Some years back my wife and I had a conversation about death with our young children (aged between 3 to 6 at the time). I remember that it wasn’t easy to explain to them the fact that everyone dies, and I shared with them that a day is coming when Nanna, Mommy and Daddy will experience death and go to be with God. At that point one of the children sincerely chimed in and declared to us that we should just stay here on the ground! I liked the loving affection in that moment, and I was grateful for that response. Understanding death is difficult for all of us even as adults, let alone little kids, but we all at some point need to face up to death because we can’t stay on the ground forever.
Paul states the unavoidable reality in Romans 5:12:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sin.”
Our father Adam is our federal representative in sin, in that it’s because of his original sin that we also sin, and as a consequence we have to die physically. But it also works backwards in that, because we all sin, we are confirming that we are just like Adam. We can blame Adam but it’s just foolish to think that we would have done any better. Why was it that death spread to all men? The verse says because all sin.
Well, death exists now, and as the author of Hebrews states:
… it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”
It has been appointed that you shall die; and tomorrow is promised to no man. We don’t know the hour that we might be summoned to appear before the judgment seat and face our eternal reality. Just like after a deadly car crash the traffic continues on like nothing happened, so many people in our day just put their head in the sand and choose not to think about death and afterlife.
Francis Chan once (in his faithful Bible preaching days) gave a powerful illustration in a sermon where he brought out a long rope to represent the timeline of our lives in the light of eternity. At one end of the rope in his hand was a coloured red section of rope. This section represented the length of our life. The rest of the rope was white and went across the entire length of the stage and you couldn’t see where it finished, for this length of the rope represented our existence for all eternity. Chan then made the point that many people in human history have a wrong perspective and are just living for this little red section of the rope/life.
Pleasure and comfort consume our life in the here and now. How ridiculous is this? We worry so much about this one little part. But the choices we make affect all eternity. We only get one chance. So many people sacrifice eternity just for the here and now. We forfeit eternity for a little pleasure, a little sin. The smallest part of our existence consumes us, and we fail to see the perspective of eternity. At the end of this short life, we will all stand before God in judgment. And all that will matter is whether or not we followed Jesus.”
Truth be told I often have days where I cling to this life, and I don’t want to die. I struggle with the thought of not being around on earth to help and know my family. I just need to surrender and have comfort in trusting the Lord with the life he has for me. As the hymn writer said, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling”. We do well to understand that we gain life in Jesus when we lose our life in surrender and embrace His plan. When we embrace the story Jesus is writing we live with a ‘nothing to lose and everything to gain’ perspective. Where is the sting of death if you’re already a ‘dead man walking’ for Jesus?
A famous Bonhoeffer line helps us with a correct perspective on life and death; he said, “Christ bids that man should come and die”. This idea of a Christian being someone who dies to self is strong in the words of Jesus in Mark 8:34-38:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Here Jesus is calling us to die, yet all the while He is actually calling us to live! We need to get rid of things like bucket lists, which are attempts to live before we die. It’s only through an eternal understanding of life that we can truly live. Scripture charges us to put to death the earthly nature (Colossians 3:5-11), and to crucify the flesh and walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:24-25). May the spirit give us grace each and every day to die, to die to ourselves and murder the idols of self at the cross of Christ. In the words of John Owen, you need to be killing sin or it will be killing you! So
…consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ”
This is truly dying to live!
“Now because Jesus’ own blood fully paid for all my sins on the cross, I can have comfort in life and death, and I’m freed from all my sins and their wretched consequences. What gratitude I owe to God for such redemption” (paraphrasing parts of Heidelberg Catechism Question 1 & Question 2).
We are truly living to die and dying to live!