Category Archives: Death / dying

Luke 7:1-17 Jesus: Master Restorer

Recently we’ve had three wasps nests at our house. I don’t normally face much physical danger in my job, so wasps nests are an opportunity for me to get out there and face the great danger of these terrifying creatures and protect my family. Of course it’s right to take precautions when you face such great danger: I bought some wasp spray that had a four metre range, so I didn’t have to get too close! I clothed myself appropriately, double layers, jacket, long pants, gloves, shoes, hood and eye protection. In a worst case scenario, I would have to rely on my parkrun training to try and outrun them! Two of the nests weren’t too large, they would have had 10 or so wasps on them, but one of them was the largest I’d ever seen, it had well over 60 wasps, and it was hard to get close to. Eventually I worked out, that there was a small window on our garage with a flyscreen, and by opening that window, I could have an angle which I hoped was just inside the 4 metre range of my wasp spray. Even though I was inside the garage behind the flyscreen, I still clothed myself appropriately in case they found a gap in the garage somewhere and came for me. Despite my precautions, my heart was still pumping as I began my attack from behind the safety of the flyscreen. Thankfully the spray was effective, and the although it took the whole can eventually all 60 of the wasps dropped to the ground, and the next day I was able to go in safely and clean up the bodies and take away the nest.

Many of us are comfortable talking about death when it relates to terrifying creatures in the garden, but much less comfortable talking about our own death. We want to treat death a bit like I treated those wasps and keep as far away from it as possible.

Woody Allen famously said:  I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens. Richard Branson was asked how he wanted to be remembered, he refused to answer: I don’t want to be remembered, I want to be here. Michael Jackson was asked did he want to be buried or cremated, and he also refused to answer: I don’t want to die, I want to live forever. Yet as we know, people as wealthy or famous as Michael Jackson still eventually die, we all do.

Many years go in western cultures people were reluctant to talk about sex but much more open talking about death, in part because death was much more a part of their lives, infant mortality rates were higher, people more often died at home than in external care. Now it’s the opposite, people are more open to talking about sex, but less open to talking about death. The Bible is countercultural in either setting – it doesn’t avoid talking about both. It’s a book about the real world, so death is a common theme. Here is Luke 7 we read of one person who is sick and about to die, then another person who has just died.

It’s good for us to think about death, because : only when you know how to die, can you know how to live (JI Packer). As we look at this passage, let’s just ask two questions: 1. How does Jesus respond to the reality of death? 2. How can we respond to the reality of death?

1.How does Jesus respond to the reality of death?

A: Compassion

One of the most famous songs about death in the last 25 years is Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton. He wrote the song after his four year old son, fell from the 53rd floor of a building and died, it’s a song which speaks of his grief and his longing to see his son again. It includes this section:

Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please
Begging please
Beyond the door
There’s peace, I’m sure
And I know there’ll be no more
Tears in heaven
(Eric Clapton – Tears In Heaven Lyrics )

There’s a profound grief in the song, a longing to see his son again. He doesn’t claim to be a Christian, yet he’s using that Biblical language of no more tears in the New Heavens and the new earth. He’s hoping for a time when there will be no more tears, because he knows life now involves many tears.   Why did such a sad song go to number one in the charts soon after it was released, and why has it remained a favourite for so long? In part it’s because so many people can identify with the very real grief of death.

We get a glimpse of such grief here in Luke 7. v12 is a very heart breaking scene, we see a widow, whose husband had previously died, now also having her only son die. As a woman in a society  where men were the property owners and main income earners this widow would face great vulnerability. Yet on top of that is the very real personal grief of now having lost not just one but at least two loved ones. A large crowd from the town is with her, sharing in her grief.

How does Jesus respond to this scene of great grief? Does he care? Is he indifferent? V13 is very clear isn’t it? When he saw her, his heart went out to her (or ESV says when he saw her he had compassion on her). This word carries the idea of a deep emotion, a deep attitude of concern for the widow.

Sometimes in our grief and pain, we can wonder whether God cares about us our situation. We see here that he does care about human grief. Jesus in entering the world, shows us the compassion of God. Jesus cared enough about human grief to do something more permanent about it than just resuscitating this widow’s son.

