This is the first of three Sunday morning teachings on the specialness of human life. I’m posting them in the order we considered them. You can replay or download our Sunday meetings on http://recordings.crownoflife.org.uk/
We must all expect to die. But what does this mean? Many people today believe we simply decompose in the earth. Biblical faith says there’s conscious human existence beyond our present living. The resurrection of Jesus points to some more glorious eternal life. What are the certainties for believers?
- Humans are constituted as a living person, with material and non-material faculties. The Hebrew biblical view was very unified. The classic Christian view, influenced by Greek philosophy, made more of the two distinctions. Modern thinking, influenced by psychology and naturalism, seems set on explaining away our subordinate existence and consciousness.
- The bible celebrates our experiences of creation. Importantly, it also affirms that life has the potential for great meaning. This includes the possibility of knowing God. It also takes in positive social/community life. To live well, in these terms, means one can have a fitting death.
- Sin has marred both the design and destiny of human life. Mankind experiences a struggling and shortened existence, separated from fellowship with God. The bible calls death a sting and an enemy.
- Christ, through the cross and resurrection, pioneered the only remedy, as we celebrate in baptism. In Him we join God’s reconciled new humanity. The death we recognise is Adam’s. The real life that now animates us is eternal, from God.
- For believers, the New Testament adds to previous dying vocabulary (going to your fathers) with other expressions (sleep, being re-clothed/re-housed). It speaks of continuity in consciousness, including relationship with God. This recalibrates our whole perspective on human existence (and hopefully our funerals).
- Without these three: meaning, remedy/reconciliation and eternity, the social and medical ethics surrounding death struggle for direction. This is where today’s culture has landed, and from where most contemporary voices speak. Their definition of dignified dying is very different from the bible’s understanding.
- We can meet the departure of faithful loved ones with both grief and joy. They have passed on to the presence of the Lord, and their reward for their works.
So what’s this about? They say death is a taboo subject. But for believers, it’s the doorway to fuller life. Today’s world increasingly favours being able to control the moment of dying. What does this mean for you?
PSALM 89:48 What man can live and not see death, or save himself from the power of the grave?
Human existence and consciousness was a gift from God, constituted from His own life and of His own nature’s character. Therefore expecting to live independently won’t really work, naturally or morally.
GENESIS 2:7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
PSALM 104:29 When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. 30 When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
Life has meaning. Each soul has significance: we can dream, attempt and appreciate every day we live.
ECCLESIASTES 12:6 Remember him -- before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, 7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 8 "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Everything is meaningless!"
Sin spoils God’s purpose for fellowship, individuality and purposeful length of days. All of us are caught.
1 CORINTHIANS 15:53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "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! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
Sorted! Jesus Christ lived the life and death we could have known; we’re back in with a second chance!
1 CORINTHIANS 15:20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Created again. Regeneration to eternal life overtakes our first generation. God’s home can be ours, too.
2 CORINTHIANS 5:1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Dignified dying. Bible characters hoped for a peaceful death and proper burial at the end of a life of virtue. This defined dignity. Today’s society has its own values, and asks when life may be terminated - voluntarily and involuntarily – for “good enough” reasons. Medical oaths have multiple aims, and doctors must note patients’ autonomy: “Whose life is it anyway?”
LUKE 23:42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. " 43 Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.
2 TIMOTHY 4:6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day
Joy and grief. Humble people draw their significance from God’s hand on lives, so are strong in death.
1 THESSALONIANS 4:13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
This is the age when universal control of life, from conception to dying, becomes a consumer right.
· Do you struggle to accept that God is “there”, when you speak of the value and potential of your life?
· From what absorbs you day-by-day, how much do you think questions of meaning and eternal destiny?
· “It’s my life”. Have you said it? What was going on? What do you make of the available option to end it all?
"I want to die” (from a survey). “My reasons are as follows…”:
(1) I cannot tolerate the pain anymore. If you were in my place, you’d understand.
(2) I do not want to be a burden to my family, relatives and friends.
(3) I can’t participate in life, as I would want to know it, any more.
(4) I have lost autonomy, ability to cope independently, etc.
(5) I’ve lost quality of life, control over functions, etc; I’m suffering depression.
(6) It is costing me too much to live. Medical resources are limited, and treatment is expensive.
(7) If I die I can give my legacy and realise my dream through my children, secure my family from poverty, assure a better future for my son, etc.
(8) If I die my body parts can be used to save many.
(9) If I die, I can realise my own identity, set an example. I can make a personal statement about “right to meaningful life”.
(10) If I die I can be liberated; physically and psychologically (whose life is it anyway?), and can influence government policy.
Overall, men are more likely to agree than women; younger people more likely than older; and church-goers (10%) are three times more likely to disagree.
Scripture quotes from the New International Version.
1. And let this feeble body fail,
And let it droop and die;
My soul shall quit the mournful vale,
And soar to worlds on high;
Shall join the disembodied saints,
And find its long-sought rest,
(That only bliss for which it pants)
In my Redeemer's breast.
2 In hope of that immortal crown,
I now the cross sustain,
And gladly wander up and down,
And smile at toil and pain:
I suffer out my threescore years,
Till my Deliverer come,
And wipe away His servant's tears,
And take His exile home.
3 Surely He will not long delay:
I hear His Spirit cry,
"Arise, my love, make haste away!
Go, get you up, and die.
O'er death, who now has lost his sting,
I give you victory;
And with Me my reward I bring,
I bring My heaven for thee."
4 O what has Jesus bought for me!
Before my ravished eyes
Rivers of life divine I see,
And trees of paradise:
I see a world of spirits bright,
Who taste the pleasures there;
They all are robed in spotless white,
And conquering palms they bear.
5 They drink the vivifying stream,
They pluck the ambrosial fruit,
And each records the praise of Him
Who tuned his golden lute:
At once they strike the harmonious wire,
And hymn the great Three-One:
He hears; He smiles; and all the choir
Fall down before His throne.
6 O what are all my sufferings here,
If, Lord, You count me meet
With that enraptured host to appear,
And worship at Your feet!
Give joy or grief, give ease or pain,
Take life or friends away:
I come, to find them all again
In that eternal day.
7 That day, when death’s last triumph ends
His conquest o’er the just;
When from the grave each saint ascends,
No more a child of dust.
And lo! I see the scattering shades!
The dawn of heaven appears!
The rich immortal morning spreads
Its blushes round the spheres.
8 I see the Lord of Glory come,
And flaming guards around!
The skies divide to make Him room,
The trumpet shakes the ground!
I hear the voice, “You dead, arise!” –
And lo! the graves obey,
And waking saints, with joyful eyes,
Salute the expected day!
9 They leave the dust, and on the wing
Rise to the middle air,
In shining garments meet their King,
And low adore Him there.
O may my humble spirit stand
Among them clothed in white!
The meanest place at Thy right hand
Is infinite delight!
Charles Wesley (c) Public Domain