Christians around the world remember Jesus’ death on the cross, today, on Good Friday. We read the stories of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion, and we praise God. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, we have received forgiveness of sins and have been rescued from death and the Devil.
The story of Jesus’ death on the cross does not just point us to his glorious work to save us. It also forces us to think on our common fate as human beings and sinners: death. It’s good for us to consider this common fate, especially when we connect it to Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Here are a few great reasons why you should regularly consider your own death.
St. Paul tells us in Romans 6, “the wages of sin is death.” Death was not part of God’s plan for his creation. We were made to live in perfect communion with our creator and to live forever with him. Sin, however, changed everything. Sin brought death into the world, because death is the natural result of sin, because it separates us from our loving creator.
Sin came to us through the first sin in the garden of Eden. Since that day, every person has sinned and every person deserves death. Again Paul writes in Romans 5, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”
We see our death when we look at Jesus on the cross. It reminds us that we need someone to save us. We need him to die for us. That’s what he did. He entered death to rescue us from it.
We understand how rescuing someone works. When there’s a house fire, firefighters rush to their trucks and race to the burning building. They hurl themselves into the burning building to rescue anyone who’s left inside, risking death by fire to save people. Lifeguards do the same. When someone is drowning, they dive headfirst into the water, swimming to save the drowning person. They risk being pulled under by a panicked swimmer, just to save someone.
Jesus did not just risk death to save us from it. He entered headlong into it, knowing that he would not escape it. He entered death for us to rescue us from it. When you consider your death, you are reminded that you need a savior, Jesus, who rescues you from death.
A friend of mine started a small charity called The Incremental Road to Grace . His family lives far away from his work, so he bought a small RV to live in during the week. He noticed, however, that the homeless in the city of Chicago needed a lot of care. He transformed his RV into a mobile care center through which he distributes supplies, offers haircuts, and gives basic wound care.
He told a story about one encounter this past month. He met a young man who was hooked on some terrible drugs and living from one fix to the next. He offered him some basic supplies, and the man asked for a haircut. While they were talking, my friend noticed some blood on his sleeves, and he asked to help. After an hour of cutting and cleaning, they uncovered huge open sores on his arms. Upon seeing these, the man wept to see how low he had sunk.
It’s easy for those of us who live happy lives to look at this man and shake our heads. Think about all the poor decisions he made. Think about how he put himself in this place. Death, however, reminds us that we are no different than this man or any other person on the planet. We all share the same fate.
Before God, we are all beggars, addicted to sin, unable to help ourselves. No one is righteous. No one is just. Your sin might be easier to hide. It might be prettier. But it is sin just the same. We are all beggars, waiting with empty hands before our God.
Jesus, by his death on the cross, gives us what we need, his life. He fills us with the righteous life that Jesus Christ lived during his ministry. He gives us the obedience of a savior who suffered all, even death on the cross, so we could have life. Death points us to our common fate, but it also points us to our common salvation. Then we see that there is no difference between the rich and the poor, the terrible and the good, those with a good life and those in misery. We all share the same death. We all need the life of Christ.
There has been a not-so-subtle shift in preaching in Christian churches in the last century. Many preachers have turned away from sermons like Jonathan Edwards’s Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God to sermons about how to live a happy life. A church, rather than being a hospital for sinners, has become self-help seminar and the pastor a motivational speaker.
This works just fine as long as life is going generally well, but what happens when death comes prowling like a stalking predator? When death’s minions, like sickness, disaster, or violence, leap into the thicket of someone’s life, how should they react?
If you never consider your death, the death that you deserve, you won’t be prepared to react in faith when disaster comes. If you think that God’s blessing manifests itself in a well-ordered life, a good job, a beautiful family, and all the other things we prize, death will make it seem like God has withdrawn from you.
It’s a common scenario for pastors. They rush to the hospital to find one of their flock in a terrible position. Here’s a question they hear all the time, “What did I do to deserve this?” or it’s corollary, “I feel like God has abandoned me.”
There is only one way we can point Christians when they feel like this, to Jesus on the cross. When Jesus was on the cross, did his Father still love him? Of course! Jesus was the only perfect, innocent human being. The Father loved him with all his might.
When Jesus was on the cross, did his Father abandon him? No! The Father’s promise was with Jesus through the cross, through his death, through his rest in the tomb, and realized in the resurrection.
Just as Jesus’ death was not evidence of God’s disfavor, so also our disasters are not as well. God’s favor does not prevent bad things from happening. If it did, Jesus would have lived his best life now rather than dying on the cross. God’s favor manifests itself in the death and resurrection of Jesus, who has destroyed the power of death for us.
If you regularly remember your death, and you expect it to come, you can be ready when it does. When death leaps at you, with fangs bared and claws extended, you can stare him down with faith and say, “I was expecting you.” You can turn to death and denounce his power like St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” and “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Martin Luther wrote about it this way in one of his sermons, “I want to ponder and perceive how our Lord God will intervene, even though you strangle me. He does not fear you, nor is he awed by your raging and ravaging, but says, ‘Death I shall be the death of you; grave, I shall be your destruction.”
Remembering your death helps prepare you to react with faith and trust in God when death appears. Death’s power has been destroyed, because Jesus Christ gives you life and the promise of resurrection from the dead.
Whether you are heading to a Good Friday worship service or not, use the occasion of Christ’s death on the cross to think about your own death. Use the stories of his crucifixion to remind you that we all deserve what Jesus received. It will point you to the one who saves us from death, remind you that we are all beggars, and prepare you for the day death comes to you and yours.
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