The Perfect Death
There are all kinds of things happening all around us.
There is the Corona Virus and we have watched the death toll mounting over the past months.
This is Memorial Day. We take time today to think about those who laid down their life for the sake of our freedoms.
We know that anything could happen at any time. Even if it is not from the things we fear right now, we are mortal. Our lives are limited.
It is not a good answer to ignore the fact. Covering up by indulging the flesh leaves us unprepared. Chasing after everything in this world leads to us being surprised by our mortality and facing it with fear and panic. For centuries, for generations people have talked about what is a good death.
We are blessed. As Christians, we have Jesus. He is the only one who came into the world for the expressed purpose of dying. It was His mission, to lay down His life and to take it up again. "This charge" He said, "I have received from My Father." (John 10:18)
Jesus died the perfect death. Not just a good death; it was the perfect death. Yes there was fear and trembling. As He prayed in Gethsemane there certainly was fear of the Cross, the separation and forsakenness, and surrendering His soul into death. But Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of faith. He holds on to the words and promises of God. In fact, Jesus simply and stubbornly believes. If His Father has promised that after death there will be an Easter; then that just simply is how it will be.
All of the terrible things that happen do not change the promise. And Jesus faced down every one of them just like out in the wilderness, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4) The promises were specific;
Jesus held to the promises of His Father believing and trusting, all the way to the cross, surrendering His life and soul into death. Jesus doing that is like the one professor in seminary said to us. "Remember, Jesus going to the cross was also an act of worship."
Stephen, the first martyr followed Jesus. His prayers echo two of Jesus' prayers from the cross. "Lord, do not hold this sin against them", and "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (Acts 7:59-60) Stephen's death also was an act of worship.
So for us. We have words and promises of God. They are given for us to believe and hold on to in the face of everything that happens. And the promises are clear:
Jesus knows that we need His promises. He gives the promises to bring us to faith and strengthen us in faith. After all He is the Author and Perfecter of faith. As our Shepherd Jesus leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. He has been there. He is able to guide and keep us, because He has faced death and He has won the victory.
Lord Jesus, speak Your promises to me that I may grow in walking by faith. Remind me of Your promises that I may remember them in all my times of trouble. And hold my soul by Your promises when my dying day comes; that Your promises may guide me through dying and into living forever. Amen.
Rev. Mark Willig
Pastor Willig is pastor emeritus of Friends in Christ Lutheran Church.