DEFEATING THE INEVITABLE ENEMY
A man was in the habit of reading the obituary column in the newspaper everyday. He often wondered why people died in alphabetical order, but satisfied that his name wasn’t there, he proceeded on to live a rather good day. On this particular morning, the unbelievable shocked him. As he scanned the obituaries he found his name. Immediately, he called the editor and vehemently protested: “You’ve got my name in there! You should have checked with my family or phoned me to verify that I was indeed dead.” The editor replied, “We apologize, sir. In order to make up for placing you in the death column today, we will feature you in the birth column tomorrow. Would that be alright?” I am told that the man felt much better for the rest of the day.
Death: the opposite of birth and life. It is the greatest problem facing humankind. I seek your permission to share with you how to confront and win the ultimate war with death, humanity’s most inevitable enemy.
Killer-death poses an incomprehensible mystery, proves itself the definitive human enemy, and presents the unavoidable situation in which you and I find ourselves. We need a death-killer— one who could, would, and should kill killer-death forever, bringing life and eternity into the full view of the human race.
Let’s first consider killer-death before I introduce you to the death-killer. Since I too am a part of this deadly human situation, I don’t have the solution in myself but would like to point you in a powerful direction. Yes, I’m dying, like you are. I speak as a dying man to a dying world. Yet, I’ve found hope for humanity’s horror and would like to introduce you to the death- killer who has crushed killer-death. Though killer-death will come for all of us, the death-killer has already come and is accessible to both you and me.
I. Killer-death is Inevitable.
A Middle Eastern parable speaks of a merchant meeting Death at the market square in the great city of Baghdad. Scared of dying, he runs to the Grand Vizier (the Executive Head of the Ottoman Empire) and asks to borrow his horse so he can run away from death to the distant city of Samarra. The Grand Vizier loans him his horse on which he swiftly rides to Samarra. That evening while the Grand Vizier is walking down the market street, he meets Death and queries, “Why did you startle my servant? You told him of your appointment with him tonight. He has run away. You surprised him badly.” Death replied to the Grand Vizier, “It was your servant who surprised me. I had not expected to see him until our meeting tonight in distant Samarra.”
As the parable teaches, death is inevitable. You and I are candidates to die. If I didn’t tell you how to overcome death, in the future you would hate me forever. If I didn’t tell you how you could get rid of the specter of death in your life, you would ask me some day why I didn’t show you the implications sooner. In this article, I want to share with you how the death-killer has destroyed death and brought life into the full view of the human race. Just as a medical doctor warns and alerts his patients but gives them the privilege of making decisions, there is tremendous value in me letting you know about your genetic heritage and your eventual destination. You can consider the options and make the decision. Together let’s study killer-death, identify our options, and then rightly respond to it.
So we all die. There’s nothing new about that. In fact, there’s not even a question about it. Thousands of observations, questions, and comments arrive at our website each year as people visit and register. (You, too, are welcome to visit our website year-long for dialogue.) However, one question that has never been asked by anyone is simply, “Do we all die?” A North African thinker noted that at the celebration of a baby’s birth, people ask many questions: “Is he going be tall or short, handsome or ugly, rich or poor?” They do not ask, “Is he going to die?” In fact, when our second son was born, and as I held the little child in my hands, a dreadful thought entered my mind: This baby is going to die. Hopefully not before me, but death will be a reality for both of us.
We will all succumb to killer-death through age, disease or violence. I wish you the hearty Asian salutation of a long, prosperous and happy life, but age will get you if the other intruders do not first rob you of life. Even as a baby, you already begin the aging process toward death. I once greeted my mentor with the words “Happy Birthday!” to celebrate his eighty-eighth year, and he quickly quipped, “The only happy birthday is the next one!” Or we may die of disease. Some of you carry terminal disease inside your system right now, whether cancer, AIDS, or possibly recurrent SARS. A friend recently contracted pancreatic cancer. He told me, “It’s a dreadful disease, Ramesh. It doesn’t give me any options.” Or we can die by violence. People’s violence or nature’s violence. Accidental violence or intentional violence. Earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, cyclones, fire, heat waves, or floods. Civil war, international war, terrorism, communal violence, domestic violence, criminal mischief, or any other sort of people’s violence towards one another.
