Sunday, February 1, 2015

How to Die

I'm hoping that it isn't news, but you're going to die. There's going to be that day which will be your last. You are going to go through the process of ending life here. It's not something that most people think about these days, but we all really should. One reason why people don't think about it is that death is something that our culture hates. So, most folk avoid the topic. Others try to redefine it. They talk about death as a friend, as a part of the natural way of things or something like that - all of which is a lie. Death is no friend. It is an enemy. It's the last enemy that Jesus will destroy. But until He does that, it is something that you all will have to face. So, it seems wise to prepare for that. 

Over the last few weeks I've spoken from John's Gospel about how Jesus approached His death on the Cross. I've used Him as an example for you to imitate. I've shown you how He died well. And that, remember, is an important goal, dying well. You don't know how you will die. It may happen quietly in your sleep or rather quickly like a massive heart attack. Or it just may be a process that lingers and drags on for what will seem like forever. You don't know how. But what you do know is that you are to follow Him. That means that you are to live as He lived and to die as He died.

What I'd like to do is to highlight some things from what we've seen in John's Gospel over the last few weeks as Jesus went to His death. The goal is to help you to prepare for what inevitably will happen. The goal is to help you to prepare for your death.

Let's start with this. Don't fight the fact that you're going to die. Don't even try to hide from it. It's going to happen. It's part of the Father's plan for you. He has already decided when it's going to happen as well as how.

Submit to the Father in this. Jesus didn't fight it. And He certainly didn't try to hide from it. No, He submitted. And that's why He could say,

And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.

Jesus submitted Himself to the one who sent Him to die.

To be sure, Jesus wrestled with this part of the Father's plan when He was praying in Gethsemane. And that makes sense. Submission isn't about blind obedience as if you were a slave. Submission can include lots of questions and lots of discussion. It's just that once the decision is made, once the conclusion has been reached, the questions end and discussion comes to a close. Jesus discusses His death with the Father. But when the answer was clear He submitted. So, throughout this section of John's Gospel you see no complaining, no grumbling, no hesitation. Jesus went to His death willingly.

So, if it appears to be the time for you to die, discuss it fully with the Father. Raise all of your questions. But when it's clear that you are called to die, don't fight it. Accept it as the Father's will and go to your death willingly.

Now, also bear in mind that Jesus understood that the Father didn't just decide when He would die but also how. Jesus could have died peacefully, as an old man, full of years, in His sleep, after a life full of ministry. But that's not what happened. The agony of the Cross was part of the plan. Jesus knew that and accepted it. That's why He could say,

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Likewise, in your case, the when and the how have already been decided by the Father. So, you also might die peacefully in your sleep after a long and satisfying life. Or you might die a painful death that lingers long. It's the Father's choice. Will you also submit to the Father's will?

Being confronted with the possibility of a slow, lingering death raises some important questions. Here's one that's kind of critical. Do you trust Him? That is, do you believe that the sovereign God, who decides things like the time and manner of your death, loves you and intends, by your death, good for you and through you for others? It's one thing to trust God when you have a bill to pay and a little short of cash. It's another thing when the diagnosis is cancer. That's when a question about trust becomes more pointed.

Then, there is this other question. It has to do with this saying of Jesus.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Do you remember how I applied that to you? I talked about being willing to set aside what seem to be good desires just because you've been called to do that.  So, are you willing to die like that grain of wheat? Are you willing to set aside the desire to avoid pain if that's what the Father calls you to? Avoiding pain seems to make so much sense. But it may be that you will have to hurt in your dying. Are you prepared to do that? Bear in mind that, just as with Jesus, the manner of your dying has a purpose in the Father's plan. It is a way for you ‘to bear much fruit’. So, are you willing to set aside your desires and accept whatever kind of death you are called to because you trust the Father?

John records something else that Jesus said as He was about to die.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”

Physically speaking, it would make sense for Jesus to be thirsty. But John tells us why Jesus said those words. It wasn't because He was thirsty. It was to fulfill Scripture. Jesus had a little more to do even as He was on the brink of death. So, He did it. You may have things to do, callings to complete, even as you are dying. Jesus was able to complete His life's work because He didn't turn inward when it came time to die. Again, no complaining or any of that. He wasn't thinking about Himself.

And that becomes ever so clear as you consider Jesus concern for His mother.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

There are many powerful words that can be spoken from a deathbed. Words of forgiveness and reconciliation. Words that will challenge someone to live well or maybe to die well. Words that express a deep love, something that will be so helpful for those left behind. That won't happen if someone is complaining with, 'Why is this happening to me?' or something like that.

Along with having the right attitude, there is a physical reason why Jesus was able to say those words from the Cross. Matthew tells us,

They offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.

More than likely, the wine with gall was intended to dull the pain by drugging Him. He didn't take it. He wanted to be able to do those things and say those words that I have been talking about. He could not do that half drugged.

It may be that you will be offered some medication that will dull your pain as you await death. And it may be that you should take it. However, it may be that you shouldn't. You can't speak powerful words from your deathbed if you are drugged to semi-consciousness. The intention in the offer of these medications is kind-hearted. But it is based on the assumption that avoiding pain is the most important desire. It isn't. My point is not that you should always avoid such medications. My point is that you should think about it and make a wise choice.

So, how do you do all of this? How can you imitate Jesus in His dying? The answer is not complicated. How you live will determine how you die.

So, consider submission to the Father's will. It's as you learn how to do that when it comes to some relatively small bump in the road that you will be able to do that when it comes to your death.

It's as you learn that life is not about you and your happiness that you are able to die to some good desires so that you can make Jesus look good.

It's as you learn how to live for the glory of God that you will be able to die for His glory.

There are things you need to learn now. And the Spirit is ready to teach you.

How you live will determine how you die.

I've told you before about the early followers of John Wesley during the Evangelical Revival in the mid 1700's. People said of them, 'These people die well'. People today don't. You can have a tremendous impact on them by how you approach your death. You can make Jesus look really good by not being afraid of what so many are afraid of. And when it comes time for you to die, you can speak words that will be powerfully used by the Spirit. Learn to live well so that you can die well - for the glory of God.