It was one of the founding fathers of America, Benjamin Franklin, who is reputed to have coined the phrase, "the only things certain in life are death and taxes". Surely these days we hear plenty about taxes, especially as election times draw near. Every person and politician has an opinion about taxes. But people are much less inclined to speak of the other certainty - death. We prefer to block it out of our minds as much as possible, hoping perhaps it will go away and somehow pass us by.
Thankfully, the Bible, the Word of God, does not shrink from
the subject. According to the Scriptures, death is the enemy.
Death is not the natural end of all living beings as deluded
romantic notions would have it, but a great evil, unnatural force
which finally, inevitably, unstoppably defeats all men and women.
In the face of this enemy the Bible says all mankind groans in
the dread of slavish fear. Our own experience, indeed history
itself, graphically confirms the plain affirmations of God's Word.
Death, therefore, is the last great enemy for each of us.
Why is death inevitable? Because it is normal, a part
of life itself as some would have us believe? No, indeed. Death
is inevitable because it is the sad, bitter fruit of sin. Yes,
sin. Contrary to the prejudices of modernist, atheist, and agnostic
alike, at the dawn of history man recklessly revolted against
his creator. Adam and Eve defied their Maker's command and ate
the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The result, as God had warned, was death. Thus, sin came into
the world and, through sin, death spread to all men because all
sinned. The apostle Paul would sum it up by saying that now,
because of this historical tragedy, the wages of sin is death.
These are the wages that all the guilty, corrupted posterity
of Adam and Eve earn and will receive. No wonder drug, no genetic
engineering, no miraculous cure, will be found. There is no escape.
The Bible, history, and experience all tell us we will die.
Death, therefore, is dreadful. That is why the Bible says that Christians also groan at the prospect of death. Even our Lord Jesus wept at the tomb of His dear friend, Lazarus. Further, He was in agony, alone in the garden of Gethsemane, the night before the prospect of His own death on the cross. In our case, as we grow older, we literally feel the principle of death working within us. Bones become brittle, breath short, muscles stiffen, teeth fall out, memory fades, disease wracks mind and body. Then comes the moment when soul and body are separated. The soul leaves the body and returns to God who gave it and the body is committed to the grave.
As we ponder these prospects, we also must conclude that death
is not a nice subject. It fills us with revulsion, even dread
and terror. And no wonder. The Bible tells us that we are enslaved
by nature to the fear of death. None of us likes to be reminded
of these things, yet they are indelibly etched in our minds.
Death is consequently an odious and taboo subject which most people
would rather not hear discussed. They prefer to hide from the
horror of it all and pretend that it is just not so.
Thank God the believer does not have to pretend. Death is inevitable. Death is dreadful. But death itself will be destroyed. So there is hope. Hope, that is, for the true Christian. Hope because the Lord Jesus Christ tasted death for His people on the cross. He refused wine mixed with myrrh, a type of sedative, in order that he might fully, consciously experience the wrath of God against the sins of the world and, yes, so that He might fully experience and receive in our place the wages of sin, death itself. He died and was buried.
The power of sin, the power of death, however, could not hold Him captive. By the power of God He was raised from the dead victorious. Death was defeated and, when He returns again, death will be swallowed up forever. In Jesus' death the sting of death was removed for God's people. This means that now death for the believer is now no longer the wages of sin, but our passage to eternal life. As a seed dies only to live as a new plant; as a caterpillar dies only to become a soaring, beautiful butterfly; as a baby struggles forth from its mother's womb to a new life in this world, so we will pass through the portal of death, our entry way to eternal life into the blessed presence of God.
Therefore, though we still groan, not wanting to die, we may have confidence. Because we walk by faith and not by sight, we are able to say with the Apostle Paul, that we prefer to be absent from the body so as to be present with the Lord. For to depart and be with Christ is far better. Better to be with Him before the throne of God, serving Him day and night, neither hungering or thirsting, shepherded by the Lamb of God Who will guide us to the fountains of living waters, and Who will wipe every tear from our eyes.
Thank God that even though the wages of sin is death, the gift
of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Yes, death
is still the last great enemy. Death is inevitable. Death is
dreadful. But death cannot harm the children of God. They are
privileged to live in hope, and in anticipation. Even in this
sad world, which is itself nothing but a constant death, they
experience the only true comfort in life and death because they
belong body and soul to their faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Mr Sawyer, formerly a minister in our churches, currently pastors
a church in the OPC in the US.
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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / firstname.lastname@example.org / revised October 1998 / Copyright 1998