Song for a funeral
2 Samuel 1: “You asked for it,” David told him.
There’s no passage of time between the end of 1 Samuel and the beginning of 2 Samuel. We simply turn the page and keep on reading. David returns to Ziklag after rescuing those who were taken captive and is, I guess, rebuilding the destroyed town. An Amalekite shows up in camp with what he thinks will be received as good news. Saul and Jonathan are dead. In fact, he claims (apparently a lie) that he personally finished Saul off. This fellow was probably robbing the dead on the battle field and came upon Saul’s body. He thinks that having David indebted to him will be worth more than the royal headband and bracelet he took off of Saul’s body. Clearly this guy doesn’t know David. After all, David has more reason to kill Saul than anyone, yet he has twice passed up the opportunity to do so. The bearer of bad news goes out to meet his Maker soon thereafter. David composes a song of lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan. He could have sung of disappointing failure and lost opportunities. Instead, he remembers the bravery of these two men and the security and prosperity they brought to Israel. As the Amalekite learned the hard way, cheering the death of even a deeply flawed individual isn’t David’s way. It’s not God’s way either.
Take Away: As the Lord is gracious and merciful to us, so should we be to all, even those who don’t measure up.
The funeral was poorly attended
Deuteronomy 34: No prophet has risen since in Israel like Moses, whom God knew face-to-face.
At 120 years of age Moses is physically and mentally as fit as ever. The years have not taken their toll because the Lord has intervened, overriding the aging process. Now, though, the time has come for Moses to die. Under God’s direction this 120 year old man sets out alone to climb a mountain. From the peak he looks across into the Promised Land. He will never set foot there but he knows his people will. Then Moses dies leaving a legacy of superlatives. The only one at his funeral is the same God who met him alone at the burning bush eighty years earlier. From first to last it’s been God and Moses. I’m a bit sad that after giving his life to the project that Moses doesn’t get to lead the Israelites across Jordan. However, it’s hard to be too sorry about it. After all, he lived long and well. He walked with God and knew his Maker face-to-face. At the end of his long journey, the Lord, himself, lays him to rest. I can only hope that, with the more spectacular elements stripped away, something remotely similar can be said when the final lines of my life are written.
Take Away: There’s something beautiful about the passing of one of God’s choice people.
He died before his time
Genesis 5: Adam lived a total of 930 years. And he died.
I’ve heard that the very long lives of people mentioned in the first pages of Genesis are the result of someone’s counting the seasons as years or something like that. While I have no authority to say it, I’ll say it anyway: I think that’s silly. Based on the Creation story, I think the Lord designed human beings to live forever. It’s their disobedience that brings death into the world. In fact, this very moment the only man already possessing a resurrection body is still alive 2000 years down the road. He’s physically at the right hand of his Father right now. Sin short-circuited the “forever aspect” of human life and it’s Jesus who redeems, not just the souls of people, but our bodies as well. At this point, Jesus is the only man to experience the redeemed body, but judging from his post-resurrection appearances the new body is a fascinating mix of familiar (eating) and unfamiliar (appearing and disappearing). Now, back to Adam. I think his extremely long life is a residue of his original design. If you think about it, his body was designed for eternity and he “only” lived 930 years. Soon, God will move to further limit life spans, not once, but twice. The original limitation, though, is the big one. Because of sin, life expectancy is throttled back from forever to under 1000 years. For a creature intended to live forever that’s like dying in infancy.
Take away: Jesus redeems us entirely, body and spirit.
The way to die
Revelation 14: Blessed are those who die in the Master from now on; how blessed to die that way!
In this passage the harvest of the world is about to be described but prior to that there’s another description of God’s people standing “passionately patient, keeping God’s commands, staying faithful to Jesus.” Then John is told specifically to write about those who finish their lives while being “passionately patient.” They serve God through their lives, looking for Jesus to return, overcoming the hardships and trials of their journey. In the specific case of this passage there’s considerable pressure on them to follow the general population in worship of the Beast. These saints resist and at personal cost persist in being “faithful to Jesus.” Now, for them, the battle ends. Their “hard, hard work” is over and “God blesses them for it all in the end.” I’ve known people such as these described in this passage. They loved the Lord and served him through their lives. When hard times came, they wished for a way out, but way out or not, they continued to trust God. Physically, they were ultimately defeated. Spiritually though, they were victorious. John is told to remind God’s people that those who “die in the Master” are blessed. Unless Jesus comes back first, my turn’s coming. I want the same kind of passionate patience, the same faithfulness to God’s commands, to be the hallmark of my life. As this passage says: “how blessed to die that way!”
Take Away: Live the right way so you can die the right way.
Its Jesus verses death
John 11: Lazarus, come out!
