No Fear: A Christian Perspective on Death - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2007-04-01 PM
  • Systematic Theology
  • Sermons

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As I talked with several people this week, it occurred to me that it would be helpful for me to provide you with a list of the crucial issues in eschatology. In a few minutes we'll get to the issue of death, and a Christian perspective on death, but I think we really need to begin by clarifying what are the crucial issues in eschatology? In other words, what are those doctrines that distinguish those who believe the Bible from those who don't? These are the doctrines that are the fulcrum on which orthodoxy and heterodoxy balance. On one side, those who embrace these things are orthodox. On the other side, those who refuse to embrace these things are into heresy of various kinds, or heterodoxy at the very least. Alright, so let's look at what are these crucial issues.

When you think of eschatology, when you think of what's important in eschatology, your mind should come to these things. First of all--and we start with the most basic--and that is the eternal soul of every human being. If there's going to be a future, if there's going to be a future as we've seen it described in scripture, then there must be an eternal soul, and that soul must be eternal in the case of every human being. Second of all, there should be a temporary separation at death of the material and immaterial parts of man. Again, those who are orthodox embrace the reality that man is composed of a material and immaterial part. And at death those two parts are separated. The present existence of a literal heaven and hell. Right now, today, there is a literal place called heaven, a place where people can be, and there is a literal place called hell, also a place where people can be. A fourth crucial issue in eschatology is the immediate passing of the soul at death into either heaven or hell. In other words, there is no "holding tank" somewhere. When you die, you will go immediately into the presence of the Lord, if you are in Christ, or into hell if you're not. That is what the scriptures teach, and that is what the orthodox of two thousand years of church history have taught. Another crucial issue in eschatology is the consciousness of all the dead. In other words, there's no such thing as "soul sleep" in which, after death, there's this sort of timing time period in which you find yourself in either a semi-conscious or an unconscious state. Rather, the Bible teaches that those who are dead are fully conscious in heaven or in hell.

When we move ahead, then, to the future in its most literal sense, as we tend to think of it, the real heart of eschatology, the next crucial issue in eschatology is this: the literal bodily return of Jesus Christ. Those words are all key. The literal bodily--not a spiritual return--but a bodily return. You remember, Jesus stood there on the Mount of Olives, and He lifted from the Mount of Olives in His ascension, and the angels said, "This same Jesus whom you saw go into heaven will come"—what? "…In like manner as you have seen Him go." He left in a glorified body; He'll return in a glorified body. He will return, and all believers of all ages have always looked for this bodily return of Jesus Christ from the time that it became clear with the ministry of Christ and the apostles and to this day; for two thousand years believers have anticipated this great event. We may differ on the timing; we may differ on the sequence in which it occurs, but we do not differ on the reality of this event.

Another crucial issue is the physical resurrection of every human being. Without exception every human being will be physically raised. Unbelievers will be raised in non-glorified bodies, in which they will be thrown into the lake of fire. Believers, we're told, will be raised in a body likened to Jesus own glorified body, and every person will experience physical resurrection without exception.

The future judgment of every human being is another crucial issue in eschatology. Without exception every human being, believer or unbeliever, will stand before God and will give an account. Unbelievers will be judged for their failure to believe and for their individual sins. They will be sentenced to eternal hell, to the lake of fire forever, and believers will be judged on the basis of their ministries, their service for Christ, and they will be rewarded, or they will suffer loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ. But every human being will be judged. Finally, the eternal conscious existence of every human, either in the lake of fire, or the new heavens and the new earth. The eternal conscious existence. In other words, the Bible does not teach annihilationism; that is, that unbelievers when they die, or at some point in the future at the judgment of God, are annihilated, that is they cease to exist; rather, the Bible teaches the eternal conscious existence of every human.

