The last few days I’ve been reminded that death could happen for any one of us at any moment. Even a random, unthinkable event could take life in a blink of an eye. For those of us who live in the industrialized world, a near death experience or even a loss of a loved one is far from a common experience. But for much of human history the death of others was a daily reminder that life wasn’t assured. Today, if you make it to birth, you are expected to live until your late 70s.
So what am I getting at?
I love history, and am an American living in England, so I often catch myself thinking how idealistic it would have been to live several hundred years ago. But when one of my children gets sick and I rush them to the hospital in my car, I quickly drop all sense that living in the 17th century would be something I would enjoy. I have no idea how many times my children’s lives have been saved because the quality of life I take for granted.
The great blessings of modern medicine and living standards have created the strange reality that we are rarely reminded of our mortality. We waste time with our amusement, live with no sense of urgency (at least for eternal things), and forget that every moment matters because we think we’ll live forever. Maybe, at the very least, we assume we’ll make it to our 80s, therefore we have time to waste.
This, I believe, has great consequences for those of us who call ourselves Christians. Unlike Paul in Philippians 1:23-24, we don’t have the desire to leave this life and be with Christ. We don’t actually look forward to death. Yes, we don’t look forward to death.
Now, it may seem strange to say this, but let’s try to look at it from a different angle. My wife and I have come to find out that 10 days or so is about as long as we can handle being apart from each other. Just a couple days away and we are looking forward to seeing each other and begin to prepare for our reunion as a family. It’s not a duty or an obligation to prepare, we just delight in one another, and it’s natural to miss the other.
Shouldn’t we be like this with Christ, our Bridegroom? Do we delight in Christ so much that we can’t wait for his return, so we get ready for him? Or, because we know to be with Christ is best, we desire to go be with him? We all know it would be strange for a “devoted spouse” not to yearn for their other-half to return or to go be with them. Yet, so often we live as though either Christ isn’t going to return, or we don’t look forward to the passage that brings us to Christ–death.
Please hear me, I’m not advocating that we don’t live healthy lives or somehow force death upon ourselves. Rather, I want us to see that we can look forward to heaven because Christ is heaven. We can look forward to the next life and live for the next life because Christ is the next life. Looking forward to death is like looking forward to the end of a long business trip and returning home to reunite with your spouse.
For our brothers and sisters who lived 400 years ago, they needed to hear this as well but for other reasons. Facing death, plague, and famine on a regular basis could only make one to think of the time where there would be health, happiness, and no tears. The hope of health and happiness could very well become an idol. That heaven could only be the escape of difficulty. Richard Sibbes said it beautifully in a sermon called Christ is Best:
“Why does [Paul] not say I desire to be in heaven? Because heaven is not heaven without Christ. It is better to be in any place with Christ than to be in heaven itself without him. All delicacies without Christ are but as a funeral banquet. Where the master of the feast is away, there is nothing but solemnness. What is all without Christ? I say the joys of heaven are not the joys of heaven with out Christ; he is the very heaven of heaven.”
We don’t look forward to heaven because maybe our comfort, security, and amusement has lulled us into believing we can have “heaven” now. We don’t look forward to death, or we hold tightly to this life, because we don’t delight in the “very heaven of heaven.”
Maybe it would be best to leave you with the same thoughts that the heavenly Dr. Richard Sibbes left with his listeners:
“Therefore, if we desire to end our days in joy and comfort, let us lay the foundation of a comfortable death now speedily. To die well is not a thing of that light moment as some imagine; it is no easy matter. But to die well is a matter of every day . . . To die well is the action of the whole life. He never dies well for the most part that dies not daily, as Paul said of himself, ‘I die daily,’ I Cor. 15:31; he labored to loose his heart from the world and die daily, how easy will it be to die at last! He that thinks of the vanity of the world, and of death, and of being with Christ forever, and is dying daily, it will be easy for him to end his days with comfort. “
May we desire for God to set our hearts on having the best here and now, the very heaven of heaven, Jesus our Husband.