Lord, Teach Us That We Are Going to Die

Did you ever hear a person pray this way:”Lord, teach us that we are going to die”?

If would be natural for you to say that you have not heard that prayer, for it is not a common prayer. What would be the purpose of praying it? We all know we will die one day.

But do we really?

If we know we are going to die, then why do we live as though there will always be a tomorrow?

King David, Israel’s king, prayed that prayer. Listen to his words:

“Show me, O Lord, my life’s end

and the number of my days;

let me know how fleeting is my life.

You have made my days a mere handbreadth;

the span of my years is as nothing before you.

Each man’s life is but a breath” (Psalm 39:4-5).

Of course we know we are going to die. James says that we are a mist for awhile, and then we vanish. Jesus says, “Take no thought of tomorrow.” We already know all of this; so why do we live as if there will always be a tomorrow?

As we look at pictures of our children when they were young, we see evidence of life’s brevity. Those children are now middle-aged, and we think how it seems like just yesterday they were little. The same thing is happening to us. Some drastic changes take place in our bodies and minds between the ages of 70 and 85. Yet we postpone a trip to see a relative for another five years. This is living like there will always be another tomorrow.

This is Tiger Woods’ and Phil Mickelson’s day. Not too long ago it was Jack Nicklaus’ and Arnold Palmer’s day. Before that, it was Babe Ruth’s and Joe Dimaggio’s day.

This is a truth we must understand Ð not only intellectually, but also personally Ð as we live out these days.

Today I am alive. For me, this is the day that I have the privilege to care for my wife. Tomorrow she or I might no longer be here. God help me to understand this.

Today, for many of you, this is a day to see some of the great sights of history. Maybe it is a trip to the Holy Land so you can walk where Jesus walked when he was on this earth. Or perhaps it could be a trip to Wittenberg, Germany to stand by the castle church door where Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses, which were the basis for the Protestant Reformation. Or it could be to sit in Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, two of the last historic baseball parks left, and see where the greatest players have pitched their no-hitters or hit their home runs.

Do it. Don’t save it for retirement because retirement may never come for you and your spouse. Or if it does come, you may not be physically able to travel. Don’t live as though there is always going to be a tomorrow. It just is not true.

Nevertheless, you will never be able to truly enjoy today if you are not prepared for eternity. There is a life beyond the grave. It will either be spent in heaven or in hell. The Psalmist understood this. He writes, “My hope is in you.” It is not our financial statement that saves us. Those dollars can take us to Jerusalem to see the Holy City of which we have sung, but Christ, who is our hope, will take us to the new Jerusalem that knows no end.

“Save me from all my transgressions.” Our sins are serious, even though we might try to explain them away or even laugh at them as though they are not very serious. They can separate us from God forever. However, Jesus can take these transgressions away through his suffering, death, and resurrection, and we can be reunited with him to live forever.

“I was silent; I would not open my mouth.” Until this guilt is taken away and I have opened my mouth and confessed my sins, there is no lasting peace. We are not prepared to die. How can we stand before a righteous God? Dare we be foolish enough to think we can plead our own case?

In Christ we can say with St. Paul, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” In him we can sing, “O Lord, what a morning” as we greet the new day. But we can also say, If this is my last day on earth, tomorrow will be better, for I have learned that I am going to die. There comes an end to our tomorrows.

Death is no respecter of age. We pray for a long life, but some of the best days might be before us. After my brother-in-law died, his daughter wrote to us: “Those days were packed with emotion. We stood in dad’s room and watched him say goodbye to each of his loved ones. He wanted to be sure that, as he left them for his heavenly home, he could rest knowing Jesus was their Savior.”

Pray with me, Lord, teach me that I am going to die. Don’t let Satan and the world convince me that there is always a tomorrow.

We Need a Shepherd

After you have read the text for today, what do you feel is the basic thought of these verses? I found three very important thoughts for the Christian person to take seriously:

1. “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (v. 31).

2. “You give them something to eat” (v. 37).

3. “They were like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 34).

What is the central thought that binds these verses together?

1. The disciples had been sent out on a mission to practice what Jesus had taught them. Today it could be called a brief internship. Now they wanted to give the teacher their report. However, the crowd was so anxious to talk with Jesus there was no time for Him to be with his disciples. Jesus, seeing the impossibility of having a quiet conversation with his disciples, said, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (v. 31).

So they got into a boat to try to find a place of quietness. Someone in the crowd learned where Jesus was taking his disciples, so many of them walked an estimated ten miles to meet him at the “quiet place” when he arrived.

When Jesus and his disciples landed and saw the crowd, the disciples were angry. However, Jesus had compassion on them.