When Jesus was on the cross, he cried out the words: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1) I don’t know what Eric Clapton believes about how you get to the new heavens and the new earth, but he is right that there will be no more tears there. For those who trust in Jesus there will be no more grief because Jesus in his compassion cared  enough to do something about it. He went to the cross, and was forsaken by the Father, so that we can be reconciled to him.

B: Power

Two miracles take place in these verses. In the first Jesus heals someone who is sick and about to die , but in the second he encounters someone who has died. What can Jesus do here? In his compassion, the first person Jesus speaks to is the widow who would have been walking in front of the bier, v13 Jesus says to her: don’t cry. There’s a famous poem often quoted at some funerals which says:

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die.
(Mary Elizabeth Frye).

It’s an attempt to try and deal with grief by saying the person didn’t really die they just now exist in another form, so we shouldn’t cry for them. But there’s two problems with that poem – firstly on how do you know the person is now the wind, snow, sunlight, rain? What basis do you have to say that? Secondly, it doesn’t really do justice to the grief we feel when we lose someone, you can’t just not cry and imagine they are in some other form, it doesn’t work. You miss them, you want to talk to them, and hear from them and your can’t, your grief is real.

Jesus says don’t cry here, not because he thinks it’s wrong to cry, in fact he himself later weeps at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. He says don’t cry, because the person is the wind or the rain now, but because Jesus is about to deal with the source of the grief.

Jesus comes next to the bier, which is like an open stretcher with the body on top covered by a shroud. v14 is full of drama, Jesus went up and touches the bier, and the bearers stood still. Numbers 19:11 says “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. Jesus though, doesn’t become unclean, just as elsewhere he doesn’t become unclean when he touches lepers. Instead Jesus makes unclean people clean. We see that in the most powerful way possible as Jesus speaks to the dead man, and says to him, Young man, I say to you, get up.

I’ve taken about 50 funerals in my time as a pastor, and never once has it occurred to me to say to the person in the coffin, I say to you get up. I just don’t have that sort of power. The last couple of weeks I’ve been struggling with a sore ankle, it’s been effecting my parkrunning – I can’t even heal a sore ankle, let alone raise a dead person to life, yet v15 says very clearly that when Jesus spoke to this dead man, the dead man sat up and began to talk.

I’m not sure what he began to say, but it doesn’t really matter, the fact is if he’s sitting up, and he’s talking, he’s not dead anymore, even though he clearly had been certified dead, previously. You may have noticed that phrase there, Jesus gave him back to his mother  it is the same phrase used in 1 Kings 17:23 in an event which occurred 850 years before when the great Old Testament prophet Elijah brought a widow’s son back to life. There are some clear parallels between the two events – in both the only son of a widow dies, and is raised to life. It’s very likely that’s what the people had in mind when they say of Jesus – a great prophet has appeared among us. Some at that time believed prophets had ceased 450 years earlier with Malachi. Yet here many are recognising that Jesus is a prophet, which means brings God’s word, just as the widow recognised Elijah did. Yet Jesus is clearly more than a prophet, and greater than Elijah, Elijah had to stretch himself out three times on the body and call out pleading with God to let the boy’s life return to him, Jesus just speaks directly to the dead man and tells him to get up, and a lifeless body is brought back to life.

This is one of only three people recorded in the Bible that Jesus brought back to life. All three were great miracles, yet eventually all three would have died again. Jesus brought them back to life, but it wasn’t forever, yet it pointed to the day when he himself would rise from the dead, never to die again. Jesus own resurrection, which was testified to by many witnesses, demonstrates his real power over death. Because Jesus has been raised, all who trust in him can be confident that we will be raised.

But did these miracles really happen? In his book, Cold Case Christianity, J Warner Wallace describes the time he turned up to his first murder scene. He said the detective in charge, who was very experienced said to him, go find me this lady’s husband, I’m sure he’s the killer. He said that based on the fact that in his experience, many murders are committed by spouses, and at first the murder scene showed signs of being a spouse murder. It turned out though, this lady was in fact killed by a neighbour, and time was wasted in the investigation because the senior detective was wrong in the assumption or presupposition he had made.