And so those are the crucial issues. Those who embrace these things, these nine truths find themselves balanced on the side of orthodoxy. While there are other issues that are important--and we're going to look at those other important eschatological issues in the weeks ahead--these are by far the most important, and which, as you determine even your interaction with others, as you determine the orthodoxy of those you interact with--these are the crucial issues. Not the timing of this or that, but the reality of these great truths. Alright? I'll reemphasize that; it may be at a couple of points in our study of eschatology, because it's crucial, as we look at the other issues, that we don't lose sight of these most important most crucial issues, the things that distinguish heterodoxy from orthodoxy.

Alright. Now, with that behind us, let me remind you of the "ordo eschatos" that we put together last time and I told you that you need to stay with me, that I'd review this as we go along and that over time it would begin to sink in. So, don't feel lost again tonight. Just uh sort of pick up what you can. Here is a biblical order of end time events. That's what "ordo eschatos" means. Of course, it begins eschatology, by definition, is all those things that are yet future for those of us sitting here at least for most of us; death is still future. As I said last week there are a few of you that I doubt that about but for most of us death is still in the future so this is part of eschatology. That's the next event for all of us on the timeline. Then comes what theologians call the intermediate state; that is, what happens from the moment of death until Christ returns. What is that state in which we find ourselves? And we'll look at that as well. That's followed, we believe, by the Rapture and we'll talk about that: the strengths of arguments for the Rapture, the weaknesses of the arguments. We'll look at that honestly and objectively when we get there. But we believe that Christ will return to gather the church to Himself. That's followed, then, by a time of tribulation. A time when God in the person of Christ takes back this world from the usurper, Satan. And He rains down a series of cataclysmic judgments in which He takes it back to Himself. Then, at the end of that tribulation period, it really climaxes with the return of Jesus Christ called the second coming of Jesus Christ described as we saw last time in Revelation 19. The second coming followed by the millennium, that is a thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on the earth. And then after that comes the Great White Throne Judgment, which unbelievers stand and face their Judge, and they are committed to eternal hell, the lake of fire as it's described at the end of the book of Revelation. And then begins the eternal state; as I mentioned: eternal life for those in Christ, and eternal death for those who are outside of Christ.

Now, as I mentioned last time, let's give some time frames to this. Obviously, death and the intermediate state is of an unknown duration. Some of us may be alive when Jesus returns, in which case, we won't face death. And certainly, if we die, and Christ comes soon, the intermediate state will be short as well. The Rapture is an event. It occurs in a moment in time, in the twinkling of an eye, as it's described by the apostle Paul. The tribulation period lasts for seven years, and we'll look at the reality of that when we get there. The second coming, of course, again is an event when Jesus returns with the armies of heaven and puts His feet on the Mount of Olives, conquers those who are opposed to Him in the great conflagration the Bible calls the Battle of Armageddon. It's an event. The millennium is a thousand-year period. That's the very meaning of the word millennium. And that thousand years is mentioned several times in Revelation 20. We'll talk about that when we get there. The Great White Throne also is an event. We don't know how long it will take for God to judge every human unbeliever one at a time, but whatever time that takes, that's the length of time of the Great White Throne, but it is an event. Then finally, the Eternal State, which of course lasts for eternity. Where will we be? Well, from the death to intermediate state the soul is in heaven, the body is in the grave. The Rapture—we'll be, if we're alive, gathered up to Christ, and if we're dead, we'll experience resurrection. During tribulation, we'll be in heaven. The second coming we'll be returning with Christ from heaven to the earth. During the millennium we'll be here on earth, and at the Great White Throne, we'll be present there, apparently, but not experiencing that judgment. And then, finally, for the Eternal State we'll be in what the Bible calls the "new heavens" and the "new earth." So that's, encapsulated, eschatology.

Now our goal and plan is to go from left to right on this chart. To go from that which is the most immediate, which is death, and work our way, event by event, to the final eternal state, looking at what the Bible teaches in each of these categories. Some of them are very simple. Death is a fairly simple topic, but the Bible has a lot to say about it. Others of these issues are very complex, like the millennium, and we'll have to look at the various views and discover what the Bible teaches on those issues. But that's the plan. We're going to start tonight on the left side of this chart and work our way through to the next event that shows up in this timeline one by one and through the next few uh weeks and even perhaps months depending on how long a couple of these take us to work our way through.