To be alone with Jesus in a quiet place for prayer and to study His word is important. No Christian can grow in his or her relationship with Jesus unless they take this time to talk with him and let him talk to us. These words cannot go overlooked. Yet, for our purposes today, they are not the central message of the text.

2. Having compassion on the crowd, Jesus began to teach them. What was he telling the crowd? The Bible doesn’t tell us, but I believe some of his points were: I am the promised Messiah whom God has sent to save the world. I am going to suffer and die as payment for the sins of the world. On the third day I will rise from the dead. Through my resurrection, victory will be won over sin, death, and the devil. If you will in faith receive me as your Savior, you will be saved for all eternity. While you are here on earth, learn to love one another.

Whatever they might have been discussing, Jesus taught so long that the disciples suggested he quit so the crowd might get some food while the stores were still open.

Then Jesus said, “Why don’t you feed them?”

The disciples replied, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” (v. 37).

Jesus asked, “How many loaves do you have?” To which they replied, “We have five Ð and two fish” (v. 38).

The text goes on: Taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves and the fish. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people and they ate. They were all satisfied, and there were twelve baskets left over (v. 41-43).

This is a familiar text that has been used millions of times throughout history as a basis for sermons. It teaches Jesus’ power to do the miraculous. It also tells us to feed the hungry. However, these are not the primary thoughts of our text for today.

When then is the central thought of our text? You guessed it.

3. When Jesus landed and saw the crowd, he had compassion on them. Why? Because they were like sheep without a shepherd (v. 34).

This is the high point of the text. We need a Shepherd!

The crowd left Jesus’ presence well-fed. However, if they had not received him as their Savior and Lord, they were a people to be pitied, for they were still sheep without a shepherd.

At this point the Word speaks to us. Without Christ we are like sheep without a shepherd. Where can we turn when faced with the real crises of life? How will we handle our problems of serious illness, death, poverty, and war?

Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham comments that, in Israel’s case, Herod their king was off in his palace carousing with his cronies, winking at pretty girls, and beheading prophets like John the Baptist. What did he care about his people?

We can point to certain leaders in our own land who served our land as temporal shepherds: Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves and F.D.R. who had a heart for the people in the midst of the Great Depression. It was a brave move to establish the Social Security program that has been criticized from the beginning but has remained a blessing for millions of us.

We do not overlook such leadership. However, beyond these earthly problems no human can answer our true problems. We need a Shepherd. This was well seen in Germany during the days of Adolf Hitler. Martin Niemoller, the famous German pastor, said it well when he told Hitler that the destiny of the German people was not in the hands of Hitler but in the hands of Almighty God. This comes from the heart of a man who had a Shepherd, one whom even the powerful dictator could not conquer.

Without Christ no matter how much of the material we possess, we are like sheep without a shepherd. We do not know how to live abundantly or die victoriously.

Back to our first question: “What is the central thought of this text?” Human beings need a shepherd. That shepherd is Christ Jesus who puts meaning into our lives reaching far into eternity.

Living With Guilt and Fear

The Bible is full of beautiful stories that lift our spirits. But today’s story is as bad as any you will read in our newspapers. It is the story of John the Baptist’s execution by King Herod. Why was it chosen to be part of the lectionary used by thousands of churches? Or you wonder why I didn’t substitute another text.

My answer is simple. It brings a powerful message on the theme Ð Living With Guilt and Fear.

John the Baptist was preaching a message of repentance that was getting the people’s attention. Among those who listened to his sermons was King Herod. The Bible tells us that Herod was puzzled by John’s messages, yet “. . . Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man” and “he liked to listen to him” (v. 20).

But one day John the Baptist got too personal. He told Herod that it was unlawful for him to live with Herodias, who was his brother Philip’s wife. This angered Herodias, and she wanted John the Baptist killed, but Herod would not go that far. However, he had the preacher arrested and put in prison. This was not good enough for Herodias, and the Bible tells us that she nursed a hatred for John that would not rest until he was dead.

Then came the opportune time. Herod was celebrating his birthday and had invited many prominent people to the celebration. As part of the entertainment a dancer, Salome, was asked to dance before the king and his guests. She so pleased her audience that King Herod made a promise. He called Salome to him and said, Ask me for anything you want, and I will give it to you.

Salome went out and asked her mother, Herodias, “What shall I ask for?” And her mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist” (v. 24).

At once she went back and told the king, I want the head of John the Baptist on a platter (v. 25).

Herod was not happy with her request, but because he had made a promise, the executioner was sent to the prison to kill John. He beheaded him and brought the head to Herod on a platter (v. 26-28).

This shows the power of guilt causing a person to act irrationally.

John the Baptist’s inspired messages had confronted Herod with the sins of his life. This was too much for the king, and he concluded that it was necessary to silence the man who was causing all of the guilt.

