Death is a subject that most people really don’t want to discuss or even think about. And fair enough: if the materialist worldview is correct, and this life is all there is, and once we die, that’s it, then death certainly is a topic to steer well clear of. It’s just too depressing.
But for most people in the world, matter is not all that matters. Most people believe there is more to life than just a few short decades on planet earth. Of course the various worldviews and religious systems look at death and the afterlife in differing ways. But the point is, throughout most of human history, and even around the globe today, death is seen by most people as simply the end of one chapter, and the beginning of another.
Yet even with such widespread religious beliefs, most people are still greatly troubled by death; it still casts an unwelcome shadow over our lives. We try in various ways to put off thinking about the end of life on this earth. Yet death is the guaranteed outcome for all of us. It is just a question of when, not if.
I raise this topic because of something I had seen on television last night. On one of the current affairs shows there was a story about a Melbourne man who had gone from rags to riches. Born into a Turkish family which settled in Australia when he was quite young, he determined at an early age to make it big. And that he did.
He set up a mobile phone business, and soon became a multi-millionaire. He employed 600 staff in 120 stores, and was worth well over $300 million. The story featured the fruits of his labours: it showed how he was now living the good life in his beachside mansion, with his fancy sports cars, and so on. Married with four children, happy and in love with life, he had it made. He seemed to be living the Australian dream. Most watching the show would have been quite envious of this man.
Yet something amazing happened. Hardly more than 12 hours later, the morning newscasts were announcing that this successful businessman had died of a heart attack while out on his morning walk. He was just 42. All the fame, fortune and glamour of the good life that had been featured on TV the night before had vanished in an instant.
Like every other person on the planet, he now has a date with destiny. He will be standing before his maker, just as we will. It is as Hebrews 9:27 reminds us, “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”.
The truth is, we never know when our last breath will be. Jesus spoke of this often. In a parable about a rich man looking to increase his wealth, Jesus pointed out how life can come to an end without warning (Luke 12:16-21). And he also asked what was the point of gaining the whole world if we lose our own soul (Mark 8:36).
The tragic headlines of this morning remind us that at any moment we too can be called to the next world. While we grieve and pray for the family of this businessman left behind, we recall that none of us know if our morning walk might be our last. Death is always just around the corner.
But Jesus took the sting out of death and the fear out of the future. If we acknowledge and turn from our sin and selfishness, and receive the forgiveness freely offered by Christ, we can know where we will spend eternity, and death need not be an overbearing issue for us.
As Paul put it in 1 Cor. 15: 55-57, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ultimately we will all pass from this life. Where we will spend the next one is the most important question we can deal with. Jesus made it clear that our eternal destiny depended on how we responded to him. Indeed, in this respect, Jesus is unique among the world religions.
Unlike so many other religious leaders, he made his own identity the focal point of his teaching. Who He was, not just what he said, was the essential thing. He didn’t say I am God’s messenger, or I can point the way to God. He said I am God! He claimed to be far more than just a teacher or a prophet. He didn’t claim to just point to the truth. He claimed to be the truth. He didn’t just point the way to salvation. He claimed to be the only source of salvation. And he is the only religious leader to come back from the grave.
That is the simple gospel message which every one of us needs to hear, and respond to. The tragedy witnessed this morning is repeated day in and day out. Hopefully it will help focus our hearts and minds on the really important things, including the next life. The question is, are we ready to face death head on, or do we still shrink from it?