Fearlessly Facing Death
Scripture: Romans 8:37-39
I was in the lounge-room of the Postmaster's residence attached to the historic Hunter's Hill Post Office. In that National Trust classified building, the then postmaster and his wife had lived for 18 years. She was an invalid, but a remarkable woman who knew everyone. She invited people to her home to hear me speak about faith in the Risen Christ. She gathered a large group of people. Many of the women were well-dressed and expensively presented and obviously enjoyed living in some of the finest homes on the exclusive point.
While I was speaking about what belief in the Risen Christ can do for a person, one woman who was caught up in my address interrupted me, taking no notice of the other people in the room: "I don't believe in God, yet every night before I sleep I pray that I will wake up in the morning. I am terrified of dying. I cannot bear the thought of not waking up, and of being dead. But what sounds strange is that many times I wish I were dead, because I cannot stand living!"
While preparing this talk, a man rang me in despair. His marriage had broken, divorce had divided his family, his wife had gone overseas, his only child had been made a ward of the State and every legal appeal had now been exhausted. The court told him Thursday, "There are no more options. You can never see you son again." He cried on the phone to me, "Dr Moyes, should I commit suicide? Is there any point in my living without my child?" As the line being sung in "SHOWBOAT" at the Lyric Theatre says, he was "tired of living and scared of dying....." Many people fearfully face death.
One of our stewards, Ron Freer, has been a Life Line counsellor for 35 years. Ron wrote to me: "Every shift as a telephone counsellor has at least one clear mention or imputation of suicide. I believe that most callers have considered it, even if it is not mentioned. One 84 year old man did not know how to face the rest of his life. His son, aged 59, his only support, died in a bypass operation. Now his father longed for death but it would not come. His son should have had extended life, but death came early for him. The previous Saturday I received a call from one of our young counsellors. She was in tears. She had spent three hours with a 14 year old caller who had been raped that morning by her father. To the girl the only solution to the trauma was death."
"This morning a widow rang me. She was 69. Her husband had died. She could not express her grief without embarrassment. She was crying on the phone saying: "I don't let my children see me like this. The tears just come when they are gone. The family is fed up with me. You see, while I'm not rich I am comfortably off. Since I don't appear to have any problems, they think I should cope. I don't want to live, but I don't know how to kill myself. I want to kill myself. I want to die. I cry every day. I had a near fatal liver operation six months ago and the doctors pulled me through. But what for?"
Each of these people were seeing death as a exit from problems. But death was something to be feared. They wanted to be dead but were afraid of dying. Is there any way we can fearlessly face death? Can we look death in the face and be totally unafraid like so many brave Christians?
Death and dying are still the great unmentionables in our society. Once sex was the subject never to be discussed. Today death is the unmentionable subject. Our Victorian grandparents were afraid to talk about sex, but they would laugh at us for not being able to handle what they did so easily: the experiences of dying and bravely facing death.
On Easter Day, Jesus Christ came back from the dead. The stone was rolled away. The seal was broken. The grave was left empty with the grave clothes rolled by themselves. Is there any way we can fearless face death as did Jesus? Are there any good reasons why we should face death fearlessly? I think of eight reasons to face death fearlessly.
1. YOU CAN FACE DEATH FEARLESSLY BECAUSE SUFFERING HAS A PURPOSE.
His suffering was redemptive: some good came of it. So many of the people who ring Life Line are troubled by dying as a result of suffering. But when Jesus came out of the grave He brought good news on the matter of suffering. He declares that when we suffer, it is not a pointless, fruitless pain. So the writer to the Hebrews writes: Heb 5:8-9 "Although he was a son of God, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him."
We can learn from Him how to use suffering, see it as part of God's divine purpose that cannot be defeated. Jesus assures us that suffering can be borne by the person who trusts God, and leans back upon His arms and says: "Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit." Suffering has a purpose. Peace can fill the suffering heart and take away fear.
2. YOU CAN FACE DEATH FEARLESSLY BECAUSE EVIL IS ON A LEASH, GOD LETTING IT GO SO FAR ONLY BEFORE REELING IT IN.
That makes you brave. Whenever I am appalled by the viciousness of people and the cruel way they seem to get away with sin, I remember the Cross. God allows evil to have its sway, but then He reels it in. God is in control. When they laid the body of Jesus in the tomb the Chief Priests and Pharisees, Pilate and Herod Antipas, the mob who cried out for his death, and the soldiers who had to do it, were all satisfied. They had done their job well. It looked as though evil had triumphed! But when the stone was rolled away, life came forth. Evil is on a leash, God lets it go so far only before reeling it in. That helps us face death fearlessly.