Tonight we come to the first of these issues in eschatology, the issue of death. I've entitled the message tonight, "No Fear: A Christian Perspective on Death." I think a number of years ago I shared the story with you, a story I heard of a man in the South who drove up behind a slow-moving truck on a small two-lane road. Now, if you've lived in the south any time at all, you understand the frustration that this can be. And he pulls up behind this this truck on a two-lane road, and as he looked, he discovered that above the license plate was a sign that marked this truck out as owned by the American Casket Company. This truck was transporting caskets. Well, you know AAA doesn't recommend that for an enjoyable trip, so he decided, look I don't want to spend another 30 minutes behind this truck on this narrow road, so I'm going to look for an opportunity and I'm going to just skip past this truck so I can enjoy the trip. So, he tried several times unsuccessfully to pass. Each time he moved into the lane to pass, an oncoming car forced him back behind this casket truck. So, after several unsuccessful attempts, to his wife's amazement, he stopped trying to pass it and settled back a comfortable distance behind it and seemed to be the picture of patience. Well, now, wives you understand why this particular woman was curious about why this would happen because that wouldn't be typical for a male driver and so she had to ask. And when she did, he just pointed to a little bumper sticker just above the license plate, a small sign that read, "Drive safely. Yours might be on this load."

Now, that's the attitude that many Christians have about death. That's this attitude of, "Look, I ultimately want to be in heaven. I just don't want to be on the next load. Because death is not something I want to consider or contemplate." People just don't want to talk about it. We do everything we can in our culture to insulate ourselves from its reality. In fact, until the last few years and the popularity of home hospice, the average person living in the US rarely had to deal firsthand with death. We take heroic measures to postpone death as long as we can. And when death threatens, people try to deal with the reality of death in a variety of ways. Some become angry, and perhaps you've talked to those who are diagnosed with a terminal disease and their response is anger. Others simply stoically accept it. In recent years, it's become increasingly popular to put on a kind of defiance of death. You know, "I'm not going to be bullied by death. I'm going to beat it." This, by the way, if you've heard the news over the last couple of weeks, this was President Bush's response to the announcement that Tony Snow, his press secretary, had had a recurrence of colon cancer. "Well, if anybody can beat it, I know Tony will. He's going to stand up to death." All of this is because man's greatest fear is the fear of death.

Francis Bacon wrote, "Men fear death like children fear the dark." Samuel Johnson, after witnessing the death of a friend, wrote, "At the sight of this last conflict, I felt a sensation never known to me before. A confusion of passions. An awful stillness of sorrow. A gloomy terror without a name." Scripture puts it like this in Hebrews chapter 2: "…The children share in flesh and blood, [so Christ] Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil"--and listen to this--" and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives." Scripture describes human beings, all human beings, as slaves their entire lives to the fear of death. In spite of all the bravado, deep down in the heart of hearts, every person still fears it. But how should we as Christians think about death? What should our perspective be?

Well, I want us to consider that together. And because it's such an important issue to us all--it is the only certainty in life--you know, you've heard the statement, "The only thing certain in life is death and taxes." Well, taxes aren't inherently certain. You can dodge that for a while, maybe even your whole life. But you can't dodge death. So, in reality, death is the only certainty. In light of that, it's crucial that we think about it as Christians, that we think Christianly about the reality of death. My father-in-law, a number of years ago now, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And I still remember--in fact, I have copies of the tapes, and they've circulated around the country--after he was diagnosed, after it became obvious that he would die of this disease, he spoke for our class out at Grace on Psalm 23. And he spoke on that verse in Psalm 23 that says "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…" And he made the point that, as Christians, we have to act like Christians even as we face death. His response was a great response. He said, "You know, cancer is the greatest gift God has every given me, because it's given me a chance to pack for heaven." We are to think Christianly about death. So, let's look at it together.

