Antioch News - December 20, 2006

Content Author: 
Reagan, David
Published Date: 
December 20, 2006

For the last three weeks, the bad news came in dribbles. We were always tempted to fill in the gaps with our assumptions and that was dangerous. Today, the bad news came in a torrent and left us looking for dry land on which to stand.

My cancer is the fast kind. It is in stage four—one of the later stages. It has already spread to my lungs. It cannot be treated with surgery. No more than half of those with my cancer at my stage survive the first year.

I think that last statement was the one that kept ringing in my mind. I had never been told that I had no better than a 50/50 chance of living in a year. Death no longer seems like the evil fiend lurking at the end of a long road. It just got personal. I just became part of a community that loses half of its population by death each year. 10,000 becomes 5,000; 5,000 becomes 2,500; 2,500 becomes 1,250; 1,250 becomes 625; 625 becomes 312—all in the time span of five years. In five more years, the 312 inhabitants become 9 lonely souls. From 10,000 to 9 in ten years. Talk about dying communities: this is it. And now it’s my home town.

I come to a new understanding of David’s complaint when he ran from Saul: “there is but a step between me and death” (1Samuel 20:3). Death has always seemed so out there. I know about it and have dealt with it in the lives of others. But he never seemed to be lurking around the corner for me. Now I consider him my constant companion. I go to church with him and eat across the table from him. He knows my name, address, phone numbers, birth date, SS number, and much more. I cannot mistreat him lest I get on his bad list and experience him sooner. I cannot count on his absence at any time.

Death has taken a new place among my acquaintances. He is always nearby and can reach me at a moment’s notice. I see him around but I seek to avoid a face to face meeting with him—one which is almost always terminal. Simply put, death is much more real to me than he was a month ago. I have not learned anything new about death. But I have learned much that is new about myself and my vulnerability to his beck and call.

I faintly remember statements from the word about death. How that Jesus came “that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15). God promises that he “will swallow up death in victory” (Isaiah 25:8). Another promise says: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1Corinthians 15:26).

I don’t mind thinking of death as an enemy and look forward to the time when he will be destroyed. But how does that help me right now? My father died last summer. My mother and one of my brothers seem to be nearing death. People in our church are losing loved ones with regularity. What does a future victory over death have to do with the killing cancer assaulting my body right now? Where is the help I need right now?

Psalm 23:4 declares, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” Here is some hope. God goes with us as we travel the valley of the shadow of death. Psalm 118:6 adds, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?” Does this mean that death cannot touch us? Probably not. But it does mean that death’s influence over the faithful believer is limited. Even when death has us in his grip, we never have to fear him or bow to him.

Listen to the logic of faith that comes from the lips of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they were told that they must bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image. They are not careful to answer in this matter: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” God is able and may deliver us from death. But even if He does not, we will still not worship the false gods. If God had not chosen to deliver these men, we may not have heard of them today, but their names would be just as exalted in heaven. They did not fear death in the valley of the shadow of death.

Look up Death and stand before him. He stands about 24-feet tall although he always crouches over as if ready to pounce on an unsuspecting victim. At first glance, he looks like a living shadow. But when you look closer, you find that you can see into the shadow as if looking out across the yard on a dark night. You feel that if you fell over on him that you would fall into the darkest night. Death may be carrying some of the tools of his trade: hatred, rebellion, sickness, tragedy, all kinds of sin. His eyes too are black, but instead of the transparent black of his body, they are a piercing black that reaches out and attacks the weak of heart.

Are you ready to face this Death? Do you know that greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world? In Christ, even death is not unto death. Jesus promised, “If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death” (John 8:52). What does this mean? Though all die, are there those who never taste death? How can this be? In Hebrews 2:9, we read that Jesus was commissioned so that He “by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” If Jesus has tasted death for every man and I accept His gift of grace, then I need not taste death.

I may partake of death, but I am not required to taste it. This is difficult to understand, but it makes certain things clear. I have the victory over death through Jesus Christ. God may in His time turn me over to death so that I partake of death. Yet, I do not have to taste of death. Just as the clothes that went into Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace did not smell of smoke, so I can walk through the experience of death without even tasting it. Jesus has already tasted it for me.

David Reagan
Daily Proverb

Proverbs 9:7

He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot.