The last few days I have been mourning the death of a friend. Our friend Amanda, after a long fight with cancer, died a few days ago.
This was all the harder for many of us because we had been praying earnestly for Amanda, hoping she would be healed. Yet our Lord did not heal her. She died, leaving behind her a husband and twelve children… some so young they will never have known their mother.
I know few people who had the depth of faith this woman had. On one occasion she made Job’s words her own: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” So let me repeat what I said, this time more accurately. Our friend lost a battle with cancer. But she won the victory of faith. For, she held her faith in Jesus to the end. She died in faith.
In fact (again more accurately) Amanda didn’t actually die. She fell asleep in Jesus. This is not just a euphemism. This is the way the apostles referred to believers who had passed on (1 Cor. 15.6,18).
For, to those who believe in Jesus, the power of death has been broken. Jesus Christ has “abolished death” (2 Tim. 1.10). The word translated abolished is a very strong word in the Greek. It is katargeo, which is made up of three parts: kata-a-ergeo. Kata is a prefix which is often used as an intensifier. This is followed by a, which in the Greek is the negative (as in a-theist). And then the stem ergeo, which means to work. And so Paul proclaims that what Jesus Christ did on Calvary’s cross resulted in death being made totally unable to work. For those who believe in Jesus, death totally does not work; death absolutely does not work anymore, is of no effect anymore… for those who believe in Jesus.
And Paul goes on to say that this is something that the Gospel is supposed to make manifest—not just tell us about, but actually make manifest. Christ has “abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (2 Tim.1.10).
So… this is the shape my mourning has taken the last few days. Yes, I mourn for my sister, but more than that, I am mourning for the reality of this powerful Gospel—the Good News that manifests, that shines forth as light, the victory of Christ at Calvary. Those who know the Good News ought to be walking in a Life that is totally triumphant over the whole kingdom of sin and death. Is that the case with you? With me?
Just today the lines of the poem that inspired the title for my blog came again to mind:
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast,
Such a feast as mends in length,
Such a strength as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move,
Such a love as none can part,
Such a heart as joys in love.
(The Call by George Herbert, 1593-1633)
What’s this—a life that killeth death? It’s ingrained in our thinking that death always triumphs over life, that death kills life. And so we fear death. But no, there is a Life that kills death, a Life that triumphs over death…
…Because it is a Life that leads in the Pathway of the Cross. Jesus, walking in the Pathway of Life… this Pathway led Him to the Cross, where He accomplished the greatest thing that has ever happened in the universe.
He Hell in hell laid low;
Made sin, He sin o’erthrew;
Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,
And death by dying slew.
Samuel Whitlock Gandy, 1780-1851
What paradoxes. The Lord Jesus Christ manifested the Life “that killeth death.” This Life led Him to the Cross, where He “death by dying slew.” Eternal paradoxes. And entirely scriptural. By dying, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ destroyed (there’s that same word again, katargeo) him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil (Heb. 2.14). He slew the Devil with His own weapon (as David did Goliath), and delivered those who “through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
For, He became sin for us—He who knew no sin. And that is what causes death—sin. It’s there in the whole family of Adam, from the tiny baby to the ancient man. Sin. The poison of sin is at work in the whole family of Adam. It’s the sting of death. “The sting of death is sin” (1 Cor. 15.56). In other words, when somebody sins they have been stung by death. Sin is the sting of death. But Jesus took the sting out of death. He became sin for us—your sin and mine—and died, taking sin down into the grave with Him. He died unto sin. He died for our sins. He died for our sins—and rose again for our justification. What a revelation! Paul says that if Christ has not risen from the dead, “your faith is vain (futile), ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15.17). The implication is that if Christ is risen from the dead (and He is), we are not in our sins. If Christ is risen from the dead, this is evidence that the sting of death (sin) has been removed, and so we who believe in Him are no more in our sins. And, therefore, what hold can death have on us? And so Paul concludes:
Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15.57).
What is that victory? Yes, it’s the triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary. But thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what the Gospel is all about—or ought to be. It ought to be a shining forth in our lives of the truth and victory that Christ wrought at Calvary, and which enables us to walk in Life even as He Himself walked.
I have to say that this is all too often not the case among us Christians, and so, as I said, I have been mourning for this. I believe that if the Life of Jesus were more the reality we are walking in, my friend Amanda would still be with us. I simply cannot accept that the present state of worldliness and weakness and sickness that is plaguing the churches is the will of God.