J Warner Wallace says he later realised that he was making the same mistake with the Bible. As a skeptic he was coming to it with his own assumptions, not willing to consider that some of his presuppositions could be wrong. He realised there are many scholars who accept the historical accuracy of Luke in terms of the way it describes Jesus life and teaching, and yet reject the miracles, because they bring an assumption that there is no supernatural, that miracles can’t happen.[1]

He became a Christian in part by being willing to test his own assumptions. Saying there is no miracles is not an argument, it’s just an untested assertion. You can only rule them out, if you rule God out, and again that’s not an argument, it’s just an assumption.

There are good reasons for us to be certain these miracles took place. Luke tells us at the beginning of this gospel that he has access to: handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses … since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account …so  that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

Luke wants us to know the certainty of these events. He wants us to examine our presuppositions or assumptions. These events are life changing. In the face of death, Jesus displays both great compassion, and amazing power.

2. How can we respond to the reality of death?

A: Humble, confident faith in Jesus

Luke has been called the gospel of amazement . On 17 different occasions he uses words to describe the amazement or astonishment of the people to Jesus, but here in v9 we see the only time he speaks of Jesus being amazed. What is Jesus amazed by? Have a look at v9, he’s amazed by the faith of a Roman centurion, a Gentile. He says he hasn’t seen faith like it anywhere in Israel. What so amazes him?

Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. (Richard Dawkins) I’m not sure where Dawkins gets that idea from, I don’t know any Christians who think that’s what faith is, it certainly isn’t what Jesus means when he speaks of the faith of this centurion.

The centurion describes himself in v8 as a man under authority. He’s a military man. Here’s a diagram of Roman army ranks around that time, the centurion is in the middle somewhere, he has people under him, and people over him, he has to obey orders, and he gives orders which are obeyed. He’s used to being able to get things done that need to be done. Yet when it comes to his highly valued servant who is about to die, he realises it’s an area in which he has no power. He can’t stop someone from getting sicker, he can’t stop someone from dying.

Often spiritual growth occurs when we are faced with situations beyond our limits, and the centurion in this situation recognises that Jesus has authority which he doesn’t have. He says to Jesus, just say the word and my servant will be healed.

His faith isn’t (as Dawkins claims) evading the need to think, it’s not belief despite the lack of evidence. Jesus miracles have become well-known, he’s either seen or heard enough to make him confident in Jesus power, he has grounds for his trust in Jesus.

Yet notice how humble his faith is. The Romans weren’t known for their love of the Jews. They were the occupying army, politically, he was the one with the power, yet he doesn’t command Jesus to come to him, instead he sends people to ask Jesus saying, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. He trusts Jesus power, sees that he doesn’t deserve it, yet asks depending on his mercy. That’s faith – humble, confident trust in Jesus.

This week a friend of mine went to visit a lady who was dying. He asked her how she was going, she said to him: I’ve got to tell you, I’m actually a little bit excited. She was sad to be dying and leaving family and friends, but she had a humble confidence in Jesus – in his life, death and resurrection, and she was looking forward to going to be with him.

She’d obviously been thinking about death for a while to come to that point. One way this passage has helped me, is it’s made me think more about my own death, and I think it could help us all. Don Carson tells the story of the time his wife was in a prayer meeting where everyone was praying for a member of their church, who was dying. They were all praying that God would heal this person. He says when his wife’s turn, she prayed, Lord we would love it if you would heal this person, but if you choose not to, we pray that you will help them to die well. He said her prayer led to great tension in the meeting because some people saw it as a lack of faith. Later on though, it actually became helpful because the family realised so much effort and attention was being focussed on healing this person, that no thought was being given to helping them think about death, and prepare to die well.

It’s not a lack of faith to be willing to talk about death, and think about it, it is actually part of true faith. If we’re not willing to, we’re really just like our culture who wants to avoid it, living as though this life is all there is.

