THOUGH I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH
Earlier this week, Timothy Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York announced on his Twitter feed that he was diagnosed with Stage Four Pancreatic Cancer. Stage Four Cancers are often a death sentence on the body and there is little treatments that can be done. Scores of people, including myself sent prayers to Timothy and his family as they travel down this valley that the Lord has placed before him. I know many over the course of time have come to disagree with him on many things, but now we must lay aside such things and lift up our prayers to the Lord in this matter. No doubt Mr. Keller and his family are facing the veil of death before them.
My article is not solely focused on Timothy Keller, though it was the catalyst that lead me to think, pray and write this. Earlier this year, as many of you know, my father and brother died within weeks of each due to the effects of COVID attacking certain weaknesses in their bodies. I am no stranger to death as it visited my family not only this year, but back in 2001 when my mother passed away of ovarian cancer. I am now without my biological Family. They all have passed from this mortal coil into eternity. Their deaths greatly affected me physically, mentally, and most of all Spiritually. I was awakened from my slumber, my deep sleep and brought into the reality of death. For months, doubts, fears, and worries lingered on me so heavily that I spent a week and three days at the VA Mental Hospital, but it was not a bad thing. It was there and through those months after the Lord started working in me and bringing to my attention the importance of self examination just as the Apostle Paul commanded the Corinthians to do in 1 Corinthians 11:28.
Prior to their deaths, I never gave much attention to the subject of death and self examination. The death of my father and brother caused me take months examining myself very deeply. It is going on a new year and I am still in disbelief that they have passed and that it is approaching a year since they passed on come January and February, but as I look into the months past, I see where the Lord used these events to awaken me from my slumber and I am thankful. I confess, I was not looking upon the Cross of Christ and the work He accomplished. I was self centered and looking inward rather than outward. I also grew up under the proclamation of the law and not much Gospel. That just added more weight to my fears, doubts, and worries. I want to acknowledge that my dear friend and one whom I consider my spiritual father, Mike Abendroth and my own Pastor, Dominic Aquila counseled me through the darkest periods of those past months. I love them both and you all, who texted and messaged me with prayers and kind words of encouragement. Thank you all for your prayers and words of great encouragement.
The subject of this article is not meant to be about myself, but rather death.
Death and Dying
The subject of death is not a subject many will talk about. I say this for both the wordlings and in the church. It is a subject that we tend to want to avoid. Why is that? For some it might be macabre and for others it is the fear of the inevitable. We will do our best to avoid such discussions, even in the church. However, it should not be a taboo subject to talk about in the church. After all, death is mentioned throughout all of Scripture and it should be the duty of the Christian, myself included to prepare for that day. We are to be prepared everyday in fact. We are not promised to live another minute daily. We are not promised a life of prosperity of great health and wealth, despite what the serpents like Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, and Benny Hinn teach.
The Christian prepares himself or herself for that day and it should be so. The world dreads the thought of death and will do anything to extend their mortal life on this earth as long as they can. No matter whet they do, they can not avoid the inevitable. Yet, the Christian knows they are nothing more than pilgrims here, the diaspora (the scattered) as Peter states in his epistle.
The writer of Hebrews states, “But as it is, they (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David) desire a better country, that is a heavenly one…” (Hebrews11:16). The Old Testament prophets looked to something far grander than this earth. They looked a better country. Throughout the scriptures, we are promised something far better, eternal life.
We are born to die. Inevitably we all will have to cross over and through the wave of death. The question we must ask ourselves is where shall we awake once we have crossed from this mortal coil? The Scriptures mentions that there are two types of deaths. There are people who die twice and those who only die once. To address the first, it is those that have rejected the free gift of Grace from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Revelation 2:18 states:
“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
These are those that have rejected the Gospel call and proclamation. They will face the physical death and then the spiritual death. Jesus says in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” All throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that those who reject Him will be cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12).
Martin Lloyd-Jones used to say, “Thank God for the “buts” in the Bible and certainly he is right. Without God we are doomed when it comes to death, but God has made a way to escape death and His wrath. It is through the Lord Jesus Christ that one can escape the second death. The Lord Jesus Christ said to the grieving sister of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection if the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-6)
Again the Lord said to his disciples, “Jesus said to him, “I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
We are indeed promised tribulation, affliction, trials and illness in this life, but the promise of the life to come is far grander than this life. For example, the book of Revelation states: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4).
We are so often and I can confess this myself that we tend to keep our eyes horizontal and fixed upon this temporary world; rather than vertically, pondering the thoughts of Heaven. I recently read in a devotional that we should spend 30-35 minutes everyday thinking about heaven. We should contemplate our deaths and prepare for what is coming.
The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:17: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,”. Our afflictions and illnesses are nothing to what is compared to what we shall behold. This life is momentary, a vapor as James states in his epistle.
Yes, It can be hard here. Yes, we are prone to worry and have anxiety on how we shall die. We are frail and imperfect, sinful creatures, but we have this tested word of God and the promise of Christ Himself that conquered death and has prepared a place for us, for His Words are faithful and true.
One day, death will be abolished and I think we can honestly say that we are looking for to that great day. This year has been been hard not only for me, but for many who have lost their loved ones and to those that are facing life diseases and illness, to you my dear friends, cling to promises of His word. Cling to the hem of His garments. Cling to His Cross. Not to yourselves or to your feelings. Our feelings, thoughts, and flesh are always against us, but we have the sure and steadfast promise of Jesus Christ Himself that when we depart from these bodies, we shall be in His glorious presence and death and sin will longer have any hold on us and we shall dwell with God, forever.
I leave you all with the words of the Apostle Paul:
“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”
1 Corinthians 5:6-9
Grace and Peace,
Stephen J. M.