“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 11

Death!  It seems so final.  A Person is born, lives a number of years – perhaps as much as 100 years – and then dies.  That’s it, lights out!  Into the grave or the crematorium goes the body.  All that is left is the ashes or a slowly rotting body in the ground until there is nothing left of that person except a few bones.  The only way to identify who lay there is a name etched on stone, and perhaps teeth that can be matched to a dental record.

This is the ending that every person who has lived on this earth has to look forward to.  There is no escaping it.  As our author (Max Lucado) quotes on page 96 from Fred Carl Kuechner:

“Death is the most democratic institution on earth….It allows no discrimination, tolerates no exceptions.  The mortality rate of mankind is the same the world over:  one death per person.”

Looking at it this way, it would be easy to become either very depressed about life, or to value it so much as to try to get everything you can before the end comes.  And the worst part is that none of us know the future, so we really don’t know how many more days or years we have left to live.  No wonder there are so many people today who follow the saying, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

    

As a missionary who lived in a remote village of Papua New Guinea for five years, death took on a whole new reality for me.  The only people who were close to me and died before going to PNG were my grandmother and my sister.  My grandmother was 88 years old and the funeral was a celebration of a believer in Christ and a life well lived.  My sister died while in Jamaica in her 30’s and we held a memorial service for her.  Death hit our family, but I never really saw it up close.

This changed quickly when we went and lived in our little village in the jungle.  In those five years, there were quite a number of deaths: some people died of old age; some children died from cerebral malaria and some from eating rotten food which led to fatal food poisoning; and some women died in child-bearing due to retained placenta.  The worst experience was watching one of my best friends and a co-translator suffer over a six month period and finally die due to a brain tumour.

    

What made these deaths so hard to witness was watching the despair and the fear that everyone else displayed at the time of these deaths.  There is nothing else I know that is so piercing of a sound that cuts deeply into your heart and soul as when the shrieking death wail went up when someone died.  That piercing cry is started by a family member as soon as the person dies, and then it is joined by other family members and friends when they come to the hut to share in the sorrow.

Day and night this wailing can be heard across the village for days.  But even as the death wail continues, rumours and murmuring go on among the people, for everyone is asking the question, “What evil spirits were involved, and who among the village is responsible for these deaths.  These are the natural questions that are asked by people who live in an animistic culture.  They live in fear of all the evil spirits that surround them, and they fear death most of all.

    

 The Bible on the other hand, speaks to us about the victory that we can have over death.  Up until the time that Jesus lived, the world did lie under the curse of disease, destruction, despair and finally death.  Bur Jesus broke that power of death by rising Himself back from the dead.  He was then able to say along with the Psalmist, “O death, where is thy sting; O grave, where is thy victory?”

Jesus told His disciples in advance that He would die, but also that after three days in the grave He would rise again and be alive.  The promise Jesus gave was that just as He would conquer the grave and live again, so also would the people who put their trust in Him.  It is at this very point, this claim of resurrection life, that the whole of Christian faith stands.  If Jesus claims (as He did) to grant life after death, but He Himself never rose physically from the grave, then all His promises are not worthy to be accepted as true.

    

 Now some people still think today that Jesus’ claims were outrageous and couldn’t be true.  The most obvious alternative would be to say that the disciples invented this hoax, or at least created this myth about Jesus and the “risen Christ”.  But I challenge any person to read the last few chapters of all the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  The Bible presents terrified disciples, and women who went to the tomb expecting to find a dead body there.

But instead, we see very quickly a faith story burst out after very serious misgivings and denials of the resurrection.  And those men all went on to become martyrs for their faith.  Only a true and real resurrection can account for this change.  And so, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then death is no longer the end of the story for all of us.  Therefore, we do not need to be afraid of death anymore.

Rather then an ending, death can be seen to be a beginning, a new start to an eternal life with God.  In fact, I see death as simply a doorway that all of us must go through one day.  Or perhaps an even better picture is that death becomes a graduation from this limited life to the unlimited life in the next one.  Hallelujah, He is risen.  And one day, so will we.

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

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