A Taste Of Death

Read:

Mark 5:35-43

Reflect:

“But Jesus  overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” Mark 5:37, NLT

Last year I had a vicarious taste of death when I had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with my niece. Her husband was critically ill with the Covid 19 virus and the doctors fought desperately for his life in the ICU for three months. God worked through the doctors and nurses in the ICU and our prayers for a miracle of healing were answered. 

Jesus was on the way to heal Jairus daughter when messengers came to tell Jairus that his daughter had died. But it was an opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate his power over life and death. Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” The people were weeping and wailing and Jesus told them that the child was not dead but only asleep but they laughed at him. 

Jesus then went with the parents and his three disciples into the room where the girl was lying. He held her hand and said to her, “Talitha koum” –  “little girl, I say to you, arise.” The girl arose and walked! Jesus then commanded them not to tell anyone what had happened. It is so easy to encourage a shallow faith in miracles instead of deepening the roots of faith in God.1

The stories of the dead being raised to life in the bible are demonstrations of the reality that death is not the end of life and of the power of God over life and death. Jesus tasted death on the cross to give us life through the power of the resurrection. It is our fear of death that keeps us in slavery to sin and the devil. Jesus conquered death on the cross so that we can live without fear in the face of suffering and death:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?2

In the hospice ministry, I have witnessed the victory over death in many of my patients who looked forward to their lives after death. Unfortunately, modern medicine has given many people the illusion that doctors can save them from death. But resuscitation is different from resurrection. Doctors may win many battles with death but they will always lose the war. It is foolishness to think that we can cheat death:

Therefore, listen to this message from the Lord, you scoffing rulers in Jerusalem. You boast, “We have struck a bargain to cheat death and have a deal to dodge the grave. The coming destruction can never touch us, for we have built a strong refuge made of lies and deception…..

“I will cancel the bargain you made to cheat death, and I will overturn your deal to dodge the grave.”3 

Jesus died a cruel and meaningless death on the cross to reveal the unimaginable love and awesome power of God. Jesus did not die to appease an angry God – the crucifixion reveals the horror of sin and the inhumanity of humankind. Jesus rose from the dead to demonstrate the power of Love and to transform a fear based religious faith to a love empowered spiritual faith. To give us the Holy Spirit so that we are like a signet ring on God’s heart and who have hearts filled with love that is as overpowering as death and a devotion that is as unyielding as the grave.4 

The good news is that death is not the end of life but the beginning of eternal life for “blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”5  And in the Presence of God, there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain for God will wipe every tear from our eyes.6 

The fear of death is the biggest obstacle towards having good care at the end of life. Many patients suffer unnecessary and futile medical procedures to keep death at bay. It is sad that many patients have the misconception that hospice care is about dying peacefully when the mission of hospice care is to provide loving care and to empower patients and their families to live meaningfully everyday for as long as possible. 

There is no resurrection without death. We need to taste “little deaths” each day – to be aware and to surrender our pride, greed, lust, anger, envy and gluttony. To put to death our negative anthropomorphic images of God that keep us from God’s loving embrace. A simple way to do so is through centering prayer – to keep our eyes on the cross of Christ and to let the Holy Spirit search our hearts for any idolatrous tendency and to lead us in the reliable ancient path.7 

“Search me, O God, and know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray.
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from ev’ry sin and set me free.”8

Respond:

Lord, help me to taste the “little deaths” each day so that I may live in Your loving embrace.

Reframe:

1.  Why is it important to come to terms with the reality of death?
2.  What is my greatest fear about death? 3. 
What are the “little deaths” that confront me each day?

Song of Praise

Search me, O God

SDG

Notes:

1.  Mark 5:35-43
2.  1 Corinthians 15:54-55, NLT
3.  Isaiah 28:15,18, NLT
4.   Song of Songs, 8:6, GW
5    Revelations 14:13, NLT
6   Revelation 21:4, NLT
7   Psalms 139:24,NET
8   Search Me O God

Life Beyond Death

Read:

Matthew  17:1-13

Reflect:

“But Jesus touched them and said, “Get up, and don’t be afraid!” As they raised their heads, they saw no one but Jesus.” Matthew 17:7-8, GW

How we live our lives on earth in the here and now depends on what we believe about life beyond death. If we believe that there is no life after death, then it is logical to seek to live life to the fullest now by enjoying the pleasures of this world – “let’s eat and drink, for tomorrow we’re going to die!”1 

However, if we believe that there is life beyond death because there is a loving God who created us to be His masterpieces and to be His children, we will see that even the mindset to eat and drink and find satisfaction in our work comes from the hand of God.2  Having lived past my 75th birthday, I have a vested interest to reflect on the existential question, “Is there life beyond death?”