One of the most famous lines in the Lord of the Rings is near the end. Sam and Bilbo have been asleep, and Sam wakes up and sees Gandalf there: ‘Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? (Sam Gamgee). It’s a great question – is everything sad, going to come untrue? The answer the Bible gives us is, yes. Jesus lived the perfect life, none of us can live, he demonstrated God’s compassion and power, dying the death that we deserve, and rose again showing that for those who trust in him, death is not the end.

Jesus invites us all to come to him, with humble confident trust in his life, death and resurrection. He is able to make our dying day, our best day, and as you begin to understand what it means to die well, then he’s able to help you to live well, as we learn from him.

[1] Wallace, J. Warner (2013-01-01). Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (p. 26).


Hope and the reality of death – Genesis 48-50

During the week I was walking past Rog’s office. He was talking with Steve, and I heard him say: Old age has its own vulnerabilities. Steve agreed, and it seemed to me that these two older gentlemen that I work with were both speaking from experience.

To his credit though, Rog has been trying to ward off some of the vulnerabilities of old age through attempts at exercise. Two weeks ago I mentioned his attempt at cycling, this week I mentioned to him some basic exercises I’d seen in a 7 minute workout, he said he’d give it a go with his kids. The next morning Carolyn sent me a text with a picture: You should hear the grunts and groans coming from this exercise routine. He was obviously putting in a lot of effort. Soon afterwards I got another picture with these words And a few minutes later, girls hard at it, Roger nowhere to be seen!

Explode of rainbow woldIt’s fun to tease Rog and Steve, but the reality is we’re all getting old at the same rate they are. No matter what age we are, or how much exercise we do, there is an inevitable destination we are all heading to. That destiny, seems to be a main focus of these last 3 chapters of Genesis. It finishes with two deathbed scenes – first Jacob, then Joseph. it’s as though in these chapters, God wants us to think about death. The Bible says it’s good for us to think about death:

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart. (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

It’s good for us consider the reality of death, to take it to heart, so let’s do that today as we consider  three points: 1. Painful reality of death 2. Certain Hope in death 3. Present Impact of hope in death

1. Painful reality of death

 Death is a theme in every section of these last 3 chapters. You can see that in this outline (below). Chapter 48 begins with Jacob ill, and we get these two deathbed blessing scenes:

1 Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh (48:1-22)
2 Jacob blesses his sons (49:1-28)
3 Jacob’s final instructions, death and burial (49:29-50:14)
4 Joseph reassures his brothers (50:15-21)
5 Joseph’s final words and death (50:22-26)

Death is a theme in every section. We don’t get many of the details of his last 17 years of Jacob’s life in Egypt, it’s as though it races through that, then right at the end of his life it slows down and gets us to take in his death over these three chapters. After he dies Joseph lives for another 50 years or so but we hear almost nothing of that time, it races through it until it slows down at the end to focus on Joseph’s final words and his death.

Death is in fact all through Genesis, from Genesis 3 where humans first to turn from God to Genesis 50,. the words, die, died, death or dead occur over 80 times.  Genesis 5, the earliest list of names we have in the Bible give us each person’s name, tells us how long he lived, that he had children, and ends with the phrase ‘and then he died’. That phrase ‘and then he died’ repeats again and again through the chapter reinforcing the reality that death is inescapable.  Ecclesiastes is right: death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

Death is a painful reality. If you look at 50:1 you see Jacob breathes his last and Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him. You see the affection Joseph had for his father, the grief he feels at being separated from the father who had loved him so much. He knew his father would die, yet it was still painful. Death is painful. That’s true in all cultures. We get a glimpse of ancient Egyptian culture here 50v3 says they mourned for him seventy days. Then after they travel up to Canaan for the burial, v10 says they lamented loudly and bitterly and there Joseph observed a (further) seven-day period of mourning for his father.

To us culturally that might seem like a lot of mourning, yet whether we mourn loudly and openly and officially, or grieve more quietly and privately grief can last much longer than the mourning period here. Not everyone grieves the same way, grief goes go through various stages, it can hit you more at sometimes than others, yet there is a sense in which the heart of grief never fully goes away, humans will always long to see our loved ones again.

Some try to say that death is natural. But if death is so natural, why is it so painful, the Bible says death is a curse, that has come into the world because we’ve turned our backs on God. It is a painful reality.

