Only Death Awaits
Originally written April 14th, 2017
Luke 22:41–44 — He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
It was the end of a long journey. A journey full of laughter, sorrow, frustration, joy, hope, disappointment, and a lot of sermons and parables. The end, but also the beginning of something new. We have a tendency of seeing death as the end. It’s only natural, of course. After someone is dead, they typically stop talking us, or spending time with us. In their absence, it feels like we’ll never see them again. Then there’s the fear. What happens when we die? What lies on the other side? Do I simply…cease to be…? Will I know I’m dead?
I’m sure Jesus didn’t have a lot of those fears or questions; he seemed to have a pretty good handle on what was going to happen next. He explained quite clearly to his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them where he was going. He was returning to the Father; there was no question about that. But even knowing the outcome, his final destination if you will, he wasn’t looking forward to the journey. The pain of watching your closest friends desert you. The pain of whips and thorns and nails, insults and jeers…seeing your own children, really, the people you created with love, laughing at you as the life slowly drains from your body over the course of several hours.
We will all face death, at some point. Probably not one as gruesome as Jesus’ death, but regardless it’s a moment most people aren’t looking forward to. It’s quite ironic really, when you think about it, that the one thing most certain in our lives is the thing we usually least like dwelling on. We immerse ourselves in pleasures and entertainment and work and anything else we can find to take our minds off of it. There’s actually an interesting little line about that in Ecclesiastes 7:2 — “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.”
Death is the destiny…but not the end. Sometimes I have fun conversations with people about how we can know what happens after we die. Of course, the afterlife isn’t something we can observe ourselves. We can’t measure it, peak into it, nor study it in any way. What do we need? Really we need someone who’s been there. Someone who has been dead, and comes back to tell us what it’s like.
Ah, but can you really trust those stories from people who say they were in heave for 20 or 30 minutes or something like that? Maybe they were just hallucinating, or dreaming. No…we need someone who was definitely dead. Dead for a few days. Stabbed through the heart, bled out, cold, stiff, wrapped up and buried…that kind of dead. Right? Preferably someone who seemed reliable while he was alive; someone who demonstrated true power and knowledge. Someone you knew was always going to speak the truth, even if it ticked everybody off. If someone like that came back to life; walking around and talking with people, telling people what was going to happen to us after we die…that would be the person worth listening to. Especially if, after he came back to life, none of his followers were afraid of death anymore. Almost as if everyone who knew this guy suddenly lost all fear of what awaited them on the other side of this life after he comes back to life and tells them about it.
Today, we commemorate the death of the one person to ever walk the earth that could reliably fit that description. The one person who, knowing full well what was about to happen, told his followers ahead of time what to expect. Someone who didn’t need to suffer for anything, but considered us each valuable enough to suffer for.
And Sunday, we will commemorate his resurrection.
Good Friday and Easter are times to ask yourself, “What do I really believe?” What are you investing your life in? In a few billion years, when the sun explodes and destroys the solar system, what will be left of everything you’ve done? Where will you be? Is there anything that can give you hope, looking at such a future? The future we know will be?
Romans 5:6–8 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
There is only one hope Jesus had to offer. Not wealth and prosperity, fame and fortune. Certainly not health and long life. The one hope Jesus left us with was the hope that we would come back to life just like he did. Not because we were good and deserved it, but because he already paid the price for it. This week is a chance for each of us to ask ourselves if that is really what our hope is in, or if we instead look to the future in fear, thinking only death awaits…