Now God uses this incident to ask us, How do we deal with our guilt?

Many of the crimes we read about daily in our newspapers are caused by guilt. A few weeks ago the media told us about a man going to a church in Wichita, Kansas and killing a person who was ushering at the church. Following the shooting, it was reported, the gunman was detained some 170 miles away in suburban Kansas City three hours after the shooting.

Imagine the guilt that must have been in the accused killer’s soul. But is it not also true that we have carried guilt in our own souls?

The prayer of confession that we pray in our worship service says it all. “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”

Where do we go with these feelings of guilt? Adam projected his guilt on Eve by blaming her for transgressing God’s command. Herod thought he could put his guilt to rest by killing John. Judas tried to free himself from guilt by committing suicide. Think of the many people we have known who have sought freedom from guilt through lying, alcoholism, or other addictions. Nothing works.

Only Jesus Christ can free us from our guilt. Listen to this promise: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9-10). There is our answer.

Think how Herod’s life could have been different if He had only repented of all he had done wrong and turned to Christ. Think of how our lives can be different if we will open our hearts and let the Lord Jesus Christ in to be our Savior from sin.

Fighting our sins is a daily battle. We are never free from it. However, God offers His grace to us daily, and in that relationship with Him there is a peace that goes beyond our understanding as we live with the thought that His grace is new every morning. What a Savior! We all need Him.

Experiencing this forgiveness, we pray with the Psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalms 51:10). Each day the old man must be destroyed, that a new man may come forward.

Isn’t this the kind of life that we want?

Death Has Been Conquered

I am using the same text today as was used last week as it is recorded in Mark 5:21-43. I want to especially emphasize verse 43: “He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this . . ..”

Last Sunday’s sermon asked the question, What does it take to make us bow humbly at Jesus’ feet and plead, “Lord, help me.”?

For Jairus, the synagogue ruler, it took the death of his twelve-year-old daughter.

Jairus did not have a very prestigious position. Basically, he was hired to keep order at the synagogue, see that services were orderly, and make sure no movements were perceived to be disturbing to the Roman Empire. The Jews could have their services, but all was to be done in order.

The ruler of the synagogue did not have to be a member, nor was he expected to attend the services. However, Jairus tried not to miss the service when Jesus was the teacher. He loved to hear Jesus speak. Yet, as much as he enjoyed Jesus’ teachings, Jairus did not have a personal relationship with the Savior. He believed that, politically speaking, it was best for him to keep a neutral position toward Jesus Ð neither for nor against him. He might be compared to the Christians at Laodicea, who were lukewarm in their Christian faith. God said to them, “Because you are lukewarm Ð neither hot nor cold Ñ I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16).

Yet when death came to Jairus’ family, he was brought to his knees and cried out for help. Listen to his plea of helplessness: “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live” (vs 23). Now Jesus could help this man. Jairus could sing, “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.”

Jesus went to the child’s bedside and said to her, “Little girl, get up!” (vs 41). She got up and ate. This leads us to the second teaching in the text Ð death has been conquered.

After performing this miracle, Jesus gave strict orders not to let anyone know about the girl’s resurrection (v. 43). Why didn’t Jesus want the people to know about this miracle? This is our thought for today’s sermon.

Bishop Wright says, “Jesus did not come to be a one-man emergency medical center. His mission goes deeper than that. One day he will meet death itself, which threatens God’s whole beautiful creation, and Jesus will defeat it in a way as unexpected as healing Jairus’ daughter.”

This is so well said. I love it. It digs deeper into the text. The healing of that little girl showed Christ’s divine power to heal. However, the miracle of raising this child is not the basis for the great biblical teaching that he has won victory over death. This message comes to us on Easter Sunday morning when the tomb is empty. Through his glorious resurrection, death has been conquered.

Jesus raised two other people from the dead Ð the widow’s son of Nain and Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, who lived in Bethany. These were wonderful acts of compassion for those who mourned the loss of their loved ones. It reveals Jesus’ power and helped the people of his day to understand that he was more than just a great teacher. But it was Jesus’ death that carried the weight of the world’s sins. Only when Christ came forth from the tomb could victory over sin, death, and the devil be proclaimed and offered to those who trusted in Christ. This was Jesus’ primary mission in our world.

After Jesus’ mission had been completed, the Lord gathered his disciples on the mountain. Then, just before his ascension, the message changed. Now he tells them, “Go and tell all people that sin has been paid for and death has been conquered.” This is the Gospel that his Church has and will proclaim until he returns Ð not as a baby in a manger, but this time as the Risen Lord.

Do you have a deeper understanding of Mark 5? I do. Bishop Wright has been God’s messenger in giving me a deeper understanding of Christ’s mission. I pray he has helped you too.