I’ve been reading some Famous Five books with one of my daughters. Sometimes we finish a chapter at night and leave it hanging with the bad guys closing in and the famous five in danger. When that happens my daughter says to me, don’t worry dad, they’re going to be alright  – there are lots more books in the famous five series, so it’s obvious they’ll survive. She’s only 6 but she knows that in a series like that the good guys never die.

A couple of years ago my wife gave me the Bourne movie trilogy, and we just recently got around to watching them. The Bourne movies are a little like famous five, for grown-ups. There’s a bit of a mystery, both series follow a bit of a formula. The Bourne movies are chase movies, in the first one he’s getting chased across Europe in the second he gets chased in India, then Russia, then in the final one he gets chased in North Africa then America. I don’t think I’m spoiling it for you if I say, that in a Bourne movie, like the famous five stories, the hero gets chased, but he never dies. It’s a movie franchise, you want to keep the main character alive in case you want to make another sequel.

The Bible is more realistic than a famous five book, or a Bourne movie. In the Bible, the main characters consistently die. Just as in life, you and all those you love will die. Death is a painful reality

2. Certain hope in death

When I was younger I was often afraid of dying. I’d sometimes get anxious at night and check my heart rate or my pulse, to make sure I was still alive. It’s very common for humans to feel anxious or fearful about death, there’s so much about death we don’t know and the fact we often don’t like to talk about it, can make that fear or anxiety worse. In these chapters we see Jacob then Joseph talking very openly about their deaths, they know it is coming, yet there is a confidence and hope as they approach death.

Look at the phrase Jacob uses to refer to his death in 49:29 he says I am about to be gathered to my people. That phrase is repeated again in v33 Jacob breathed his last and was gathered to his people. That phrase echoes God’s earlier promise to Jacob: You…will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age (Genesis 15:15). Jacob dies in peace, he’s gathered to his people, with a certainty and confidence in God and his promises.

If you were to choose an event from Jacob’s life that demonstrates his faith, what would you choose? His persevering despite his uncle’s deceptions? His wrestling with God as he prepared to meet Esau? The writer to the Hebrews picks Jacob’s deathbed blessings:  By faith Jacob when he was dying blessed each of Joseph’s sons (Hebrews 11:21)

Turn back to Genesis 48:15-16 and read Jacob’s words of blessing to Ephraim and Manasseh: May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, 16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm may he bless these boys. Jacob looking back on his hard and difficult life, knows that the God has been his shepherd, constantly caring for him, delivering him, will keep his covenant. He looks forward to the future, dying with a confident hope in God’s promises.

If you had to pick an event from Joseph’s life that showed his great faith, what would you chose? His resisting the temptation of Potiphar’s wife? His integrity as a slave then in gaol? His forgiving attitude to his brothers? The writer to the Hebrews picks Joseph’s deathbed instructions: By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones. (Hebrews 11:22).

Both Jacob and Joseph are very definite about being buried NOT in Egypt, but in the promised land. They both make their descendants swear to do it. They were both embalmed or mummified, so that they could be taken out of Egypt. They are saying, our future is not here, our future is with God and his promises. Look at the huge crowd that goes out for Jacob’s funeral. 50 v7 All Pharaoh’s  officials accompanied him. v8 all the members of Joseph’s household...all those belonging to his father’s household . This huge crowd going from Egypt to Canaan is a prelude or foretelling of the Exodus, when all the Israelites will leave Egypt to go to the promised land.[1]

Joseph speaks of that Exodus in his final words, look at 50v24 Joseph said to his brothers, I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place. Genesis begins with God creating a beautiful paradise, and ends with Joseph’s bones in a coffin. It sounds despairing, yet those bones are a sign of hope, a sign of faith in God’s promises. When the Israelites became enslaved as God said they would, for hundreds of years Joseph’s bones in a coffin remained with them, a physical reminder of God’s promises.

Joseph’s bones were carried out when God rescued his people, and they were buried in the promised land, but ultimately Jacob and Joseph, were looking beyond Canaan. In the words of Hebrews:  ‘they were longing for a better country, a heavenly one’ (Hebrews 11:16). They were looking forward not just to the Exodus, but to the resurrection.

