Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Glorifying Death

Last week we looked at Jesus' conversation with Peter and how He restored him to ministry. But Jesus isn't done with Peter. He has more to tell him. This time it isn't about his past. Having restored him, Jesus can now talk about his future. Listen.

'Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.' (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) (John 21:18-19)

So, what do we have here? Jesus is prophesying. He is telling Peter some things about his death. And did you notice John's commentary about what Jesus said.

This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.

Peter was to glorify God by his death. He was to make God look good by his dying.

I think that it's safe to say that that would sound weird to most people these days. And if it’s ever true, it’s only true of special people. You'd have to be a martyr or something like that to glorify God by your death. So, there may well be this elite group, people like Peter, who will glorify God by their death. But that’s not true for the rest of us.

I'm going to disagree with that. I actually think that this is supposed to be normal for every Christian. Every Christian's death is to glorify God. And just to pick one verse, here's why I think this.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, [including how you die] do all to the glory of God. 

Just like Peter, you are called to die in such a way that it brings glory to God. You are to make God look good by your dying.

Christians don't usually connect dying with glorifying God. And here's why. Death is something to be avoided. We don't even discuss it all that much. And that's because death is feared. I've heard Christians say that they aren't afraid of death itself. It's just the process of dying that they aren't so keen about. But I'm thinking that it's exactly the process of dying that John is talking about. It's the process of dying - whether we are talking about Peter or you - that can make God look good.

What's the problem with that idea? Why the fear? When people think about the process of dying what takes center stage? The pain. Dying just might mean lots of pain. And who wants that? Well, yes, your death just might be really painful. But does that change what the Scriptures call you to when it comes to making God look good? Aren't you still called to glorify God in your dying?

So, let's deal with pain. Pain is just this thing to be avoided. That’s what our culture teaches. Once you've established that, there's nothing more to say. Right? Well, actually no. Pain has a purpose. Understanding that little thought will turn things around.

Now, where do I get this idea that pain has a purpose? I get it from the Bible. So, consider what we looked at last week. Jesus asked Peter His question, 'Do you love Me?’ Do you remember what happened after the third time Jesus asked it?

Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?”

Grieved. What's that but another word for 'pained'? Jesus pained Peter by His questions. Was He being cruel? No. The pain had a purpose. It was a means to an important goal: restoring Peter. So, when you are in pain, whether it's emotional pain like what Peter experienced or physical pain, you really should ask this question. What's this pain for? What's Jesus' goal in this?

Consider some examples in the Scriptures. First, there's Job. When you read the end of the book you find that it was God who sent all that evil Job's way. But after experiencing all that pain, what did Job say?

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.

Job came to a place where he could admit that though he thought he knew God he could see that he really didn't, not as well as he had come to know him. The pain had a purpose. It was to lead Job into a deeper relationship with his God.

There are other examples of this same sort of thing. There's Joseph, taken from home and sent away to a foreign land to become a slave. There's the other Joseph, the one engaged to Mary, whose dreams of married life were shattered. Consider the pain Paul experienced with those beatings and such. Because of what he learned by that pain that he could say, 'When I am weak then I am strong'. You can add to these names. There's Abraham sacrificing Isaac, Israel in the wilderness, David being chased by Saul. God has used pain throughout the history of His dealings with His people.

Here's a verse that captures the point.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

God has used pain to bring about good, things like 'the peaceful fruit of righteousness'. And He has done that to bring about good.

The best example of this is, of course, Jesus. His pain resulted in good. It resulted in good for Him. So, there's this.

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.

As odd as it might sound, Jesus had to learn to obey. And He learned it through suffering pain. So, here, the benefit of the pain was for His own sake. The pain God sends your way likewise results in good for your own sake.

It was a different matter when He was pained on that Cross. There the benefit of His pain, the good that came from it, was for you.

It makes a big difference when you realize that the pain that you are enduring can bring good to others. Suffering pain becomes a way of serving the people around you. That was true for Jesus and it's true for you.

So, if you are going to glorify God in your dying you need to understand pain. It is a tool that God uses to bring about good. Suffering pain - physical pain, emotional pain - is a large part of life in a fallen world. It doesn't have to be overwhelming pain, but pain is a large part of your life. And it just might be a large part of your death. And in all of this, the pain has a purpose. It's one way that God brings about good.

Now for the 'What am I supposed to do?' question. How can you respond well to pain? One common response to pain is to hate it and, in one way or another, say something like, 'Why is this happening to me?' Here's a better response: crying out to God. When the pain isn't all that great it might be labelled calling out to God. But when the pain is great it really is crying out. That's when prayer gets very focused and very serious. And what do you tell Him in this crying out? One thing to say is that it hurts. Nothing that I've said should make you think that you're supposed to like being pained. The Psalms are filled with people crying out to God telling Him that it hurts. So, it must be okay for you to do that, too. But along with that it seems right to say something about wanting to trust Him through all the pain. To trust Him that His intentions for all this pain is for good. To trust Him so that you don't bail on Him and opt for some foolish way of responding to the pain. And part of this trusting shows as asking Him for the ability to deal well with the pain. Without that it all falls apart because you can't do this on your own.

So, these are the kinds of things you tell God.

It hurts.
I want to trust You.
Help me.

And the goal in responding like this? To make God look good, as good as He really is.

All of this is something that you learn in the context of normal daily living. It's as you learn how to do this as you live that you will be able to do this as you die. You learn how to glorify God in your death by learning how to glorify Him in your life.

So, consider the things that pain you in life. And respond to them with this kind of prayer

It hurts.
I want to trust You.
Help me.

And one goal in this is to prepare to deal well with the pain of dying so that you can make God look good then.

Now, why should all of this be important to you? Why should you work on understanding and responding well to pain now with an eye to your death? The answer is simple. It's love. Jesus said that all the instructions of God are captured by two commands. Love God and love others. So, why work at being able to die well? You want to make God look good. Okay. But why do you want to do that? You want to do it not because it's what you're supposed to do. It's not an act of obedience or duty. You do it because you love Him. Any reason other than that just won't work. If He is the love of your life, then making Him look good in life and in death only makes sense. And consider that in Jesus He loved you enough to endure the kind of pain that you will never have to experience. Glorifying God in your death is an act of love for Him.

And it is also an act of love for others around you. Dying well can become such a blessing for them. There are things that are best learned by seeing an example, things like dying well. The nature of real love is revealed when it costs the one doing the loving. So, out of love for these around you, endure the pain in order to die well. Out of love for them, show them how a faithful Christian lives and dies. For those of you who are parents consider this in light of your children. They will see you grow old. They may witness how you die. Leave them a good example.

Last thought. As you consider the sobering thought of dying don't neglect to connect it with what happens after that. To quote Paul,

 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Your death will be a doorway into unimaginable glory.