The Days of Our Lives, Part 4

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Depending on your spiritual state, your impending demise is either the greatest fear you’ll ever face, or the greatest journey you’ll ever take.  For the Christian, it’s the latter.  For unbelievers, the end of life is a tragic time filled with fear, anxiety, and uncertainty.  But Christians understand there is no tragedy in death, and there is no need to be anxious because there is no uncertainty.  We also understand that this world is temporal; that nothing on the earth, including us, is meant to last forever.  In his novella, The Langoliers, author Stephen King describes how time is winding down for everybody and everything, and how nobody can stop that from happening:

We know what happens to today when it becomes yesterday.  It waits for them.  It waits for them, the timekeepers of eternity.  Always following them behind, cleaning up the mess in the most efficient way possible: by eating it. 

Well, Stephen King is no theologian, but he is right about one thing:  you can’t outrun what he called “the langoliers,” those timekeepers of eternity, that stalk all of us. They are called other names:  Father Time, the Grim Reaper; but Christians call the great enemy of all men Death.  But Death’s days are numbered and he is nothing more than an inconvenience to Christians.  Death has been taken care of:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Corinthians 15:54 – 57 | NIV84)

The Bible gives us some powerful and profound insights into eternity and the blessed hope that sustains believers through all the days of their lives.

We belong to the Lord

Upon the death of his friend Lazarus, Jesus had a conversation with his sister that went like this:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; 26 and those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?”. (John 11:25-26 | GNTCE) 

The story of Lazarus “coming forth” from his tomb is well-known.  It’s so well-known that a lot of people miss the subtle nuances of its details.  “Lazarus,” the name of Jesus’ friend who was so ill he died, means, “one whom God helps,” and it’s a good thing that was his name because he needed a lot help.  When our Lord was notified of his good friend’s looming death, here’s His curious response:

When Jesus heard it, he said, “The final result of this sickness will not be the death of Lazarus; this has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the Son of God will receive glory.” (John 11:4 | GNTCE) 

Lazarus’ death wasn’t about Lazarus, it was about Jesus.  It’s always about Jesus – everything in our lives, or our eventual death, has little enough to do with us but everything to with our Lord.  Paul glommed on to this idea when he wrote to a couple of churches:

Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father.  (Colossians 3:17 | GNTCE) 

Well, whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for God’s glory. (1 Corinthians 10:31 | GNTCE) 

Your life should glorify God, and so should your death.  When Jesus showed up a little late, Lazarus was dead and, as everybody’s knows, “Jesus wept.”  There’s no question as to why Jesus, the Son of God, wept.  Lazarus’ sister Martha came up to Jesus and this happened:

Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died!  (John 11:21 | GNTCE) 

We human beings must seem mighty odd to the Lord.  Martha obviously had faith in Jesus, but her faith was not so much based on Him but on what she thought about Him. She thought He needed to be there personally, and so she was distraught when He didn’t show up in time.  Poor Martha.  If she only knew the truth.  What Martha thought others thought:

But some of them said, “He gave sight to the blind man, didn’t he? Could he not have kept Lazarus from dying?” (John 11:37 | GNTCE) 

These folks weren’t being mean, they were filled with grief.  There’s nothing wrong with grief, but how a Christian grieves speaks volumes about his faith – or his lack of faith.  Jesus was about to not only help Lazarus, but also Martha and Mary; He’s going to teach them something about what faith is all about.  Martha definitely had a dynamic faith, but it wasn’t complete.  He was about to make it complete.  Martha, for her part, believed in a “final resurrection,” as most Jews of her day did.  But Jesus, in His next few comments, points out how close the resurrection really is:  The Resurrection is right beside her; it’s not just a future event, it’s a present reality.  The basis of our Lord’s statement about His being the resurrection and the life is summed up nicely by William Law:

You are to think of yourself as only existing in this world to do God’s will.  To think that you are your own is as absurd as to think you are self-created.  It is an obvious first principle that you belong completely to God.

Jesus’ response to Martha’s grief shouts hope to all grieving over the loss of a loved one:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; and those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  (John 11:25-26 | GNTCE) 

All life is in the hands of Jesus.  He is the giver of life, and for those who believe in Him, even though they appear to die, they don’t really.  To prove the point, Jesus called out Lazarus from his tomb and the man who had been dead for three days, walked out alive, in need of a shower and a good meal.

