Have you any questions that simply won’t go away and always demand an answer? Consider first the pressing questions of life itself and death.
What is life?
What a mystery life truly is! We did not choose to be born; we cannot recall anything of our earliest years; and we could not even care for ourselves in those early formative years.
And life is so frail and insecure that there is no guarantee that the breath we breathe in now, we will breathe out in a second or two. Our lives are shaped by the factors of heredity and environment. We were all born into the, often unrecognised, ‘prisons’ of gender, parentage, birthday and birthplace, which have greatly influenced our lives.
Think about these things. Yet perhaps we did not seriously question the meaning of life till we were ten or thirty – or fifty!
‘What is your life?’ asks one Bible writer, and answers, ‘You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes’ (James 4:14). Humanly speaking, there is some truth in that image, but for a full answer to life’s significance we must go to the teachings of Jesus.
For Christians believe that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and the creator of the whole universe. They believe his astounding claim, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6).
So how does Jesus define human life? Negatively, he said, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’ (Luke 12:15).
How often have we mistakenly judged a person’s life or happiness by his wealth, health, house, car, job, family or social status?
Positively, Jesus urged logic, observation and faith on his followers: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?
‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?’ (Matthew 6:25-26). Jesus reminded us that God’s two greatest commands are that we should love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves.
Another command kindly meant for our blessing is that we should love our enemies. An unforgiving spirit so easily leads to bitterness and an unfruitful life.
Jesus gives equally tough teaching in Mark 9:42-44: ‘And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
‘It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out’. By such figurative language Jesus declares the sinfulness of sin and the sacrifices a Christian must be ready to make to avoid committing sin and angering God the Judge of all the earth. Jesus taught that we are all stewards of the life God has entrusted us with and are accountable to him for how we use it.
The Christian’s first allegiance is always to the Lord Jesus; and Christian discipleship involves carrying the cross of self-denial or self-crucifixion each day. And in the face of persecution, Christians must stand firm and so gain true life. For this life on earth is not the whole story!
What is death?
Our middle daughter when six said, ‘Daddy, there’s a small bird in the garden that isn’t moving!’ So we gave it a decent burial there!
Our youngest daughter cried when her beloved pet rabbit, let out of its cage into our garden nearly every day of its long life, finally had to be put down. And the whole family wept, and many of her friends, when our eldest daughter aged 41 died after a year’s illness.
How final and irreversible death seems to be! How painful and heartbreaking! How universal and unforgiving! What a shocking mystery death truly is. Some are born dead; some die very young; while some, even wicked men, live well beyond 80. It all seems so unfair and uneven. But there is an answer.
If man can be said to be body and spirit, then we must distinguish between physical death and spiritual death. Physical death occurs when our body and spirit separate. Our body disintegrates, but our immortal spirit returns to God our Maker.
Spiritual death involves man’s separation from God’s presence and favour. Spiritual death first occurred when Adam’s intimate fellowship or relationship with the Lord God was broken by his disobedience or rebellion.
As God had warned, Adam and Eve did die when they went against God’s clear command, but they died spiritually (Genesis 2:17). Only many years later did they die physically.
Both physical and spiritual death are therefore the result of sin. As Paul put it in Romans 6:23: ‘The wages of sin is death’, and wages are what we earn or deserve, aren’t they? Tragically we are all born in sin and subject to death in both its aspects, physical and spiritual death.
But the great good news of Jesus is that he died for us on the cross as our substitute. Anyone who sincerely believes and receives Jesus will there and then pass from spiritual death to spiritual life. For Jesus, God the Son, shared our humanity and yet was sinless.
He died on the cross that ‘he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death’ (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Thank God, after our death we shall all be judged by Jesus, who sees, knows and understands everything, and is rich in grace, mercy, justice and truth, and lived among us for our sakes.
How do we enter God’s heaven and gain his eternal or everlasting life? By repenting of our sins and by trusting Jesus as our Saviour. Jesus began his public ministry by proclaiming: ‘Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:15).
It is significant that when questioned about all the people killed by Pontius Pilate and the collapse of a tower, Jesus concentrated on the vital need for the questioners themselves to repent (Luke 13:1-5).
So let us live and die as Christians who have received Jesus and his free gift of eternal life. For as Revelation 14:13 says, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord’.
Jesus spoke of two roads. Do we travel on the narrow road that leads to life – or the wide, crowded road that leads to destruction? Before raising Lazarus from the grave, Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies… Do you believe this?’
Well, do you believe this?