Death, Life, Purpose
Over the past several months we have been looking at the colorful life of Abraham.
- He was called by God at the age of 75 to leave the home he had known all his life and travel to a land that God would show him.
- He traveled with his nephew Lot until their families got too big and Abraham gave Lot a choice between two directions and we saw Lot chose the “better land”.
- We marveled as Abraham gathered up his men and went out to rescue Lot from invading armies
- We watched with fascination as Abraham had a dialog with Melchizedek
- We watched with silence as God made his covenant with Abraham in the powerful drama of the smoking fire pot which passed between the cut up pieces of animals.
- We saw Abraham stumble twice putting his wife in danger with his lies, and then we saw him make a mistake in agreeing to father a child with Hagar, the maid of Sarah.
- We rejoiced with Abraham as Isaac was born to the 90 year old Sarah
- We were stunned with Abraham as God tested him by asking him to sacrifice his son on the very spot where God would sacrifice his son so many years later.
- We hurt with Abraham as he buried his wife
- And we sympathized with Abraham as he sought to secure a wife for his son.
Abraham is an example of faithful living. He is rightly called the Father of faith. But before we leave Abraham there is a postscript in chapter 25 that wraps things up for us. Not surprisingly these words spur us on to examine our own lives.
ABRAHAM LIVED UNTIL HE DIED
This is one of those times many people will listen and say, “I can come up with this kind of brilliance and insight on my own!” “Everyone lives until they die”, we say. Let me beg to differ with you. I would contend that many people give up living long before they die. Many are like long distance runners who sprint three laps only to slow to a stop in the final lap.
Let’s face it, we spend a good portion of our lives wishing them away.
- When younger we want to be older so we can drive, date and set our own rules
- When a little older we want to be older still so we can earn more and buy more
- In the middle (or productive) years we find ourselves dreading the work we have to do and longing for the week to pass so we can enjoy a weekend.
- Suddenly we find ourselves saying, “Where did the time go?” as our kids move away
- We then begin to look forward to retirement so we can do the things we enjoy
- When we retire we wish we had the energy of youth
- Then some feel that they have nothing left to give. We move and think slower, we don’t hear so well, and our bodies begin to ache.
- Some spend the remainder of their days saying, “I wish I could just go to sleep and not wake up.”
Do you see something in common with all of these sentiments? In each of these scenarios we are discontented with life at whatever stage we are at. Look at how differently Abraham lived his life.
Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. (then we see a list of the children and grandchildren that came from this relationship). . . 5Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.
Altogether, Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Macpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah.”
Abraham was seventy five when he left home to follow God to Canann. He had a child when he was 100. His wife died when he was almost 140. It broke his heart. But Abraham did not stop living!
We read that Abraham took another wife. And not only that . . . he had other children by Keturah! The text lists six more sons! Can you imagine beginning parenthood again at 140 years old? Can you imagine being surrounded with toddlers when you were 60 much less 160? We can identify with the words of Flip Wilson who said “If I could live my life over again . . . I wouldn’t have the energy!”
Abraham also took care of estate issues. While he was still living he passed out an inheritance to his children. We read that he gave everything he owned to Isaac (because he was the son of promise) but he also gave gifts to his other children. Abraham didn’t wait until he died to benefit his children. He used what he had to bring joy to others while he was living.
Notice this great epitaph of Abraham, “he was an old man and full of years.” It is easy to miss the significance of these words. The Hebrew for “full of years” literally means “full of, satisfied with”. It is a satisfaction similar to the satisfaction you feel after a great dinner when you aren’t sick but satisfied. When Abraham pushed back from the “table of life” at the end of his days, he was satisfied. He had no regrets. He and enjoyed the journey.
Could these words describe your life? Are you “living” life or enduring it? Are you savoring each moment or are you wishing your life away? Do push back from each day with the satisfied feeling of knowing that you have made the most of your day? Have you stopped living and started merely “existing”? This is no way to live.
Here are some ideas for how you and I can enjoy the journey more,
- Instead of starting the day with “Oh no” start it with “THIS is the day which the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it”
- Make time for God and savor those moments. Read His Word and share your heart with Him every day.
- Talk about yourself and your life in the positive rather than the negative. Focus on the blessings rather than the struggles. Make it a point to look for the silver lining.
- Give yourself fully and enthusiastically to everything you have to whatever your current project is.
- Whistle while you work (unless you are in a library).
- Think and speak well of your health. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.
- Look for new things to try and learn and then try them and learn them (a new language, a new skill, a new place to visit, try reading something different or listen to some music outside of your normal tastes, learn to play an instrument) Don’t focus on the things you used to be able to do that you can’t anymore . . .focus on the things you wanted to do but didn’t have time to do before! Have some fun!
- Take time to notice beautiful things
- Plan flexibility into your schedule so you have time to talk with someone about more than the weather.
- Resolve that the next time things don’t go as you planned you won’t pout but will view it as an unexpected adventure.
