February 3, 2008
Pastor Brian Shimer
"Dying to Death"
Romans 6:1-11/Ephesians 2:1-3
- I remember the phone call - I was standing in the kitchen, the caller from Arizona told me that there had been an accident in Hawaii and that Joe, one of the members here had drowned. My knees felt week. Not Joe Jones, young, stalwart and newly married to Shannon! I was shocked. They had gone for a one week Spring Break trip to Hawaii. Shannon's mom filled me in-Joe had been slammed to the sand under a wave while body surfing. He had inhaled water and sand. Once pulled lifeless from the water he had been resuscitated then rushed to the hospital and was in ICU on life support.
To get the news of a death is shocking - it shakes us. As we love people it hurts more. A widower wrote me this week of the more than 17,000 days he had spent with his beloved wife before her death. The grief is still fresh; the memories still hurt.
The next night 20 of us gathered for an emergency prayer meeting at the House of Prayer before it became a nursery. We sought God on behalf of Joe Jones. And God heard our prayer. To the doctors' surprise, Joe recovered. A family offered them a condo to stay for some weeks until Joe's lungs were strong enough to withstand air travel. United Airlines changed their reservations and put them into first class on the flight home. The doctors who had seen many lesser injuries end in death, called Joe's recovery a miracle, and were equally amazed that he was not brain damaged. That time grief was postponed - death relinquished its hold on Joe. He and Shannon are now the parents of two beautiful little boys.
- Death is one of the two sure things in this life other than taxes-and today perhaps one of three sure things with the super bowl! Yet it is one of those things we like to avoid - we don't want to face it ourselves and don't want anyone we know to face it. The fear of it keeps us thanking God that "everyone made it here safely" in our prayers. The avoidance of it has prompted us to create a myriad of euphemisms for it… we say someone "met their end" "are deceased" "kicked the bucket" or "are pushing up daisies!" If someone "flat lines" we know it means their heart stopped, they'd died. The idea of "eternal rest" or of being "six feet under" is never lost on us. If someone "bites the dust" we know it does not mean just "fell over".
When I speak of the conditions of my dear brother Billy Craig suffering with a brain tumor, it is hard, I don't want him to die, but the reality is that Billy's situation is no more terminal than my own. I think as people we somehow believe that only those who have been diagnosed as having a terminal disease are terminal - when in actuality, all of us are terminal, it is just that no doctor has set a date. As if a doctor actually could set the date!
- As we look at the Old Testament death is clearly presented as the opposite of life - "I have set before you life and death," says the Almighty, "…now, choose life" (Deut. 30:15,19). God makes it clear that rebellion will lead to destruction, but obedience, listening to the Lord will lead to the discovery that God is our life. In the OT death became the end of life in the garden. Indeed, in Genesis it is God who first brings up the idea of death. He breathed "life" into Adam in the garden and warned him not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil for "in that day you will die." This is explained later in this manner: that sin entered the world through one man and death through sin (Romans 5:12). The man's garden rebellion was not just to disobey a law but to choose to become his own master and reject God.
Death in the garden was first spiritual - they were separated from God and from one another that very day. Later it was physical-they died. From here on out people died, they were mortal; they were killed, as began with Cain's attack of his brother Abel.
In the OT death means silence, there is an inability to praise God, so the Psalmist cries out, "What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise you?" (Psalm 30:9).
In death people are "gathered to their fathers" into a place called Sheol. This is a kind of waiting place - which the NT helps us understand as waiting until the advent of the Messiah who would grant them access into eternity. But in the Old Covenant the wisdom of King Solomon prevails as he wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes: "Death is the destiny of every man - the living should take this to heart" (7:2)
- It could not be louder: you are mortal! This reality is carried into the New Testament with one change - the promise of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. This world is not all there is. Jesus is the second Adam-he began a whole new human race. As Romans 5 tells it: "Just one sin (Romans 5:16), "one trespass (v. 18), brought condemnation and death to the whole race, so 'one act of righteousness… brings life for all" (v. 18). The one act of the second Adam, his death and resurrection, canceled the results of the one act of the first Adam.
The death of Jesus, then, destroyed the one who held the power of death, the devil, (Hebrews 2:14), destroyed death (2 timothy 1:10) and destroyed the devil's work (1 John 3:8), which allowed Jesus to say: "He who believes in me will live and never die" (John 11) for His life and death and resurrection brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel!
When Jesus died he visited those who were in Sheol he preached to them (1 Peter 3:19) and led those who lived their lives believing in him out of that place into heaven (Ephesians 4:8).
Because of this you will not find an author in the New Testament lamenting death nor crying out to God about the dust not praising him, for they understood that death had been defeated. Paul wrote that for him "to live is Christ to die is gain" - meaning that Jesus was living through him and to die is to be with Jesus (Philippians 1:23). There was no 'holding tank'-there was no purgatory, but departure from life here was entrance into a place prepared for them, a return to fellowship with those who had gone before. Indeed, to die was to be in the presence of the Lord Jesus-death cannot separate us from God's love (Romans 8:38-39).
However, if we have not met Jesus, if we have not been born again by his work on our behalf, if we have not believed on His name, then even though physically alive, we are truly dead, as said the passage Mariana Knifer read from Ephesians 2:1-3. We are "dead in our trespasses and sins in which we used to live". We must encounter Jesus, we must be baptized into Him, into his death (as Romans 6 says) and then we have died to sin and thereby died to the power of death, died to that old way of sin in our living and can be alive to God. As the NIV said in 6:11: "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus."
- Well that was a quick Old and New Testament overview to acknowledge that this meal proclaims the death of Jesus - not as a morbid reality, but as an incredible shout of triumph! Friends that Jesus conquered death means we need never be conquered by it!
But how easily we can be conquered by fears, doubts, old sin, addictions! How easily we can choose death over life. How easily we can seek to "look as Christian as we can" while at church, even when we have never really met Jesus in the first place - there is no living dynamic to our faith, there is no fellowship with him in our lives, there is no hope that buoys our times of darkness.
Today at the start of lent would be a great time to give up death - give up the life of death if you have never said yes to Jesus. It would be a great time to recognize that to give your life to Jesus means "it is no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you!"
Today at the start of lent would be a great time to give up death - your fear of the little deaths of change. Give up the habit, the addiction, the unforgiven hurt and open the door of your heart more to the One who can set you free.
As you come for communion - come in order to choose life - choose Jesus.