I want us to begin--and this doesn't really seem like it needs to be done; it may seem superfluous to you--but we need to start with a definition of death. As with everything, it's important to make sure we're talking about the same reality. A basic definition is this: the cessation of the life of the body; a separation of the immaterial soul of man from his physical body. That's what we mean by death. Understand that death is not the ceasing to exist; rather, it is the ceasing to exist of the life of the body. It is a separation of your immaterial self from your physical body. That is death. And the basis for this is, very clearly, in James 2:26: "As the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." There James contrasts this great reality, that there is a body and there is a spirit, and when the spirit leaves the body is dead. This is a basic definition.

We can also learn a lot about death from the major biblical illustrations of death. And there are some magnificent illustrations. Profound. The first one--and you're familiar with this--is rest or sleep. To the Christian, this is how death is illustrated. It's like taking a nap. It's like going to bed for the night and getting a good night's rest. In John 11:11 after Lazarus died, Jesus said, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep." Of course, the disciples misunderstood. Jesus had to correct their thinking, that He was in fact talking about His death, but Jesus likened the death of Lazarus to sleep. But it's not just Lazarus; it's all of us well, because Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4 :13 says, "…We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as…the rest who have no hope." He's talking about those Christians who have died. And he says, think of it like sleep. There's a wonderful comfort there for us as believers, isn't there? We understand sleep, and to some degree, we eagerly anticipate and look forward to sleep. It's not an enemy. And so, as Christians, because Christ has defeated death, we can think of it as a good night's sleep.

Scripture also describes death as a tent that has been destroyed or broken down. In 2 Corinthians 5:1 Paul says, "…We know that if the earthly tent which is our house"-- speaking of the body now--"is torn down"--is destroyed--"we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Listen there's going to be a time, he says, when this temporary dwelling for our souls, this physical body that's decaying, is going to be torn down. But we don't have to worry about that; we have a permanent house made by God for us. In 2 Peter 1:14 Peter says, "…The laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me." Peter said the time is coming when I will lay aside--it's as if I'm going to break down the tent I've been living in and no longer live in it anymore. Those of you who enjoy tents understand this analogy. My wife and I concluded very early in our marriage that our children desperately needed the thrill and joy of camping. And so, we're still looking for someone to give them that experience and joy.

Another illustration the scripture uses that I do understand is the withering and fading of wildflowers. This is a powerful picture for us living here in Texas and particularly in the spring. Psalm 103 puts it like this:

As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer.

Our family may tomorrow even go down towards central Texas to see the bluebonnets. It's a magnificent display of the created glory of God. But it's amazing, isn't it, that those wonderful and beautiful flowers seem to pop up overnight, and then, before summer, they're all gone. Lost in the hillsides, withered and dead. That is a picture of human life. It's a picture of death. There are a number of other passages that drive home this same point as well.

Another major illustration in it--there are many minor illustrations by the way; these are the ones that seem to be repeated over and over again. Another one is that of a shadow. Job 8: 9, "For we are only of yesterday and know nothing, because our days on earth are as a shadow." The brevity of life and impending death is pictured in this way. Job 14:2, "Like a flower he comes forth and withers…" that other image. "He also flees like a shadow and does not remain." Just as the shadow quickly disappears as the sun sets, in the same way this pictures our death. Psalm 144: 4, "Man is like a mere breath; his days are like a passing shadow."

I want you to turn to another passage that give us yet another image of death. It's a really interesting one. Philippians 1--turn there with me. In the middle of verse 18, Paul begins a paragraph. He says, "…Yes…I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out"--that is, whatever happens--"for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me"--he says as a word of personal testimony--"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." We'll look a little more at this, Lord willing, next week. "But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard pressed from both directions"--that is, from the direction of living and from the direction of dying--"having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better." Notice that Paul here delights in and desires something. In fact, the word that's used is the word "to crave." He says I crave something. Having the desire. The word having is in the present tense; that means this is an ongoing craving of Paul's heart. What exactly is it that he consistently constantly craves? To depart.

