An Easter sermon on how to deal with the reality of our future…death.
By Mark D. Harris, (Resurrection Service, MBC, Easter 2023)
Prelude – Trombone and French Horn, Low in the Grave He Lay
Congregational song – Christ the Lord is Risen Today
Congregational song – He Lives
(Standing in a cemetery)
Welcome to our future.
Look around. What do you see? Someday we will all be here, or someplace like it, or scattered across land or sea. We cannot avoid it…no man can. Even God abode in the grave. In a few short decades, or years, or minutes, we will be here, never to leave.
Our place at the table will be empty. Our voice in the home will be stilled. The warmth of our touch and twinkle in our eye will be forgotten. Our hopes and dreams will have come… and gone.
Deep in our hearts, we know that this is wrong. Death seems unnatural, and the decay of our mortal frame is not only terrifying. It is offensive.
How does the World deal with death?
- First, it tries to ignore it. People nearing the end of their days, the old and sick, are often shuffled off to nursing homes and hospitals, away from the eyes of others. Professionals, not families, care for the dying, and share their final days. Few are willing to talk or even think about it.
- Second, it tries to delay it. Like Gilgamesh in the Sumerian epics from four thousand years ago, people do anything to delay death. They reduce themselves and their families to penury with expensive medical treatments. They chase medical and spiritual treatments in the hope of adding days, and a few pay to be frozen after death in the hopes of reawakening some time in the future.
- Third, it promises that people can attain immortality through their accomplishments, or less commonly in our selfish modern age, their children. Everything strives to be “historical.” The media trumpets the first person of X race, gender, sexual preference, or whatever to occupy an important position or do an impressive thing.
In fairness, these ways to handle death are not always used and are not always bad. Annually, a higher proportion of people died at home in 2017 than died at home for the previous fifty years. Delaying death through diet, exercise, and virtuous living is a goal that I encourage my patients to pursue. There is nothing wrong with being mentioned in history.
Striving for a trouble-free life
The World also deals with death by trying to make life trouble free. It teaches people to interpret anything that they don’t like as a microaggression, a personal attack, or worse. The World convinces us that some people are toxic, and we must get them out of our lives. Ghosting acquaintances, friends, and even family, is better than working problems out, unless you can solve the problem with a minimum of trouble.
Strangers are dangerous. Trust no one. You are good, but other people are out to get you. Always avoid emotional pain.
Large swathes of psychology deny that people bear responsibility for anything they do. Instead, people are the nearly helpless products of their society and harmed by powerful oppressors. The World teaches that we have no control over our emotions, and anyone who makes us feel bad in any way must be punished. Past abuse, real or imagined, justifies any future actions.
In order to make everyone’s life perfect, the government must ensure that every outcome in every person’s life is equal, regardless of how skilled they are or how hard they work.
Some of this might be well intentioned, but it is largely wrong. It is also godless. Further, trying to handle death by ignoring it, delaying it, achieving historical prominence, or forcing people and society into a specific version of a “trouble-free life” is futile. Hardships still come, and for those who reject the Immortal One, the end of all things is death. In denying Christ, the World has denied the only way to deal with death in mortal life, and life everlasting.
Welcome to our future.
“It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and the unclean; for the person who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good person is, so is the sinner; the one who swears an oath is just as the one who is afraid to swear an oath. This is an evil in everything that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for everyone.” (Ecclesiastes 9:2-3a)
How must Christians handle death?
Followers of Christ work for a just society and to minimize suffering for others, but the end of these labors is not to exalt man or to defeat death but to give glory to God and to enjoy Him forever.
“Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
The Bible tells us a million ways to fix our eyes on Jesus. We commit it to our hearts. We pray and rejoice always. We are grateful. We give to others. We forgive. We are bold. We make our Christian service our top priority.
Consider the people buried here.
- Did they live their lives to benefit man, to make money, to get famous, and/or to maximize their pleasure?
- Did they jettison difficult relationships, avoid strangers, and make their lives as trouble free as possible?
- Did they lay aside every encumbrance (distraction) and let go of sin which entangled them?
- Did they run the race of life, fixing their eyes on Jesus?
- Did they despise (make small) every adversity and every bit of shame that they endured, for the sake of the glory laid before them?
- Did they embrace hardship when God called them to do so in His service?
- Did they take risks for Jesus?
What about your life?
- Do you live your life to benefit man, to make money, to get famous, and/or to maximize your pleasure?
- Do you jettison difficult relationships, avoid strangers, and make your life as trouble free as possible?
- Do you lay aside every encumbrance (distraction) and let go of sin which entangles you?
- Do you run the race of life, fixing your eyes on Jesus?
- Do you despise (make small) every adversity and every bit of shame that you have endured, for the sake of the glory laid before you?
- Do you embrace hardship when God calls you to do so in His service?
- Do you take risks for Jesus?
Think of the greatest wrong you have ever suffered. Picture the person who did it to you. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Can you say the same about that person, and others who have hurt you?
Do you want to say the same about that person, and others who have hurt you?
Jesus Christ did, and we have to be like Him. We cannot say, “Jesus was God and man, and since I am only man, I can never be like Christ, and don’t have to.” God doesn’t give us a bye on striving to love Him and be like Him. Salvation is not based on works, and there is nothing that we can do to make Him love us more than He does now. Still, He will always change His people into the image of His Son.
Welcome to our real future.
But never forget that in God’s grace, those who are chosen in Jesus Christ shall rise again into eternal life with the Father. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58:
“50 Now I say this, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does [u]the perishable inherit [v]the imperishable. 51 Behold, I am telling you a [w]mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised [x]imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this [y]perishable must put on [z]the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this [aa]perishable puts on [ab]the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. 55 Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”