The greatest evidence of life beyond death is the resurrection of Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ is rooted in His resurrection. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, we cannot have any victory over sin, death and evil. Our faith is worthless as sin will still have power over us. And as the apostle Paul reminds us, if Christ is our hope only for this life, we deserve more pity than any other people.3

Jesus brought Peter, James and John to a high mountain where they could be alone. There the disciples saw Jesus transfigured in the presence of Moses and Elijah. But Jesus ordered them:

“Don’t tell  anyone what you have seen. Wait until the Son of Man has been brought back to life.” 

The story of the transfiguration of Jesus makes sense only in the light of the resurrection of Christ. It is a dramatic revelation that Moses lives on after death and Elijah was taken up into heaven. Hearing the voice of God was an awesome experience. The disciples were terrified when they heard a voice from a bright cloud telling them, “This is my dearly beloved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” Then Jesus touched them and said, “Get up, and don’t be afraid!”4

The good news is that Jesus came to show us that God is our Heavenly Father and His greatest joy is in our listening to Christ as our Shepherd of Love. The transfiguration of Jesus points to a spiritual dimension beyond death. If we believe that there is life beyond death, we have to face the reality of heaven and hell. Taoists observe the “Hungry Ghosts Festival” during the seventh month of the lunar year – a time they believe the gates of hell are opened. Christians also believe that hell exists. But we do not have to come before God with the awful fear of an angry Judge but with the awesome fear of God as our loving Heavenly Father. The reality of life beyond death also reminds us that there is a spiritual battle against evil which Jesus has won for us on the cross.

When Jesus reigns as King in our hearts, life on this earth is a foretaste of life after death. God’s Kingdom is seen on earth when the Risen Christ is in our hearts and we are living our lives according to God’s will and not ours. Without Christ, we live like Adam, hiding from God. With Christ, we are restored to an intimate relationship with God through transforming listening conversations. The resurrection of Jesus Christ empowers us to live with hope in this life as we face pain, suffering and loss. 

The most powerful witness of our faith in the Risen Christ is seen in our joy and peace in the midst of our sorrows. Jesus died and rose from the dead so that we are blessed when we feel we have lost what is most precious to us. For only then can we be embraced by the One who is most dear to us..5 Through faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit transforms our grief to the glory of God:

“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He is the Father who is compassionate and the God who gives comfort. He comforts us whenever we suffer. That is why whenever other people suffer, we are able to comfort them by using the same comfort we received from God. Because Christ suffered so much for us, we can receive so much comfort from him.”6

As I care for the dying, the nearing death awareness experiences of some of my patients have reinforced my belief that there is life after death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the hope for a life beyond death –  something we cannot see but we eagerly wait patiently and confidently for it,7 And with this hope we can face the unknown, uncertain and unpredictable future without fear but with faith in our Risen Savior:

“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives”8 

Respond:

Lord, thank You for the power of the resurrection to help me overcome sin, death and evil.

Reframe:

1. How does the belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ help me to face death?
2. How does a belief in life beyond death help us in our grief of losing a loved one?
3. What changes in my life do I need to make if I believe that there is a life beyond death?

Song of Praise

Because He Lives

SDG

Notes:

1  Isaiah 22:13, NLT;  1 Cor 15:32, GW
2  Ecclesiastes  2: 24, NLT
3  1 Corinthians 15:19, GW
4  Matthew 17:1-13, NLT
5. Matthew 5:4, MSG
6. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, GW
7  Romans 8:25, NLT
8  Because He Lives – Bill Gaither

Living In The Light Of Death

Read:

Luke 8:49-56

Reflect:

“But when Jesus heard what had happened, he said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed.” Luke 8:50

We are spiritually dead, blind and deaf to our spiritual needs. We are all infected with the incurable disease of sin which leads to death.1 The apostle Paul gives us a graphic diagnostic picture of our spiritual disease:

“Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent,proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.”2

