How Death Changes Life

GOC_to_die_and_to_live

I recently read an article that the anecdotal evidence that the 2017-2018 flu season has been one of the worst in recent memory is backed up statistically. As I thought about this, it brought to mind the many lessons that illness can teach us. Illness, whether it is caused from outside our bodies or inside our bodies, reminds us that Creation is fallen and it groans under the weight of sin (Rom. 8:22). For Christians, illness causes us to groan and to remember that this is not our permanent home (2 Cor. 5:1-4). Moreover, it causes us to long for our permanent home where God will remove all the effects of the Curse (Rev. 21:1-4). Beyond these lessons though, God reminded me of how illness instructs the way we evangelize. In his book Practical Religion, J.C. Ryle spends an entire chapter writing about Sickness and highlights the fact that illness is a reminder of death. He notes that most, including too often us Christians, live as if they were never going to die. But the author of Hebrews reminds us “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgement” (Heb. 9:27). To most our age death is a distant thought, something to be dealt with in 50 or 60 years but our Lord reminds us in Luke 12:20 that we do not know when God has decreed our deaths. For some it will be very soon and for others it will be in many years. And illness, Ryle writes, awakens us from our day-dreams and reminds us that we have to die as well as to live.

Elsewhere in the book, Ryle highlights that one result of understanding the nearness of death will be a bold proclamation of the Gospel: “You wonder sometimes at the tone and language of ministers of the Gospel. You marvel that we press upon you immediate decision…– to leave nothing uncertain, to make sure that you are born again and ready for heaven. But do you not see that the reality of death is continually forbidding us to use other language? We see him gradually thinning our congregations. We miss face after face in our assemblies. We know not whose turn may come next. We only know that as the tree falls there it will lie, and ‘after death comes the judgement.’ ” He then reaches the conclusion: “We must be bold and decided and uncompromising in our language. We would rather run the risk of offending some, than of losing any. We would aim to the standard set up by old Baxter: – ‘I’ll preach as though I ne’er should preach again, And as a dying man to dying men!’ ”

Illness is a tragedy brought on by the Curse and God often uses it to remind us that we live in the shadow of our impending death. The obvious question then is, “How should we live?” As it relates to our evangelism, do we see the world as Richard Baxter did, that we are all dying? We are dying so we must be about this task while we still have time so that those who are dying might be saved. Our Lord warned, “We must work the works of Him who sent me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). But He also promised, “Behold I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, they are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35) and again “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:37).

 

-Tim Ushijima

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