We were eating ice cream on the porch of a log home. The sun was shining brightly. It was a beautiful chilly fall day as only the mountains can be.
He corrected himself. “No, the second worst thing.” I knew he was referring to the near death of his day old son, the tiny thing covered in patches and wires and tubes, coming back from being “80% dead.” But this time his sister had recently died from brain cancer.
How, he wanted to know, could God be happy over the death of his saints?
Psalm 116:15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
Those of us who know the Bible and know God also know this – He is not inconsistent, nor does He refute Himself. There’s a lesson here somewhere.
First, not everyone is called a saint. If we say someone is not a saint we get into muddy water. Who are we to say who is and who is not a saint? At the point of physical death it is well known that individuals may grasp on to the truth of God and end up in heaven after a life as rascals who condemned God to His face. But that is His grace and we are not there.
God looks on the heart and we can’t see it. His sister was silent for one week before her death. Whatever she and God were talking about is not known to us now or then. And his sister wasn’t the chief of sinners either. So that explanation is out.
But, there is more than one death. Locked as we are in the physical world we think only of that death, the one where we say prayers, send flowers and present a formal public goodbye.
The memorial service custom has nothing to do with the “departed” – all the formalities are for us, the living, to mark a point in our lives when we can say to ourselves, however weakly, we must move on. Grief, if held on to for any reason can eat up the soul and contaminate the spirit with bitterness and regret and blame.
There is no such thing in life as the status quo; we are either moving forward or deteriorating.
But second, there is more than one death; there is a second death. Since the physical body cannot die twice, God must be talking about something else, and that something else is what Christians call “death to self.”
Paul said in Galatians 2:20 “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
Paul is using the present tense: I am, right now, living in this body, believing myself crucified just as Jesus was, living not for myself and my own goals but for Him and His goals for me and the human race. All those wonderful plans I had for myself are gone and I am available to Jesus and to Him only for whatever gifts and work He has for me in this world.
That is what it means to be crucified – present tense – with Christ. It is a sacrifice and God knows a lot about that subject.
Jesus could well have lived forever in His sinless body. No disease could touch Him. He could have enjoyed a 2,000 year ministry laying hands on the sick and them recovering. He could have written some best sellers, been on TV (what a program) and spoken in multiple languages on radio to reach millions. But He chose His Father’s plan instead.
And that plan was then and is now to give the power and authority to His followers so they can put on TV shows, preach the good news in multiple languages, lay hands on the sick, cast out demons – whatever Jesus did is now possible for millions, perhaps billions of believers worldwide and through the centuries.
Yes, that is a better plan. He said, “As My Father sent me, so send I you.” He could not have been clearer. (John 20:21)
So when God’s people – the saints – make that choice to kill off their personal goals and take up whatever God’s plan is for their life, it requires them to die to their old ways, thoughts and projects. For introverts it may be coming out into a hostile world; for extroverts, it may be a life hidden in a life of prayer.
But whatever that plan God has for your life, it is superior to the one you have. Jeremiah 29:11 is a key scripture for any young person today. God has a set of plans for you.
The death of God’s saints means an exchange – my plans for His, His work for my goals, my deliberate living today for Him and doing his work. And yes, that is precious to Him and of great benefit to us.
The gruesome death of his sister? No, that is not precious at all. Make no mistake – Death is our enemy and Jesus has, in his time, overcome it all for us.