While beholding the Statue of Liberty for the first time, I received a phone call from my sister. My paternal grandfather—who was an elder at the church where I was baptized—had been given hours to live upon the discovery of an aneurysm. As my sister held the phone to his ear while on the hospital bed, we prayed together and said our tearful goodbyes. Within an hour, he passed. I had hoped I would make it home from New York City in time to say goodbye face-to-face. I didn’t want to miss the last moments of his life. As it was, death beat me to him.
Death is an ever-present reality, but, as John Calvin marveled, humans have an astonishing incapability to solemnly consider death even when forced to face its consequences, such as witnessing a funeral. Only minutes after being forced to face death, Calvin observed, we can dismiss the reality of it. But some moments in life prove too formidable to allow us to avoid considering death. In times like these, we begin to fathom, though imperfectly, the fact that our day is coming too, and that each day we live, we are another day closer to the day when we will breathe our last.
Since the fall, we live in the looming shadow of death even if we choose not to recognize it. In reality, there will be a last lunch shared with my dear colleagues. There will be a last laugh shared with my wife. There will be a last kiss for my daughter’s cheek. All good things in this world come to an end. Even worse, death has no regard for our preferred timeline.
The moment you took your first breath, the clock started ticking. The march on death row began. The Lord’s brother reminds us, “You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
For the Christian, it is at the moment of vanishing when we find that we will never again lose any good thing. Only then will we live forever without the sound of death’s footsteps stalking our every move (Rev. 21:4). This is because death doesn’t have the last word. The Spirit, who breathes new life into our dead bones, is the guarantee of our salvation. A new life sentence has been pronounced. Death has indeed lost its sting—not because it isn’t inevitable, but because it is now merely a portal into true life. Death row is now merely the road traveled on our way home because our Lord has abolished death, bringing “life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10).
Our time is coming. Remember this the next time you observe a funeral. Take it in and let it sink deep. Yours is coming too. But the day is also coming when the last enemy—death—will be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26). The One who was dead and is now alive holds the keys of death (Rev. 1:18). Our death is sure, if Jesus tarries. Do you hear its footsteps behind you? “Do not be afraid” (1:17)—after death has had its claim on you, you will live on. Death will pass away, but you, Christian, will not.