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Our Struggle with Mortality

The talk this morning, the subject matter, is in a book that I am currently writing that’s in the editing stage. It’ll probably come out at the latter part of this year. I share that just to give, maybe give a plug for the book, but I think that this is an appropriate topic as we approach Easter. In fact, I told my wife the other night that I don’t think there’s a more important topic that I can speak on, but it’s difficult to talk about. It’s difficult to talk about our mortality, particularly when you think we don’t ever talk about it in public. We don’t ever talk about it with each other. and there’s a lot to cover so, it’s probably just as well that I go ahead and get started. Almost 33 years ago as a freshman in college, in a religion course that I took, I remember we read a book, I don’t even remember the name of it, but it was a book by Albert Camus who was a very well-known existential philosopher and author, and he made a very interesting observation about philosophy.

He said, this, “philosophy seems to be able to provide great insight into the mysteries of life. It just doesn’t provide any good answers about death.”

You know, I think this is also true of science as we think of it today. I don’t know about you, but I am continually amazed at the advances in science and technology and even the medical field. It blows my mind sometimes. It’s almost like I think science today feels like there is nothing we cannot accomplish. And yet, if you think about it, that doesn’t seem to be anything in science or medicine that can stop the deterioration of human life as time goes by. I mean, they can make our bodies look younger and they’ve been able to marginally lengthen the average lifespan, but I think we all would readily acknowledge, and science would readily acknowledge that there is no formula to keep death away from our door.

And this made me think of a friend who years ago, concerned about his father, his father was a very wealthy self-made man, but he was concerned because his father had no spiritual life and he went and one day, and he talked to his dad about it and his father says, you know, I just don’t have any need for God in my life. I don’t have any real need for Christ in my life. If you think about what he was saying, was he was saying, you know, I have a strategy for contending with life, and it’s a financial strategy. I’ll throw money and influence at life’s problems. And I’ll be honest with you, I have no idea if this man ever changed his mind, but one thing I tell you, he died recently and I’m not sure that his strategy took into account the fragileness of life.

And so, this morning, I would ask you the question, what is your strategy for dealing with your mortality? I asked this gentleman if I could share, these thoughts with you of our conversation and he said I could. Last year I had a man come by my office who I did not know. I knew of him because I’d read about him in the paper over the years. And as I’ve gotten to know him, I have a tremendous amount of respect for his courage and his integrity. But he came by my office because he wanted to get one of the recorded messages from one of these breakfasts.

And he came in, we chatted for a few minutes and as he was leaving, he asked me this question. He said, do the men, you and your age, and I’m 50, and this gentleman was retired, he said, do you and your friends, do you struggle with the same issues that me and my peers struggle with? And I said, well, it depends on what you’re talking about. He said, a profound loneliness. He said, I watch my friends. I watch them get older. I watch them go into nursing homes. I watch them die. Every day I wonder, when am I going to die? How am I going to die? He says, it’s a very lonely time. He said, but you know, when I was working, you know, when I had a thriving business and a thriving career, you know, you didn’t think about these things.

Several weeks later we had lunch and I asked him, I said, do you think most men, particularly when we get well into the second half of our lives, do you think most men think and feel and experience what you are? And he said, I’m absolutely convinced of it, he says, but you know, we’re good at putting up defenses because we want the world to think all is well in my life. I am together. I have no worries. I have no fears.

Armand Nicholi, who is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has observed that our attempt to come to terms with our mortality is extraordinarily painful. Let me read this quote to you that he says. “The unbelievable brevity of our life’s conflicts with our deep-seated yearning for permanence and with our lifelong fear of being separated from those we love. It’s a fear that haunts us from infancy to old age.”

And I think Nicholi gives us good insight into this lonely feeling that he spoke of, that this gentleman spoke of, the fact that death separates us from those we love. And furthermore, it is such a solitary experience. We go it alone. And that’s why C.S. Lewis observed that basically at our core, that there are three ways, there are three basic strategies or coping mechanisms that we use to deal with our mortality and the fear of death. The first, he says, we ignore it. We block it out of our minds with every diversion that we can come up with or we fear it. In other words, we carry around that fear on our backs. Maybe never tell anybody, but we just live with the fear of death.

