Romans 5:12-30      Your Free Gift”              

 

           

            Have you ever noticed how we euphemize the concept of death. We call it by so many other nicer terms: passing on, moving on, kicking the bucket, and so on. In hospitals the term “expiring” is used quite a bit. It makes me think that my life is like a library card that expires. The military speaks of “direct action” and “collateral damage” to soften the notion of death. These terms make death sound like something positive or at least non-committal—like spilling your coffee on some paperwork.

            The way that I understand Paul’s view of death is that it is not something that he trivializes or in any way denies. He sees death as the enemy. I think that this is the right way to view death. It is not a good friend that comes and slaps you on the back. Death is the nemesis of life that sneaks up and slaps you in the face.

            Paul is clear in his division between life and death. He says that on one side there is sin that leads to trespass or indebtedness that will lead eventually to death. He uses the figure of Adam to represent sin, indebtedness, and death. Exactly opposite in Paul’s writing is the figure of Jesus who represents grace, freedom and liberty, and life.

            So, opposite of sin is grace. Opposite of trespass is liberty. Opposite of death is life. We are therefore given the choice of either following Adam or following Jesus. We can choose the ways that will lead to death. Or, we can choose the ways that lead to life.

            What did God create you for? Do you think that God created you simply to die? I once heard a theologian, I won’t mention his name, say that the reason that the dinosaurs all died off was so that we could have pools of oil under the earth for our use. That got me to think that one might assume from that reasoning that one day all we will be good for is as a petrochemical product for some more advanced species. In other words that is a bunch of nonsense. The point is that God gave life to all creatures. Our God is a living God that created life. It is not God’s purpose to see it destroyed. And, I feel rather certain that God was NOT thinking about helping the petrochemical industry when He created various life forms.

 

            Since death is the enemy of life, should we not be afraid of death? Most people whom I have counseled either in terminal illness or in grief over the loss of a loved one have expressed to me two main fears about death. The first fear is what can be called an “existential anxiety”: the fear is that death will lead to nothingness. The second fear is what I will call the fear of the loss of control over life. Dying is when we finally lose control over our own lives after spending most of our lives trying to keep control. Of course, our faith in Jesus Christ addresses these two fears squarely.

            Simply put, if we fear losing control of our lives at the time of our deaths, then we could be better off losing control of our lives much sooner. Let us say that we give our lives over to the Lord today. Let us just say, “Jesus, I give my life over to you right now. You are in control. I will live for you, not for myself!” That kind of giving up of the control of your own life is what is called in the Bible “Dying unto Christ.” In 1 Corinthians 15:31, Paul actually says that he “dies daily unto Christ.” Of course, what he is saying is that he is giving over control of his life every day to Jesus. He himself has given up control, so that aspect of the fear of dying is no longer.

            I read recently that over 80% of our lifetime expenditure for health care occurs in the last six months of our lives. The author made the comment that in America “health care” is a euphemism for “death care.” Death is the enemy. Why should we have “death care”?  It does not need to be cared for; it needs to be fought. The way to fight death is to live today. The way to live is to invite the eternal life in through Jesus.

            You see, the other fear that we have is that one day we will be nothing. The philosopher and writer Albert Camus thought that this fear of death had a positive effect on humankind. He believed that the fact that life is finite makes every remaining moment precious and beautiful. To him, life without death would not be worthwhile. The problem with this philosophy is that life-everlasting is what God has given us through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Albert Camus must therefore think that the afterlife is rather meaningless.        

            Without the perspective of living an afterlife, everyday does just not become precious—it becomes downright critical. Even time spent worshiping God on Sunday morning might be resented because it is perhaps not considered productive in a materialistic sense. “Time” itself becomes like a god. It is easier for some just to give cash over to a charity rather than give of their critical allotment of time on this planet. It has been said that volunteerism in America is waning because time has become the greater issue in most people’s lives.

            As people run around trying to get as much as possible into every moment, a kind of shallowness in living takes hold. There is no more time for simple conversations. There is no more time for prayer. There is no more time for Christ. Everything becomes simply shallow—even our faith.

            The theologian Paul Tillich spoke about the shallowness of our times and the need for depth. He wrote: “The moment in which we reach the last depth of our lives is the moment in which we can experience the joy that has eternity within it, the hope that cannot be destroyed, and the truth on which life and death are built. For in the depth is truth; and in the depth is hope; and in the depth is joy.” Live deeply in God. Don’t live fast fearing death. Live deeply in hope of the life everlasting with God!

            The famous pastor William Willimon once preached on the twelve ways to die unhappy. They were in his opinion the following: 1) separated from your real self, 2) separated from others, 3) separated from the ground of your being, 4) never having experienced real community, 5) trying to have it all, 6) keeping it all for yourself, 7) marching to the beat of the wrong drummer, 8) dancing to the wrong tune, 9) fighting the wrong enemy, 10) spending your life in a meaningless job, 11) living your life as a series of accidents, 12) denying your own mortality and death.

 

            We are not to deny death and then suddenly and unexpectedly succumb to it. We are to face death out of the depth of our own living and become victorious over death. The Apostle Paul tells us this again from 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory!’” This saying of course comes from the Prophet Isaiah 25:7-8 “And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of the people he will take away from all the earth.”

            These two prophecies of the victory over death must be heard that they apply to the entire earth. I bring this up because I personally have struggled with an understanding as to whom the victory over death should apply. The reason is that I have been with quite a few people in their last moments here on earth. And, I can say that from what I have experienced first hand, those who have a strong faith die differently than those who do not. This is a bit hard to explain. There really has been a peace, a calmness, a sense of divine victory in the room when those who are strong in faith have died. The Holy Spirit is so present that it is hard to focus one’s eyes as everything that was once physical in the room seems to lose its cohesiveness. You can almost touch the Spirit of God. And, the person whose body is there in the bed is also in that spiritual state. You can feel and sense that person’s victory over death in that instant. You are one hundred percent affirmed that life goes on.

            Then, I have been with those who have died that I know never came to a full faith in God. There is not that sense of victory. It is more like death creeping in and claiming another human body. Instead of a look of victory and joy, the last look on the face is one of shock and surprise. Sometimes there is just a blank stare.

            What I have come to postulate from these experiences is that we have the chance ourselves individually to claim victory over death through believing in Jesus, freedom, grace, and eternal life. Or, we can hold onto sin, trespass, and the fear of death. That is our choice as individuals.

            However, what I know from prophecy in the Bible is that some day death will be completely vanquished by God. I know that this victory over death that we can claim through Jesus Christ will apply to all of humankind. There will be a world-wide victory over death. The victory will be for all people.

            Death is the enemy. It is not just a part of life. You can be victorious over the enemy by choosing the life that is given to you freely in the grace of our Lord. If you give your life over to Christ today, you will no longer fear death for you know that victory is Christ’s. You will no longer fear nothingness at the end, for you will know that there is no end. You will live your life deeply in grace and spirit. You will see God’s victory over all the earth as death is vanquished.    Amen.