Jesus says: But about the resurrection of the dead have you not read what God said to you, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead but of the living. (Matthew 20:32). Jacob who has been dead for centuries, is still living to God. God is still in a covenant relationship with Jacob. From God’s perspective, Jacob is living, and Jacob will one day be physically raised, because God will keep his promise to be his God.

Jesus not only spoke of the resurrection of the dead, he also made it possible: Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death that is, the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15).  Fear of death, can enslave us, but Jesus death can free us from that fear. Jesus death is the sacrifice that undoes the hold that sin had over us. His resurrection points the way to our resurrection. Through Jesus we can have confidence in the face of death.

David Powlison says a friend of his often asks people, Who are you looking forward to meeting when you get to heaven? People tell him about their loved ones, or interesting people from the Bible, but almost no one says, Jesus. Which is strange because it is only through Jesus that we can have confidence in the face of death, if we trust him, he should be the one we most want to see.

You cannot face death with true, honest courage unless you are looking forward to meeting Jesusthe One who faced death for you and who is now alive and with you. (David Powlison)[2]

We see this in Jesus followers. Stephen, as he was being stoned, died with confidence praying: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (Acts 7:59). Paul speaks of death says: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:23). For a Christian, to die, is to be with Christ. Through Jesus we can face death with certain hope.

Henri Malan, wrote this hymn that was updated recently by Bob Kauflin:

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
ve found their home with God
It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears
O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die

3. Present impact of hope in death

Jacob and Joseph both had faith in God and his promises that gave them certain hope as they approached death. They were longing for the ultimate heavenly country, yet they weren’t so heavenly minded they were of no earthly good. Instead their faith and hope in what was to come, freed them up to do good in the present.

We’ve seen some of the good Joseph achieved in his life, God used him not just to save his own people, but also to help the Egyptians, and others from the nations around him. We’ve seen, his willingness to forgive his brothers, and we see it again in chapter 50. Joseph’s brother’s come to him with a story, which looks totally made up, about their father saying I ask you to forgive you brothers. Let’s read Joseph’s response 50v19 Dont be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, dont be afraid. I will provide for you and your children. And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. Joseph knows he is not God. He’s not the ultimate judge. His faith is in God. He knows God is completely sovereign over everything. So sovereign that what his brothers intended for harm, God always intended for ultimate good. Joseph’s big view of God helps him not just as he faces death, but in his ordinary relationships. He’s able to forgive others in the present because of his confidence in God.

In the first three centuries the Christian church grew from a small group of frightened followers to a time when over half the Roman empire called themselves Christians. Historians have tried to work out why the church grew particularly in the face of so much persecution. During that time, the Roman empire went through two periods of plagues that last about fifteen years each. One began around 165AD  another around 251 and during their peak thousands of people were dying.[3] Many pagans of the day left Rome, to try and escape the plague. But the Christians mostly stayed. They weren’t worried if they caught the plague, or even died because they knew they had far better to come. When someone got sick among the pagans, their own family members abandoned them – they just left them to die. In contrast the Christians not only cared for their own family members who got the plague, they also went out and cared for many pagan people who had been abandoned by their families. Many of the people they cared for got better, and the number of Christians grew during the time of both of these plagues. The Christians were heavenly minded, and because of this, they were being of earthly good, caring for others. It was the pagans who didn’t believe in heaven, that were of no earthly good, they were just living for themselves, abandoning people and getting out of town. The Christians belief in God and in eternity made them willing to serve others in this life.

If you read history, you will find that Christians who did most for the present world were those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman EmpireEnglish Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on the earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with HeavenAim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in: aim at earth, and you will get neither. (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, 118).

There’s a youtube clip, some of you may have seen with an illustration by Francis Chan where he gets a rope like this one and he says: Imagine this rope is much longer and goes around the world a few times. Now imagine that this rope is a timeline of your existence, it just goes on forever. This short part of it here, represents your time on earth. The Bible says our life is like a breath, we’re here for such a short time. Yet beyond that stretches an eternity. For Christians that involves the unimaginable glory of the new heavens and the new earth.