He says, or we prepare for it. We prepare for it. What I’d like to do this morning is briefly talk about these three strategies that Lewis mentions. And I think the most common strategy is to find ways to divert our minds from thinking about it. And this is natural because who wants to think about dying all the time? So, it’s natural, I need to get my mind off of this.

Most people would agree that one of the most important books that written in the last 50 years on death and dying was by a guy by the name of Ernest Becker. He was not a Christian. He was not. In fact, he was an atheist, and the name of the book was called The Denial of Death. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973. I want to read to you a quote from the book. He says, “The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else. It’s a mainspring of activity, activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death. To overcome it by denying in some that it is the final destiny of man.”

Do you realize what he’s saying? He’s saying we try to overcome this fear by denying the reality of our finite condition. It’s like Aldous Huxley said, “We behave as if death we’re an unfounded rumor that’ll never come our way.”

Now I know that you who have been coming to these breakfasts, probably begin to recognize that I quote almost at every breakfast from Blaise Pascal. And what’s interesting. I read just last week where Albert Einstein, who read all of Pascal’s work, and of course Pascal was a mathematician, he said Pascal in his opinion had the greatest intellect of anyone who has lived of in the past 1000 years. You know, that’s not a bad compliment to receive, but listen to what Pascal says. He says, “The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are: mortal. Either by some occupation which takes their mind off of it or by some novel and agreeable passion that keeps them busy.” Now this was written 350 years ago. He says, “Like gambling or hunting or some absorbing show, in short, what is called diversion.”

Now you think about the diversions back then and compare them to the diversions we have today. It would blow Pascal’s mind when you consider all that we have, all the entertainment, all the pleasure that we have, to divert our minds from the fact that we are mortal.

Now you may wonder and ask the question, why is it or what’s wrong with this strategy? At least it keeps me from being paralyzed by fear. And the problem is, I contend, is that in the process of ignoring the truth about ourselves, we deny the truth its rightful place in our lives. Listen to what else Pascal said. He said, “Between us and Heaven and hell, there is only this life, the most fragile thing in all the world.” And he goes on to say, “our mortality, this fragileness of life,” he believes, should “cause us to be seekers of truth and it shouldn’t drive us deeper into busyness and diversion.”

In other words, he’s saying ignoring our mortality or just sticking our head in the sand keeps us from considering the state of our eternal wellbeing, which Pascal believed should be the most pressing issue in all of life. Is it a pressing issue in your life? My eternal wellbeing. So, we can ignore it. Lewis says if we don’t ignore it well, then we’ll just fear it. We’ll carry it around with us. And you know, for some reason there are people who struggle consistently with the fear of death. I’m not sure exactly why, but it is a struggle. And I see it with certain men that come see me. You see it in certain public figures, for instance, Woody Allen. You see it in his movies, you see it when he interviews. He has this constant fear of annihilation.

But in all my study and research, as I was working on this book, one of the most interesting people where you see this vivid fear of death is in someone you wouldn’t expect it from and that was Sigmund Freud. You know, Freud had an explanation for everything. He had an explanation for why we believe in God, for why we believe in the afterlife, for why we do this. It’s all psychological. And he believed it was all mythological. He believed in a materialistic universe, but you would think that he would’ve had a good psychological grip on death and dying. And yet ironically, he lived with a dreadful fear of death all of his life. Now there are a lot of books that have been written, or a lot of biographies written on Freud’s life, but probably one of the most comprehensive biographies was written by Ernest Jones. And let me read this quote from his book.

“As far back as we know anything of Freud’s life, he seems to have been prepossessed with thoughts about death more so than any other great man I can think of. He hated growing old, even as early as his forties and as he did so, the thoughts of death became increasingly clamorous. He once said, he thought of it every day of his life.”

Maybe this is true in your life. Maybe we’re afraid to admit it. I think sometimes we think it might suggest that I have a personal weakness if I admit this, or that I’m mentally unstable. And so, we carry around this burden of fear, but I will say this to everybody here, one thing I do know for a fact, as time goes by, diversions become less and less effective, because as time goes by, life slows down. One day, and some of you have experienced it, your children are going to leave your home and it’s just you and your wife, more time to think. Then retirement looms. Our bodies deteriorate. We find ourselves going to more and more funerals, and we’re forced to think more often about our own mortality.

