Finding Life in a Time of Death
Can you believe it?
I would not believe it if you had told me a few months ago that our Governor would be asking us to stay at home, avoid traveling or shopping, and wear a mask if we do go outside. And yet that is what happened recently. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, work, shop, even breathe.
And so, some questions may occur to you that would not normally come up. The most important one is one that you would rather not think about: What if I get sick and die? I realize this is not a question you want to consider. Still, don’t push it off. It is one that you can and should be ready to answer.
As of today (Friday, April 17), there are well over 10,000 deaths in NYC because of this COVID pandemic… 600 n NY State within the past 24 hours, many of them here in Queens. So, even though the question is not the most enjoyable, it is one that I as a pastor hear often and one that I must try to help you answer.
On a physical level, when your doctor gets personal with you, you are thankful, right? Your ankle is broken, your skin irritation is cancerous. You don’t get offended, it’s just the facts. You are thankful.
So, let me give you a spiritual prognosis. This prognosis is not mine, but the Bible’s. Every point I share will be from the Bible.
What happens after I die?
After death, then what? Let’s look at the Bible verse from earlier: ““It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). What does the Bible verse say? Not what does a pastor say or a guru say, what does the Bible say? After death comes judgment. Maybe you don’t like to think about people judging us. But then, some people relish it. It is astounding to me how many popular reality shows right now have judges. People sing, dance, cook, run, make glass, make legos… Everything! And there are these judges who evaluate the performance or the product and give a decision about what should happen next.
The Bible says after your death comes judgment… and this is the ultimate judgment. What will that judgment look like? “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NLT). Jesus Christ, God’s Son, will be the Judge, and He will judge us based on our works, what we did in our body.
Can my good outweigh my bad?
When we begin to realize our precarious situation, we look desperately for answers. How can we remove our guilt and convince God that we should not be punished. Historically, humans have attempted different solutions, whether sacraments or pillars or 613 mitzvot or a foreign mission or a quota of volunteer hours.
Often we hope that God’s judgment is like two scales on a balance and that our good will outweigh our bad. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work in God’s court. It doesn’t even work in a human court.
When someone appears before a judge for theft, they are not asked, “Have you stolen more than you have given?” They don’t hear the judge say this: “Well, we realize you took this person’s car. But you know what? There were many days that you did not take people’s cars. On a whole the days you stole are much less than the days you did not steal. So, the non-criminal days outweigh the criminal days. You’re ok.”
No. When someone steals a car, they are held responsible by the court. God’s judgment is like that. Each broken law must be judged. If you have broken God’s Law, you are a lawbreaker in his courtroom. Each of God’s Laws is like a link in a chain. If you break one, you have broken the whole Law. And all of us have broken the laws, laws about loving God supremely or lying or stealing or hating or mocking God or unfaithfulness to marriage.
You could summarize our predicament this way:
First, God cannot lower His standard of judgment. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Second, God cannot tolerate any crime. “You are too just to tolerate evil; you are unable to condone wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13).
Third, God cannot overlook our crimes and give us a pass. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).
How can I be declared righteous?
Let’s return to the courtroom. The Judge has declared the guilty verdict and its corresponding sentence. You, the defendant, hang your head. You are destined for death. But then you hear a movement, and you see that your defense attorney has stood up, and you realize that he is the son of the Judge. “I volunteer to pay for this person’s crime. Please declare me guilty. I am willing to accept his punishment.”
The judge looks at you. “Are you willing to accept this offer? Do you want to walk free?” Your lawyer turns to you, waiting for an answer.
This is where we stand right now. Jesus has died, and now he offers you the gift of eternal life. So how do you accept the gift?
There are no magic words or a special script to recite. God is more concerned with our heart and mind than with our lips.
Jesus identified two key parts of our response. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Believe points us to a personal faith in Jesus. We entrust ourselves to him and depend on Him for eternal life. It doesn’t mean we add Jesus to our personal pantheon or accept the historical facts about his life, but it does mean we trust Him personally, completely, and exclusively
Repent means humbling ourselves, acknowledging our sin against God, and turning from that sin. It doesn’t mean that we have to clean up our act or change ourselves, but it does mean that we have a change of heart about our sin-filled pattern of living.
A heart that will be saved essentially says this: “I don’t want my sin. I want only Him.”