Paul uses this verb in 2 Timothy. This expression, I think, is as close as scripture comes to explaining the process of dying. It's one of the most poignant illustrations of death. The Greek word for "depart" is a very picturesque word. We looked at this when we studied Philippians. The Greeks used this word depart in several different ways. It was used to describe a ship that loosed from its moorings and raised its anchor in order to set sail. It was used to describe a group of soldiers folding up their tents and breaking camp. That was departing. Paul is saying to the Christian, the process of dying is departing. It's like raising the anchor and setting sail for heaven. It's like folding up our earthly tent and breaking camp for the journey home to heaven, where we'll move into our permanent house instead of living in a tent. A glorious body prepared by God with the same qualities as the resurrection body of His own Son. So, to die then is like raising the anchor or breaking camp.

What about the journey itself? What's it like? Well, there's really only one passage in the New Testament that hints at what that journey might be like from the moment our souls depart this body until we awake in the presence of Christ. It's a debated passage. Some would say that it doesn't really describe the process. Others would say that it does. But it's Luke 16:22. Turn there for a moment. What happens at the moment of death? This may be--and I say may, because we can't be absolutely certain--but it appears to me that it very well may be what happens at the moment of death. Luke 16:22. Of course, Jesus is telling the story of the rich man and Lazarus. It's just a story, but of course, Jesus is going to give us the realities of what happens, and He describes it this way in verse 22: "Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom…" It's very possible that that describes the process. From the moment our soul departs the body until we awake in the presence of Christ, our souls are ushered into His presence by the angels. But the journey is very brief. Because Paul says to be absent from the body is what? To be present with the Lord. It may be during that extremely brief moment of time, the angels, who are ministering spirits according to the book of Hebrews, involve themselves at God's direction in ushering us into His presence. So, Paul here in Philippians 1 longs to pull the anchor and sail for heaven. He longs to pack up his earthly tent and head toward home where he'll live in a permanent house. That's how the scripture picture pictures death.

Now, let's briefly look at the demographics of death together. Its source. Where does death come from? Well, the first mention of death in the Bible is in Genesis 3: 19. "By the sweat of your face"--God says--"you will eat bread, until you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." As the little boy said to his mom, "Mom, I looked under my bed, and you know God says 'from dust we're made, and to dust we shall return.' And somebody under there is either coming or going." Now what does this mean?

Understand verse 19 is not merely God acknowledging that this is going to happen but this is nothing less than a divine sentence. From God for disobedience. Jay Barton Payne describes is this way: "There was no natural reason why man had to die. Death came, rather, as punishment for sin. God's words, 'Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return' constitute a sentence uttered as a result of man's fall. And if we didn't believe that, God gives us confirmation in Deuteronomy 32:39: "'See now'"—God says—"'that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; It is I Who put to death and [it is I who] give life. I have wounded and it is I Who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.'" God takes full responsibility for sustaining life and for bringing death. We'll look more at that next week. It's so important to understand that, as Christians. To understand that God Himself is the source of death. Death came from God as a divine sentence. But what was its cause? Why did God bring this?

Well, we already saw it in Genesis 3. Death came as a consequence for sin. There are a number of passages that make this point. Genesis 2:17. God told Adam and Eve before they chose to sin, "…In the day that you eat from [that tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you will surely die." In Romans 5, Paul puts it after the fact this way: "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through that sin, and so death spread to all men, because all have sinned--" The reason there is death--it came from God, as a divine sentence for disobedience, the disobedience of Adam and Eve. And we were all represented there in Adam. We all sinned in Adam. Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death." 1 Corinthians 15:56. "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law." It is our violation of the law that gives definition to sin, and because of sin, we experience the sting of death.

Now, what's the scope of death? And you know this. And we all know this. But let me just make sure that you see the scripture makes this point. It is universal. There's no one who escapes it. Job, in the events of the book that probably are the earliest events recorded in scripture--I'm not saying it was the first book written, necessarily, but the events of it go back to the patriarchal period–and Job says in Job 14:

Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil. Like a flower he comes forth and withers. He also flees like a shadow and does not remain.

