We live in an old house. The basement has sandstone walls and wood beams with the bark still on them. If you know anything about an old house, you know that it makes noises when you walk everywhere, there are strange drafts of air that come through holes that shouldn’t be there and various other oddities we refer to as part of its “character.” Another great feature of an old house is that due to lots of settling in the foundation, there are tiny little holes that allow for some of God’s creatures to get into the house. A couple of weeks ago, we discovered to our dismay that a mouse had gotten into our pantry. So, we threw a bunch of food away, cleaned and cleaned and cleaned some more. I also set out on a testosterone-fueled campaign to set up a gauntlet of death for the little critter in our house. Shortly after the gauntlet was laid, there were no more signs of the mouse. However, a couple of days went by and a slight funk developed in the basement. I went in search of the source of the funk and came across two very dead mice.
Then, while I was leaving for work this morning, I nearly stepped on the mangled, half-eaten carcass of an animal on the sidewalk leading up to my front porch. I have no idea what it is and why it is there and just to be clear, we live in a small town, not in some sort of untamed wilderness. It was rather startling and not the norm for the start to my day.
Yesterday, while driving home from our church’s Easter service, I commented to my wife that so many people had very obviously not gone to church today. They were out working in their yards, riding their motorcycles, and eating at McDonald’s (that one really perplexes me). I honestly felt sad. I occasionally think about people who I see on the way to church on Sundays who are very obviously not going to church, but there is something different about Easter. So many people who rarely attend church at least attend on Easter out of some kind of guilt.
So you may be asking yourself, what do the dead mice, the mangled mystery carcass and all the McDonald’s-eating, skipping church on Easter people have in common? Death. It is very easy to tell when something is dead by the smell. You know the smell. It’s unlike any other smell on the planet. It is a rotten stench and you can’t miss it. It’s also not difficult to determine that the carcass on my sidewalk is dead nor is the road kill that we see along the road. The sight of blood or a mangled body leaves little hope that there is any life left in the creature. But the kind of death I saw on the way home from church can be difficult to spot.
You may be saying what my wife said, “maybe some of them went to a Saturday night service?” It is possible that some did. Many of the larger churches in our area have Saturday night services. But we of course all know that every single person didn’t, which means that many were not in church yesterday. It is a stark reminder of the increasingly post-Christian world in which we live. People are less prone to being fence-sitters and are more polarized, which one could argue is an easier environment in which to share the Gospel. People are a little more clear on where they stand. There are potentially fewer people who think they are “cool” with God and are actually not. However, it doesn’t really matter whether they think they are “cool” with God or whether they want nothing to do with God, because the Bible states that without Christ we are dead. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world,” (Ephesians 2:1-2a ESV). I heard John Gerstner speaking on that passage once on RefNet and he basically said that dead means dead, not sick or any other lighter term that we might want to use there. All of us, apart from and without Christ are spiritually dead.
However this death doesn’t always have a stench or a bloody appearance. It can be difficult to pick up sometimes. We can go along being such nice people, helping others, giving to those in need and speaking well that we may seem quite alive. In fact, many who are spiritually dead and apart from Christ would probably claim at some point or another that they feel quite alive in the life that they live. They may not always feel miserable about their lives, what they do or their lack of relationship with God. The fact that they are dead is not something of which they are aware. Their lives are marked by a kind of hidden death and they don’t even know it.
Maybe it was the emphasis on evangelism at Together for the Gospel or maybe it was the Gospel presentation yesterday at church that has me thinking so much about death. It’s hard not to think about death, even for those of you that don’t have pests that get in your house or random dead animals on your sidewalk, there is the reminder of death everywhere. How can we then not think so clearly and so intentionally about those around us that don’t know Christ? We are like Peter asking, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (John 6:68, ESV). There is no other place to go or no other person to whom we can turn in the face of death but Christ. As we encounter those that don’t even know they are dead in their sins as we once were, how can we not point them to Jesus? Isn’t this where the truth of the resurrection plays itself out in our lives? In the resurrected Christ we have real hope and a real promise of being brought from death to life.
I spoke with a neighbor about his wife yesterday who is dying of cancer. We talked about treatments she had gone through and all the work that he had been doing in caring for her. He was told that she has only days left at this point. Her body is breaking down and she is down to nearly 60 pounds. I asked him if we could be praying for them and asked about their faith. The reality of death could not be more real for that family and because of that I wonder if their Easter was a bit different from many of ours? I get excited singing “Up from the grave He arose,” but I suspect that truth has a very present hope for someone like our neighbor. What would it take for us to be that gripped by the promise of the Resurrection in our own lives?
Life After Death
When we are living on the other side of the cross, having been redeemed by Christ by grace through faith, we live differently. We don’t simply live differently in that our morals, our behavior or our thinking are different, but also the way we think about others has been changed. The society in which we live leads us to be as individualistic as possible. We are compartmentalized, driven away from community and shut off from people. Certainly we have our friends and the people we may spend some time with, but we are not engaged in people around us. Life in Christ calls us to be aware and to see and smell the death that still lingers around us. The people who are now just as we were before Christ got ahold of our lives. This should lead us to prayer and action, but should not lead us to think that we have to fix it all. This should lead us to where we need to be when we feel like something is too big for us, which is before the feet of Christ. The neighbor I talked to said that someone told him that God never gives people more than they can handle, to which my neighbor replied,”either God must think I can handle a lot or He has been helping me this whole time.” I think he knew which one it was and thoughts like this about death should lead us to the same conclusion. We don’t throw our hands in the air and give up because it is all just so much to bear. We pray, we live and bring others the hope of new life in Christ. May the Resurrection of our Lord give us a fresh look at life in, for and through Him.