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)
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thessalonians 4:16)
During my sophomore year of high school, I had a near-death experience. It was a car accident. My friend and I barreled through a yellow light and were clipped by a truck. Attempting to avoid said truck, we lost control, flipped, and rolled several times. I vividly remember the feeling of that small, blue Izuzu pick-up being suspended in mid-air as it attempted to do battle with gravity. In the end, it lost miserably and was totaled. Surprisingly, my friend and I walked away from that accident virtually unharmed. I had only a small, dot-sized cut on my forearm. Nothing more.
Someone said soon afterward that we had “cheated death.” That’s a common expression we use to describe a scenario in which someone should have died but didn’t. But the truth is that, try though we might, death can’t really be cheated. It can’t be tricked. We can’t create a diversion and sneak past the grave. The universe simply doesn’t work that way. The inescapable fact is that we are all going to die. Sure, we might stave off death for a time by taking supplements and wearing a seatbelt, but eventually it’s coming for all of us.
In fact, death has embedded itself in the very fabric of creation. It’s our dreaded curse and our final enemy–a loathsome tyrant that gloats over us with jeers sinister enough to send chills down our spines. We hate death because we were never meant to die. It is unfortunate that some people try to evade the inescapable fact of death by telling us that it’s just a part of life and we simply have to deal with it. “You’re going to die and you had better come to grips with that,” they say. But Scripture makes it clear that things were never supposed to be this way. No one can deny that something is wrong with the world. Our hearts attest to how sin has corrupted and defiled God’s good creation. And death is a non-ignorable reminder that something needs to be done to set right all that has gone wrong.
The Hope of Easter
But, in the Gospel, God gives us a better perspective of death. He orients us to His vantage point, never letting us side-step the issue. He’s not about to let us avoid it as a topic of conversation. Rather, He wants to dispel our myths about the grave. There’s too much at stake for Him not to. For if death is un-cheatable–if it is a fundamental and altogether unavoidable reality of life in a fallen world–the Gospel must speak to it in the most profound way possible. So let’s not settle for worldly platitudes, shall we? Jesus won’t let us off the hook that easily, anyway. He fully intends to unsettle us in order that we might experience more of His fullness.
In John 11, our Lord shows off His supremacy over the grave by raising Lazarus from the dead. This was to demonstrate that even the most powerful realities in this dark and dismal world must answer to His authority, death not withstanding. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” This astounding statement is the very hope of Easter. It’s God’s way of reminding us that the grave is no match for His power. Sure, I may have cheated death in the tenth grade, but Christ has conquered it. And that’s worth celebrating.
Preparing for a Good Death
We can see the future of the church in the story of Lazarus. Our Lord looked into his open grave and cried out, “Lazarus, come forth!” That’s a seismic statement, considering the fact that after four days the corpse should have begun to decompose. In fact, the KJV says, “by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days” (Jn. 11:39). But that doesn’t seem to bother Jesus. “He stinketh” is a non-issue for Someone who holds the keys to Death and Hades (Rev. 1:18).
The truth is that one day our bodies, like Lazarus’s, will start this decomposition process. We will be pronounced dead and shortly thereafter begin to “stinketh.” A relatively small number of teary-eyed, mournful people will attend a funeral service for us. They will put us in the ground and return to the church dining hall to eat macaroni salad. But that won’t be the end of it. Not by a long shot. In due time, a better, more decisive word will resound over our dusty bones, and this time it will be pronounced in a Galilean accent. Christ will command our graves to open and we will come forth, new bodies and all. He did it once for His friend Lazarus; He will do it again for His bride the church. And when He does, we will be raised forever. For what is true of the eternal Christ in His resurrected state is a forthcoming reality for us as well.
So this Easter I want to ask you a question. What would it look like for you to prepare for a good death? In some sense, that may seem strange, but it couldn’t be more relevant. With it being Easter and all, it’s high time we stop pretending to be okay with dying. Rather it should sober us that we might experience greater hope in the resurrection, knowing that Jesus is the firstborn Heir of the life we will one day possess. Will you allow this wonderful reality press you to cherish the Gospel for all it’s worth? After all, it means that your resurrection is certain–as certain as Christ’s was, in fact. Therefore, we are free to stop ignoring death. We can quit all our attempts to evade the hard truth. Instead we can come and worship King Jesus this Lord’s Day with full confidence that His victory has bankrupted the grave once and for all. In Him, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Liturgy for Sunday, April 05, 2015:
Call to Worship:
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy. (Psalm 67:1-4a)
Confession & Assurance:
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:5-9)
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)
You can also follow our Spotify playlist for this Sunday.