Good Friday — Jesus Teaches Us How To Die

Title: Good Friday – Jesus Teaches Us How to Die

Text: Matthew 26:36

Time: March 20th, 2013

 

 

It is said that there are two things that all people have in common – death and taxes. That’s a clever way of saying that these are two facts of life. When we think of the Easter season we usually think of life because we emphasize or celebrate Easter morning when Christ arose from the dead. We think of new life and renewal when we think of Easter, especially because it is celebrated in the springtime, as the winter ends and plants and animals start to come out of hiding for summer. But we should also remember that Jesus not only teaches us how to live, he also teaches us how to die. And since all of us will experience death – unless the Lord returns again before we reach the end of our life – we should particularly pay attention how Jesus approaches his earthly end. In other words, we not only look to Jesus for leadership in life; we also look to Jesus in handling death. How did Jesus handle his own upcoming death? What things did he do to prepare himself for death? As we get older we see that different people towards the end of their life prepare for death in different ways – some ways are healthy and some are not so healthy. For example, some people decide to make what they call a “bucket list” of different things they hope to accomplish or do or experience before they “kick the bucket,” as they refer to death. Then they go about trying to fulfill all or as many items as they can on their so-called “bucket list.” That’s one way some people handle their upcoming death. There are many ways people deal with the fact that they won’t live forever on earth, that they are getting closer to the last day on earth, and that they feel they only have just a short time left of life. In other words, different people react in different ways to the prospect of shortly dying. How would you react if you knew you only had 24 hours to live, or one month more to live, or one year more? How would you react to the realization that you are up in age and that you could pass away at any time now; if you are there now, how are you reacting to this reality? Jesus has a thing or two to show us about dying, because he too realized that the end was near for his earthly life. His model and example can serve as a pattern for all of us as we near our last days on earth. What can Jesus teach us about dying? What can we learn from him? I’ll look at three ways Jesus teaches us how to die, ways that will be helpful for us to remember as we approach our last days of living. First, he teaches us to draw close to God. Second, he teaches us to draw close to family and friends. Third, he teaches us to gradually draw apart from the earthly, worldly preoccupations. Let’s break these three lessons down further.

 

First, Jesus teaches us to draw close to God as we approach the day of our death. Matthew 26:36, “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” It’s really only a simple matter of getting our priorities in line as we approach death, at the end our days on earth. Whether our time is short, like it was for Jesus, only a matter of days or hours until death; or whether our time is longer, for example, a few years of unknown quantity – the process is the same. We need to start thinking more carefully about what’s really important in life. In other words, it’s only common sense, really, setting wise priorities for our last days. This is what we see Jesus teaching, and this is what we as humans really know inside if we stop long enough to think about it carefully. What Jesus does in his last days and hours only makes sense. So what does he do first? He begins to draw closer to God. He goes into prayer, which is just another indication of what he was doing overall – drawing near to God. Again, I think most people sense this is a wise thing to do anyway, because I’ve noticed that when I go to church on Sunday morning it’s mostly older people in attendance, especially the older people. Why? They are drawing near to God, whether they know it or not, just like Jesus teaches us by his example. It only makes sense. If I’m going to meet my Maker very shortly, I should want to begin to get closer to him now. If I have any unfinished business with God, I need to get that business taken care of. It’s that way a little when we take a vacation trip – we start to prepare for the trip by getting things ready beforehand. Well, starting our journey into the after-life, into eternity is something we should want to prepare for as well. Unfortunately, many people do not prepare for it. Some people actually purposefully ignore any preparation for the next life; they deliberately choose to prioritize their earthly life, for example, like completing their so-called “bucket list,” like I mentioned before — or some other worldly retirement preoccupation. Some older people are still obsessed with their retirement finances and possessions all the way up to the end. But Christians should begin to draw closer to God than they’ve ever been before. We should all be close to God through prayer, through reading the Bible, through church, through spiritual pondering and reflecting, through conversing about God and spiritual topics, and so forth. But as we grow older we should also grow even closer to God, since we’re nearing the day we’ll meet him face to face. Even though Jesus was already close with God the Father, towards the end of his life, during his remaining days and hours on earth, he drew even closer. That’s what we should do as we near death. As you get older are you getting closer to God? That should be our goal.

 