Now I want to stop here and make a very important observation. And this is really interesting. Do you know what the source of fear is in our lives? Now, over the course of our lives, there have been times where we have been up with great fear over a multitude of issues. It may be in our work. It may be family, but sometimes I don’t think we ever stop. What is the cause of fear? And fear is nothing more than our reaction to the uncertainty over the future particularly when the outcome can be negative. When that possibility is out there, it creates anxiety and fear in our lives. And it’s particularly great and it’s particularly acute when the governing factors in those times of uncertainty are beyond our control. I haven’t read the paper this morning, so I’m not sure if the WorldCom trial has come to an end or if they’ve come up with their verdict but I was reading in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that Bernie Ebbers, you know, it’s out of his hand now. The jury is going to decide his fate. And it says he was ashen white on Wednesday. He’s fearful because of this uncertainty over something that at this point in time, he has no control over.

And I think for most people, the most daunting aspect of dying is the uncertainty of what happens to our souls when we breathe our last breath, because we know what happens to our bodies when we die. Do we cease to exist? Are our lives just snuffed out forever? Or is there something out there? Is there life after this life? And what I’ve found is that no matter how courageous of a man you are and whether you are a person of faith or whether you’re not, we all are drawn to the question that Job asked. We all wonder deep down if a man dies will he live again.

This is quite fascinating what I’m going to share with you, and I think it’s worth taking a few minutes to mention. There was quite an interesting man who lived 350 years before Christ. You’ve probably heard of him. He was a Greek pagan philosopher by the name of Epicurus. I have a real interesting book on him and hedonism. And Epicurus believed that people should be liberated from a belief in God and the immortal soul and life after death. He said they don’t exist. And we should be liberated because once a person is liberated from these beliefs, he’s free to really live life to the fullest. But what’s interesting about Epicurus is that he was haunted by the possibility that he might be wrong. Let me read to you what he says. He says, “If we could be sure that death was annihilation, then there would be no longer fear of it. For as long as we exist, death is not there. And when it does come, we no longer exist. The problem is we can’t be totally sure there is annihilation, for what people fear most is not that maybe death is annihilation, but that maybe death is not.”

You see the uncertainty in his mind. He’s saying if we knew for sure at death, we no longer exist and we go into an everlasting sleep, then it shouldn’t, we shouldn’t be afraid of it. But what if I’m wrong? What if I’m wrong?

Isn’t this what we see? I don’t know how many of you in college or high school read Shakespeare’s Hamlet. That’s what you see in Hamlet. Remember that famous soliloquy? He’s thinking about taking his life and he utters those famous words “to be, or not to be, that’s the question”. And he says, is it more noble to stay alive and live in pain and to suffer or to go ahead and die and sleep. But then he begins to wonder what might await me at the grave. He called that dread of something after death. And then he describes death. And this is a famous line. You probably have heard it a lot. He describes death as that “undiscovered country from who is born, no traveler ever returns.” And ultimately, he decides not to take his life. And he concludes the fear of death makes cowards of us all.

You know, what’s most interesting is one of the most well-known skeptics of the last century, Jean-Paul Sartre, as he was dying, made this comment. “My atheistic philosophy has failed me. Maybe there is something out there.”

And then just this past week I read from Donald Coggins’ book, The Heart of the Christian Faith, that Bertrand Russell, who was probably the most antagonistic and outspoken atheist against religion and Christianity, as he lay dying, he turned to one of his friends who was a Christian and he asked him, will you pray with me? Will you pray with me?

And this is why C.S. Lewis asked this profound question, “If we really are the product of a materialistic universe, where there is no God, then why don’t we feel at home in a world where we die and disintegrate? Why are we continually shocked and repulsed by death, unless indeed something is in us that is not temporal?”

As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “God has put eternity in our hearts.”