I’ve heard it said that Jesus specified that Lazarus “come out” of the grave because, had he just given the command to “come out” that there would have been a general resurrection. Personally, I think that’s more of a poetical take on this remarkable event than a realistic one. Still, I understand the statement of faith in that concept. This is an act of absolute authority over death. Jesus doesn’t even touch the dead body. He, in fact, never enters the tomb. From outside, after a public prayer, Jesus merely shouts out the command and Lazarus is resurrected. I can’t imagine any more powerful demonstration of authority over death than this one. Well, almost. Soon, an even more convincing event will take place. For now though, I’m happy to be reminded of this wonderful truth. Any time Jesus faces death, Jesus wins. Glory!
Take Away: One hope of all Christians is the hope of life after death.
Jeremiah 6: My people are broken — shattered! — and they put on band-aids!
To be apart from God is serious business. The solution isn’t to turn over a new leaf or to try to be a nicer person. Outside of God is death. A doctor doesn’t put a band-aid on a person who needs a heart transplant. The treatment is major surgery by a skilled surgeon. As a Christian I ought to understand this because I’ve been through the spiritual version of that process. However, I tend to forget it. Lost people aren’t simply making mistakes and facing a troublesome future. Spiritually speaking they’re in ICU with worse things yet to come. Jeremiah realizes that the sins of his nation have brought them to the brink of absolute catastrophe. I need to deal with those who are apart from God with the seriousness Jeremiah shows here.
Take Away: Lost people are really lost — condemned and without hope unless they allow the Lord to do a major, life changing work in their lives.
Life after death
Ecclesiastes 3: Who knows if there’s anything else to life?
One of the concerns of Solomon as he seeks meaning is what happens when life is finished. As far as he can tell animals and humans are pretty much alike; made of flesh, breathing the same air, and, upon death returning to the dust. It may be, he theorizes, that the human spirit survives death, but he really doesn’t have any proof of that. His conclusion is that since there’s uncertainty on this topic that a person ought to live life to the fullest right now because there may be no tomorrow. One thing we need to remember as we read Ecclesiastes is that we’re following Solomon on his quest for truth. He’s telling us his “in process” conclusions. To pick out a line here and there and state it as though this is Solomon’s final verdict is unfair to him. In the first part of the book he explains what he’s doing and we ought to remember that as we read his words. Another thing to remember is that he speaks from a purely Old Testament perspective. It isn’t until the first Easter and the understanding of life after death that develops from it that we have, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.” In these words of Solomon we have the opinion of the secular humanist. When Jesus tells us that those who believe in him will never die we have the authority of the Son of God. The answer to Solomon’s “who knows” is this: “Jesus knows.” For someone who doesn’t have faith in Jesus to arrive at the same conclusion as Solomon is perfectly reasonable. As a believer in Jesus, though, I have the answer: “My Lord knows and he has told me that there is life after life.”
Take Away: The only real authority on the subject has told us that there is life after death, and that how we live now has a direct bearing on what that after-life will be like.
Looking at life “backwards”
Proverbs 4: Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions.
When the proverb writer advises us to ignore all the distractions of life he’s just stating common sense but, obviously, it’s something easier said than done. For instance, before I can focus on the goal I have to know what that goal is. Right off the voices of the snake oil huskers begin selling me their bill of goods. They tell me that whatever they’re selling is just the thing I should give my life to. Some of the offers contain just enough truth to sound right. I’m reminded of all the sports leagues that demand so much of a families’ time. There’s a great deal of good happening in such activities, but, honestly, they aren’t worth committing one’s life to and they sure don’t deserve the status they’re given in many families. So what is it that’s worthy of my focus? I think the answer can be found by looking at life “backwards.” When I’m at the end of my life, when they’re closing the lid on my coffin, what will matter? I say it’s my relationship with God. Of course, other things will matter: family, friends, and how I’ve impacted the world in my brief life. However, eternity is, well, forever. The goal of life has to be to prepare for forever. With that in mind, I can read this proverb and better identify not only what truly matters, but what needs to be kept in its proper place as well.
Take Away: How are you doing in preparing for forever?
Looking for justice
Job 14: If we humans die, will we live again?
This is one of the most famous statements in the book of Job and it comes as Job laments the unfairness of life. A tree can be cut down and yet be the source of new life, but Job hasn’t seen that with human beings. When a person, good or bad, dies and is buried it appears that it’s the end for them. Is there a possibility of resurrection? Job hopes so. After all, if God is good and yet people who serve him come to tragic ends and that is that, well, something is wrong! This insight doesn’t stop Job from his suffering and questioning, but it’s a brilliant insight concerning human suffering. We may not always see the full picture of God’s justice and goodness now, but the final chapter of his dealings with human beings isn’t written at the grave. If God’s justice isn’t seen this side of the grave, it must be seen beyond it.
Take Away: Without Easter Job has arrived at a theology of a resurrection. Isn’t that neat!