I once saw a picture of a war protester holding a sign that proclaimed:
I’m not intending to write about war or pacifism today, but I want to pause and think about this assertion. Is anything worth dying for? Or, conversely, is anything worth living for?
We avoid talking about death. Or we joke about it. George Burns (who lived to be 100 years old) used to joke that he wanted the epitaph on his gravestone to read, “I wish I were reading this.” (Actually he is buried in the Forest Lawn cemetery near Hollywood next to his beloved Gracie, and their stone reads “Together Forever.”)
There is a striking story in the Gospel of John that is often overlooked. When Jesus and his disciples learn that their friend Lazarus is deathly ill, Jesus delays going to him in Bethany. The disciples think this is because Judea has become dangerous for them, with the Jewish leaders seeking to kill Jesus. Then, they learn that Lazarus has died. Unfortunate. But this seems to take the pressure off them to travel to this dangerous place. Surprisingly, though, Jesus announces his intention to go to Bethany anyway. When some of the group object, an unlikely voice supports him. Thomas, whom tradition disparages as the “doubter,” urges, ““Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16). The one who many see as a weak link among the disciples is willing to put his life on the line for his Lord!
Dying with Jesus, what does this mean for us?
One author has said, “Any religion that has nothing to say about death has nothing to say.” I think that only Christianity has a message of hope that transcends death, because it places faith in the one who conquered death. For us, to die with Jesus and to die for Jesus means that we put him first, we serve without regard for self, we have a willingness to give up everything for him. This is the essence of the Lenten season, a time of reflection and self denial. It is in this way that we prepare our hearts to remember the agony of Good Friday and the glory of Resurrection Sunday.
When Jesus and his disciples arrive in Bethany, Lazarus is dead and buried, and Jesus has an opportunity to minister to his sisters, Mary and Martha. In Jesus’ conversation with Martha, the topic of death is at the core. Here Jesus presents a Mighty Truth of the Gospel: the one who believes in Jesus will live, even if he dies.
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
At the beginning of the Cold War George Orwell wrote his famous dystopia, 1984. The novel pictured a technological future of horror, where the western democracies had become one vast totalitarian regime. The state propagates three great paradoxical slogans:
- War is Peace
- Freedom is Slavery
- Ignorance is Strength
What Jesus is saying to Martha is an even greater paradox. At the end he is saying:
DEATH IS LIFE
As we proceed in this Lenten season, may we live intentionally in denial of self and affirmation of the Lord Jesus. May we find life in less, fulfillment in denial, and joy in serving others. May we remember the final words of the great prayer of Francis of Assisi:
. . . it is in giving that we receive
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
It is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Nebraska Christian College