I am the gate. Whoever enters through Me will be safe … The thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy. I come that they might have life and have it to the full
A young American serviceman, on returning from Vietnam, was asked by some of his friends how the war experience had affected his life. He said, “The thought that the end of my life is a hole six feet deep and six feet long casts a dark shadow on everything I do now.” From the beginning of time, we human persons have been faced with that hole six feet deep. And, when we believe it is the end, it does cast a dark shadow over everything we do. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Christian disciple is an absolute conviction on this matter. This is why the New Testament has come down to us as such incredible Good News. In the Gospels we discover that God has acted through the life of Jesus to show us the meaning of our human existence.
The famous cartoonist, Jules Pfeiffer, was discussing a cartoon strip he did for the newspapers. In it, a little boy didn’t want to go to school because he feared his parents would move away while he was gone. He didn’t want to go to bed at night because he feared that his parents would die while he slept. Coping with these fears is a terrific battle for a child. “It’s like being on 24-hour guard duty,” Pfeiffer said. He also said he had received many letters about that cartoon from adults who told him, “That’s the way it is, all right. But you don’t have to be a child to feel it.”
Fear is always hovering over our heads. Will people really like me? Will I succeed? Will I lose my job? Will I get sick? Will I get cancer? What happens to me when I die? With all of these anxieties and pressures around us, how do we make sense of it all? God, knowing our human condition, has done something about it. God has acted. God has taken the initiative. God has come to us in the Person of the Lord Jesus. “Follow Me I am the gate. Whoever enters through Me will be safe.” Have no fear of that marauder, death, who comes like a thief in the night to slaughter and destroy. “I have come; I have come to give you life and to give it to you to the full! By entering into union with Me, by developing your friendship with Me, by loving Me, by loving others as I have loved you, you will not be afraid anymore; you will have no fear of where you are going with your life. I am the Good Shepherd! Put your trust in Me and you will be safe.”
Some of you may have read the bestselling book, “Life After Life,” by Dr. Raymond A. Moody, Jr. The book is a collection of actual case histories of persons who appeared to have died clinically, and were resuscitated; persons who came very close to death as the result of a severe injury or illness; and persons who were in the act of actually dying. In each instance, these persons claimed to have entered the after-life world, and Dr. Moody’s book tells us what they experienced. Here is a small excerpt from “Life After Life”:
“A man is dying and, as he reaches the point of greatest physical distress, he hears himself pronounced dead by his doctor. He begins to hear an uncomfortable noise, a loud ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels himself moving very rapidly through a long, dark tunnel. After this, he finds himself outside of his own physical body… Soon, other things begin to happen. Others come to meet and help him. He glimpses the spirits of relatives and friends who have already died, and a loving, warm spirit of a kind he had never encountered before-a being of light-appears before him.”
After publication of his book, Dr. Moody’s life changed radically. The response was so heavy, so demanding, that he had little or no time left for his family, his personal life, or his medical practice. People were clamoring for more information, more analysis, more discussion, more reassurance: Was there really life after death? As a result of this, Dr. Moody decided to forego any further interest in research into this phenomenon so that he could return to the practice of medicine and to his family, which is where he feels he belongs. Perhaps he will succeed. On the other hand, he may find that he will have to ride out the whirlwind he has created. (Parenthetically, Dr. Moody says that before his research on “Life After Life” he was a nominal Christian only. “But now,” he says, “I love the Lord Jesus Christ with my whole being.”)
All of this is very interesting, but why are Christians suddenly getting all excited about it. We have known this Good News for 2000 years. We have the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as God’s sign and seal that life is not absurd. We have the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as God’s sign and seal that our physical death does not have the last word. We have the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as God’s sign and seal that there is life after life. We have the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as God’s sign and seal that we can feel safe in the loving hands of the Good Shepherd.
A farmer was applying for health insurance. “Have you had any accidents,” the insurance agent asked him. ~ replied the farmer. Then he thought for a moment and added, “Of course there was that time when the mule kicked in two of my ribs. And a couple of years ago a rattlesnake bit me on the leg. And I can remember once when that big bull caught me on his horns and threw me head first over the fence.” Hearing this, the agent said “My goodness, don’t you consider those accidents?” “No,” said the farmer, “they did it on purpose.
“Am I here by accident or am I here on purpose?” That is mankind’s dilemma. If I am merely a transitory, accidental bit of dust, then death means the annihilation of my personhood, my self-awareness, my life-and I am afraid. But if I am a purposeful creature of a loving God who is showing me the gateway to eternal fulfillment, then death holds no fear for me.
Journalist William Allen White, famed editor of the “Emporia Gazette,” wrote an editorial the day after his 17-year-old daughter died, that since become a classic. Her name was Mary. She was dearly loved not only by her own family but by the whole community. She was known for her boundless energy. She always had a project of some kind underway. One such project was organizing the delivery of Thanksgiving Day baskets of food to the poor. She did this not in any pious way, but in the manner of a joyous, life-filled, life-loving 17-year-old. She loved to ride horses. One day, her head struck a tree limb as she was riding and she died. In the editorial, Mr. White writes about how the simple funeral service reflected his faith and the faith of the people in the community. Finally, he concludes his description of the burial scene in these words:
A rift in the grey clouds threw a shaft of sunlight upon her coffin, as her energetic little body sank to its rest. But the soul of her, the glowing, fervent soul of her, surely was burning with eager joy upon some other dawn.
This is our dying conviction: that we are safe in the Lord’s hands; that we will enter through the true Gate; that we will grow again.
What are your thoughts about the end of our life here on earth, death?