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Death is a topic of conversation that most people don’t like to engage in. It’s not considered “polite”. But for those who love God and follow Jesus, death is the final hurdle that must be cleared before heading home to God. (more…)
To the world (non-believers), death is defeat. It means “game over”, battle lost, start crying. Non-believers use every means at their disposal to prolong their life, as their goal is to delay death and live as long as they can.
In contrast, to believers, death is when real life begins. It’s what we’re living for, so the less time we spend on Earth, the better.
The night before he died, Jesus told his disciples that if they loved him, they’d be happy for him because he was going home. His disciples were crying, but he told them they should instead be happy. He said that where he was going was infinitely better than where he was, and that if they really understood that, they’d be celebrating with him, not crying and trying to hold him back.
We’re trapped in our mortal bodies, and death is the only way out. It’s important that we see our body as something separate from who we really are. Paul called the body a vessel of the spirit, and so it is. We should look after our body (just as we would any vessel that we use daily), but we shouldn’t obsess over it. Our body is just a container. It’s what our body contains that we should be obsessing over.
A few days ago, I caught the tail-end of a film discussion. A woman was describing how the director had been forced by popular consent to change the film’s ending from the main character dying to the main character “riding off into the sunset”. She referred to the “riding off into the sunset” ending as a happy ending. Listening to the woman, I recalled how I viewed death when I was an atheist. I saw it as inescapable and inevitable, but I didn’t want to think about and I certainly didn’t want to talk about it. If someone got sick and died – well, that person “lost the battle”. Death was ugly and sad; the thought of it was like a funeral dirge overlaying the Happy Birthday song of life.
The dead relatives and friends I went to see at funeral homes looked odd to me. It was them, and it wasn’t them. I couldn’t quite place what made them look different (skin tone? prone position? set of the mouth?). The “life”, as they say, was gone out of them, but what was that life? As an atheist, I had no answer for that.
Now, as a believer, I have an answer. I know what the “life” is that leaves the body at death. And I see death as something to look forward to as long as I stay in God’s grace.
I’m not afraid of death and it doesn’t make me sad to think or talk about it. On the contrary, I’m looking forward to death the way an expectant mother looks forward to giving birth for the first time – slightly nervous about the pain that might accompany the event, but joyously excited about what comes afterwards.
What I dislike about death now is how it is misrepresented in mainstream so-called Christian religion. I hate the lies that are spouted at funerals (which I no longer attend). I hate the presumption that all Christians go to Heaven. It’s a flat-out lie. Jesus dealt with the same presumption with the Jews of his day, and he also hated that lie. The Jews hated him for telling them that their presumption was a lie. Instead of listening and accepting truth, they hated him. This same skewed mindset about death and Heaven pervades mainstream Christianity today.
Death is a happy ending for those who die in God’s grace. It’s their reward or “payment for services rendered”. We need to revise our view of death to see it not as a failure or ‘sad ending’, but as Jesus saw it. Heaven is everything we’ve ever wanted. It’s a place of no tears, no pain, no unhappiness, no dissatisfaction, no ugliness, no homelessness, no rot, no decay, no hunger and no sickness. If we make it to Heaven, we’ll be ‘perfected’ in every way. This is not something to cry over or be afraid of. We’d be crazy to cry over that. Our earthly bodies are but a pale shadow of what our glorious Heavenly bodies will be. It’s like our souls are now wrapped in a filthy rag (our Earthly bodies), but some day, if we stay close to God, our soul be wrapped in the finest of materials (our Heavenly bodies).
Despite how much we have to look forward to in Heaven, we are never to hasten our own death. Suicide (even doctor-assisted) is self-murder, and murder is contrary to the commandments. Those who knowingly and willingly violate the commandments and remain unrepentant will not be rewarded by a place in Heaven. God has written his laws in our hearts, so there is no excuse for doing what we know in our heart-of-hearts is wrong.
The best course is to live out your life to its natural conclusion and go willingly when your time has come. I have no doubt whatsoever that people know when their time has come. God tells them, one way or another, and then gives them time to repent. He also gives them strength to endure, if they align their wills with his. Even those who don’t have eyes to see or ears to hear will know when their time has come. God loves us all equally and doesn’t want any of us to go to Hell. But to Hell we’ll go, if, even on our death bed, we choose man’s laws over God’s.
Jesus infuriated the Jews of his day when he told them outright that they would likely go to Hell and that the people they looked down on (tax collectors, prostitutes, beggars, etc.) would likely go to Heaven. The religious Jews saw their Jewishness as a ticket to Heaven, but nothing could be further from the truth. The religious ‘Christians’ of today have the same arrogance and false expectations. And if you point that out to them, you’ll get the same response as Jesus got.
Sometimes, as Jesus showed us, it’s better to say nothing.
The world sees death as a medical failure and something to fear. Don’t be fooled by that lie. But also don’t be fooled by the lie that Heaven is a sure bet for believers. Rather, see death as Jesus saw it – a great reward and homecoming for those who freely do God’s will. There is no happier ending than what awaits those very, very, very few who die in God’s grace and in God’s time.
Aim for Heaven. Don’t proudly expect it – aim for it.
“If you loved me, you’d be happy for me, for I go to the Father.” Jesus said this to his followers during the Passover meal he shared with them the night before he was murdered. Some of his followers were crying. All of them were sad.
