good resurrection can’t fix. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. This Easter, let’s put our own expectations to death and experience the joy, freedom, and fullness of resurrected life in Christ.