Monday, October 1, 2012

Death Has Lost Its Sting

It was the summer leading up to my junior year of college.  It had been a normal day – went to the rec center in the morning, laid out in the sun with friends, and was just getting ready to go check my work schedule for the upcoming week at the restaurant where I waitressed.   It was late in the evening when I received a phone call that rocked me to the core.  It was a friend from high school.  Her voice was usually giddy, happy, and full of energy.  But not this time.  Her tone was serious and she got straight to the point.  “Have you heard yet….about Jon?”

I hadn’t heard.  But from her abnormally calm and quiet voice I knew what had happened.  The plague of deaths that had picked off our group of friends seemingly one-by-one during our high school years had hit again.  But this time it was different.  Jon, better known to us as “Jonny T” was my closest friend for a season of my life in high school, as he was to many others.  Our friendship had grown apart since I went to college, mainly because of the sheer logistics of distance.  But Jon was one of my most favorite friends.  Everybody loved being around him with his witty sarcasm and loyal heart. 

That summer evening my friend had called to tell me that Jon had died.  He’d had a diabetic attack during his sleep….and never woke up.  And so began my journey with the reality of death.  I’d experienced death before with other classmates and older family members.  But this time, it was a little too close for comfort.

Most people would never admit their deep down fear of death.  The fear of not knowing when we will die or how.  The fear of the unknown of what you will experience in those moments of death, and what about after?  The vulnerability and loss of control that surrounds death is easier to push away or cover up then to have to deal with the thoughts and search out answers.  Because we’re scared of what the answers might be.  It is my experience that some plan out their grave stone, plot of land where they’ll be buried, and their funeral more than they make plans for the most important part - where they will spend eternity once they’ve left their body behind.

And might I interject, with it being October and all, that in this mix somewhere is where I believe Halloween comes in.  No, I don’t know the history of the holiday – how it all started and why.  But it is my opinion that Halloween is an attempt by our American society/culture to make light of death.  To give a little humor, a little light-heartedness, to a subject that if we were honest with ourselves really, really scares us – to death. 

When I received that phone call that summer I was not yet a Christian. I went to Jon’s funeral devastated and I mourned deeply with his family who had just a few years earlier experienced the suicide of Jon’s older brother.  I left Jon’s funeral angry at the pastor who shared truth, but truth that my hardened heart wasn’t ready to hear yet.  Truth that I passed off as unfair judgment.  Most of all I came away with a devastatingly uneasy feeling that life is short and uncertain.  Yes, I believed there was a God.  Yes, I told myself that Jon was in a happier place.  But saying that didn’t give me any peace.  On the outside I acted like it did.  When I looked into the eyes of Jon’s grieving parents I felt like it was the proper thing to say.   But I was really saying it because it made me feel better, and I wanted them to feel better too.  The truth was, I really didn’t know. 

Today I want to tell you that you can really know.  You can know what will happen to you after you die.  The fear and unknown that surrounds death can be replaced with hope, confidence, and yes – even excitement and a longing for it.  Yes, I really said that.  Let’s start here…

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son (Jesus) also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. Hebrews 2:14-15 (NLT)

and

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NLT)

Now, perhaps if this is the first time you’ve ever read those verses then you might not fully be able to wrap your mind around what it is saying.  But I bet you caught these phrases that I also bolded in the verses: SET FREE (from) THE FEAR OF DYING and VICTORY OVER DEATH.

Death can lose its sting, IF you are trusting in the Only One who has power over it.  We humans can do a lot of things.  But one thing we can’t do is resurrect ourselves.  Jesus promises us a resurrection.  This is His work, and it will come. 

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” John 11:25-26 (NLT)

You could take out Martha’s name and insert yours.  This is a question you need to ask yourself, if you are ready to look into death.  In this verse Jesus is giving us His word that this life is not the end.  Elsewhere in the Bible He reminds us not to get too attached to this world – to the things of it, the people of it, the good or the bad of it.  Rather, we should rejoice that this world is not our home.  We’re aliens here.  Passing through.  A vapor of a life that when ‘gone’ will step into eternity. 

