Sunday, April 10, 2016

And He Died

Biblical genealogies are really something. You read all those strange names, struggling to get them right, and then when you come to the end of the list you wonder what have you gained. Today, we're going to look at a genealogy, and it is my hope that by the time we're done you will have gained something important.

Listen to Moses.

This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.
When Seth had lived 105 years, he fathered Enosh. Seth lived after he fathered Enosh 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died.
When Enosh had lived 90 years, he fathered Kenan. Enosh lived after he fathered Kenan 815 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enosh were 905 years, and he died.
When Kenan had lived 70 years, he fathered Mahalalel. Kenan lived after he fathered Mahalalel 840 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Kenan were 910 years, and he died.
When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he fathered Jared. Mahalalel lived after he fathered Jared 830 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Mahalalel were 895 years, and he died.
When Jared had lived 162 years he fathered Enoch. Jared lived after he fathered Enoch 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died.
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.
When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he fathered Lamech. Methuselah lived after he fathered Lamech 782 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died.
When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” Lamech lived after he fathered Noah 595 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Lamech were 777 years, and he died. After Noah was 500 years old, Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth. … After the flood Noah lived 350 years. All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died. Genesis 5, 9.28-29

You probably noticed the pattern that was repeated in that genealogy. It goes like this: Someone is born, has children and then dies. And the pattern starts again with that person's child. He is born, has children and then dies. And on it goes. There is one interesting departure from this pattern, and maybe we'll look at that in a future sermon. But the basic pattern is pretty clear. What I want to spend some time on is one particular aspect of this pattern: how it ends. The last phrase is 'and he died'. Over and over again: 'and he died', 'and he died', 'and he died'. What makes this worth noting is that while this geneology ends with Noah, that pattern doesn't end there. Even to this day the pattern continues ending with the same phrase: 'and he died'. So, picture your name in some geneology. You're born and you do this and that. And then it says, 'and he died' or 'and she died'. One of these days you're going to die.

Folk these days don't like talking about death. But I think that since we are Christians we should be able to talk about death without any problem. We should be able to say to ourselves, 'One of these days I'm going to die', and be fine with that. And yet, sadly, there are Christians who are not fine with that. Why would that be? I have a few ideas.

Here's one reason why lots of Christians aren't fine with the thought that they are going to die: fear. They are afraid of dying. It's a unique experience, and no one quite knows what it will be like. It makes sense for people who aren't Christians to fear death. It really does. But it actually makes no sense for us to be afraid. Just a few weeks ago, Easter Sunday, Christians all over the world were rejoicing that Jesus has conquered death. We were singing about it and thanking God for it. Well, is it true? Did Jesus actually conquer death?

The author of Hebrews wrote about this.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself (Jesus) likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Hebrews 2.14-15

You see what he's saying. Because of what Jesus has done, we are freed from the fear of death and the slavery that it imposes. We are free. This is simply a fact of the Gospel. It's true like the Incarnation is true or the forgiveness of our sins is true. Jesus has delivered us from the fear of death. It's something that is true that you believe - or you don't. 

That raises another reason why some don't like to talk about death. 'But it may hurt. I might die a painful death. Who wants that?' Well, the fact of the matter is that you might very well die a painful death. Jesus never promised that you won't. But let's think about this. Why would that happen to you? Well, it would happen because it's part of Jesus' plan for your life as one of His disciples. Just as He brings other things into your life, He will bring your death to you. The details of your death have already been determined. Jesus has already decided when it will happen and the way that it will happen. But why would He have you die a painful death? Here's one reason: to give you an opportunity to make Him look good. Your dying well when others don’t makes Jesus look good. That's what our suffering - of whatever sort - is for, to make Jesus look good.

So, here's a question that I think would be good for you to ponder. Are you willing to suffer for Jesus' sake? Are you willing to deal with pain so that you can make Him look good? That includes much more than how you die, but that is included. Are you willing to suffer for Jesus' sake? I think that that's a good question to ponder and not just when you think about the possibility of a painful death.

Now, bear in mind (and this is so very important!) we never face suffering - of whatever sort - alone. That would be impossible and overwhelming for any of us. This is where you would do well to remember what that psalm said.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil[!]: for thou art with me.

We never face anything alone, be it death or anything else. Jesus, our faithful Savior, always walks with us. He will be with us on our last day here, holding us by the hand and giving us whatever we need to be able to endure to the end, to be able to die well and make Him look good. Do you believe this?

Then, there's this. At the thought of dying some say, 'There are so many good things going on in my life now or soon will. I'd love to be able to enjoy them'. That might have to do with enjoying their kids or grandkids, or enjoying things they find so very satisfying or enjoying something else. They would like to stick around to enjoy some things of this life.

So, what do we say to that? Listen to something Paul wrote.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Philippians 1.21

'To die is gain'. What an uncommon thought. Paul goes on to explain this gain.

My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. Philippians 1.23

And that highlights a key issue. Which do we love more, enjoying the things of this life or enjoying Jesus in the life to come? Now we need to be careful. This isn't to say that life here is to be despised. Not at all. This life is filled with many good things from God. And He wants us to enjoy them all. So, for example, when we're at a get together with friends and family and everyone is having a great time our first response really ought to be, 'Thank You, Lord, for Your great kindness in allowing us to enjoy this time together.' There really ought to be sincere thanksgiving. What's happening is good. But our next response should be something like, 'And how much better will times like this be in the age to come.'

We're back to what we saw when Eve named her boys. Remember what I told you. The firstborn is named 'Cain' because Eve could say,

I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.

She was glad because God was keeping His promise. And that is so good.

But then, there's her other son, named 'Abel' which means vanity, futility, emptiness. Eve understood that life was not nearly as good as it was back in the Garden nor, as we know, as good as it will be in the restored Garden. There are things to be enjoyed here, fully enjoyed with great thanksgiving. But the best of those things cannot compare with what it will be like in the age to come. And that's why Paul could write, 'And to die is gain'.

So, what have I done? I've touched on the fear of death, the possibility of a painful death and the concern of losing the many good things of this life. I've tried to explain that facing the fact of our death is no problem for us even in light of these concerns. What's left? What's left is to talk about how to prepare for death. Here's some advice from Paul.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3.1-4

Paul presents a contrast between what is above and what is below, what is heavenly and what is earthly or you might even say what is of this age and what is of the age to come. He calls us to pursue what is above, what is heavenly, what is of the age to come. And why should we do that? Something has happened to us. We have been changed. We've been raised with Christ. We're back to that Easter theme: we have one foot in the age to come. That is who we really are. So, Paul is just saying that we should live in terms of who we really are.

So, the question for you to consider is this: What are you seeking or setting your mind on? What are you pursuing? Let me say that differently. What is it that makes life work for you or would make life work for you if you had it? If it's tied to what's down here in this age then you have a problem. Death then becomes a threat, something to fear because death will steal from you whatever that is. But if you are able to enjoy the good things of this life as a little taste of the age to come then death is no threat. Death is simply a doorway to what you have been longing for.

I would encourage you to take some time to think about these things, to think about death, to think about your death. Pray that the Spirit would enable you to believe all the truths of the Gospel, including things like Jesus has conquered death.

No comments: