March 2nd my grandmother, affectionately known as Nana Sue, died.
That word “died” has a kind of brashness and finality to it, doesn’t it? In fact, I didn’t want to use that word at first when Nana died. I used “passed away” or “went to be with the Lord” in its place. Those are fine and true phrases to use for a believer, I just didn’t want to use a word that assured me of the reality that Nana was no longer here with me.
But the real reason I didn’t want to use the word “died” with Nana’s name was because I wanted to avoid thinking about the issue of death. Even for me, a long-time believer, death all the sudden seemed scary and mysterious. It brought to the surface insecurities and doubt that I didn’t know existed. When Nana died it was as if for the first time I stood at a crossroads of my faith. I could either continue down the path of believing God’s Word is true and that those who believe in Jesus live forever with him OR I could go down a new path of cynicism and pessimism refusing to believe and hope in the unseen but only believing in what I could see — that death was the end.
I remember praying, “God, I believe. Help my unbelief!” And for the first time, so it seemed, I understood what Paul meant by, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (Rom. 8:24)
Yesterday I listened to a podcast of Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, preaching about the Crucifixion from Matthew 27:46. In this verse, Jesus quotes from Psalm 22:1 crying out that God has forsaken him. Because Jesus took our sin, the death he died was one of judgment and punishment by God. Our sin had to be judged, punished. And in that moment, God forsook him.
Why does this truth bring me hope and peace when thinking about Nana’s death and even my own? Hours before Nana died I went in to speak to her while she was lying in bed unconscious and on life support. One of the things I did was quote Scripture. I honestly cannot recall what Scripture I quoted her except for one, Hebrews 13:5b, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
It dawned on me while I was listening to Keller’s sermon that the reason I could confidently say that truth to Nana and believe it for her was because Christ was already forsaken by God in her place in order that God might never forsake her. Did you catch that? Jesus was forsaken by God on the cross in our place for our sin so that in him we might never be forsaken but rather welcomed as children of God! I know that Nana was not forsaken by God at death and neither will I by the grace of God through faith.
But so many are and will be. Those who refuse to accept Christ’s gift of him taking their place before God will have to endure it for themselves — the judgment, punishment, death, and probably the worse thing — forsakenness. What about you? Will you believe and accept Christ’s gift?
Those of us who are in Christ can confidently proclaim Romans 8:31-37 now and for when they die:
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”