Here is a message I prepared almost a year ago, and preached at the Stearns church on April 2, 2016. I found it in my files this week, and it has brought back a flood of memories. In January, I had conducted the funeral service for David Hickman, and not even a month later, another friend of our church had also passed away. At the time, my father, who had been battling prostate cancer, had taken a turn for the worse, and though he was optimistic, we knew he didn't have long to live. (My father passed away 6 months later, on October 29)
Thus my thoughts were directed to the study below, which I will share in the hopes that it will be a blessing. You can also listen to the audio version, An End.
Genesis 5:1-9, 14:
“This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created. And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he had sons and daughters. So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died.
Seth lived one hundred and five years, and begot Enosh. After he begot Enosh, Seth lived eight hundred and seven years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years; and he died.
Enosh lived ninety years, and begot Cainan. … So all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years; and he died.
… v. 14 So all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years; and he died.
Mahalalel ... died. And so, all the others: they are born, they live a little while, and they die.
The stories of these men are short and succinct. When I was young, I thought these were, perhaps, quite boring to read. All these stories all started to sound the same. We call them the “begats.” People are born. They grow up and have children. And then, tragically, they die. Tragically, yes—but as it would seem—inevitably.
“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher;
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?
One generation passes away, and another generation comes;
But the earth abides forever.
And so reads the story of every life—both man and beast. “As on dies, so dies the other.” The rich and the poor. The righteous and the wicked. The wise and the foolish.
I'm not the most avid reader in the world, but when I do read, I like to read a good biography. There's just one thing I don't like about biographies: the ending. Unless it's an auto-biography, they all seem to end the same way—at the end of life.
If there was one thing I could change about life—just one thing—it would be this. I wouldn't change a thing—if I could only remove its ending.
In the words of the 14th century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, “All good things must come to an end.” Or in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
The inevitability of death is unquestionable. Imagine a shoelace. Just an ordinary little string. Just as this is a string, just as surely it has two ends—a beginning and an ending. So is your life. As surely as you and I are alive here, today—just as surely our lives as we know them will come to an end. I doesn't matter how much salad and tofu you eat, how much water you drink, or how many miles you walk every day. If we are willing to admit the truth, we will realize that sooner or later what comes to all will come to you and me.
Something within us all, though, tells us that this should not be. Families and friendships are torn apart by death. The relationships fostered, the wisdom and experience gained, the fortunes built—all are lost!
Look at how our bodies are made. There's no reason we should have to die! Cars wear out. Cell phones break. Houses get old and need to be repaired. But our bodies were designed with the amazing ability to repair themselves. Cuts and bruises heal over. Muscles get stronger. Injured organs heal and re-build. Every day, millions of cells in our bodies are replaced with new ones. There's no reason for this kind of machinery to get old and wear out. Imagine a car that would fix itself every time something went wrong? You'd never need to buy a new care again!
Compared to man-made machines, people do live a long time. It would seem that our bodies were, at some time, designed to live forever. Why, then, do we not? I ask you—is it an inevitable law of the universe that all things must eventually die?
Is it possible that the “normal” that we experience is really an incredible anomaly—a tumor, as it were, of death, in a universe of creatures who were made to live forever? If we were able to look at the bigger picture of time and space, is it possible that everything we see around us—the cycle of life and death, is a tragic blip in a much larger universe that is quite different from what we see—one where the rule of life without death is the norm?
The Bible speaks a lot about this concept of an afterlife, and the idea that human beings can have eternal and everlasting life. Adam and Eve were warned not to touch the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, lest they should die. We know the story—they ate the fruit, they were banned from the garden, and since that time every man, woman, and child has come under the rule of death.
Paul says it this way, in Romans 5:12,18-21:
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— … even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. … so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The Bible teaches that death is the result of sin. In the big scheme of the universe, death is not the ultimate end to all life—it's an unwelcome intruder that has come as a direct result of our rebellion and separation from God. The incredible news of the Gospel is that Jesus came to bridge the gap—to re-unite fallen man to His creator.
