“A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” (John 10:10 (CSB))
It always intrigues me when discussing death with some ‘Christians’ that they demur and say, “Let’s talk about something nicer.” And I wonder, what is ‘nicer’ than death? True, I do not look forward to debilitating disease or pains and problems of aging, but the end of this life on earth is not something awful for us to fear. Even in death, there is abundance of LIFE!
The Christ-follower daily faces paradoxes. Jesus announced very clearly, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35) The “sermon on the mount,” Matthew 5-7, has many of these oxymorons, starting with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12). The most pointed of these are the last two: “Blessed are those who are persecuted (?)” “Blessed are you when others revile you (?) and persecute you (?) and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely (?)“ What kind of invitation is this to follow this guy!?
Far too many Christ-followers have been sold only half of the bill of goods. Prosperity preachers abound with promises that if you just buy their books and listen to their sermons, you will have unending health, wealth and comfort. If things do not work out to make your life its very best, it must be your lack of faith, or something wrong with you, because God only wants to do good for you.
But just thinking of how the love of parents requires them to sometimes do something painful to their children should eliminate any confusion here. No child ever said, “Oh, goody, I get to have a vaccine shot today!” But a loving parent will vaccinate their children against DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus) to protect them from these much more harmful diseases, no matter how much the child may scream. Love constrains parents to make their children eat their vegetables even though the dessert cake is sweeter.
So, yes, our Father only wants what is good for us. C.S. Lewis began to understand this as he matured in his trust in God, writing “We are not doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” And “there’s the rub,” as Shakespeare’s Hamlet said. The maturity to which Jesus calls His followers is not the nursery school comfort of warm milk and cookies. It is the challenge to come to Him and DIE so that you can truly live.
The Christ-follower, like Jesus, lives in a culture of life-affirmation. Thus abortion, the unwilling taking of an unborn child’s life is anathema to His people. Euthanasia, the execution of those who no longer are “contributing” to society (whatever that means), is also viewed as something more demonic than beneficial. Suicide, in societies that have honored God’s word, has always been viewed as counter-productive. Even suffering, when viewed as a means to draw us closer to the One who suffered more agonizingly than we can imagine, becomes life-affirming and a channel for God to bring glory to Himself. Our rewards will wait, but they will come.
Thus, we are instructed that when we are persecuted, we can move to another place (Matthew 10:23), but not to retaliate against our persecutors, but to pray FOR them (Note: NOT against them). We are not to fear death or its agencies that try to murder us (Matthew 10:28). Francis Chan, just as he headed to Hong Kong to set up ministries in Southeast Asia, noted, “It is crazy to me that it is perfectly normal to be a Christian in America and to be obsessed with staying alive.” (February 7. 2020) Jim Elliot penned in a letter to his bride, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Someone observed once, that unless one is willing to die for something they can not really live for it. We who follow Jesus view death not so much as an enemy of life, but as a ferryman who will one day transport us out of his reach. Following Jesus may involve pain, suffering, or apparent loss in the world’s eyes. We may lack in comfort or have greater difficulties than those who just go with whatever cultural stream is flowing. But there will come a day when it will all be worthwhile.
We must not serve God just for His rewards (another blog coming soon), but He does promise great rewards for those who give up their lives to or for Him. Our confidence in Him assures us that there is nothing for the Christ-follower to fear. He came to give us LIFE, and that promise is as certain as His resurrection! There is no historical event more certain than that Jesus arose from the dead.
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)