I know, it’s not Easter for a few weeks, but I just had to say it. He is Risen. I had to remind myself of this today. In God’s providence, I’ve been having many conversations about death recently. No one “looks” for conversations about death. There are many other topics that everyone would much rather think upon. But, some days, it becomes an inescapable reality for various reasons. We all know that saying, “There are two things people can’t avoid: death, and taxes” but how often do we really think about what that means? Death is unavoidable. Just saying it makes people uncomfortable. There are so many things we can avoid in life. We can avoid getting a job, we can put off marriage, we can participate in many activities or choose to not participate in activities, and all of this gives us some sense that we are “in control”. But in death, there really is no control. That is a scary thought.
Just yesterday, I was out with a good friend, and we were having this conversation. We were talking about the recent deaths of several people we know, and reflecting on how unexpected they were. At the same time, it was sobering to face the fact that although the time and place were unknown to anyone except God, there was really nothing unexpected about their deaths at all. Part of the deception is that we all would like to believe in some way that death is just a normal part of life that we have to accept. In North America, with all our obsessions surrounding health and prolonging life by eating well, exercising, and prolonging our youth (whether it be through plastic surgery or just some form of procrastination from taking on certain responsibilities associated with adulthood), it has become too easy to trick ourselves into believing that death is not at hand. We rarely face even having to look at a dead body, since most of the time, attending a funeral means looking at a casket. It’s almost as if, by not thinking about it, and not seeing it around us, we pretend that it doesn’t exist.
I assume that most people, when asked how they’d want to die if they had the choice, would choose something “peaceful” like passing away quietly in the night, in a home surrounded by family and friends, at an old age. But what has ever given anyone a reason to not only believe that death is either “normal” or controllable? You don’t have to look far to see examples all around of how untrue this idea of death is. Its victims don’t have an age nor do they fit into a type or category. This is a certain reality: we will all die, and we don’t know when. In light of that, here are my questions: is there any hope in the face of death, and, are you ready to face it?
As I was talking with my friend about these questions, she asked me “Are you scared of dying?”, and although I knew my answer right away, it made me think even more about why it is that I can say with real confidence and real hope, “No, I’m not scared of dying.” Don’t get me wrong, if I have to think about the ways that I might die, there is definitely fear. I don’t think about this often, but I’m no different than anyone, I do not anticipate death with excitement in the sense that I think it will be pain free, or easy on me or anyone that I love. That is not what death does. It will one day destroy my body, and in some ways, I do fear that experience. My response, that I am not afraid to die, comes as a result of this truth: He is risen. You may have heard many things about who Jesus is and what His life was about, but do you realize, that the whole concept of the good news or the Gospel, is that Christ came to defeat death? When He died on the cross, His body was laid in the ground, but three days later, he was actually, physically, raised from the dead. During his life, he raised people from the dead. Lazarus, his good friend had been dead for several days, and when he came to him and called him saying “Lazarus, come forth!”, Lazarus rose up and came back to life! Does that blow your mind or what? Do we even stop and think about what that must have been like for people around watching, especially those closest to him? I mean, I can only picture how utterly stunned and shocked bystanders would have been. Lazarus’ sisters must have been speechless for days. Their brother, whom they had just buried, was now back with them, eating and talking. And he wasn’t the only one. Why do you think Jesus performed that miracle? I can think of one reason, although there are probably many. He was showing people that he had authority over life and death, and when he speaks and calls someone to come forth from the grave, they will live. There is nothing, not even the greatest enemy we as human beings have ever known, that can defeat him. That is hope.
You may not take the Bible as true or believe it to be what it claims to be as the authoritative word of God, but in it, there is the explanation as to why it is that death entered the world in the first place. Death is not an evolutionary process. It’s not “nature’s way” of eliminating the weakest. It is a curse and it is the result of sin that came into the world from the very beginning. All that God created, was never meant to die, and yet, because of the sin of man, we all live under the sentence that Bible says is the penalty for our sin. Anyone who understands the simple concept of justice, getting what one deserves as a result of an offence, can understand that when God said that anyone who sins must surely die, he was speaking about the reality that all sin, everywhere is an offence to the Creator, the one who made each and every person to live in perfect union with him. Since the beginning, death has never been normal or something that people should learn to accept. No, it needs to be remembered as being our greatest enemy. When we forget that, and are consumed by a thousand other cares or distractions, we are in danger of being totally unaware of the serious state of our souls. It is not something that any person, in themselves, can overcome or defeat. Tell me, do you know anyone who has truly cheated death? No. Except Jesus. He didn’t cheat it, he destroyed it.
And that is the real hope. It made me angry and sad to stop and think about what sin really does to each and every one of us. It blinds us from these realities and causes to live in various forms of unbelief about who God is and what it is that he has done in sending Jesus to the world. Many people are familiar with the verse, John 3:16, but don’t know what comes right after that. It says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” Read that slowly. God, loved us. He gave us his Son, by sending him to die for us in our place on the cross. By Jesus taking our place on the cross and receiving the punishment that we deserve, we don’t have to die a spiritual death. He did not send Jesus to destroy people, he sent him to give them life and to save them! From the beginning, God has been on a rescue mission, to bring lost souls back to himself.
I can’t not say these things right now, because for a moment I’ve been reminded again of the dark shadow that covers over all of us. Although Easter is a few weeks away, this truth should make us sing for joy each and every day of the year. Those who know Jesus have this real hope, that they will not taste death and they will not be destroyed, because Jesus already took on that death for us. I am so thankful for this. If only we would reflect more on our hope, every day, so that we go out into the world with a sober-mindedness about what we really have been saved from and how pressing it is that we share this hope with everyone else. And for anyone who doesn’t know him, I pray that being reminded about the reality of death, would cause you to reflect on the life you have now. There is only one person in all of history who has defeated death, and by trusting in him, and turning away from sin to follow him, life is yours to live. No longer do you have to live in fear, he came to overcome that.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4