“Then I thought in my heart, ‘The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?’ I said in my heart, ‘This too is meaningless.’ For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!“ Ecclesiastes 2:15-16
An artist painted a picture showing a mountain of skulls. At first glance all the skulls seem to be the same, but when the observer looked closely he noticed some writing on each skull. One said “doctor,” another “teacher,” another “secretary,” another “technician,” another “salesman"; still others were labeled “foreman, driver, captain, lawyer, and judge. There were hundreds of skulls in the painting, each one representing a different occupation.
The artist and Solomon would agree. No matter what your position in this life may be, you will eventually die. Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief-they all die sooner or later. In one sense, this is certainly true. You will eventually die. No one escapes death forever, no matter how much one may try or how hard he exercises or how carefully he avoids catastrophe. The Grim Reaper knocks on every door sooner or later.
Yet there is another side to the truth. While death comes eventually to all men, death does not erase all the distinctions between men. From the standpoint of the Christian faith, it is at death that the real differences among people become apparent. I speak not of the artificial differences of money, power, fame, and worldly achievement. Those truly will all perish with the grave.
Years ago I received a phone call at 10:30 P.M. Someone had died. Would I please call the family? Before I could pick up the phone a second time, the mother called me. Her son had taken drugs and had died earlier that evening. As I got dressed to go to the home, I wondered what I would say. When I got there everyone was milling around in a state of confusion. At length the mother took me aside and through her tears she asked me the inevitable question, the question I had known was coming: “Why? Why did God let this happen to my son?”
As I recall, the young man had been a bouncer at a topless nightclub. At the funeral, I preached the gospel to row upon row of rough-looking people who seemed frightened to be in the same room with their dead friend. Afterwards the reception area was blue with cigarette smoke as if everyone lit up at the same time to calm their collective nerves.
But then I think of many other funerals I have done across the years. Without fail, whenever the time comes to bury a Christian, along with the sorrow comes an enormous amount of joy. There is triumph as the people of God rehearse the promise of God-of resurrection to life in heaven-even as they lay their loved ones to rest.
What happens when you die depends on what happens to you before you die. Jesus Christ makes the difference.
Lord Jesus, You showed us how to live and You showed us how to die. I want to follow in Your steps so that I’ll be ready when my time comes. Amen.
Ray Pritchard pastored in Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Married to Marlene for 38 years, he enjoys being a husband, a father and a grandfather, riding his bike, and playing with Dudley and Gary, beloved basset hounds.