In Ethiopia this year, I heard of the 500,000 deaths that the previous dictator had coordinated. In the neighboring country of Uganda, another ruthless dictator killed about 300,000 people. In the late twentieth century, about a million people in Rwanda and Burundi died due to racial genocide. And mass graves have been found in both the Middle East and Europe.
In the United States, about 40,000 people can expect to be sacrificed to the “highway gods” each year. A brilliant student of languages picking up English as his third or fourth language was asked, “If you could chose, would you rather die in a collision or an explosion?” He replied, “In a collision of course! Because in a collision, there you is; in an explosion, where is you?”
“Where is you?” That’s the question. Death is an enemy. It generates terror upon the human race. It keeps you living off balance, looking over your shoulder. Where is you?
Managing Death. Killer-death is indeed humanity’s inevitable enemy. Since we need a response to killer-death, we clever but mere humans manufacture several death management strategies. The following are, broadly speaking, four death management strategies we use.
First, you can deny that you’re going to die. You can deny your upcoming death in hard or soft ways, as much and as loud as you want, but that’s like denying your own existence. Perhaps you’ve heard of the life insurance salesperson who looked kindly at a hesitant older couple and said, “I don’t want to frighten you into a decision. In fact, why don’t you please think about it, sleep overit, and tomorrow morning, if you do get up, call me and let me know your decision.” They got the point and bought the product right away.
Some deny death with a softer approach. Adding a nice twist by using gentle words and high culture, they rename “graveyards” and “crematoriums” as “funeral parks” and “rest lands.” They beautify corpses into handsome figures who look much better dead than they ever did when alive.
They manicure the death-infested gardens perfectly. And they pipe beautiful music even into the coffins. In Ghana, a friend of mine had his father buried in a gold Mercedes Benz chassis to meet the customary expectation of a good burial for a loved one who has died. His family also thought the extra care might help if they ever needed his post-death attention! These cultural tactics helps soften the appalling presence of death.
Others deny death through humor. I’ve heard sayings like “Unless we get older, we die,” or “Short of dying we can live through anything,” or “Dying is the last thing I intend to do.” I even had somebody ask me, “Why did World War II suicide bomber pilots wear helmets?” But whatever you make it, happy or sad, death is real. An Oscar-winning producer/actor/movie director once quipped, “It’s not that I’m afraid of death or anything, it’s just that I don’t want to be there when it happens.” Sometimes we feel an invincibility syndrome in our hearts where we think everybody else will die sooner and earlier than ourselves. Somehow we’ll survive everybody else. But you cannot deny death. That’s like using English to say you can’t speak a word of English.
A second death management strategy is to try to delay or postpone your death. The problem?
You can’t stop the clock once it’s started. I once saw a T-shirt message that read, “God has set a certain number of things every person must do. I am so busy and far behind that at this rate, I will never die.” A amusing take on life, but the time of our rendezvous with death is unchangeable. The great equalizer will meet you and meet me. You can’t postpone your death. I speak as a dying man to a dying world. You can take many pains to increase your comfort while you are here, to live well while you yet have life. But when your number is up, it’s up.
On the flip side, some try to speed death up or hasten it. The third management strategy, doing your own death can be seen as a quitting-the-game-since-you-are-losing-anyway tactic in order to rob death of its control. People in addictions, bad habits, health challenges, and in hazardous situations often try to do their own death fast. You may have heard of the chain-smoker who read that smoking causes death, and so she gave up reading! Do you feel like doing your own death?
Perhaps you feel a spiritual ache in your life, the emotional pain of a broken heart, or the intellectual pain of meaninglessness. May be you are in such physical pain in your body that somehow you wish you could be relieved from all that. You’ve even talked to doctors about euthanasia. Perhaps you’ve actually planned to take your life. But you haven’t died yet. That’s good, because I have hope to share with you. For really, you can’t do your own death. When death’s time comes, you die. And those that have already ended their own lives, what have they gained? Control over death? Control over life? Peace? No. Rather than achieving victory, they have merely surrendered to the enemy.