But imagine, if instead of being sad, they did what Jesus suggested and were happy for him? Imagine if, instead of standing at a distance and weeping for him, they cheered him on the way a marathon runner is cheered on in the final agonizing stretch of the race? Imagine how those cheers would have encouraged Jesus to “hang in there!” and “keep going!”
Imagine what the crowd would have thought if Jesus’ followers started shouting “Hang in there, Jesus! We know you can do it! Keep going! We’re praying for you! We love you! You’re almost there! You’re almost home! You’re Number 1! GO, JESUS!!!” Imagine what the crowd would have thought if Jesus’ followers had shown up at the crucifixion wearing paper crowns and holding up the first-century version of the foam finger while chanting Jesus’ name over and over and over again.
“JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS!”
Their cheers might even have drowned out the jeers of the unbelievers. Imagine the good this rambunctious support would have done Jesus in his dying moments. Anyone who’s been on the receiving end of crowd cheers knows how invigorating those cheers can be. There’s a reason why the proverbial “hometown advantage” is proverbial.
“JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS!”
Yes, his supporters might have been arrested for “outing” themselves, but let’s imagine for a moment that they wouldn’t have been. Let’s imagine that, instead of weeping and praying silently, they clapped and cheered and hooted and hollered and shouted their love and encouragement to Jesus as his mission on Earth reached its glorious climax and the Sin of Ages was wiped away.
“JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS! JEEE-SUS!”
Imagine how much easier it might have been for Jesus if he’d heard cries of love instead of howls of hate. Imagine how different his death scene might have been.
It’s too late now to do this for Jesus, but we can do it for each other.
Imagine people cheering us on as we die. Because this is what they should be doing, encouraging us to “hold fast” not to life on Earth but to our commitment to God as we approach our final test. As born-agains, we should be happy when it’s our time to die, because, as Jesus told us, we’re going home. It’s what we’ve prayed and prepared for all our born-again lives.
Imagine how joyous our deathbed scene would be if Jesus’ words were adhered to. Imagine tears and whispered condolences being replaced with shouts of “Good for you! You’re almost there!” and “I’m SO jealous!” Imagine people surrounding us with boisterous encouragement, chanting our name as we round the final bend and come in view of our earthly finish line. This is the kind of jubilant death scene we should be having as born-agains, not tears and regrets and tubing and machines and pleas from relatives to ‘hang on’ to this life as long as we can.
Heaven is so far above and beyond anything that Earth can offer, it only makes sense to be happy for whoever’s going there.
At our funeral, it should be our death that is celebrated, not our life. And instead of a cross with “R.I.P.”, our tombstone should be a big stone foam finger emblazoned with “JEEE-SUS!” and “THANK GOD I’M OUTTA HERE!”
“If you loved me, you’d be happy for me.” Remember this when it’s your time to go home.
There was a news story the other day about a TV reporter who dropped dead from a brain aneurysm a few minutes after giving a news report. Yesterday, we heard about yet another plane that dropped from the sky in mysterious circumstances, leaving no survivors. We hear about these deaths, maybe say a prayer for those who are mourning their dead, and then we move on with our lives. We didn’t know the reporter. We didn’t know anyone on that flight. These are other people’s problems.
Jesus says no-one knows the time of the end, not even the angels in heaven. He gives us a general run-down of ‘signs’ we should watch for, but they’re so vague they could apply to any age in history. At the same time, he tells us always to be ready not only for the world’s end, but for our own: Both of these, guaranteed, will come without warning.
I don’t know about you, but this stuff makes me stop dead in my tracks and panic a bit. I think: What if my end came now? Would I be ready? Was the reporter ready? Were all the people on that plane ready?
Jesus calls death the ‘thief in the night’ who enters your house while you’re sleeping. Sleeping means unaware and vulnerable. Sleeping means darkness. Sleeping means defenceless. Sleeping means looking like you’re dead.
The sleep described here is a spiritual sleep, not a physical one, and the thief a spiritual thief, not a common one. When we let ourselves be lulled by the world into thinking we have all the time in the world to get things right, we’re spiritually dozing and setting ourselves up to be robbed of everything God’s planned for us. We’re in danger of losing heaven.
When the urgency of “doing the Father’s work” is replaced with “eating and drinking with the drunken” and “beating fellow-servants”, we’re in trouble. Jesus spells out precisely what will happen to us if we lose that sense of urgency, and he does so using terms that leave no room for misinterpretation.
God loves us, but he also means business. Every day, all around us, we see and hear about people who experience their own personalized version of the end of the world. Some of these people we even knew well enough to be emotionally affected by their death. When their end came, were they ready?
God lets us hear about other people’s deaths so that we will imagine ours. Everyone in the Bible has gone through what is waiting for us. Half of my family has already gone through what is waiting for us. Death won’t always happen to other people. One day, when we least expect it, the thief will come for us.
Knowing this, we have no excuse if we’re not ready. We can’t claim ignorance.
We all need to seriously think about the reporter with the brain aneurysm and the people on that plane. Their stories are graphic reminders of Jesus’ warning always to be ready because we don’t know – we won’t know – the time of our end. If you were that reporter, if you were on that plane, would you have been ready a few days ago?
Are you ready now?
But, thank God, Jesus not only told us that we should be ready, he showed us how. We need to be sober. We need to watch. We need to have lots of oil in our lamps. We need to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. And, most importantly, we need to treat other people as kindly and mercifully and respectfully as we ourselves want to be treated, and to make the best use of everything God’s given us.
If this doesn’t describe you and your life, you’re not ready.
Today may be your last day to get it right.
Do it now.