DEATH NOT NATURAL

There is an expression we use when speaking of someone's death. We say that he or she died of "natural causes". This term is meant to exclude cases of intentional death, such as manslaughter, murder and suicide. Of course, we usually don't think of untimely deaths, whatever their cause, as "natural". We reason that a person's life should run at least the Biblical "threescore and ten" (70 years: Psalm 90:10 - KJV) and so anything short of that seems less likely to be a natural death to us. In fact, with the advances we have made in medicine, hygiene and nutrition, the baseline of expected longevity is now moving toward 80 and above. We now tend to see a death in the 70's as somehow "premature".

In one sense, all deaths are natural, for our bodies are a part of nature and are therefore subject to all the "laws" of nature. But from the perspective of God's original intention for us, no death is natural. Physical death was imposed upon the human race, and indeed, upon the whole of sentient (conscious) creation, because of Adam's sin (Genesis 3:17-19Romans 5:12; 8:19-22; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). Why did God do this?

There are a number of perspectives from which to consider the sin of Adam and Eve in partaking of the fruit. It was an act of pride, it was the effect of covetousness, it was a breach of the law of love, but it was also the very essence of idolatry for by choosing the enjoyment of a piece of fruit over their relationship with God Adam and Eve "worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen." (Romans 1:25) God, therefore, imposed death upon the physical creation, including that physical part of us, our bodies. This would serve as a powerful and constant reminder to us that we should seek, above all, a right relationship with our Creator, for the good gifts of God ought never to be prized above God Himself. Nevertheless, death is not God's original or final intention for us. It casts a horrible and appalling shadow across God's originally "very good" creation (Genesis 1:31).

I think it was Dwight L. Moody who said that when faced with performing his first funeral, he searched the Gospels to see what Jesus said at funerals in order to get some inspiration for what he would say. He found, to his surprise, that Jesus didn't give speeches at funerals - He raised the dead! (See Matthew 11:4-5; Mark 5:35-42; Luke 7:11-17; John 11:30-44.) Jesus wept at Lazarus' graveside even though He knew that moments later Lazarus would come forth from the grave at His command. Some say that Jesus wept because of those Jews standing by who did not believe in Him (11:37). That is possible, though a bit of a stretch. Jesus had unbelieving people standing around Him all the time and this is only one of two occasions we are told that Jesus wept (Luke 19:41-44). Those standing by thought He wept because of His great love of Lazarus and the usual sense of loss we have when someone close to us dies (John 11:35, 36). Of course, Jesus did love Lazarus, as John informs us (11:3, 5) but Jesus knew Lazarus would soon be alive. Why then, did He weep?

Death was a tragic imposition upon God's original design for our world. Standing before Lazarus' tomb, Jesus was dramatically reminded of the terrible suffering that sin had brought upon the human race, leading up to and culminating in the suffering of death. How it grieved His infinitely loving heart. He knew what it would take to reverse the curse of death. He knew He must die for the sin of Adam and for the sins of all his descendents, including you and me. Not long after Lazarus was raised, Jesus was illegally arrested, falsely accused, tortured and condemned to die a shameful, agonizing death upon a Roman cross. All this He endured in order to save us from our sins and give us life eternal.

The resurrection of Jesus is the first instance of what will take place when He comes again in glory. Paul writes, "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep [in death]. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection from the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming." (1 Corinthians 15:20-23) Therefore, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, we are also celebrating our own, future resurrection. Jesus said to His disciples, "Because I live, you shall live also." (John 14:19)

The Bible tells us that at Christ's coming again in glory, all the dead shall be raised and judged. Then, those who have been justified and cleansed of sin through faith in Jesus will dwell forever with Him in the "new heavens and earth, in which righteous dwells." (2 Peter 3:13) For, "this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this mortal shall have put on immortality, then will come about that saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ!" (1 Corinthians 15:53-57)

Jesus gathered to Himself a band of men and women, not only to teach the world what He said and did during His earthly sojourn but also to bear witness to the world that He died on a Roman cross, was buried in a borrowed tomb and was bodily raised to life everlasting on the third day. This they valiantly did despite every incentive to keep their mouths shut. To testify that Jesus arose from the dead and ascended bodily into heaven would not just earn them incredulous laughter and ridicule but beatings, prison and even death. All but one of the Twelve Apostles died a "martyr" (witness) and that exception, John, suffered exile on the island of Patmos.

There were many other eyewitnesses besides the Twelve. Paul says that one time, Jesus appeared alive, after His death, to more than five hundred disciples, most of whom were still alive at the time Paul penned his first letter to the Corinthians, twenty-five years later. Christian faith would never have arisen at all if Jesus had not risen from the dead. There were plenty of would-be Messiahs but death's finality sealed their fates. Only Jesus' disciples multiplied more after His death than before. Why is this? It is only because He rose from the dead! Nothing else can account for it.

So let us not "accept death" as the world does. Death is not natural. It is neither God's original nor His ultimate intention for us. Jesus died, yes, but He arose victorious over death and so shall we who trust in Him as our Savior and follow Him as our Lord.