Jesus came to deliver us from sin and to wake us from our deathly slumber.  He was asked to see the twelve year daughter of Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue who was dying. Jesus was on his way after healing a woman with a bleeding disorder when a messenger came to tell Jairus the bad news that his daughter has died. But Jesus assured Jairus: “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed.”3

When Jesus arrived, the house was filled with people weeping and wailing. Jesus told them to stop weeping as she was not dead but only asleep. And the crowd laughed at him because they all knew she had died. But Jesus had the last laugh when Jesus commanded the girl to get up and life returned to her.4 Jesus performed the miracle of instant cure in the face of death to demonstrate his power over death and to show us that death is not the will of God. God’s will is for us to die to sin so that we can live fully as the children of God.

But we need to confront death before we will seek a Saviour to deliver us from sin and be reborn as the children of God. When we lose sight of our precious spiritual identity we live our lives as mere human beings enslaved by the fear of death. However, as beloved children of God, the greatest pain and even death are times to experience the love of God.  Henri Nouwen wrote:

“For us, the greatest temptation is to lose touch with the Blessing. We are Beloved Sons and Daughters of God. When we live our suffering under the Blessing, even the greatest pain, yes, even death, will lead us deeper into the forgiving and life-giving heart of God. But when we think we are not loved, when we reflect on ourselves as living under a curse, when we say or think: “I am not good,” our suffering will lead us to despair and our death cannot give life.”5

When we follow Jesus to the cross, death become the miracle of the triumphant crossing.  Death is the final healing of our afflictions and the end of our physical suffering. Rob Moll found that life’s passing can be a beautiful gift of God. However, we may use heaven as an excuse to avoid unnecessary pain and pretend that the loss of death isn’t real because we will be united with our loved ones in heaven. He shared the following important insight:

“Death is real; there is no need to say that because our loved one is in heaven, death doesn’t exist. Death is a fact, and its sting is painful. So we mourn. But death has been defeated, and, comforted  by the Holy Spirit, we ask with the apostle Paul, “Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:15:55 KJV”6 

The challenge is to live in the light of death with a culture of the resurrection. Al Weir lamented the lack of emotional healing and community support for the chronically ill, disabled, frail and the elderly who lose their community and church connections over time. Rob Moll saw caring for the elderly as an important spiritual discipline for everyone as this will help us face death whenever it meets us. This will also empower us to live more faithfully in every area of our lives. 7 He discovered beauty and blessing in the art of dying as he cared for the dying:

“There is beauty and blessing in being with someone as she moves from this world to the next. As we attend to another believer whose soul is returning to God, we capture a glimpse of the beautiful destiny that awaits us. We are reminded of our need for Him. We are spurred on to live with eternity in view, knowing that it is our living well that will define our death.” 8

The elderly can teach younger people what it means to live a good Christian life and die well in the loving embrace of God’s love.  The elderly sick and the dying can still do great things for God when they have a sense of mission and are well supported with spiritual care. We have a mission to live out the following truth:

“For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose – to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.”9

Death reminds us that our life stories will all come to an end. But we can trust that God will make it a good end when we live by faith in Christ. With the hope of the resurrection of Christ, the darkness of death is turned to light:

“There is a hope that stands the test of time,
That lifts my eyes beyond the beckoning grave,
To see the matchless beauty of a day divine
When I behold His face!
When sufferings cease and sorrows die,
And every longing satisfied.
Then joy unspeakable will flood my soul,
For I am truly home”10

Respond:

Lord, may I grow in faith and rejoice in hope as I wait for Your Spirit to fill me with Your everlasting love. Help me to live in the power of Your resurrection that I may see Your light in the winter of my life.

Reframe:

  1.  How can I find light in the darkness of death?
  2.  How am I to live that my aging and dying will glorify God?
  3.  How will caring for the elderly sick and dying as a spiritual discipline make a difference in my life and in my community

Song of Praise

There Is A Hope

SDG

Notes:

  1.  Romans 6:23
  2.  Romans 1:29-31.NLT
  3.  Luke 8:50
  4.  Luke 8:52-55
  5.  Nouwen Meditation: Live Under The Blessing, 20 March 2022
  6.  Rob Moll; The Art of Dying, page 132 
  7.  Ibid, 161
  8.  Ibid, 178
  9.  Romans 14:7-9
  10. There Is A Hope, Stuart Townsend