Where, O Death, is Your Hope?

This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free, compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Joseph Ton (Romanian Christian writer), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:

Whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. (John 11:25)

The Lord Jesus Christ delivers us from fear. Apparently, He does so in different ways. Hebrews 2:14 says: 'Through His death.' The Son of God loves me. He saw me with my sins, my failures, and my treason and even so He still loved me. He came to earth to take my sins upon Him. He died my death, went to hell -- my hell -- and He rose again. That is why Christ can say: 'I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades' (Revelation 1:18). Christ died my death and now He says: 'death is My messenger' to invite you to heavenly glory.

Joseph Ton was once arrested by the police in Bucharest. One of the officers threatened to kill him, but Joseph smiled and said: 'If you shoot me, I will enter eternal life. You cannot frighten me with that prospect!' He was not afraid to die, for a Christian will never die.

'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?' (1 Corinthians 15:55).

'For I am convinced, that neither death, nor life ... will be able to separate us from the love of God...' (Romans 8:38-39).

A moment of introspection: Joseph Ton introduces a subject that many Christians/believers and unbelievers, alike, fear. There is a widespread unwillingness to say the word "Death." It falls on our hearts like clods on a coffin -- so all people and languages have adopted euphemisms for it -- fair names which wrap silk around its hurt and somewhat hides its face. But all of us live time-limited lives here on earth and sooner or later must contend with not only saying the dreaded word, but facing the reality of our own mortality. In a sense, as Christians, we lose nothing worth keeping when we leave behind the body, as a dress or a shirt not fitted for home, where we are going. In his second letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul was facing his own death. He awaited execution as he penned the words to his young protege. Despite all that Paul was facing--death, the end of his ministry, abandonment by most of his friends for fear of persecution, he faithfully directed his spiritual son, Timothy, to the hope that is in Christ.

Paul's concern for Timothy reminds us of the story of another father and son. 'A boy and his father were driving down a country road on a beautiful spring afternoon, when a bumblebee flew in the car window. The little boy, who was allergic to bee stings, was petrified. The father quickly reached out, grabbed the bee, squeezed it in his hand, and then released it. The boy grew frantic as it buzzed by him. Once again, the father reached out his hand, but this time he pointed to his palm. There stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. "Do you see this?" he asked. "You don't need to be afraid anymore. I've taken the sting for you."' This story, told by Adrian Uieleman, bears a moral or lesson that might help us as we consider "the final frontier": We do not need to fear death anymore. Christ has died and risen again. He has taken the sting from death.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews specifically addressed those of us who might fear death. Please take a few minutes to read and absorb what Hebrews 2 is telling us--especially verses 14-15: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself 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."

During His earthly ministry, God's Son talked about the trials of life. He sought to prepare His followers for the antipathy of the world against those who bear His name. (cf. John 15:18-25) Yet He too spoke a word of hope (cf. John 16:33) Jesus' life and teachings, tried to instruct His disciples about how to live in the present life. It is this life that is crucially important to our death in times to come. Another anecdote, by Jean Sarrault, might do well in expounding upon this: 'In the movie "Casualties of War", Michael J. Fox plays Private Erikson, a soldier in Vietnam who is part of a squad that abducts and rapes a young Vietnamese girl. He didn't participate in the crime. Afterward, as he struggles with what has happened, he says to the other men in his squad, "Just because each of us might at any second be blown away, we're acting like we can do anything we want, as though it doesn't matter what we do. I'm thinking it's just the opposite. Because we might be dead in the next split second, maybe we gotta be extra careful what we do. Because maybe it matters more. Maybe it matters more than we ever know."' Jean Sarrault summarizes: 'Death, for all of us, is a breath away. And the nearer death is, the closer we are to answering to God for all we have said and done.' We believers know that eternity with Christ awaits us on the other side of death. Jesus spent time showing us that.

In the unknown time we have left, though, perhaps our focus should be on how God's Word says we are to live our lives toward the hope that is in Christ. According to the Son of God, we who profess our love for Christ should obey Him. (cf. John 15:9-11, 14). It is a worthwhile exercise to read Christ's commands with attention to how we as readers will obey them--to let His commands sink in. Do we believe it?: Whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. (John 11:25) Do we believe it?: 'For I am convinced, that neither death, nor life ... will be able to separate us from the love of God...' (Romans 8:38-39) The apostle Paul perhaps said it best; do we believe it? Can we say this with Paul?: 'For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.' (Philippians 1:21) Let us be about our Father's work--for the time is indeed short before we hear the upward call (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Be alert. Serve God well. In our lives, let not the "Blessed Hope" of Titus 2:13-14 become the "Blasted Hope" of current-day scoffers. "Maybe we gotta be extra careful what we do. Because maybe it matters more." Maybe it matters more than we have thought.  We serve the One who holds the keys of death. So, do not fear death. But live like one of the redeemed -- whose hope is in the Lord. Let those of us who have ears, hear the resounding chorus of heavenly voices...

"saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:12-13)

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