In a sense, we’re all on death row. Death is on my mind because of the recent death of my much-missed older brother, Doug. I am so grateful he died as a Christian. To die in Christ is gain.
In our culture, we do just about everything we can to push death away from our thoughts. Often we don’t even use the words. We’ll say things like, “He passed away” or just “he passed.” But these are just euphemisms for “he died.”
There is an interesting contrast between the Puritans and us, when it comes to sex and death. Sex was all hush-hush, while death was front and center.
When the Puritans learned their ABCs through “The New England Primer,” how did they learn the letter X? “Xerxes did die, and so must I,” in reference to an ancient King of Persia written up in the Bible. Death was not hidden from the Puritans, not even their children.
Sex was reserved for marriage and was not to be displayed out in the open. (I’m sure that on average they enjoyed significantly better intimate relations than do modern Americans.)
Today, death is hushed up, euphemized, put away from our cognizance as much as possible. Often old people are warehoused in nursing homes. Out of sight, out of mind. (That’s obviously not true in all situations, thankfully. But it does happen all too often.)
And sex today is front and center. You can’t even drive down the highway without some reminder about it. Even ads for burger joints say things like, “Get some in the sack.”
The Puritans chose better when it came to death. They chose to be reminded that in this life, all the cliches are true – we’re only just passing through.
You can’t cheat death by one minute. If you had all the wealth in the world, you couldn’t buy one more minute of life if you wished.
“A horse, a horse,” cries Shakespeare’s Richard III who wants to escape sure death as his enemies close in on him, “my kingdom for a horse.” Really, what he’s pleading for is his life. But not one minute more is granted him.
Think of some incredibly wealthy people. They can’t take a penny with them. Jesus said it all: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” It was noted that when John D. Rockefeller died, some businessmen were arguing amongst themselves as to how much he left behind. But the real answer was he left it all.
I read recently about a woman who hoarded stuff, a lifetime of stuff – whatever she could store in her house. Eventually, her stuff caused the floor of her house to cave in (with her on that floor). As I recall the news, she was found dead in the basement, surrounded by all her stuff.
You can’t take it with you. The best you can do is to send it on ahead.
In Christ is a philosophy to live by and a philosophy to die by. As painful as death is, the real sting of that sorrow is removed by Christ, who conquered the grave. That is the “breaking news from A.D. 33,” as James Taranto might put it. When Jesus walked out of the tomb, He ultimately created the time line (Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord).
The difference between being ready to die and not ready is huge.
Behind George Washington and Martha’s sarcophagi in Mount Vernon, chiseled in stone, are these words from Jesus in John 11 (the raising of Lazarus chapter): “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Washington’s last words were, “‘Tis well.”
Contrast that with a decidedly anti-Christian perspective, that of British atheist Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), who said, “That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving. …” Evolution says we’re here by accident.
Continues Russell: “… that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave. …” The grave stops it all.
Death not only overtakes us all, but everything else, too, says Russell: “… that all of the labor of the ages, all of the devotion, all of the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins. …”
He concludes, “Only within the scaffolding of these truths, and on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” Begin with the premise that life is meaningless and then you can build meaning into it. In one sense, you could say Russell is right … if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. But He changed all history when He did.
There is no way we would even have heard of Jesus of Nazareth if He hadn’t convinced His disciples of His resurrection. Even Doubting Thomas was so convinced that he made up for lost time by preaching the gospel all the way to southern India, until he was put to death as a martyr.
I once saw a grave from the 1860s in New Jersey. It said this, “This world is vain and full of pain, with care and trouble sore. But they are blessed, which are at rest with Christ forevermore.” My brother Doug himself wrote two months before his death, “Please don’t be sad over this. I know my Redeemer and am confident where I will be going soon. It’s actually kind of exciting.”
Media wishing to interview Jerry Newcombe, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.