Living with death in view…
Please note this is an abridged version of a 30 minute talk!
The Psalmist writes, ‘Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom’ (90:12). Confronting our mortality is a spiritual discipline that underpins all other spiritual disciplines. How many of our struggles are rooted here, for if we don’t think right about our death, can we think right about our life?
So much of our fear around our own death is fear of the unknown. But death is not out of control, and it cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom.8:39). We see in the ministry of Jesus that death relinquishes its hold at the mere word of His command. But beyond that, He controls death and appoints the time we live and die (Job 14:5). Death cannot take us at a time, or in a manner other than the Lord wills. We can face our experience of death confident that it comes to us – like all of life – from the wise and good hand of our God. But as well as facing the reality of our own death, we need to face the reality of our life after death.
We make huge effort to prepare for a handful of years before death. We accept sacrifice in earlier years of life, so that we can enjoy our retirement. But what about a handful of years after death… or a hundred, or a thousand years after death. Am I as well prepared for the years after the end of life as I am for the years before?
We are after all, ‘aliens and strangers on earth’ (Heb.11:13). Our whole mentality should be one of passing through, travelling as light as possible in this age and investing as heavily as possible in the age to come. Jesus speaks of this so often, reminding us that ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’. Some of this at least is about our actual money (see Matt.19:21)! But it is more than mere money. It is about our whole life being oriented towards, and our investing in the age to come. The greater our investment in that age, the greater the pull on our heart, and our longing to arrive there.
Death – stripped of its curse in the death of Christ – ushers us into that age, and into the enjoyment of all that we have invested there. As we will see next week, there is a ‘mid-step’ to the New Creation, but death remains a necessary part of the journey. A few thoughts about what awaits us might help us see the extent to which we are investing in the age to come.
The Church will be perfected. We so deeply value the Church and long for her integrity, and for the growth of her members. So much of our time, energy and money goes into supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ, both locally and throughout the nations of the world where so often their experience is of persecution. So much of ourselves is invested in the Church that we love the prospect of seeing her reach her potential and goal. Because it matters to me that others make progress in their being conformed to the image of Jesus, the prospect of the ‘righteous made perfect’ (Heb.12:23) fills us with joy.
We will understand what God did and why. We will be able to ‘look back’ and see God’s hand at work throughout the circumstances of my life, tracing why He did what He did. How often do we ask, ‘Where is God in this?’; ‘Why is God allowing this to happen?’; ‘Why aren’t my prayers being answered?’. These questions lie just below the surface for many of us. They will be answered when we are with Christ.
We will be with Christ. We are so frustrated by living a contradiction. We long to know Christ so deeply, and yet He feels so distant, and so much of our life seems to fall so short of what we long for as disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. To know that I will be finally free of the sin that so critically undermines all I long to be… to know that I will finally be with my Lord. As one old preacher reflected on his own deathbed: ‘Should we fear to go to Love Himself?’
As we invest in such things now, our heart is weaned off this passing age, and gravitates to the everlasting age to come. The deep question is whether the prospect of these things will help mitigate our fear of dying and allay our anxieties as we face our last great enemy? Only to the extent that they shape my priorities here and now. If Christ doesn’t consume our interest now, then the prospect of our relationship with Him being realised has no particular appeal. If our eyes are fixed on this world, and all we dream about and aspire to is rooted here, then death will be loss, separating us from all we have lived for. Only if I live for Christ will death be gain, separating me from all that hinders what I live for; and the prospect of meeting Him will cause my spirit to rise in anticipation, and help me to face, if not desire, death as a means to that end…
What do you think the Apostle John means when he talks about the second death (Rev.2:11; 20:6; 20:14)?
What does Paul mean in Ephesians 2:1 when he talks of those who are ‘dead in their transgressions and sins’?
What does ‘death’ mean in the Bible in its fullest sense? How is this different from the way the word ‘death’ is used in the way we usually use the term?
What then do you think would be ‘life …to the full’ (John 10:10)?
Reflecting on Session 3:
How can we cultivate a sense of being ‘aliens and strangers’ in this age? …and of the sense of being a ‘mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes’ (Jas.4:14).
How can we invest more heavily in the age to come (‘store up treasure in heaven’) so that we look forward to that age more than we do?
How can we cultivate a deeper love for the Church? …and a deeper concern for each other’s spiritual growth and development? Are there changes that we could make in our HomeGroups / the way we do Church that would help us promote this agenda?
Baxter highlighted four things that stimulated his desire for heaven, and so enabled him to face death differently (Presence of Christ; seeing the Church triumphant; understanding the Lord’s providence; anticipating his own experience of being fully conformed to the will of God). Can you think of any others? What are you looking forward to so much about heaven and the New Creation that it eclipses your fear of death?
What would you say to someone who thought of themselves as a Christian, but who said there was nothing they were particularly looking forward to about heaven or the New Creation? Would you see this as a problem? What could the problem be?
Further Reading (John 11:1-44):
(we’ll be coming back to this passage each week throughout the course)
In v.22, do you think that Martha already suspects that Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead?
v.24: what is the difference between Lazarus’ experience of rising again on the last day, and his experience of what Jesus does in vv.43-44?
In v.25 Jesus acknowledges that his disciples will die, and in v.26 He says they will never die. How can Jesus say such contradictory things in the same sentence?
How does believing that Jesus is the resurrection and the life (vv.25-27) change the way we view life and death? What difference would you expect to see in someone who started to believe this? How would it affect our view of death?
Write a letter to be read out at your funeral.
You might also be interested in: Gravetalk
It’s not easy to think about your own funeral. Talking about death, dying and funerals raises big questions that we need to face at some point, but it’s hard to talk to family and friends. Come and think about these questions in a café space.
Thursday 14 September, 7.00 – 8.15pm Whitton Parish Hall, Ipswich. Phone: 01473 298510 to book, or visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/gravetalk-ipswich-registration-32346108080