I am going to die.
Not soon. At least I hope not. But, regardless of when, I can say with confidence that someday, I will die. And you will do.
Is it weird to read that? It’s difficult to write it. I am a product of a culture that tries to gloss over the harsh reality of death. We keep it behind the peaceful facades of funeral homes and underneath flowering daffodils of cemeteries. Death is kept away from the goings on of our regular life so that we only have to face it for a brief time when, inevitably, the pain and grief strikes close to home.
We prefer to live as if life will go on forever. If I’m honest with myself, that’s what I do most of the time. We keep ourselves entertained and medicated and wealthy and comfortable and busy so that we never have to face some of life’s most difficult questions.
Why am I here? What will happen when I die? What is the purpose of life?
These questions are not easy. They take wrestling and discomfort, which is why we prefer to ignore them. But if we don’t pause to face them, we may get to the end of our life filled with more regret than rejoicing.
On the surface, the message of Psalm 49 seems morbid. Basically, it is this: don’t be jealous of those who are wealthy. Everyone dies.
Do not be overawed when others grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them. – Psalm 49:16-17
Though it may seem fatalistic, I think this Psalm forces us towards those meaning-of-life questions. What things do I get jealous about? And in the end, do they really matter?
I get jealous of material wealth and distracted by temporary pleasures more often than I would like to admit. But, at the core, I know the answers that have spoken peace to my soul.
It is appropriate that the reflection on this Psalm falls during Holy Week. My answers have come through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I believe that each of us were created. Whether that creation occurred through 6-day creationism or theistic evolution or anywhere in the spectrum between those theories, is in some ways, irrelevant to the bigger point. I believe there is a Creator God who fashioned this earth and knit us together in our mother’s wombs. I believe He did so because of the immense and immeasurable love that is core to His being, a love He desired to share.
I believe that, being motivated by love, this all-powerful Creator God gave us the ability to chose whether to love Him in return. And that though this introduced the possibility of sin, the risk was worth it. Without choice, there would have been no possibility of the pure exchange of love.
I believe that humans, since the beginning of time, have been choosing poorly. We have failed to trust in the Love that created us, and sought meaning and purpose in all sorts of other places. And these sins have been like a poison that has seeped into the functioning of the entire earth. There are not just individual wrongs, there are systemic sins that have brought unimaginable hurt and pain to God’s beloved creations.
I believe that a loving God could not sit idly by while His world and His loves descended into chaos and darkness. So, He sent a rescuer: His Son. And when His Son came, we rejected Him. We thought surely God does not look like a Man who heals the sick, shares food with the poor, and eats dinner with the prostitutes. And so we hung Jesus on a cross as punishment for His blasphemy.
I believe what humans intended for evil, God intended for good. All of our mistakes left us with debt that we could not afford to pay, and Jesus’ death covered it all. The consequence could not simply be forgiven: it had to be undone. Jesus’ sacrificial act of love became the fertile ground in which a new creation could begin.
I believe Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over death and evil. He proved that we could trust all He said to be true: He really was God and He really did have the power to save us. That through faith in Jesus, we are forgiven. we can be saved not only from death, but from the aimless wandering of life. Through Jesus, we are a new creation with purpose and hope, called to share His love with the world.
This is the Gospel. I believe it is true. And I believe it changes everything.
One of my favorite songs at this time of year is "Christ is Risen" by Matt Maher. I love this video depiction of it. Maybe watch and listen and take some time to reflect on the Gospel today?
Let's chat in the comments. Do you avoid thinking about death? How have you wrestled with these questions?
Walk through the Psalms is a series working its way through the book of Psalms, one Psalm a week, one post a week, in order. It is grounded in the belief that as Psalms swirl through prayers of pain and praise, they paint a portrait of a life of faith. And, as with any walk, it is better with company; all are welcome to join. To learn more, read this.
“I am thirsty.” These are words most of us have spoken at some point in our lives. Perhaps after a long run or after being outside on a hot day.
They are also words spoken by Jesus.
Thirst reveals humanity. God, the Living Water, does not thirst. Jesus comes to earth as God in flesh. A fully human being.
That is significant today. The day we remember Jesus’ time on the cross.
Jesus says the words “I am thirsty” while hanging on the cross. The human being Jesus is being crucified.
