Friday, April 13, 2007

"Death, where is thy sting?"

"Death comes to us all. Even to kings it comes," says the Thomas More character in A Man for All Seasons, upon hearing his death sentence. Learned Medieval scholars kept skulls on their desks to guard against vanity. In modern times it is far easier to insulate ourselves against that reality than it was when most dying took place in the home. But death will come.

Denis Ngien uses Luther to show how Christians should approach death:
I remember an African brother who stood in an evangelistic meeting and told how he was brought to Christ by his dying seven-year-old daughter. One day he heard her praying for his salvation, though she lay in bed debilitated by tuberculosis and malaria.
"Dad, do you believe in God?" she asked as he sat beside her.
"Oh, yes, darling; only a fool would deny God's existence."
"If you believe in God, you should also believe in eternal life."
"Oh, yes; if there is a God, there must be eternal life."
"But, dad, you don't have eternal life, for Jesus is not in your heart."

He reported, "Then my little daughter begged me to kneel beside her deathbed. I recited her words as she prayed for my conversion. 'O God, let Christ come into my heart. Please save my soul; give me eternal life.'" ....
Not all Christians face death so courageously. In the past 20 years, I have conducted and preached at more than 150 memorial and funeral services. I have sat beside numerous deathbeds, with people terrified by the sight of the final conflict. For me, it is no wonder that Scripture calls death "the last enemy."

This brother, now advanced in years, is battling cancer and is face to face with his own death. Knowing how fierce this last battle can be, I sent him one of the most helpful meditation guides I've known: Martin Luther's "A Sermon on Preparing to Die." In this sermon, Luther provides pastoral counsel to his closest friend, Mark Schart, who was troubled by thoughts of death. His counsel contains a great deal of wisdom for today.

Luther believed that death becomes ominous because the devil uses it to undermine our faith. ....

Death, for Luther, is "the beginning of the narrow gate and of the straight path to life" (Matt. 7:14). Although the gate is narrow, the journey is not long. Luther elaborates:
Just as an infant is born with peril and pain from the small abode of its mother's womb into this immense heaven and earth, … so man departs this life through the narrow gate of death. … Therefore, the death of the dear saints is called a new birth, and their feast day is known in Latin as natale, that is, the day of their birth.
This road through the dark valley may be traveled safely when we are assured of its end. We do not have to deny the pain of grief and death. On the contrary, it is the harsh reality of death that makes the heavenly mansion so glorious: "So it is that in dying we must bear this anguish and know that a large mansion and joy will follow."

While we should be aware daily of the inevitable reality of death, we can live as those who have been freed from the curse and sting of death. Luther wisely reminds us to ponder "the heavenly picture of Christ," for in Christ, we have passed from death to life. Death is no death to the believers whose lives are hidden with Christ in God. [the article]

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.