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Friday, 18 September 2015

When life begins!

About 125 AD, a philosopher named Aristides presented his defence of Christianity to the Emperor Hadrian.  It is quite a long document that deals with the religious history and beliefs of various groups, before turning to those who followed the Way of the Christ.   One of the important differences that he noted between Christians and others concerns their attitude to physical death.  In para. XV, he states "... if any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another near."

He was, of course, totally correct.  Disciples of Jesus can face death differently from those who do not know Him as their personal Saviour and Lord, because they have a hope that is beyond the grave.   I recall the old saying that "Life begins at 40".  However, for the true child of God, life - new and glorious living - begins at the death of the physical body, when the spirit leaves the body and enters into the presence of the Lord.  That's why they can face death with such confidence, and even joy.  That's why those young Egyptian men who, not so long ago, were forced by cowardly Islamic terrorists to kneel on a Libyan beach to be beheaded, could die with the name of Jesus on their lips.  That's what is meant by the title of a booklet that I have (currently in a box!) - "Death, with a steady eye".  That's why the apostle Paul could write to the believers in the Roman colony of Philippi: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." (Phil 1:21-23).

Even in obituaries, and on headstones, the difference in attitude is often seen.  Believers have not "passed away": they have not been "lost"; they have not even "died"!  No!  They have been "called home"; they are "with the Lord"; to our Salvation Army friends, they have been "promoted to Glory".

What a remarkable difference there is in the ways in which a disciple of Jesus, and an unbeliever, look at death!  For one, it is often viewed as a hopeless ending.  For the other, it is seen as a joyous beginning!  Indeed, when disciples of Jesus "die", they have only just begun to live!

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