The final, most standard way is to manage death by simply accepting it, or dealing with it. You admit the reality and do the best that you can within life’s limitation. So some pursue pleasure to the hilt. That hedonistic tactic is not original with you. “To eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” is an old philosophy of life. Better yet, you deal with death in a wiser way. You invest in people who will likely survive you. You may be investing in young people today who will survive
your death, but your investment will not survive their deaths. You teach them your principles for living, your values, your convictions, and your tactics and strategies as their life coach. You write books that can outlast your life. The principles may live past your death and help your beneficiaries, but those principles will not live past their death. Or, perhaps the best course for dealing with death is to will your vital organs, a part of your kidney or brain or heart, so somebody else can live past your sudden death. Yet neither will that gift live beyond the death of the recipient.
Death is inevitable. The Hindus sages of long ago said it well: “We know that we will die.
We don’t know when, how and where.” Religions and philosophies will give you a way of managing death in a more meaningful way. Your family and science will give you a way of managing death in a more comfortable way. However, the real question asks, “Is there a cure for death? Can death be destroyed? Can we give death a death sentence? Can we find a death-killer?”
As a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist lay on a hospital bed with cancer, he called his press agency and stated, “I knew everybody has to die, but somehow I thought in my case there might be an exception. Now what?” He was looking for a cure for death. That yearning for a cure permanently permeates your soul and mine. I’m told that another patient lying in the hospital charged his doctors saying, “I’m dying. Please find the cure for death in a hurry. Discover a way to save me. I’ll pay you whatever you want.” The frustrated doctor responded, “I have found the cure for death, except it’ll take all eternity to test it!”
The question in the human heart, caused by the certainty of death is far deeper than mere death management. It seeks the absolute defeat of death. We want a death-killer, a death-destroyer who will bring life into the full view of the human race. Is there some way beyond denying, delaying, doing your own death, or dealing with your own death? Is there a way to destroy death? I’ve got great news for you!
II. The Death-Killer is Incredible.
An incredible twist and turn to what we thought was the eternal human condition has taken place. I’d like to introduce you to the death-killer, someone that you can trust to crush, defeat, and vanquish death today.
Who is this death-killer? Who could qualify? What would it take? A death-killer must personally provide a purposeful, powerful, and public demonstration that he can defeat death. He can’t just make noises and claims; not just proclamations and pronouncements, nor even promises of killing death without publicly and personally substantiating his claim to beat death at it’s own game. Here are the qualities of the death-killer who you can trust with your life forever.
First, the death-killer, could suffer death. We intuitively know that if any one could beat death, it would have to be God. Only God has enough power to take care of the death situation, but gods by definition cannot suffer death. Who would want a god who can die? The gods seem to sit in their heavens, distant from death, and as a result, their propositions about death don’t ring true. How can anyone know for sure that their death solutions are authentic? Now if God could become man, he could suffer death, and we could evaluate his claims.
At this point, I want you take a good look at the Lord Jesus Christ. He declared, “I came down from heaven,” to emphasize his divine origin—six times in one interchange. Note the meaning of his assertion in terms of our subject. The One who can beat death cannot be sourced in the earth where all die, but in heaven where there is no death. One of the ways to know if God really became man is for the God-man to die—the natural ability test. Could God the creator of life be the conqueror of death without dying? The Lord Jesus stated that he came down from heaven to earth. As a person on the earth, like any person on the earth, he could die.
Second, the death-killer would experience death. Not only could he suffer death, but also he would experience death. A death-killer who does not experience death is empty in his talk, in his tongues, in his theories, and in his theologies. To illustrate, I like to buy owl figurines for my “wise, old, owl” of a mentor. A birdwatcher in England once asked me what kind of owl I wanted. I asked in ignorance, “How many kinds are there?” He told me there were 150 kinds of owls! He went on to speak of how owls live and breed and eat. I remarked in surprise, “How do you know so much about owls, their habits and preferences? Were you an owl once yourself”? Of course not. The birdwatcher had an “owlology” but had never lived in owldom. He had never been an owl himself. Similarly, religious leaders and philosophers have “deathologies” like the birdwatcher watching owls, but they’ve not experienced death. They cannot therefore give us solutions to killer-death. They can’t be death-killers as long as they have not died. But a death-killer would experience death.
I want you to look at the Lord Jesus on this matter as well. He not only came to the earth as a man, he said he came down “to give his life for the world.” He didn’t shun death. He didn’t ignore, postpone, or delay his death. Neither did he solicit death. He did not bring it on, speed it up, nor merely succumb to killer-death. He affirmed the remarkable: “I am going to decide when I lay down my life, and I will pick it up again.” He passed the personal experience test.
