But truly as the LORD lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death (1 Samuel 20:3).
You can't really live if you are in constant denial. Thousands of years ago a young man who was destined to be king told his best friend that death was only one step away. Was that a newsflash then? Is it now?
We have been awash in death since Cain murdered Abel. Surely we are all aware that violence, sickness, and catastrophe have been with us as long as we've been here. Death is not something "novel."
What town in America doesn’t have a funeral home? Try and find a list of all the cemeteries in the nation. The Civil War created so many of them in the Mid-South that we cannot even find them all since markers deteriorated and nature has effectively hidden them.
Does anyone know a single human being alive who hasn’t lost a family member to death? (Not even God can say He hasn’t lost a member of His family to death!)
Death is everywhere. It is all around us. It is as prevalent as the air we breathe.
And it’s not just the elderly who die. The unborn are routinely murdered and dismembered. Infants die. Toddlers die. children die. Teenagers die. newlyweds die. People in the prime of their lives die.
Cancer kills us. Obesity kills us. The weather kills us. Drugs kill us. Criminals kill us. Ideologies kill us (communism, socialism, fascism, etc.). We kill ourselves (according to the World Health Organization almost 800,000 people commit suicide across the globe each year).
Then there is the germ, bacteria, and/or virus. The pandemic.
AIDS has claimed 36 million lives. The 1918 flu took somewhere between 20 and 50 million lives. The Bubonic Plague of the 14th century was responsible for 75 to 200 million deaths. Over 6 million people have died from COVID-19.
Death truly saturates mankind’s past, present, and future.
Is this really news to us?
To a world and culture that fears death, perhaps it is. But for the believers?
You would think we are already living in our resurrected bodies in New Jerusalem and word is getting out that death has somehow shown up prowling the streets of gold. Whenever we are confronted with death, be it personal or on a large scale, Christians are afforded one of the greatest opportunities of our lives to reveal “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
In 1735, John and Charles Wesley boarded a ship to America to preach the gospel to Native Americans. During the trip across the Atlantic, a severe storm engulfed the ship. Most of the passengers were despairing for their lives. While everyone else was in dire panic, John noticed a small group of people (Moravians) praying, singing, and smiling throughout the ordeal. Very clearly, their love for God surpassed their fear of death. It profoundly affected the Wesleys and as a result, ended up making a difference in millions of lives across several centuries.
Do you remember the story of Jesus rebuking the storm and the waves in Luke 8:22-25? He was sleeping through it. The apostles were afraid of losing their lives. They woke Him up with this announcement: “Master, Master, we are perishing!” When Jesus calmed everything down, He looked at them and asked, “Where is your faith?”
The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk saw his world and life being turned upside down and inside out. He pointed an accusing finger and God and screamed “Why do you idly look at wrong?” (Habakkuk 1:3). Part of God's response was:
I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told (1:5).
[T]he righteous shall live by faith (2:4).
[T]he earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD (2:14).
Like Job before him, Habakkuk realized the foolishness of his error. The entire 3rd chapter is his prayer which concludes with these famous words:
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
Finally, the author of Hebrews sheds a different light on why Jesus came in the flesh to die on a cross. We’re used to hearing words like “atonement,” “propitiation,” “ransom,” and “sacrifice.” But Hebrews zeroes in on something else:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).
What a message! Jesus not only died to wipe our sin slate absolutely clean. He died (and was subsequently raised from the dead) to demonstrate that we have nothing to fear from death!
Like the Moravians to John Wesley, so should faithful Christians be to a panicked and fearful world whether its a pandemic, the ravages of war, or a tremendous spike in violent crime. I am not suggesting we ignore death and pretend it is neither fearsome nor powerful (if it weren't then those words in Hebrews 2 above are meaningless). I am suggesting that we be different. That we demonstrate what it looks like to be confident in our living and that we trust God with our dying. He said we have nothing to fear from death. Are we acting like it?
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25-26).
If you do, then start singing, praying, praising, and worshiping your way through the storm! Others are watching.