The Pathway from Death to Life

As we begin to walk the Pathway to the Passion, the Scriptures for today prompted me to recall a poem. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” presents two paths. In Frost’s conception, the roads are nearly equal and the traveler is melancholy about having to choose one. In fact, he entertains hopes of coming back around and traveling the other road one day. This concept of life reveals a common misunderstanding. Pluralism holds that all paths are equally valid and that there are, therefore, many ways to God. This notion is challenged in our readings by Moses, the Psalmist (David or Solomon) and Jesus.

Read Deuteronomy 30:15-20 – Moses Reveals There are Two Ways

As the Children of Israel are preparing to enter the Promised Land, Moses lays out two paths for the people to follow. They can proceed by following the Lord – obeying His commandments, statutes and decrees, loving Him and walking in His ways. Or, they may allow themselves to be led astray, turning their ears away from the voice of God and inclining their hearts instead to the adoration and worship of other gods. In effect, they would be following the influence of the world.

Their choice couldn’t be more clear – either life or death, blessing or curse. Moses pleads with them to choose life. If they obey the Lord, the Promised Land will be a place of long life and God’s abundant blessings. If, however, they choose the way of death – the way that excludes God and bows down to pagan deities, then the Promised Land will be a short-lived prospect and they will surely perish.

As it turned out, Moses would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his failure to obey the Lord. Even Israel’s mighty deliverer would be held accountable for sin. While the Children of Israel did cross the Jordan and inhabited the Land Promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, after centuries of unfaithfulness, Moses’ warning of God’s judgment for disobedience came to pass. In 586 BC, the Babylonians laid waste to Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and dispersed the people.

Moses words ring down through the centuries, “I have set before you life and death.” The choice of between two paths remains valid until this very day!

Read Psalm 1:1-4, 6 – The Psalmist Reveals There are Two Ways

In similar fashion, Psalm 1, lays out two ways, comparing the way of the wicked and the way of the righteous. The Psalmist begins with, “Blessed is the man…” This is covenantal language reminiscent of the Beatitudes. Those who follow God’s covenant stipulations, the Word of the Covenant, will be in a state of  blessedness – meaning within the covenant. Those who do not adhere to God’s covenant expectations can expect His righteous judgment – expressed as curses.

Psalm 1:1 tells us that the blessed man is one who avoids the first path. This wrong way leads one to walk along, following the council or teaching of the wicked – to stand on the path with those committed to the way of sin – and to sit with those who raise their voices against God and His purposes. This progression seems to indicate a growing comfort with evil. Whether walking, standing or sitting, this path leads to destruction, decay and barrenness. No lasting legacy will come from the pursuing of this path. Rather, whatever is produced will be blown away like chaff.  Those who follow this way are not within the covenant community – the congregation of the righteous, but will perish under God’s righteous judgment.

The second path presented in Psalm 1 is for the “blessed one” who takes delight in learning and following the instructions of the Lord. This is the way of fruitfulness, like a tree planted near a river that bears much fruit. On this path, the traveler finds covenant life, purpose and leaves a lasting legacy – his leaf will never fade! In the end, the blessed one’s way is “known.” Again, the language of covenant intimacy.

The contrast could not be more stark. Clearly, the first path is not equal to the second!

Read Luke 9:22-25 – Jesus Calls us to The Way

Jesus doesn’t just tell us about the way, He shows us the Way and He opens up the Way. What’s more, John 14:6 tells us that Jesus is the “only Way.” After predicting that He will be rejected by the religious elite, Jesus prophesies that He will be crucified, that He will die and be raised on the third day. Our Lord doesn’t call us to go where He hasn’t already been. Precisely what path is He calling us to follow? It is the way of the cross. Jesus stipulates that anyone who would come after Him, he or she must deny themselves, take up their cross every day and follow Him.

Again, the two ways are presented. Those who walk the way of the cross, who die to self and lose their lives for Jesus’ sake will be saved. Those who walk the path of selfishness and self-preservation, apart from Jesus, will forfeit their lives.

Allow me to conclude with a summary of our readings. Moses and the Psalmist present two clear paths, as does Jesus. The Apostle Paul also presents two paths, but he puts them in terms of being in Adam or being in Christ. Frankly, all of us have chosen the path of Adam – the way of condemnation and death (Romans 5:12). This is our default position. “For as in Adam all die…” That is who we are in our natural state.

Thanks be to God, there is another path. “…So also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). It is the way of the cross. But, how do we take up our cross? How do we die to self? Romans 6 tells us, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. In order to follow the path of life, we must die to self and be raised to a new life in Christ. It is the picture of baptism. We must be united to Christ and live out our baptisms every day! 

Sadly, left to ourselves, we would all gather on the pathway that is heavily traveled – that path that leads to death. “Broad is the way that leads to destruction.” But, in Christ, we take the “…narrow road that leads to life.” Frost put it this way…

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
On which path are you travelling?