And finally, the death-killer should conquer death. Not only could a death-killer die, and would a death-killer die, but he should die—yet conquer death. And he should prove to us that he has conquered death. That’s the problem with religious leaders and philosophers. They fail the ultimate victory test. Every one I have studied—gurus and prophets, philosophers and founders of religions— they have all died and stayed dead. They can and do experience death, but they stay dead. Unless they resurrect from death back to life again, they can’t be trusted with killing death, let alone be trusted with our eternal future. They can’t give us directions on how to kill death. The final quality asks, “Is there someone who has died and resurrected from the dead?”
In all of recorded history, there’s only one such occasion of a person raising Himself from the dead. That’s what the Lord Jesus did. He predicted that he would die, and that on the third day he would raise himself from the dead. That prediction is quite easily verifiable or falsifiable. When Jesus rose from the dead on the third day in fulfillment of his prediction, eyewitnesses by the hundreds saw him, touched him, and interacted with him. He spoiled death by returning to life in the very identifiable, physical body in which he died. Then with first person perspective and conscious narrative, he engaged with those who witnessed his death and subsequent resurrection. He was killed, but he passed the ultimate victory test by returning to life in the sphere and scene of pre-death existence. He killed death.
The Lord Jesus became the death-killer who met those could, would, and should criteria. He returned to life from the dead, never to die again, and now offers a universal, permanent solution to the human race. He destroyed death and brought life into the view of the entire human race. He welcomes everybody who wants to kill death to join up with him. He does not bar anybody from linking up with him as the death-killer, the victor, the winner of life for the human situation. He states in clear terms, “Whoever believes on me will not perish, but live.” No person is banned. You can be from any background, any language, any religion, any caste, any class, any situation, any country, and any ethnicity and can still believe on Him. His explicit invitation and promise to you goes this way: “Every one who looks to me and believes in me shall have eternal life, and I will raise him at the last day.” Right now you can entrust your life to Jesus and live forever. Jesus has the last word on the problem of death.
If you are drawn by this offer and desire to positively respond to this personal invitation to embrace Jesus as your death-killer, consider these two claims by Lord Jesus.
First, look seriously at his very unique and critical claim. The Lord Jesus declared without equivocation, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Can you see what he’s claiming? He’s saying, “I, Me, myself, I am the resurrection. I’m not pointing to anybody or anything else along with me. I am not one of many; I am in myself the resurrection and the life. I am the death-killer.”
I’ve told you the death story of life; now let me quickly tell you the life story of death. Here is a brief version that you want to get straight and correct. Humans were not created to die. We were created to be in absolute, unbroken fellowship with God, to experience maximum life and absolute life forever. But you and I erred. We sinned. We did wrong. At that point of error and sin, we separated ourselves from a relationship with God and his intention for us. That separation from God meant both physical death and eternal death for each one of us. The cause of physical death is sin; and the consequence of sin is eternal death. So the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, came down from heaven to address the problem of sin by physical death. When he died, he was paying the penalty of our sin, the cause of our death, so that we don’t have to dread physical death anymore. He also paid for the consequence of sin with his death, so that we do not have to face eternal death ever.
Since we are part of the human condition, we will physically die. But now that the Lord Jesus has died for the human condition, the significance of physical death is totally different for those who embrace His offer of eternal life. Jesus’ unique and critical claim to personally be “the resurrection and the life,” continues in the second part of the same sentence: “anyone who believes in me, even though he dies will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never, never die.” Reread that assertion. “Anyone who believes in me, even though he dies will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never, never die.” What is he announcing, both universally and individually? “If you trust me as your death-killer, you will not face eternal death. You will face physical death because of your human condition as a biological entity, but your eternal situation changes when you trust the One who conquered death to give you life forever. Your upcoming physical death is now simply a gate to go through, but need not be permanent nor eternal separation from God. Your separation from God is not final or eternal. The Lord Jesus promises that you can possess eternal life starting right now, if you entrust yourself into his death-killing life. That is, you can now face death, without having to fear it or force it. Since He finished the reign of death on the human race, any one who moves into His sphere will be eternally spared from being lost forever.
