Thursday, April 21, 2011

Learning to live from a dying man.

Over the last six weeks, we have spent Sunday mornings studying the first half of John’s gospel. This Sunday we will skip ahead to John 20. In between, chapters 13-17, the action in John’s gospel slows to a snail’s pace as Jesus takes one last chance to teach, encourage, and pray for his disciples. Lesslie Newbigin, the great missionary to India, a man familiar with journeys, once wrote of these chapters, “When a man is going on a long journey, he will find time on the eve of his departure for a quiet talk with his family, and – if he is a man of God – will end by commending to God not only himself and his journey, but also the family he leaves behind. Very surely will this be so if his journey is the last journey.” Newbigin’s evaluation of the scene is an accurate one. This is the eve of Jesus’ departure, the shadow of the cross falls across this intimate gathering. This is a quiet talk with those closest to the Savior. His disciples gather together for one last meal, for a farewell address, and finally in chapter 17, a farewell prayer.

Such a moment, those final moments before death, can seem overly gloomy to a culture infatuated with the appearance of life – I don’t mean real life – Jesus will talk about that in his prayer – but rather the appearance of life – the facade of life. We are a culture that so idolizes youthfulness that we inject poison in our faces to remove wrinkles and submit to dangerous surgeries in a vain attempt to hold onto younger bodies. We push the suffering into hospitals and the aging into nursing homes. And we avoid at all cost the discussion of when our lives must end. That’s too bad, recognizing we are on a journey to the grave is the first step into learning how to live. Robert M. Herhold says in his book, Learning to Die – Learning to Live, “It is too bad that dying is the last thing we do. Because it could teach us so much about living.”

Fortunately for us, Jesus spoke frankly about his death and ours. He’d been clear about his impending, painful death many times and now admits bluntly, “The hour has come.” It’s in this moment before death, with the seriousness of a man that is embarking upon his last journey, Jesus gives the clearest indication of what it means to really live. “Now this is eternal life,” Jesus prayed, “That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” That’s the secret to life – knowing God. Notice Jesus doesn’t say that knowing God brings life, as if that life is somehow secondary to the relationship; no, the relationship is life. To be with God is to be alive! And how do we know God? How do we enter into his presence? Through his Son, who gave himself for us, so that in our living or in our dying we might enjoy true relationship with our Maker today and forevermore.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” – Romans 8:38-39.

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