Begin today to live so that when your life is over people will be able to say that you lived a life that was “full of years”.
ABRAHAM FACED DEATH WITHOUT FEAR
We are told that Abraham breathed out his last and died. And even in these words we are spurred on to faith.
Abraham “breathed his last and died”
The Hebrew word for “breathed” means “breathed out” a word that I think points to the departing of the spirit from the body. We see a similar image when Jesus died on the cross. He said to God, “Into you hands I give my Spirit”. After he said these words, He died. Life didn’t leave Jesus . . . Jesus left life! It was the same with Abraham. His spirit left his body.
Where does it go? You ask. Some say there is no such thing. Others say the Spirit gets “recycled”. Still others tell you that your spirit gets absorbed in one giant spirit. But the Bible says that those who have given their lives to Christ . . . those who have, like Abraham, trusted the promise of God, will “live even though they die”. Those who are believers will find their soul ushered into the presence of the Lord to wait for the resurrection of our body. . . except this time without the decay that had invaded the body in the past. These will enjoy the Lord forever.
But . . for those who in stubborn resistance refuse to follow Christ it will be a different story. These people live as if there is no life beyond this present existence. They live with the motto of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” For these folks this life is all there is. And when they die . . .they will wish they had been right. For the Bible says they will be in a place of eternal separation from God.
Please understand, this doesn’t mean a separation from the church and long winded preachers. Many wouldn’t mind that at all. This is a separation from all the goodness of God . . . even all the “reflected goodness” that everyone enjoys whether they realize it or not. It will be a place without beauty, joy, enjoyment, satisfaction, delight, rest, music or laughter. It will be a place of misery. It matters where you go after death!
Abraham “was gathered to his people“
In Abraham’s day there was certainly no developed doctrine of the resurrection. But these verses indicate that there was some understanding that death involved reunion.
As we get older we often begin to fear because of the prospect of death. And this fear can rob us of life. We are afraid of death and so we hold back, we begin to avoid any risk at all. We build walls around ourselves and become isolated all in a desire to preserve life. But, the irony is that our fear robs us of life. How differently Paul lived. When talking about the imprisonment and chains he knew stood before him he said, “one of these things move me; not do I count my life dear to myself, that that I may finish my race with joy,” (Acts 20:24)
To fear death is to see death in an unchristian way. For the believer death is a transition, not the end. Jesus told us that he is “going to prepare a place for us.” (Jn. 14:1) No one understood what it was like on the other side of the grave like Jesus. He came from eternity to the earth. Consequently, the story that Jesus tells about the rich man and Lazarus is one that we should pay attention to. Jesus is telling a story about life beyond the grave. In fact, notice where we find the beggar Lazarus . . . sitting next to Abraham!
Luke 16:19-31 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Notice some things about the rich man and Lazarus.
- they recognized each other
- they interacted with each other
- they experienced pleasure and agony
- they could not change where they were
- we determine where we spend eternity by how we respond to God’s invitation and promise
Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus promises that there is life beyond the grave. He not only promised . . .He showed that there is life beyond the grave with his own resurrection. Paul said, “For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) With this in mind, do you still fear death? Will it not be a true “gathering to our fathers”? Death is a time of reunion.
Do you see that this short passage is really a wake up call for you and me? We are reminded here to keep living while we are alive. There is the implied challenge to continue reaching, growing and serving God. And when we do reach the end of our lives we should face the finish line not with dread but with the exhilaration of victory. We are not at that point finishing life . . . we are just beginning it!
To live this way we must adopt the attitude of Abraham. Like Abraham we must believe God. You see, you can’t live life to the fullest until you have met the Giver of Life. You can’t face death unafraid until you have given yourself to the Savior who gave His life for you.
The Bible is quite frank with us, “there is none that does good . . . not even one.” (Romans 3) We deserve nothing from his hand. But in Christ, he offers us life abundant and eternal. This life comes when we “believe God”. So, like Abraham I ask you if you believe God?
- Will you believe Him when he says that you are lost and in need of a Savior?
- Will you believe Him when He says that Christ gave His life and rose from the grave to save those who believe?
- Will you believe Him when He tells you that those who turn to Christ, He will not reject?
- Will you believe Him when He tells you that if you will trust Him . . . He will lead you home to eternal life?
- Will you believe Him when he says He will never leave you or forsake you?
- Will you believe Him when He tells us that He is working every circumstance for your benefit?
I warn you however, it is easy to SAY you believe. It is tougher to believe. Abraham believed. How do we know? We know because of the way he lived. He kept trusting when he did not understand. He obeyed even when the command was painful or difficult. He trusted God even when he could not see or feel Him. That’s what is called living by faith.
You see, once we are walking with God, life changes. Like Abraham, life is no longer a mundane existence of drudgery and pain . . . instead it is a grand adventure that leads us to the greatest adventure of all.