The celebrated Liverpool manager Bill Shankly famously said, ‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death … it is much, much more important than that’. Such sentiments have been echoed by many an ardent football fan, while they remain a complete mystery to those for whom ‘the beautiful game’ holds no appeal.
For some of us it’s football; for others it’s rugby or some other sport; or music, art, politics, or something else. We all have something that we are passionate about, something that at times seems more important than either life or death.
And yet, deep down, we know that there is nothing more important than life and death. The destination of the league title may matter immensely to the players, directors, shareholders, management and fans, and yet — win or lose — next year the campaign will begin in earnest all over again.
Whisper it not on the terraces, but in 100 years’ time it won’t really matter whether the history books record that Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, or one of the Manchester clubs were crowned champions in May 2017.
Life matters. Without life, we are nothing, and we have nothing. Without life, there is no sport, music, art, politics or anything. And death matters too. Because death takes from us everything we have. The Bible speaks of death as an enemy and an intruder that robs us of life and all its pleasures.
There is nothing more important than life and death. That’s why so many people willingly forsake their passions in life in order to be by the side of a loved one in his or her final days and hours.
Death has a way of helping us get things in proportion. When faced with the death of someone close to us, the things that we ordinarily devote so much time and energy to can seem to fade into insignificance.
A life that matters
We are all deeply affected by the life and death of those nearest and dearest to us. But there is one man whose life and death matters to everyone. Not just to those who are close to him, but to those who are far away from him too.
When the Lord Jesus Christ died on a cross outside Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, the future of the entire human race hung on the outcome. If he remained in the tomb, there would have been no hope for any of us. Death would have had the last word and claimed us all: for ever.
It is no exaggeration to say that what happened to Jesus after he died was a matter of life and death for us, as much as it was for him.
Life without end
The fact that he didn’t remain under the power of death, but emerged from the tomb on the third day has implications for all of us. It means that if we align ourselves with the conqueror of death — if we are on his side — then we, too, will share his triumph. All who repent of their sins and trust in him will share in his victory over death.
That’s why the Bible says that Jesus has ‘abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’ (2 Timothy 1:10).
It doesn’t mean that people don’t die any more. Obviously they do. But what it does mean is that, through his death and resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ has destroyed death’s hold on those who belong to him, and he gives them life and peace that will never end. In place of a dark, bleak future under the wrath of God for our sins beyond the grave, he promises eternal life and light in his presence.
Jesus said: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ (John 11:25-26).
How each of us responds to Jesus’ question is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. That’s no exaggeration. It really is as important as that!
Norman Wells is a member of Amyand Park Chapel in Twickenham