Job says every man who is born of woman is short-lived. Ecclesiastes 8:8. "No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death…" No man. Comprehensively true. Hebrews 9:27, "…It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes [the] judgment." It is a divine appointment. And 1 Peter 1:24. "'All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls off.'" Of course, there are some exceptions. The only exceptions to the universal scope of death we're told in scripture are Enoch in Genesis 5; in Hebrews 11 we're told that he was not for God what? Took him. He didn't experience death. Elijah also did not experience death according to 2 Kings 2:11. And there's another group that won't experience death, and that's those Christians who are alive at the time of the Rapture, the coming of Christ for His own. We're told that those who are alive and remain shall what? Be caught up together. No death. Just immediate transformation. But for the rest of us if we aren't alive when Christ returns, for every other human being, this is true.

Now folks at the risk of being morbid I want you to think about this for a moment. Look around you. Every one you see, if the Lord tarries, will die. Think for a moment about the people you love; without exception, every one of them will die. Now, how should that reality affect you? You shouldn't ignore it. You shouldn't act like it's not going to happen. It should affect you. Let me give you a couple of practical applications, and then we'll look at a couple of biblical applications. I say practical because it's not like there's a chapter and verse for these, but they're just a couple of observations you ought to be aware of.

First of all, treat the people you love as if their death were imminent because it may be. Some of you know that for a time I worked in a funeral home when I was in seminary, actually lived there. And it was a great job, as you've heard me say, for a seminary student, because it was very quiet. I could study a lot; very quiet. And in the evenings I was responsible to be there primarily to answer the phone at night, in case there was a call from a family or from the police letting us know that there had been a death. And I was responsible then to contact a mortician and give them the information and send them out; this was before more modern communication methods which probably would have rendered my job unnecessary. But at the time it was necessary, and I was there. But in addition to that, I would come back from my job as an electrician during the day during the summer that I lived there, I'd come back from my job and quickly shower, and then I would get extra pay for working, what are called in the south, "visitations." And that's where you usher people who come to visit with the families of the deceased to the various rooms where those families are. And I was struck with several things while I was there. I was struck with how many people had such huge regrets about how they had treated these people, or how they had not treated them. Let me just say, give your flowers now; don't wait till the person's dead. They won't enjoy them. Give them now. Don't wait to give your eulogies then. Give your eulogies now while they can hear them. Tell them how much you appreciate them. Tell them how much you love them. Tell them what a difference they've made in your life. Don't save those words until they are gone. Treat the people you love as if their death were imminent, because it may very well be.

Another practical application I would share with you is don't be surprised. I can't tell you how often, both in the funeral home and even as a pastor, I hear something like this: "I just didn't expect this. I was just surprised." Well, there is a sense, of course, in which there is an untimely death, an unexpected death. But sometimes we even respond this way when the person's in their 80's or 90's. I understand that. It's never the proper time, is it, to lose someone we love? But understand that this is a reality and that it will in fact happen to everyone. Think about that, and respond to them in light of that. When Sheila and I were talking about this, she had a problem for a while sleeping, and she came across in that great little book I've recommended to you, Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers, she came across in that book in the index a prayer about sleep. And she thought, oh good; you know this will be encouragement, this will be a comfort. This is what she read: "May my frequent lying down make me familiar with death, the bed I approach remind me of the grave, the eyes I now close picture to me their final closing. Keep me always ready waiting for admittance to Thy presence." The Puritans understood something that we don't understand. And that is, death is certain, and we need to live in light of that. Now, let me take you to two very straight forward biblical applications that we studied tonight.