Second, Jesus teaches us to draw close to family and friends. Matthew 26:36, “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” Another thing that makes sense, common sense, that we see Jesus doing in his preparation for his upcoming death is drawing close to family or friends. He didn’t attempt to live out his dying days alone, isolated from everyone. How sad it is that some older people withdraw from other people as they get older to the point that they are alone when they die. I remember hearing about a woman in Cleveland, OH who lived alone and died alone in hear apartment and nobody missed her for over a year! How tragic. Finally, city workers entered her apartment because of unpaid bills and found her dried up body; she had died a year before and nobody knew it. I thought to myself, “Where was family? Where were friends?” I think it only makes sense that as we draw closer and closer to the day of our departing from this life, as we get closer to our own death, we should think more about family and friends, because these are the people we love the most, or should love the most. We live in a very modern and mobile society today, which causes problems for people, especially in respect to priorities in life. As a pastor I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve talked to who have moved far away from friends and family only to suffer the pangs of loneliness. They usually move for work or career reasons, but sometimes it’s to get away from family and friends. When I lived in Las Vegas I ran into these kinds of people all the time. I always used to ask them why they didn’t move back closer to family and friends. They’d always tell me something about wanting their own independence, or about being where work was, where the money was, and so forth. I never could understand why they didn’t prioritize their lives better. Maybe they had. Maybe they just had different priorities than I did. But Jesus shows us as Christians to value family and friends. We don’t see Mary and Jesus’ earthly family in the picture here, but we know he was close and interacted with them often, because we see it occur frequently in the gospel accounts. But here we see him with his Christian family, his disciples, and they were with Jesus to the very end. As we approach the end we need to prioritize the ones we love and make more time for relationships than we did, perhaps, during different other times in our life. Sometimes early on, starting a career, getting established, and so forth, we let relationships slide. But as we near the end we need to realign ourselves to prioritize the ones we love, and share that love during our last dying days. This only makes sense, but we see Jesus modeling this value in his own life during his finally hours.

 

Third, Jesus teaches us to draw apart from earthly, worldly preoccupations. Matthew 26:36, “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” Now let’s get the context of what is taking place here in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had just observed the Last Supper with his disciples, and he had informed them that his time of death was near. They didn’t want to hear that, but he told them nevertheless. Then he took them into the Garden to pray — and wait for the beginning of the end. Notice how all of the normal, natural worldly and earthly life preoccupations are ignored. Peter and others were fishermen, they owned small businesses; but there was no talk of business. There were financial concerns (Aren’t there always?) – but there was no talk of finances. There are so many things to think about, to talk about, to worry about in life. But as Jesus got closer to the time of his death we see him draw closer to God and loved ones, and the other things, often very legitimate things, dropped away. Again, I think this not only makes sense spiritually, but it just makes common sense. Towards the end of our early lives we don’t want to be stuck in a situation where we are having to run our businesses like we did years before, or worry over finances like before, or be involved in the many activities and obsessions and concerns as we did before. Like Jesus models, we hopefully can begin to focus more on God and spiritual things, getting so close to meeting our Lord face-to-face and starting our eternal journey with him in heaven. Also, hopefully we can begin to strengthen our relationships in family and friendships, patch up any disagreements, develop peace and harmony and understanding with everyone that is important to us during our last days. Again, I know of people who don’t talk to certain family members – and seemingly are content with that status of non-association. That’s terrible. A priority during our final years of life on earth would be to reconcile with all family members and friends that we aren’t in good standing. What could be more important outside of relating well with God than relating in a healthy way with our loved ones? So we’ve got to follow the example here of Jesus in getting our priorities right, setting our affairs in order, as they say. A doctor will sometimes break the bad news that a patient only has a few months to live, so he’d better go home and put his affairs in order. That’s the same idea. This is what Jesus models for us during his last days.

 

Now the material and financial things of this world should be moving further and further down our priority list as we grow older. But unfortunately, in our modern, secular world often it’s just the opposite that happens. People start trying to “work” their finances and worldly and earthly possessions for maximum benefit and pleasure. Some people take their retirement income and move to Florida – away from the family and friends they’ve known all their life. Now why do that? I can understand traveling or vacationing, but moving far away from all that you’ve ever know – to do what? Today I see a lot of seniors doing things that haven’t been very well thought out, but rather just following the crowd, or worse, following a sales pitch or marketing plan. We need to keep our priorities in order, especially towards the end of life, because our time on earth is short; we can’t afford, figuratively and literally, to make a lot of mistakes. But people do make mistakes all the time towards the end of their life because they don’t keep their priorities in order. They get preoccupied with this or that, trying to live out a dream they once had or that somebody else had that they are copying, and they get tripped up and out of sync with God and reality. Jesus shows us that as we near the end we shouldn’t be up to our neck in earthly, worldly preoccupations. Instead, these things should be slowly, gradually and systematically falling away. Not that we shouldn’t still be involved in the nitty-gritty of life, paying our bills, maintaining our homes, setting goals, working towards our goals, and so forth. But as we near the end of life our priorities should be shifting from the temporal to the eternal, from earth to heaven. Like the favorite gospel hymn goes, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will go strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” That pretty much sums up what should be taking place in the life of a Christian as he or she gets closer to eternity. As we grow older, hopefully by now we can see through a lot of the false values of the world, how vain and empty they are anyway. The chasing after, the striving for things that can’t ultimately satisfy. How tragic is it for older people to get towards their last days and they still haven’t learned the basic truths of living for God found in the Bible. How sad to be found living out the false, twisted and warped values of the world even to the end. Better to draw close to God while there is still time, and ultimately, finally, find the true priorities of life. Then, when we die, we’ll be fully prepared to make a smooth transition into the enjoyment of our eternal life with God.

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