Jesus says, in John 11:25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
In the last half of the book of Revelation, we see this epic battle played out, between the God of Life and Satan, the great dragon, who opposes God and all that is good. If we go back to Isaiah 14 and Ezekial 28, we understand that Satan wasn't always a great dragon. No, Lucifer was the covering cherub—in the position of the highest honor in heaven, but pride and envy sprang up in his heart. He coveted the place of God, and ultimately tried to take it by force. By his sin, he separated himself from his creator, and in doing so he severed himself from the law of life. War broke out in heaven, we read in Revelation 12, and Satan was cast out to the earth. Here, he duped God's new Creation, Adam and Eve, into joining in his rebellion, and for the last 6,000 years we have witnessed the awful results of his government of death.
The narrative of Revelation continues. The dragon, in rage, goes after God's people, and especially God's son Jesus. After Jesus ascends to heaven, Satan goes after his church in fury. In Revelation 13, he develops a strategy. Pictured in the symbol of a leopard-like beast, he devises this church-state power to attempt to coerce the consciences of God's people. Then a second beast, with lamb-like horns, arises from the earth, ostensibly as a land of freedom, but one that would ultimately do the bidding of the leopard-beast and force all, both small and great, to receive his mark.
Finally, in Revelation 16, as the judgments of God are already falling upon the earth, the spiritual forces of the enemy use the unholy union of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet to bring together an army to final battle of earth—the Battle of Armageddon.
To read through these passages, it would seem as though Satan were gaining the upper hand. For every judgment of God, Satan and his rebellious forces have a come-back. A new tactic. And the battles rage on. And death and destruction follow in his evil wake.
But when you reach Revelation 18, the tables are about to turn. God's mighty angel makes one last appeal to the dwellers in Babylon, and with it takes up a terrible lament for her destruction. “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has be come a dwelling place of demons.” (Revelation 18:2) “And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins and lest you receive of her plagues.’”
The call is given. The lament is completed. John looks up, and beholds the glorious throne-room of heaven, where God is preparing to come to bring judgment upon the earth. In chapter 19 verse 19, the confrontation is made. Satan, with all the hosts of those he has deceived—every system of falsehood he has set up—comes face to face with the God of the universe. At that moment, the battle is all but over.
Revelation 19:20: “Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.”
Revelation 20:1-2: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years”
At the same time, those who were faithful to Christ—those even who were martyred for His cause, are raised to live and reign with Him. Think of it—because Christ also died and was raise from the dead, all those who have come under the dominion of death will be raised again. Satan cannot triumph against those who put there faith in Christ!
Revelation 20:6 “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”
What about this great battle—the battle of Armageddon? It was stopped in its tracks. It was put on pause, in a since, so that the righteous could spend a thousand years, reigning with God and participating in the final phase of the investigative judgment. Then, at the end of the millennium, the wicked dead are raised for a short time, and the battle picks up again where it left off.
Revelation 20:9 “They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.”
You see this great scene of judgment—the final judgment of God. As terrible as it is for those who have rejected God, it's also a scene of comfort and hope. Year after year, century after century, the devil has devised one system after another to hurt God and His people. First the beast and false prophet are destroyed. Then Satan, and those who follow him, are cast into the lake of fire. Finally—this is my favorite part:
Revelation 20:14: “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.”
You see, death started because of separate from God. The first sin in heaven was the sin of pride—Satan thought He knew better than God, and in separating himself from his creator, he doomed himself to death. When, finally, this tragic experiment with sin is finished, and sin and sinners are destroyed, death itself will come to an end. The horror will be over. No longer will relationships be torn asunder. No more will our life be like this little string—over and gone.
1 Corinthians 15:54-55 “So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’”
Does it seem sometimes that this little life we live is so short and fragile? Oh, it's fun for a little while, but like this little string, so soon it comes to an end!
Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a life that continues forever? Friends, we can. We don't have “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Jesus has conquered death, and the grave. If we let Him, he can tie our little strings to His, and one day soon we will go to live with him forever.
You know those short stories we started with? Adam begat Seth, begat Enosh, etc? There was a story in Genesis 5 that we missed. It goes like this:
18 Jared lived one hundred and sixty-two years, and begot Enoch. …
21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. 22 After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. 23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24 And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.
Unlike all the other stories—Enoch's story ends differently. He didn't live 900 years, and die. No, it says of his life, that he “walked with God.” He walked so closely with God, for 300 years, that one day, as it were, God said, Enoch, it's closer to my house than to yours. Why don't you just come home with Me?
This is my prayer. That you and I can walk with God, as Enoch did. Because with God, there's no need to fear the grave.