But this event is incomplete without something Jesus said earlier, at another graveyard, under different circumstances:

“I am telling you the truth: those who hear my words and believe in him who sent me have eternal life. They will not be judged, but have already passed from death to life. I am telling you the truth: the time is coming—the time has already come—when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear it will come to life.  Just as the Father is himself the source of life, in the same way he has made his Son to be the source of life. And he has given the Son the right to judge, because he is the Son of Man.  Do not be surprised at this; the time is coming when all the dead will hear his voice and come out of their graves: those who have done good will rise and live, and those who have done evil will rise and be condemned.”  (John 5:24-29 | GNTCE) 

After reading that, Jesus’ question to Martha needs to be answered honestly:  Do you believe this?  If you do, God will be glorified in your death or the death of your loved one because you will grieve according to what you believe and you will face your death in faith, using the last event of your life as a way to testify to what you believe. Paul tried to explain this “big picture” attitude to the Romans:

We do not live for ourselves only, and we do not die for ourselves only. If we live, it is for the Lord that we live, and if we die, it is for the Lord that we die. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  (Romans 14:7-8 | GNTCE)

It takes faith, and Spurgeon expressed the essence of the issue best when he wrote:

When the time comes for you to die, you need not be afraid, because death cannot separate from from God’s love. 

No fear of death 

The one thing all human beings have in common is the fear of death.  From the first moment a child figures out what death is and to varying degrees the fear of dying dogs that person until it is realized.   Unlike so many fears we have that never materialize, fear of death will – death is absolutely unavoidable.  However, for the Christian there ought to be no fear of death.  Apprehension, perhaps.  Some anxiety, maybe.  But fear?  Never!

Psalm 23 was written by David.  He was uniquely qualified to write a psalm from the shepherd’s perspective.  Over the course of his life, David was a shepherd, a writer, and a king.  

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  (Psalm 23:4 | KJV) 

It wasn’t unusual to view one’s King as a sort of shepherd; many other ancient cultures did.  For example, the god of the Babylonians, Marduk, was viewed as a divine shepherd.  Of this god was written:

You shepherd all living creatures together, you are their herds-man, above and below. 

One ancient Sumerian wisdom text has a couple of sentences that parallel closely Psalm 23:

A man’s personal god is a shepherd who finds pasturage for him. Let him lead him like sheep to the grass they can eat. 

All this proves, of course, is that deep within all people is this universal need to be led, cared for, and protected by someone greater than themselves.  

The KJV’s translation of “the shadow of death,” may or may not be 100% accurate.  David might have meant, “deep shadows,” as in, “the valley of deep shadows.”  Either way, the sense is the same. Through all of life’s moments of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety, the Good Shepherd leads His sheep – His people.  The ultimate period of uncertainty, fear and anxiety surely occurs when one is facing the end of life.  The thing is this, though:  If you’ve trusted the Lord through all the dark valleys of your life, how can you NOT trust Him as you approach death?  You and I view death as the end of life, but a more accurate way to view death is merely a continuation of life – a sort of “getting on with” our promised eternal life.  Hellen Keller’s thoughts on the subject are meaningful:

Death is no more than passing from one room into another.  But there’s a difference for me, you know.  Because in that other room, I shall be able to see. 

Now there’s the right attitude!  No fear for Ms Keller!  She was looking for something better after death than what she had during her life.  And so should we.

And so we come back to what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

O death, where then your victory? Where then your sting? For sin-the sting that causes death-will all be gone; and the law, which reveals our sins, will no longer be our judge.  How we thank God for all of this! It is he who makes us victorious through Jesus Christ our Lord!  (1 Corinthians 15:55 – 57 |TLB) 

When a Christian dies, Death has no victory.  There is no sting in death for the Christian.  The thing that causes people to fear death is the way they lived their lives.  Did they live well enough to avoid punishment?  Some may regret that they didn’t express some kind of faith in God, “just in case,” and now it’s too late.  This is what people think of as they feel the cold breath of the Grim Reaper on the back of their necks.  But the Christian never needs to worry about that because Jesus Christ, through His work on the Cross and His resurrection, has done away the worry about your life.  If you’ve confessed Jesus Christ as Savior, then you may experience the same kind of victory over death Jesus did.  It didn’t hold Him in the ground.  Jesus experienced the death you should have so would never have to.  You get to avoid all that He experienced in dying because He experienced it for you.  

Now, granted, it takes faith to believe that.  But isn’t that what Christianity is all about?  Except for Christians who are alive at the Second Coming, everyone will face death.  You can’t avoid it.  If you aren’t sure about the state of your soul, why take the chance?  Trust in Jesus – make Him Lord of your life and the Savior of your soul.

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