Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lessons on Dying from Luke 23:46

C.S. Lewis once noted that every human being responds to their own mortality in one of three ways: they desire it, fear it, or ignore it. The latter two are, by far, the most common.  People actively suppress thinking about death, but when it cannot be ignored, they fear it. For many Christians, death is like an ever-present ghost that, when brought to mind, strikes fear into their hearts.  It is a reality we cannot avoid, as even Scripture says"It is appointed unto man once to die and after this, the judgment" (Heb 9:27).   

But how are we to respond to death?  The answer can be found in observing how Jesus responded when his own death approached. Luke 23:46 says "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last." This verse is packed with meaning, and implies the following principles:

1. When your death approaches, remember that God reigns. Jesus fully believed that God the Father was in control of all things: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.  Nothing has slipped through God's fingers.  In Deut 32:39 God said "See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me, I kill and I make alive, I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand".  Isaiah 53:10 says of the coming Messiah, "It was the will of the Lord to bruise him".  Regardless of what occurred, Jesus had confidence that God was ultimate in control. In light of that knowledge, Jesus was able to walk towards death confidently.

2. When your death approaches, remember that God cares.  The New Testament refers to God as Father over 240 times: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. He is depicted as a loving Father who cares for His children. In the story often called the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 (which is really about God the Father) it depicts God's love in v.20, "While he was still a long way off, His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him: He ran to his son,threw his arms around him and kissed him".  1 John 3:1 says "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God!" Jesus approached death knowing that he was being cared for by a loving, protective Father.

3. When your death approaches, remember you have a spirit that will live on.  Jesus believed that humanity was created with an eternal spirit: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Jesus knew, and we should know, that death for God's people is not the end.  Paul put it this way, "We are of good courage and would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8). Elsewhere he says, "My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better" (Phil 1:23). Jesus understood that death does not bring an end to the existence of human beings.  There is something better on the other side, which is the very presence of God. Paul tells us that we are to live by more than just sight: "What is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor 4:18).

4. When your death approaches, remember that God's arms and hands are extended to His dying children.  Jesus' words are extraordinarily powerful: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.  Not into the grave, not into the void, not into the dark unknown.  Instead, at the moment of death God's children are delivered safely into His hands.  We are not left stranded and alone, but rather the Father himself greets us.  Jesus was willing to walk through the difficulty of death because he understood the Father would be there waiting for him.

5. When your death approaches, remember to trust God.  As believers, we are not to mumur, or complain, or rage against God.  Murmuring expresses our displeasure with God's direction in our loves. When we murmur or complain about our approaching death we are really saying we dislike how God is governing our lives. We are implying that God does not seem to know what He is doing and that He is not capable of saving us.  We are also saying that His promises to us are false, and that He is not to be trusted.  Yet Jesus truly trusted the Father: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Jesus was confident in death because he willingly entrusted his  life to the Father.

A prayer: Lord, teach us to approach our own deaths as Christ did.  Teach us to know you, believe you, and trust in you--that we might see you and be with you for all eternity. Amen.

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