Now how does this death-killer’s all-time, all-people offer of conquest apply to you? Clearly and simply, you now have the final say over death. You possess the last move. To use the basketball analogy, you still have the final shot. The regulation clock may have expired, but sin overplayed you, fouled you before the clock expired. So you still get one shot. What is that final shot, the move, the decision? Just tell God right where you are, as meaningfully and honestly as possible: “I now embrace the Lord Jesus as my death-killer, as the Only God who can save me from my eternal situation of death. I entrust my death-facing life to him alone because He faced death on my behalf and for my sins. I invite His death-killing life into me so I can possess the very life of God, starting at this very moment.” You can read over the last few lines one more time if you want to reiterate your transfer of personal trust to the Lord Jesus, your Only God and Savior.
If you should make that decision, the Lord Jesus will not only help you face your eventual physical death, he will take you through that death as a companion, as your champion. He will escort you through death, because he’s been to the other side and returned to give you hope right away, beginning immediately. Philosophers, psychologists, spiritualists, theologians, gurus, prophets, religious leaders and politicians can all speak about death. But not a single one of them has come back from death to never die again. The Lord Jesus offers you the privilege of beating death because he has killed death by His own resurrection from the dead. He’s already familiar with the territory you will pass through. In fact, he promises to take you through death to an eternal life condition where there’ll be no more tears, no more pain, and no more death. Yes, no more death. You read that right. No more death!
You may be aware of the worst maritime tragedy in modern history: the sinking of the Titanic. (You might have seen the popularized movie version.) The designers built this glamorous ship to cater especially to the rich and famous. They advertised it as unsinkable. Hundreds of people considered that claim, believed it, and got on the boat. On her maiden voyage, she was supposed to cruise all the way from London to New York. There was wining and dining, and then the ship hit an iceberg in the middle of the ocean. Within about three hours, the unsinkable ship began to sink. You know the rest of the story. Many perished, and some were saved.
Did you know that when the ship began to sink, the officers tried to convince people to board the lifeboats? But the rich and famous, the glamour crowd, said, “No, no, no, the ship is not sinking. It was advertised as unsinkable. We paid enormous amounts of money to have luxury accommodations. You shouldn’t put us in cramped lifeboats.” They delayed, they ignored, and they sank. Some first class passengers did get into lifeboats, but they were the selfish, privileged type. Afraid that the lifeboats might not carry added weight, many of these passengers pushed their lifeboats away from the ship after only fifteen people had boarded instead of the sixty that they could have held and saved.
In the same way, my friend, humanity is sinking. Yet the Lord Jesus Christ offers himself as a lifeboat for all people. You can deny the deadly situation. You can ignore the danger; you can try to delay the doom. You too may complain saying: “I’ve paid a lot of money to find a cure for death. I’ve gone to religious pilgrimages and used up my energies. I’ve done a lot of good work for humanity. I’ve fed the hungry, helped the hurting, and built shelters for the homeless. I’ve provided potable water for the thirsty, worshipped my god(s), followed the rules and ethics of my religions, and even played the part of social entrepreneur to uplift the poor. Do you really mean it’s that simple to transfer my trust and dependence to Jesus as my lifeboat?”
Yes, I am bringing a clear saving message to you. Please forgive me for having been so selfish that I did not bring it to you earlier. I know you’ve done a lot of good, but that doesn’t keep you or humanity from sinking into eternal death. The Lord Jesus says, “Anybody can depend on me, believe on me, and I will rescue him. I will be his death-killer. I have destroyed death and brought life into the full view of the human race.”
You too can kill death by entrusting yourself to the death-killer. May I invite you and encourage you to get on the Lord Jesus lifeboat right now? Wherever you are, just tell him something like, “Lord Jesus, I want you to be my death-killer. I consider, believe, and depend on you as my only Savior from sin and death. Please be my death-killer.”
If you are inclined to this decision or if you have accepted Jesus’ provision of eternal life, would you contact us? Reach me through https://www.rameshrichard.com/ or [email protected] and we will respond to cultivate this inclination or confirm your decision.
You can confront killer-death, humanity’s inevitable enemy, by entrusting yourself to the death-killer, humanity’s incredible Savior—the Lord Jesus Christ.