This week, I said good-bye to a precious childhood friend, Casey. She succumbed to the effects of Covid-19. She was 47 years-old.
Next month will mark seven years since I said good-bye to my best friend, Jodi. She died from complications after a motorcycle accident. She was 39 years-old.
Death. It’s something we never want to talk about, yet, none of us will avoid it.
When reading scripture, it’s obvious that death is a big part of life. Jesus Christ showed us the importance of life and death. The truth is, however, that living seems much easier, doesn’t it? Even when life is difficult, we at least know what to expect with living. But death… well it seems so mysterious and final. Even for Christians, we have a difficulty grasping the glory of death. I think it’s because we are seeing it through the eyes of earthly life.
The Apostle Paul understood the conundrum of life and death. In Philippians 1:21-26, he says, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose.I am torn between the two. I long to depart and be with Christ—which is far better—but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.Since I am persuaded of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that, because of my coming to you again, your boasting in Christ Jesus may abound.“
There is an old saying that says a person is not ready to live until they are first ready to die. In other words, only once we are ready to die, are we truly ready to live. So what do I mean, exactly? To be ready to die can only come with a life-surrender to Jesus Christ. We must die of our old self, our sinful self, in order to live in our freedom granted only through the cross. When that happens, an earthly death is not something we fear. We may not want it to come quickly but we don’t fear it. That’s the point of being ready to die which allows us to truly live. And yet, many people wait until it’s too late to come to this realization. They use their final days to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ but they never get the opportunity to live their life for Christ.
Paul was ready to die. He wanted to die so he could live eternally with Jesus. But Paul understood that his work on earth was not completed. He was needed for those around him. His life … and death … was in God’s hands.
“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
“For me.” That’s a powerful phrase. From the depth of his soul, Paul is saying, “Regardless of how anyone else is living… for me; regardless of what my friends are doing… for me. For me to live is Christ, whether anyone else lives for Christ.”
Do you ever feel like the world is just out to get you? Do you ever feel like you have to reign in your faith because the world believes it’s just too big or too much? Do you wonder if you’re going to make it through whatever difficulty you are going through? We all struggle with these things from time to time. But, friends, we don’t have to wonder if we are cut out to make it through the tough times.
Did you know that when Paul said this verse, he was in prison in Rome? He had been charged with insurrection against the Empire and was awaiting trial before Caesar. If found guilty, the sentence is death. So Paul was facing the real possibility that he would end soon.
And as Paul sits in his dark cell, he writes this letter to the Philippians. For all he knows, it would be the last letter. And yet, he is not fearful; he is not filled with anxiety; he is a man at peace because to live is Christ.
“Regardless of what the world says, regardless of what the circumstances are that threaten me, for me to live is Christ.” It was the single greatest purpose of his existence. And the same should be true for each of us.
Over the past week, as I joined in prayer with so many friends and family of Casey, it was amazing to read the number of comments about her faith. She wasn’t just a believer in Jesus. She was a disciple of Jesus. She consistently lived her life by following His commandments and bringing others the Good News. Did she love her neighbors as Jesus commanded? Yes. Did she just stop there? No. She talked constantly about Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. She shared her story of faith and how it was through her willingness to die for Christ that she was able live for Christ. And live is what she did. He legacy is her faith. When people talk about Casey, they will also talk about Jesus Christ. That is a legacy worth dying for.
Casey makes it easy to celebrate her life. She celebrated life the moment she was reborn and she celebrated life until the moment she had her earthly death. But she is not dead. She is very much alive through all the people who have come to either know Jesus or grow their intimacy with Jesus because of her witness.
I can’t help but wonder if my life reflects that kind of faith. I know I have failed my Jesus so many times. I have been Peter, and denied him. I have been Judas, and given him the kiss of betrayal. I have been Thomas and doubted. I have been Paul and cried in anguish as I’ve struggled between doing what I knew was right and what I knew was wrong. I have clung to things of this world, fearful of what is unknown about the next.
“All the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself.” (Phil 3:8-11 MSG)
We cling to our achievements and our prestige in this world. We spend hours on social media bragging in one way or another about the greatness in our lives. But how many people do you see proclaiming bolding that they want to be a partner in Christ’s suffering, all the way to the suffering on the cross? It’s not a popular concept. But it is the only true way to live.
I think Casey was like Paul. I think she was ready to die which is exactly why she so boldly lived. If you are a Christian, you should be like Paul, too. The fact is, in the midst of a pandemic, we are faced with death in a more aggressive way, it seems. Sometimes it feels like the angel of death is just hovering over all of us, breathing down our necks just a bit closer than we like to admit. But in reality, death is always just a moment away. Too many well-meaning Christians (pastors included) don’t prepare each other to face death. That’s why we live in such fear of it.
So, I want to ask you this very personal question. Are you ready to die if death were to knock on your door? Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ completely? Do you believe that he is your Lord and your Savior? If you were to die tonight, would you receive the ultimate reward of heaven? Friend, if you do not know Jesus Christ, if he is not the reason you live and breathe, I would be honored to introduce him to you. Once you know him… really know him… you’ll give up everything to have the only thing — eternal life. “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”