3. YOU CAN FACE DEATH FEARLESSLY BECAUSE INJUSTICE MAY APPEAR VICTORIOUS, BUT JUSTICE ULTIMATELY TRIUMPHS.
That encourages you. Today money corrupts power and justice favours the influential. Little people are pushed around and suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Barabbas is set free and Christ is crucified. That occurs today. But although the unjust seem to get away with it, "the mills of God grind slow, but they grind exceeding small." Eventually justice triumphs. In a rat-race where only rats win, God still ensures that justice is done. That makes you brave! Right prevails. Injustice may appear victorious, but justice ultimately triumphs. You can face death bravely.
4. YOU CAN FACE DEATH FEARLESSLY BECAUSE TRUTH IS SHOWN TO BE STRONGER THAN FALSEHOOD, LOVE STRONGER THAN HATE, LIFE STRONGER THAN DEATH.
The great virtues sung by poets and taught by philosophers were inverted by the cruelty of the Cross.
But with the resurrection of Jesus God vindicated those qualities He had placed into the centre of the fabric of life. God vindicates the qualities of life not the negatives. Today many people deal in lies, hate and death. But be assured of the eternal values of truth, love and life. Jesus does that in overcoming death. So we march forward unafraid.
5. YOU CAN FACE DEATH FEARLESSLY BECAUSE JESUS HAS PIONEERED THE WAY TO LIFE ON OUR BEHALF.
The Bible calls Jesus the pioneer of our faith. He went before us through death and established our future. Therefore, we need not fear death, as He has pioneered the way and assured us all is well. When Jesus died upon the Cross, was buried, and then raised by the power of God to new life, He was what the New Testament called the "first fruits of them that believe". 1 Cor 15:10 He was the first of all who would trust in God, to discover death was a doorway into eternal life. When you trust Him you follow in the way He has pioneered unafraid!
6. YOU CAN FACE DEATH FEARLESSLY BECAUSE HE OVERCAME DEATH SO IT IS NO LONGER INVINCIBLE.
Death is seen as the last enemy. No-one is able to avoid it. The cemetery is one place we all can enter and all must enter. There is an inevitability about death. So people believe in the invincibility of death. No-one can avoid it and no-one can overcome it. But Jesus did. "He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free." Death was no longer invincible: "O death,where now is thy victory? Where now is thy sting? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Cor 15:54-55 Death is no longer invincible. We do not fear, for Christ has broken the power of death.
7. YOU CAN FACE DEATH FEARLESSLY BECAUSE IF WE DIE IN HIM, WE SHALL RISE WITH HIM.
Jesus said: "Because I live, you shall live also". John 14:19 Paul wrote to Timothy: "If we have died with Him we shall also live with Him". 2 Tim 2:11 Because we will live with Him, we need not fear death. The most amazing thing about the first Easter was not that Jesus was raised by God's power from death, but because of our faith and trust in Him we too shall be raised by God to enjoy eternal life. The resurrection of Jesus was the first of the resurrections of all who trust in God through their faith in Jesus. If we die in Him, we need not fear as we shall rise with Him.
8. YOU CAN FACE DEATH FEARLESSLY BECAUSE EVEN IN THE WORST OF LIFE, WE ARE STILL IN GOD'S HANDS.
Many people fear the act of dying. They are fearful lest they die in frailty, senility, in tragedy, accidentally or painfully. The fear of such pain frightens them. But Jesus endured the sufferings of such proportions and still died praying for the forgiveness of men and in such confidence in God in whom He committed His spirit, that we too, even in the worst of life know that we will always be in God's hands. "We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." As Paul wrote: Rom 8:37-39 "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Do you not want to be free from the fear of death? There is nothing in life...nor death...that makes us fear. The resurrection of Jesus shows that God reigns!
The Book of Hebrews speaks about how Jesus will 2:15 "free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." Fear of death holds people in a slavery, a bondage that limits and confines them in every way. Do you not want to be free from the fear of death? When Jesus was raised from the dead, and the seal on the grave was burst asunder, we received the message that even in the worst situation, we are still in God's hands and God can free us from the slavery of the fear of death. That gives you courage to face death!
The trouble is that many Australians do not know the Easter message and cannot understand what it is all about. One newspaper reporter from "The Sydney Morning Herald" interviewed me about what I had said at the Opera House televised Service. I said "In Australia large numbers of people believe in the Risen Lord and live experiencing His personal friendship. The resurrection did not just occur in Jerusalem, over there, then, but occurs here, now, in Sydney whenever people open their hearts and invite the Living Lord into their lives.". I had said it clearly. She then asked, "Yes, but did you say anything about Easter?".
The Easter message is that you can live fearlessly facing death, because you know that everything is in God's hands; you know you have the risen Lord within you and you know that life triumphs! That is the message of Easter. You no longer need be afraid. No more tired of living. No more scared of dying.
"Because He lives I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives all fear is gone.
Because I know who holds the future,
Life is worth the living just because He lives."
Gordon Moyes 1999
If you would like to receive a printed copy of Word Talk via mail, you can subscribe for just $15 per year. Please contact us on 02 9263 5555, or write to:
Turn 'Round Australia
PO Box A5555
Sydney South, 1235