“Crucifixion was not simply a convenient way of executing prisoners. It was the ultimate indignity, a public statement by Rome that the crucified one was beyond contempt. The excruciating physical pain was magnified by the degradation and humiliation. No other form of death, no matter how prolonged or physically agonizing, could match crucifixion as an absolute destruction of the person.” – ESV Study Bible Notes
As a human, Jesus is feeling everything that his happening to Him in these moments of torture and death. He feels the thirst of a body that has gone without liquid for too many days. He feels the agony of a body nailed to a tree.
But saying “I am thirsty” also reveals Jesus’ divinity. At the same time as being fully present, Jesus is fully transcendent.
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. – John 19:28-29
In the midst of the human agony, Jesus still maintains divine knowledge. He knows that everything that is happening fulfills Scripture. This terrible event is according to God’s plan. Even to the level of detail as thirst being quenched by vinegar (as prophesied in Psalm 69:21.)
Jesus’ death fulfills a divine promise. Jesus, as fully God and fully human, is choosing to die on a cross. It is the only way to save us, His beloved children.
The truth of this is brought to life for me in the way The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the story of the crucifixion.
“They nailed Jesus to the cross.
‘Father, forgive them,’ Jesus gaped. ‘They don’t understand what they’re doing.’
‘You say you’ve come to rescue us!’ people shouted. ‘But you can’t even rescue yourself!’
But they were wrong. Jesus could have rescued himself. A legion of angels would have flown to his side- if he’d called.
‘If you were really the Son of God, you could just climb down off that cross!’ they said.
And of course they were right. Jesus could have just climbed down. Actually, he could have just said a word and made it all stop. Like when he healed that little girl. And stilled the storm. And fed 5,000 people.
But Jesus stayed.
You see, they didn’t understand. It wasn’t the nails that kept Jesus there. It was love.
‘Papa?’ Jesus cried, frantically searching the sky. ‘Papa? Where are you? Don’t leave me!’
And for the first time- and the last- when he spoke, nothing happened. Just a horrible, endless silence. God didn’t answer. He turned away from his boy…
The full force of the storm of God’s fierce anger at sin was coming down. On his own Son. Instead of his people. It was the only way God could destroy sin, and not destroy his children whose hearts were filled with sin.
Then Jesus shouted out in a loud voice, ‘It is finished!’
And it was. He had done it. Jesus had rescued the whole world.
‘Father!’ Jesus cried. ‘I give you my life.’ And with a great sigh, he let himself die.
And so, the terrible day of Jesus’ death is called Good Friday. For today we remember the most amazing display of love that has ever taken place.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16
Jesus died so we could be free. That is good, indeed. Thanks be to God.
Read the post before this one: A cup accepted and a love revealed.
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” – John 11:25-26
What are your feelings when you read these words of Jesus?
To be honest, they trouble me a little. Because I know that many Christians have used these words poorly. These are words that have been spoken with good intention, meant to be encouragement to those facing death and loss.
But what the person grieving can hear is, “there is life after death, so you should not be sad about death.”
That is not what Jesus meant at all.
We were meant to live in perfect peace with God in a perfect world.
The sickness, pain, loss, and death that we experience were never supposed to be a part of this world. These things should make us sad.
Jesus came because there was brokenness that needed to be set right. But that does not mean the brokenness should no longer make us grieve.
In fact, it made Jesus grieve.
Jesus said this “I am” statement when He was on His way to visit His friend Lazarus, who had died. (If you do not know the story, it is worth taking a look at John 11)
And even though Jesus knew Lazarus would enjoy the beauty of heaven, even though He knew that He had the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, even though Jesus knew the happy ending, He did not rejoice in this moment.
He saw the grief in the ones He loved and was moved in His Spirit. He acknowledged the brokenness and He wept.
It is important to remember here that Jesus was wholly and perfectly human and that He was wholly and perfectly God.
It is not a sin to mourn.
God is saddened by our pain. He feels our grief with us.
That is why Jesus came in the first place. God did not want the world to stay this way. Jesus came to make a new way. To set things right. To provide the resurrection and life promised in the verse that began this post.
Hope does not erase pain. It simply enables us to bear it.
When we experience loss in this world, we can look forward to the day when every tear will be wiped from our eyes. There will be a time when we will never experience loss again. And what a great day that will be.
But we can also wail and cry and mourn. In fact, we should. We need to feel and process our pain. And when we do, that does not imply our faith is weak. We can take comfort in a God who weeps with us.
It is possible to grieve and believe simultaneously.
That is what Jesus did. And He showed us a beautiful picture of authentic faith.
Read the post before this one, The deep longing in our hearts.