That’s part 1 of what I’ve learned about death.  Jesus says, yes - INDEED there is another life after this one.  Now, part 2….

The Bible also warns that this stepping into eternity is not an event we want to face without Jesus speaking on our behalf.  Because…

…each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment… Hebrews 9:27 (NLT)

Clearly, the Bible says once we die, we are going to be judged.  But who is doing the judging? 

For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written: “As surely as I live,” says the Lord, “every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.”  So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.  Romans 14:10-12 (NIV)

Well, that pretty much answers it.  We are going to be judged by God.  And when you are standing in front of an Almighty, Righteous, and Holy God, I can guarantee that you are not going to be applauding yourself.  In fact, every time someone in the Bible was brought into the presence of God, they were shaking in their sandals, and what flooded their minds was not the good they had done in their life, but the wrong and the bad.  That’s what happens when you are in the presence of Holiness….you realize that you are so….not….holy.  When I look back on it now, I know this is what I had feared all along regarding death.  Not necessarily the actual dying.  But the looming of God’s judgment that would come shortly after.

Now, here’s the good news.  Jesus is going to be there at our judgment. 

For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5 (NIV)

And this is the point in which He will speak on our behalf.  But it’s not all streets of gold and pearly gates yet.  Because, this is where Jesus will say that He either knew you, or He didn’t (read Matthew 7:21-23).  And that’s the deciding factor of where you will spend eternity.

Knowing Jesus, and being known by Him implies a relationship.  This will be a judgment of faith – of our acceptance of Jesus as Savior.  This life, RIGHT NOW, is our opportunity to do just that.  We won’t get another chance once we are standing face to face with Him in our death.  We won’t be able to change our minds (repent) then.  This is it.  Now, in this life, is our chance…

The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.  And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.  As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Romans 10:8-11 (NLT)

Might I add that the evidence of this faith is obedience.  So this isn’t just some prayer that you pray to sound religious - to check off your ‘God list’ and then go live how you want.  This is a decision of the heart that will overflow in the way you think and the way you live.  You can say you are a Christian until you are blue in the face.  But Jesus will know whether this faith took root in your heart or not.  In addition, once this does take root in your heart, God sends the Holy Spirit to live inside of your physical body.  This is another ‘evidence’ of faith.  Trust me, I know what it is like to live without the Holy Spirit.  You will know once the Holy Spirit is living inside of you.

The Bible says that we are able to know whether or not we have a relationship with Jesus before we die.  Therefore, as you sit and read this right now you will know.  You will either have peace as you think about death and the judgment that will come after, or you won’t.  Peace comes when you have trusted not in what you have (or haven’t done) in your life, but in what Jesus has done on your behalf.  He lived the perfect, blameless, sinless life that we ourselves could not and can not.  Then He died, taking your sins and my sins upon Himself.  By His death we get to trade in our sins for His righteousness.  We get Jesus' clean record in exchange for our dirty one.  This is what will allow us to stand blameless before the Father God.  Which brings us to confidence.  Confidence comes when you know that when God judges you, He won’t see your sin.  He’ll only see Jesus’ blood covering you in full payment and imparting to you the clean record, the holiness that you need to even step one foot in heaven.  Because nothing sinful can enter.  Excitement comes because YOU ARE GOING TO HEAVEN!  Longing for heaven comes, I believe in many ways.  When you experience pain and sadness in this life.  When you cry out for things in this world to be made right, fair and void of suffering.  When you hope that there is something more than just this life, something better – much better….and you find out that there is.  You can’t wait to get there.  That’s longing.  When the fear of death is replaced with all these things - peace, confidence, excitement, and longing - that’s when you know you’ve been pulled from the grave.  Freed from slavery over the fear of death.   It can be yours, through Jesus.  He died to take all your sins upon Himself so that you could have eternal LIFE.  In this, the offer stands for Him to speak for you to God the Father when your day of judgment comes.  Jesus has got you covered, if you accept His offer now, in this life.

Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf. Hebrews 7:25 (NLT)


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