And I think Lewis makes a great point here. If we’re just temporal beings, then death should be something that comes quite naturally. And yet we rage against death because maybe, just maybe, we were made to live eternally. And what’s interesting, even Ernest Becker in his book, The Denial of Death recognizes that we had have this yearning for permanence. We have this yearning for the imperishable and it seems somewhat odd to me that we would have a fundamental yearning for something that does not exist. So, we can ignore death, or we can fear it, or we can prepare for it.

You know, it’s interesting if you tour any of the old cathedrals in Western Europe, if you look closely, you’ll see that many of the walls and columns have carvings of human skulls embedded in the architecture. And if you ask any church historian, they’ll tell you that they were put there intentionally by the architects. And they’re there to remind people of the importance of reflecting on their mortality and the brevity of life. Because what happened was our early church fathers recognized that people would live a higher quality of life if the reality of death was kept in mind. Now we think just the opposite. We think life will be so much better if we push it aside and never think about it.

Arnold Toynbee, who was a British historian and probably best known for authoring, the 12-volume series, A Study of History, this is interesting, it took him 27 years to complete this work. And what it was, it was a comparative study of 26 civilizations in world history. And from his studies, this is what he concluded about death, kind of interesting. He says, “Man alone has foreknowledge of his coming death and possessing this foreknowledge has a chance, if he chooses to take it, of pondering over the strangeness of his destiny. He has at least a possibility of coping with it since he is endowed with the capacity to think about it in advance and to face it and deal with it in some way that is worthy of human dignity.”

In one sense, I think this is a great statement, but how does one prepare in some way that is worthy of human dignity? He doesn’t give any real good solutions. Back in the summer, I read some interesting words on the, quite fascinating as a matter of fact, on the exploration of the sea back in the 16th century, and, for time’s sake, I’m going to read to you a summary of what I read. I’ll take just a second and then read to you also a couple of comments as we think about how one prepares for that inevitable time in our lives.

“The exploration of the sea grew and flourish rapidly after Columbus’s discovery in the late 15th century. There are so many unknown regions of the world to be explored and discovered. Curiosity, the opportunity for adventure, and economic opportunity were the driving forces behind these pioneers of the sea. However, these voyages were taken at a great cost and with great risk. Therefore, those who had traveled these routes and had returned safely possessed knowledge which was of great value. These men had learned the secrets of these passages to the new world. They kept very detailed records in a small little book called a rutter. R-U-T-T-E-R. The rutter held all the secrets of a particular route to a specific destination and was of great importance to those who might make future voyages. Obviously, these rutters held such great value because they recounted someone’s long journey. Someone who’d returned safely alive as a witness to others. They could provide greater certainty for those who traveled in the future since this same voyage could be retraced in safety. With all of the vast treasure and riches that were waiting to be found in the new world, it is not hard to understand how a reliable detailed rutter could hold such great value to a future explorer. Now it’s important to note that the rutter did not provide any type of guarantee, but it did offer a charted course of the route to be taken that could be piloted safely. Those who followed the detailed instructions could do so knowing that the author had already been where they were going, and he was passing down his valuable knowledge to them. The idea of a rutter is important when we consider the journey we will take at death. In one sense, when we depart this life, we too will be traveling to a distant, mysterious place. What Shakespeare called that undiscovered country. We too need a rutter. We need a guide who has experienced this journey and returned to share his knowledge with us. It seems natural that this guide should be Jesus of Nazareth, but before we consider him as our rutter, go back and consider all the exploration that took place in the 16th century, suppose hypothetically that Columbus had never returned from his voyage. What if all the explorers who set out too to find a new distant land, never had returned. At some point, exploration of the sea would be like death. The great unknown. Eventually there’d be no belief in a distant land because no one had ever returned to describe it. Long voyages out into the sea would be feared and avoided at all costs. This is the atheistic view of life. There is no afterlife, for no one has ever been able to look over to the other side. However, Christianity reputes this view of life because at the heart of the Christian message is the fact that Jesus Christ died a very public death and three days later returned to demonstrate not only His power over death, but that it is not to be feared. In fact, the New Testament reveals in the book of Hebrews, that one of the reasons Christ came into the world was to deliver humanity from the fear of death, which we are subject to as slaves, all of our lives. In one sense, Christ is our spiritual rutter. He reveals all that we need to know about death in the afterlife. And it’s so important to know that He became a man and most significantly he tasted death in its fullness just as each of us will. And He came back to share with us what to expect and what awaits us, therefore, who else in history provides such legitimate credentials and who else is able to validate the legitimacy of an afterlife? Who could provide better guidance, greater comfort, and better understanding of life after death? More significantly, He not only serves as a rutter, but He tells us that when we travel to that distant land, He will go with us, we will not be alone. When we travel through that valley of the shadow of death, He tells us, I will go with you. He says death is not to be a solitary experience because I will be with you.”