However, I know that my friend Amanda died in faith, and so, regardless what death seems still able to accomplish, it is faith that triumphs. Death may be boasting over yet another of its victims, but faith has the last word. For even though we see not yet the final victory over this the last enemy, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” (Heb. 11.1). Yes, the world is full of sin and sickness and death. But faith is the victory.
…This is the victory that overcame the world, our faith (1 Jn. 5.4).
And this is why Amanda is not dead. She is asleep… and waiting to be awakened.
See you later, Amanda.
Here is George Herbert’s The Call set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Thank you very much for Posting this narrative about your friend’s death. Your expressed thoughts were not only Scriptural, they were also both very touching and sensitive too.
Two years ago a Christian friend of mine (living in Europe) also transcended into eternity past after being afflicted with terminal cancer, I was profoundly saddened by the event and with the fact that distance/expense prohibited my attendance at her funeral.
I don’t fair emotionally well regarding the critical and needful circumstances of others; especially when it’s a friend. Most times, I feel exceedingly socially awkward and inadequate. Yet, I felt a want to somehow experience the event of her funeral over the distance.
I had no doubt that my friend’s faith remained undiminished. Neither did I suspect that she would have feared death … even during her most painful end days.
On the day of her funeral, my mind returned to the time when I was arrested by the police and dragged off to a prison cell; (deservedly so). The first tormenting fear that chased my mind was the realization my early-teen son had become instantly orphaned and homeless; (I was a single parent at the time). The additional fear of suffering the loss of all my possessions quickly followed. Failure to pay our monthly housing rent entitled the property owners to freely inherit all my belongings.
On the day of my dear friend’s funeral I was becoming increasingly desperate to somehow imagine my friend’s last visible moments. That’s when a most cherished thought entered my mind: yes, it was very true that my friend was courageous. Not because she feared death. No, not at all. My friend’s only fear was concerning the future of her precious endearing possessions … her husband and her children.
In those last hours of my friend’s life, she had also to summon the courage to trust God to hold her precious possessions safe and secure throughout this eternity now. I was so proud of my dear friend when I pondered that knowing of her.
Last year I was able to travel to Europe and meet my friend’s husband and children. It was so wonderful to observe the testimony of God within their lives. God had indeed marvelously preserved my friend’s dear possessions!
It was also during my time in Europe that I met a man and his wife whom I had previously only corresponded with. They too had endured immense personal trials; unimaginable threatening circumstances which risked swallowing up their possessions (children) too. I was so happy to notice numerous boastful photographs of their children (and also grandchildren) displayed on every shelf and wall. Our Lord had wonderfully preserved their possessions too!
And, returning to myself:
God preserved the well-being of my son throughout that seven year prison sentence twenty-five years ago. He’s now 35 and has a professional career with computer technology. As for my belongings, yes, I lost everything at the time of my arrest those many years ago. Yet, today I have an abundance of belongings which make my daily routine most suitable.
God is good!
Thank you, Blaine, that was very moving. (I wasn’t able to go to my friend’s funeral either; it, too, was a long ways away, and I have my own health issues.) I should have mentioned in my post that the only thing that troubled my friend was leaving her husband and children behind. She was truly a very loving wife and devoted mother. I’m blessed to hear what you eventually discovered about your friend’s “possessions,” and the way God had preserved them, and yours as well. It will be my prayer that this same testimony be found in my friend’s family as well.
I sang a new song at a prayer meeting about Amanda and Jehovah rophe, the Lord who heals, and I was sad to hear of her passing. I guess I was wrong in my song, forgive me Lord.
I know how you feel, Alden. I prayed a strong prayer for her not long ago, and felt, along with some others, that my prayer had been heard. Then…
…But I do believe that God is sowing a resurrection in all these painful and difficult things. I don’t think we should put that harvest afar off.
Dear Allan, as I too am mourning a friend today, who passed away during the night, he was caught in a car crash on his way to minister with music and salvation message… Thank you for these words, and what a poem by George Herbert… sobering. Death has been on my mind a lot over the past couple years, and I do feel helpless toward it, although not hopeless. This is a good reminder that God will bring everything He cherishes back to life in a new world restored without wickedness, sadness, pain, darkness…
Blessings and comfort to you my friend,
Hi Andre, thank you… and I’m sorry to hear about your friend; that’s a really hard one to understand. We’ve sure got to come up with something better than understanding these days, and it’s been on my heart much the last while that we– many of us– are in a very great trial of faith just now. But faith is very precious to God– more precious than gold, which is also tried and purified by fire.
Thanks for sharing this dear brother. Very encouraging word. -Robert Wurtz II
Thank you, Robert, and thanks for dropping in. It would be good to see you face to face some day!
What a dear sister. What a depth of love.