What’s amazing is that you can spend all of your time, all of your attention focusing on this part. You can be here near the beginning and think, I can’t wait till I’m here. Or you think, I’m going to work really hard here, so I can enjoy this little part at the end. That’s just crazy, because you’re not thinking about this, or this, or this (further along rope). There’s a close relationship between the two sections on the rope. What we believe about the section that represents eternity, will determine how we live in this section that represents our life, and what we believe and do in our life, will determine where we’ll spend all this section (eternity).

What’s something you don’t own, that you really like to own? If your trust is in God, you’ll think, I may never own that thing because I’m spending my money here to seek first God’s kingdom, to help others know about Jesus, and that’s OK, what does it matter if I never own that thing I really want in this section, I’ve got God, and he’s worth more to me than anything and I’ve got all that to enjoy him and his glory.

What’s something you’d really like to do? Something you’d put on your bucket list if you use that term. If your trust is in God, you’ll think, even if I don’t ever get to do that thing in this life, it doesn’t matter, because I’ve got all this to enjoy far more with God.

Paul says: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17). He’s saying that even the most painful things we have to go through in this life, like the real pain of death, is light and momentary compared to the eternal glory.

Hope in death, through Jesus, transforms how we live in the present.

While I draw this fleeting breath;
When my eyelids close in death;
When I soar through realms unknown,
bow before the judgement throne,
hide me then, my refuge be
Rock of ages, cleft for me.
(Ruth Buchanan / Augustus Toplady)

Transcript of Sermon preached at MEC on 1 September 2013. Audio here

photo credit: Matthew Fang via photopin cc

[1] Jacob’s burial procession from Egypt to Canaan is doubtless seen as a pledge or acted prophecy of the nation’s future move.’ (Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 488)

[3] Ronald Starks, The Rise of Christianity.

The Grave by Susan Enan

Click the link to listen to this profound song (lyrics below):

The Grave by Susan Enan

All of your work won’t fit in the earth
When you’re lying underground in the grave
Whatever a man in your balance can
There’s nothing you can buy in the grave

In the next age no stock exchange
Is gonna pass on the money we made
No lottery wins, political spins,
When were lying  underground in the grave

New surgery defies gravity
But it all falls away in the grave
And who’s gonna care what color you wear
There’s no fashion show in the grave

So swallow it down
No easy way round
Just  a hill for the thrills that we crave
But no medicine to stop kingdom come
It’s your time get in line for the grave

And we’ll all be the same
And we’ll go as we came
Side by side as we lie in the grave
We’ll all be the same
We’ll go as we came
Side by side as we lie in the grave.

The reality of the death we all face puts so many other things in life in perspective. There is ony one real hope in the face of death: Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;  and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26, NIV) 

Grief, Suffering and Hope

The Bible is very realistic about grief and suffering. It gives us hope through a God who promises to be with his people in suffering, can use it for our good, and has himself endured the suffering of the cross, so that suffering for all who trust in him will one day come to an end. Bible passages which have helped God’s people during suffering include Psalms such as 22, 23, 55, and 73,  Isaiah 40 & 53, John 14-16, Romans 8, Hebrews 12, 1 Peter and Revelation. In the short video below, Zac Smith shares some of the good things he’s learned in his battle with cancer:


In this video made later, Zac’s widow Mandy shares the hope she has in the midst of her real grief:

Related resources: 
Grief Diary 1—Death Ends a 52 year Marriage
Grief Diary 2—Godly Paths Lead to Blessing  
Grief Diary 3 – Lessons of a life seen from 34000 feet
Related Posts:
Grief, hope, forgiveness
Is your church a safe place for sad or grieving people?

Fearful of the process of dying

Christian Counsellor Alasdair Groves responds to a question from a person dying of cancer who is fearful of the dying process:


In the clip he refers to his father’s blog which can be found here

Related Resources:

Online Article: Facing Death with Hope: Living for What Lasts (David Powlison)

Booklet: On My Way To Heaven (Mark Ashton describes his own experience of imminent death from inoperable cancer)