You know, in a crowd this size, you know, I would venture to say that if the real truth be known, in our heart of hearts, there are very few people sitting here who really look forward with great anticipation to what awaits us beyond the grave. I mean, if we’re honest. In fact, I find there are very few men, even devoted Christians who believed as Paul did, that death is better than life. That’s why Paul lived so freely. He didn’t fear death. He says the worst thing you can do to me is the best thing you can do to me.

And yet we don’t seem to live that way. And I often wonder why is that? And I was reminded of what Mark Twain said in the novel that he wrote, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I think this kind of nails it for us. You know, in that book, Ms. Watson was always lecturing Huck, and trying to turn him from this wayward lifestyle.

And as Huck described it, he said, “Ms. Watson went on and told me all about the good place, Heaven. She said that all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing forever and ever. So, I didn’t think much of it. In fact, I asked her if she reckoned that Tom Sawyer would go there. And she said, not by a considerable sight. And I was glad about that because I wanted him and me to be together.”

Now I think most of us have a little Huck in us because there’s nothing in our understanding of Heaven that really engages our imagination, and I can relate to this but let me share this. Over the last year, I have spent a lot of time researching the Scriptures, reading the commentaries of the Scriptures and certain books. And I can tell you that I have been stunned by what I’ve learned. In fact, the longest chapter in my book on What is Heaven Like, and I’ll, let me just say this, Heaven is more wonderful than anything we could ever imagine, but I think there’s a reason we can’t fully grasp its wonder.

And I want to share with you a wonderful analogy that has really impacted my life and really transformed my view of Heaven. And this analogy comes from this wonderful little book by Alistair McGrath called The Unknown God. And in the book, McGrath gives a brief narrative of a novel, La Symphonie Pastorale written almost a century ago by André Gide. The story is set in Switzerland in the 1890s and involves a relationship between a Protestant pastor and a young girl, Gertrude, who has been blind from birth.

The pastor continually attempts to convey to Gertrude the beauty of her surroundings, the Alpine Meadows, the flowers, and the majesty of the snow-cap mountains. When he tries to describe a of blue flowers, by comparing them to the color of the sky, he comes to realize that she’s never seen a blue sky to appreciate the comparison. The pastor is continually frustrated because he realizes human language cannot adequately describe to Gertrude the beauty and wonder of the natural world. However, words are the only tools he has to try to convey a reality he knows is true and yet she cannot really grasp. However, Gertrude received some wonderful, unexpected news. An eye specialist, after an examination believes that her condition can be reversed and that her sight can be restored. Three weeks after her surgery, she returns visit the pastor. She has wonderful news to share. The operation was successful and she’s able to now actually see all the sights he had described to her in words alone. She told him that when she was given back her sight, that her eyes were open to a world, more beautiful than she could ever have imagined. She never dreamed in her world of darkness, that the daylight could be as bright, the sky so brilliant and the universe so vast. The reality Gertrude experienced upon receiving her sight far exceeded the verbal description she was given. The words of the pastor could never describe the glorious world she could now see with her own eyes. It had to be experienced and not described. As we live on earth and consider life beyond the grave, in one sense, we are like blind people. The only means we have for perceiving the reality of Heaven is words. Unfortunately, words, as descriptive as they might be, can never prepare us for the full radiance and wonder of what lies ahead. However, if we know that the one who provides the verbal description of eternity is trustworthy, we can expect by faith, that Heaven, when it becomes accessible to us, will be more wonderful than anything we could ever imagine. This is what the apostle Paul tells us in first Corinthians two verse nine (I Corinthians 2:9), when he says things which eye have not seen, and ear has not heard and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.

