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Let the reality of this next statement settle on you for a moment: you are going to die. It could be today or tomorrow, or maybe sixty or seventy years from now. For most of us, it will be sometime between now and then. Nevertheless, the fact remains, if the Lord doesn’t return before long, we are going to die. You are going to die.

In modern times, we work hard at not thinking of death. We’d rather focus on the temporal and just get on with it. But Christianity teaches that when we refuse to take death into account, we’re destined to live deluded and deceived existences. When we stave off thoughts of our own mortality, we’re doomed to waste our lives on trivial matters. For, as Moses reminds us, we never gain the heart of wisdom if we don’t learn to number our days (Ps. 90:12).

Historically, the church understood this. If you’ve ever visited Europe or a historic U.S. city and had the privilege to tour some ancient churches, you’ve likely noticed a graveyard surrounding the church. Lining the pathways that lead to the church’s entrance are tombstones with images of skulls or skeletons or angels. Bits of Scripture inscribed on the stones remind you that life is vain and fleeting (Eccl. 1:2), to die in Christ is gain (Phil. 1:21), and to lay up heavenly treasure—the only treasure that lasts (Matt. 6:19–21).

Aside from the fittingness of being laid to rest where you were most at rest in life—in the presence of God and His people—the graveyard served as a living reminder of mortality to the living. Each Lord’s Day, worshipers literally stepped over the dead on their way to offer a sacrifice of praise. They faced eternity on their way to meet with the eternal.

Now, lest we misunderstand, remembering that we are all dirt, and that the dirt we’re made of has an expiration date is not some dark, morbid reflection. Instead, it is intended to clear the mind’s eye, to help us see and live with eternity in view. When we remember our death, life is clarified and ordered. The things that seemed so important just a few moments ago disappear from view as eternal matters take the foreground.

Moses reminds us, we never gain the heart of wisdom if we don’t learn to number our days.

More importantly, remembering our death leads us directly to Jesus Christ. For starters, remembering our death is humbling. Death forces us to come to terms with our weakness, our neediness. It brings us to our knees, rubbing our faces in the sober acknowledge of our desperate estate. You are going to die.

When we first realize this, a haunting, inconsolable anguish fills the soul. Followed by a strong, desperate desire to outsmart death somehow. Followed even more quickly by a hopeless resignation: death is coming for you and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. No matter how good your life may be here, eventually death will rob you of it.

It’s at just this point that the breathtaking wonder of the gospel breaks on the horizon. For it’s against the backdrop of the bad news of death that the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ is so precious. For right at the center of the good news is a cross and a resurrection—a death that put death to death. That is to say, when a Christian remembers death, he remembers Christ, and to remember Christ is to remember life. For in Christ . . .

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:54–57)

You are dust and to dust you shall return, but dust you will not remain. For on the day of Christ’s return, a trumpet will sound and a voice from heaven will shout and the resurrection will begin. On that day, those “saints who from their labors rest” will meet “a yet a more glorious day.”1 The graveyards will become the harvest fields, and the dead in Christ will rise, robed in bright array, to meet the risen Lord and live with Him forever.

So, in death, brothers and sisters, let’s remember Christ—and live!

 

  1. William Walsham How, “For All the Saints,” Trinity Hymnal (Suwanee, Ga.: Great Commission 2014), no. 358.

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