First of all, live constantly under an awareness of your mortality. This isn't morbid, folks. This is a reality. Let the reality of death keep you serious about life. This, by the way, is how our Lord lived. How often in His ministry did He say something like this to His disciples? "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to"--what? "…To give His life a ransom for many." How often did He tell His disciples, "I'm going to go to Jerusalem, and I'm going to be betrayed, and I'm going to die."? He lived under the weight of that reality, and it drove Him to be faithful to the ministry that God had set before Him. We're commanded to live the same way. Look at Psalm 39. Turn there with me for just a moment. Psalm 39. David, in describing the brevity and vanity of life, says that he wasn't going to tell others about it, in verses 1 and 2. I wasn't going to talk to others, particularly the wicked, in my presence, but verse 3: "My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue…" And now he talks to God about it. About this concern, this struggle he's having. And He says, "Lord, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am. Behold, you have made my days as handbreadths." This was the shortest unit of measurement in the ancient world. It was composed of the four fingers you hold up together like that. A little less than three inches. He said my life is like less than three inches long. "…And my lifetime as nothing in Your sight. Surely every man at his best is a mere breath." He says, "God, make me to know my end and the extent of my days. Let me know how transient I am." David understood that there was spiritual virtue in reflecting on the reality of approaching death. We see that spelled out, by the way, in greater detail over just a few pages in Psalm 90. In Psalm 90:3 Moses writes:

You turn man back into dust and say, "Return O children of men." For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night. You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; in the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew; toward evening it fades and withers away.

He says, well, our life span is a like a day that passes. Verse 9:

For all our days have declined in Your fury; we have finished our years like a sigh. As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away. Who understands the power of Your anger and Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?

So, in light of all this here's what Moses says: "God, teach us to number our days that we may present to You a heart of wisdom." In other words, God, help us to carefully evaluate how we live and how we use our time in light of the reality that life is so short. And it just flies by. How would you use your time if you knew that by this time next week you would face death? Moses' prayer here is to remind us that we're to live like that all the time. Live constantly with an awareness of your mortality.

Secondly, live on purpose. Don't waste your life. In Romans chapter 14:7, Paul says, as he's talking about the issue of Christian liberty there, he says,

For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.

He's saying, "Listen, life and death is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Live for His glory. Live because it matters to Him." Paul in Philippians 1:20, the verse I read earlier, says that "[this is] my earnest expectation and hope, that…Christ will…,as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." Paul says, I understand death is coming. Paul was even considering that possibility in Philippians 1. He was in a Roman prison, expected to be released, but also realized that he might very well die there. And he says, "Listen, whatever life I have, I want it to be for Christ. I want Him to be exalted in my body in life. And then, when death comes, I want Him to be exalted in that as well." We are to live our lives for the kingdom, for Christ. Ask yourself how many of the things you do day by day matter to Jesus Christ. Now, we can do what we do and have responsibility to do--working, caring for our families, etc.--we can do that to the glory of Christ, or not. But what would you do differently if you knew you were going to meet Him next Sunday? We're to live on purpose for His glory.

At the risk of being repetitive, I have to share with you the illustration that has driven me for some 25 years. Did you know that there is an industry that's gambling on when you will die? It's the life insurance industry. They have a complicated set of actuarial tables by which they estimate what your premium will be, so that they, in the overall scope of things don't lose money by paying out life insurance premiums. And they have to establish how long it is that you're going to live and when you are likely to die. Now that's a very complicated set of actuarial tables, but let me just simplify it. Essentially, it comes down to this. Most of us in this room tonight, the insurance industry is betting, based on averages, will live a certain length of time. If you're a man, on average you will live to be 74 years old. Some die before that, some die after that. But the average is 74 years. If you're a woman here tonight the average is 78 years. Let me encourage you to do a little math problem. Deduct your current age from 78, if you're a woman, 74 if you're a man. Now folks, on average, that's how long you have to live in this world. What are you going to do with that time? Are you going to do something that matters? Are you going to live on purpose for the kingdom and for Jesus Christ? "Only one life will soon be passed; only what's done for Christ will last." Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for our study tonight. Unpleasant in many ways, because it's something our culture doesn't think about, doesn't talk about, ignores. And yet, Father, a part of life in this world. A reality that everyone of us faces with those we love, as well as, eventually, ourselves, if You should tarry. Help us to think as Christians about it. Help us to have the right perspective. And Father, I pray that we could be able to say with Paul, that both in life and in death our desire is to see Jesus Christ exalted. Help that to be true of us. Help us to be able to say with Paul, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." We pray in Jesus Name. Amen.

Systematic Theology