In other words, nothing our eyes have seen, nor our ears have heard nor anything we have ever thought of can compare to what awaits us in God’s eternal kingdom.

And you know, this is of vital importance because this is where our hope lies as we live this life. And this is so important to understand the importance of hope. Now, when we think of that word, hope, we’re not well served by it because we think of hope as a verb. I hope it won’t rain today. I hope this happens, but in the Bible, the word hope is used continually as a noun and as a noun listen to what it literally means. “A life shaping certainty of something that has not happened yet but you know will.”

Dr. Tim Keller gave a wonderful series of talks on Christian hope. And he says that, “We underestimate the power of hope in our lives and just how much our believed in future determines how we live today. He says human beings are clearly hope based creatures. We are unavoidably shaped by how we view the future because it impacts the way we process life in the present in the now. What we believe about our future is the main determinant in how we process, how we experience, and how we handle the circumstances in the present.

Though we do not realize it, we cannot live without hope.”

And then he gives a great illustration From Victor Frankl’s famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist and was one of the fortunate people to survive the Nazi death camps. And as a trained psychiatrist, he was fascinated by why some of his fellow prisoners wasted away and died while others remained strong and survived. And he concluded that we cannot, as human beings, stay healthy if we do not have hope in the future. He observed, and this is a quote, “If the prisoner lost faith in the future, he was doomed. Life in a concentration camp exposes your soul’s foundation. Only a few of the prisoners were able to keep their inner liberty and inner strength. Life only has meaning in any circumstances, if we have a hope that neither suffering, circumstances, nor death itself can destroy.”

I mean, what a great point that Frankl makes here. He says, if our view of the future is grounded in solid ultimate hope, then we have a solid foundation to build our lives on and live out all the days of our life. He says, but if our future is rooted in hopelessness, then life will be very difficult, and we’ll live with a sense of despair deep within us.

I read a really wonderful story last week in a magazine, and it was about some prisoners In a Nazi prison camp during World War II, and they’d been there a while. They had no idea what was going on in the war and they lived in despair because they wondered, will we ever survive this? Will we ever go home to be with our loved ones? This is a true story. But unbeknownst to the guards in this camp, the Americans were able to build a makeshift radio. And one day news came that the German high command had surrendered, ending the war. A fact that, because of communication breakdowns, the German guards didn’t know about yet. And as word spread, a loud celebration broke out. For three solid days, the prisoners were hardly recognizable. They sang, they waved at the guards. They laughed at the German shepherd dogs, and they shared jokes over meals. And then on the fourth day, they woke to find that all the Germans had fled, leaving the gates unlocked. The time of waiting, that uncertainty, had come to an end.

You see, God, I believe intends for us to live life like these prisoners were living, with great joy, because He’s told us what the final outcome is. And see, this is what hope is. We know what the final outcome is, and it impacts the way we live today.

Last year, my wife and I were at a social gathering. And I had a man approach me and he said, I’d like to have lunch with you. And let me just say this about this man. By appearance, to say, this guy has no troubles. I mean, he really, I would say, and I admire him a lot, he has his life together. He has his own business. He’s very successful. He has a wonderful family. He is really well thought of in the community. And if you meet him, you’d think he was carefree but there was something on his mind and he wanted to have lunch and over lunch, he asked me this question. He says, how do you know for sure you go to Heaven? I mean, he’s a member of a church, believed in God all of his life, but he had this question. How do you know you go to Heaven?

You know, in the Gospels on several occasions, Jesus was stopped cold and asked what must I do to attain eternal life? The way I want to answer this, the approach I want to take is to look at the words of really a conversation Jesus has with a person that we know for certain went to Heaven because Jesus assured him today you will be with Me in paradise, because this guy was dying. And the person that I speak is one of the two criminals that was crucified with Jesus. We’ll read these, make a couple of comments, and then we’ll be done.

“One of the criminals who hanged there was hurling abuse at Him saying, are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! But the other answered, rebuking him saying, do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation, and we indeed are suffering justly, for we’re receiving what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong. And then he said to Jesus, Jesus, remember me when you come in Your kingdom and Christ said to him, truly I say to you today, you shall be with Me in paradise.”

