I was born with a pre-cancerous birthmark on my lower back. My doctors all told me growing up that I didn’t need to worry about it until I got older because removing it as a child would leave a really bad scar that would grow as I did, so it was better to wait until I stopped growing to remove it. So I didn’t have it removed until I was 18.
The birthmark was about the size of a lime, and while the surgery to remove it was outpatient surgery with local anesthetic, I still ended up with 18 stitches and two weeks of recovery lying flat on my face. It’s amazing how much you use your lower back muscles without realizing it.
But I will never forget that morning, going into the dermatologist’s office. It was the biggest, scariest procedure I had ever undergone (still is, in fact). I was nervous and a little stressed, mainly just because it was something I’d never done before. Mom and I were the only people in the waiting room, and then the doors opened and in walked two people I knew, my church’s care pastor W.M. Hoover and his wonderful wife Edith.
My first thought was that they were there for someone else. I knew that Pastor Hoover (affectionately called Pastor Grandpa, as he’s my Pastor’s dad) made the rounds at hospitals praying for the sick, so I just assumed there was someone having major surgery that morning. But to my surprise, Pastor and Mrs. Edith were there for me.
That blew me away. They prayed for me. They told me they loved me. And I went in for my little surgery feeling much calmer and very touched that they would come all the way over just to pray for me for a silly little surgery. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that, and I’m not sure I can communicate what that meant to me.
Pastor Grandpa got to go home to meet his best friend Jesus face to face yesterday morning. He’d been ill for a long time, so on one hand it’s a blessing to know that he’s back to his old self again, that’s he’s better now than he ever was here. But on the other hand, it’s very sad because he’s already being missed enormously.
Death is one of those topics that people talk about a lot in the church, but I’m not sure we ever really clear anything up about it. There’s just so little that we understand. Yes, people have had near death experiences. I’m not going to contest the validity of their claims because I’m sure they experienced something and whatever it was changed them. But I can say with certainty that anyone who has died for real has not come back to explain what it’s like–other than Jesus, of course. So there’s a lot about death that is troublesome because we just don’t know.
But in those times when we don’t know something, it’s best to cling to what we do know for sure.
Today’s verses are Hebrews 2:14-15.
Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
Have you ever met anyone who is a slave to fear of dying? The Message version of this verse calls it being scared to death of death. I’ve met people like that. They do everything they can to escape death. They do everything possible to live one more day because the fear of death is too much for them to face.
Part of me understands that because death is unknown. It’s uncertain. It’s something I’ve never experienced before, and new experiences tend to make me twitchy. But the Bible is full of examples and statements about what death really is. And for someone who knows Christ, for someone who follows Him and lives life with Him, death isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s something to look forward to.
Death in its basest definition is separation. The Bible defines it as separation from God, and as a Christ-follower, that will never happen to you. As a Christ-follower, death isn’t something to fear but to welcome. We can welcome death because of what Christ did for us. That’s what this passage is saying.
Christ-followers don’t have to be afraid of death because Christ defeated death. Fear of death is bondage. Fear of death is a vicious master that strips away the usefulness of our lives. We don’t have to be afraid of death. We’ve been set free from it, both death and the fear of death.
It’s okay to be sad when someone you love dies. Don’t tell yourself anything different and don’t let any sanctimonious “Christian” tell you otherwise either. There is a time to mourn. There is a time to be sad. But Christ-followers don’t die. They just wake up in the presence of God. And if that isn’t something to celebrate, I don’t know what is.
Life is precious, yes. And we shouldn’t waste it or take it for granted. But at the same time, don’t fear death. If you know Christ, death is just the next step in our eternity, where everything we had to struggle and fight to believe becomes as easy as breathing.