What I find interesting here is you have two men crucified, one on the left and one on the right of Jesus. One is promised paradise. The other is assured of nothing. You don’t see Jesus saying, guys, we’re going to be okay. We’re all going to Heaven. He doesn’t say that. One, He says nothing to, the other, He gives, He assures him, today you will be with Me in paradise. The first criminal was obviously quite angry. He didn’t feel like he deserved this fate. You see no remorse. You see no humility. You see no fear of God. You see no fear of dying. He was committed to his own self-centered will. But when you look at this second criminal, there was no anger. There was no bitterness. There wasn’t any complaint. And if we look carefully, I think we can see several insights, which may reveal why Jesus said today you will be with Me in paradise. I think the first insight, real briefly, is that he did fear, and he did have a reverence for God. He asked, the second criminal asked the first, he rebuked him and said, don’t you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation. You know, what he’s really saying to this other thief is, I fear God as I approach the end. I can’t believe that you don’t even seem to care. And he also took responsibility for his actions. He acknowledged his wayward and depraved condition. He doesn’t blame anybody else. He said, I’m getting what I deserve. And I think this is important to realize and to understand that one of the core teachings of the Christian faith is the necessity of us to admit and acknowledge and confess our sinfulness before God.

And you know where you see this most clearly, in my opinion, is in a parable where there’s another man who also has eternal life. And it’s a man that we ought to be able to relate to because it’s in the parable called the Parable of the Prodigal Son. And it’s a story of a man with two sons. And the young son asks his father for his share of the inheritance. And when his request is granted, he goes off to a distant land and he squanders it on riotous living. And this young son is a picture of us. And the distant land represents the desire to live apart from God. I think this personifies our true condition. We want the good life. We want all the blessings of God. We just don’t want God and we don’t want His intrusion into our lives. And what happens is the young son squanders his entire life, all that he had and ends up feeding the pigs and Christ is trying to teach us how we will end up spiritually bankrupt If we don’t live in relationship with Him.

But finally, what happens is, it says the son comes to his senses and returns to his father to live with him and under his authority. However, as he approaches his father, after years of absence, listen to this, it’s very important. His first words to his father are, father, I have sinned against Heaven and in your sight, I am no longer worthy to be called your son. And you know what? With these words, the father rejoices and throws a banquet celebration, and this banquet celebration represents Heaven, which the son enters into.

Thirdly, the second criminal looks to Jesus for his eternal salvation. He entrusts himself to Christ and Jesus responds to him. He receives him Notice he didn’t rely on being a member of a church. He didn’t rely on good works. You know, that’s one thing I hear so often, good people go to Heaven. That’s not right, good people don’t go to Heaven because there are no good people. We’re all sinful. The only people that go to Heaven are forgiven people and we are forgiven based on entrusting our lives to the one who hung on that cross.  And finally, you can’t help but notice this, the humility in the life of this second criminal. He has a humble heart. And this is huge because we’re told quite clearly that we cannot approach God except with a humble and contrite heart. Because in essence, putting our faith in Christ is an issue of the heart.

I leave you with these few words from Teresa of Avila. She wrote these 500 years ago, talking about the issue of the heart. She compared the heart to a grand mansion with many rooms. The doors of that mansion must be open to allow God’s entrance so that He might transform its coldness by His radiance and His love. However, we must cast aside all the barriers that have kept Him out of our lives. I want to read that again. We must cast aside all the barriers that have kept Him out of our lives. We must throw open the doorway of our hearts and say yes to Christ that He might fill our lives with the exhilarating transforming presence of the living God. And the question which then remains, will we say yes to Him? Will we receive Him?

Let us pray. There may be somebody who wants to open the door of their hearts this morning. Lord, we open the doors of our hearts to receive You, to receive Your forgiveness, to receive Your love, to receive eternal life. We thank You for coming in. We thank You for the fact that we do have hope in the midst of reality of knowing that we will die one day. We can live with the hope that hope of eternal life that You offer us, that You demonstrate to us is real through the Resurrection of Your Son and that we can hang our hat on. Lord, I thank You for each man here, each family represented, all the wonderful friendships that exist in this room; for that we’re truly grateful. In Christ’s name. Amen.

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Reflections on the Existence of God

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