Tuesday, August 15, 2017
We try to convince ourselves that death is no big deal, it’s nothing to fear. We say it’s a normal part of life, even though it’s the opposite of life. We lie and say death is a good thing, especially when it brings an end to suffering. We do everything we can to take the fear out of death...and yet...we still fear it.
We fear death. We fear our own and the death of loved ones. We’re afraid of how we’ll die. Will it be painful? Will I suffer long? What will happen to my family when I’m gone? These questions haunt us. But Christ encourages us in the face of death. He says “Take heart, and don’t be afraid,” not because death is a small thing and isn’t scary, but because He’s the Lord of Creation who saves you from death.
The disciples feared death. Early in the morning, before the sun was up, out in the middle of the sea, after a long night on the sea with strong waves beating against the boat, the disciples saw Jesus coming to them, walking on the water. What an amazing sight this should’ve been, seeing their Lord performing another miracle, walking on water. But the disciples weren’t amazed, at least not in a good way. They were terrified, thinking Jesus was a ghost, a bringer of death.
Knowing their fear, Jesus spoke to them saying “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Matt 14:27). These words of Jesus weren’t an empty platitude or shallow encouragement. They didn’t comfort the disciples simply because they assured them that Jesus wasn’t a ghost. No, these words comforted the disciples because they identified Him as the Lord of Creation, as the great “I am,” God Himself.
If we go back to the original Greek of the New Testament, Jesus identified Himself by saying “ε?γώ ει?μι,” “I am,” the very words God used to identify Himself to Moses in the burning bush. God is the “I am.” He’s the Creator of all things. He laid the foundations of the earth. He set the limits of the sea, and Jesus Christ is God. He’s the Son, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. All things were made through Christ and without Him was not anything made that was made (Jn 1:3). Jesus is the Lord of Creation. He holds it all in His hands, even the wind and waves. The disciples didn’t need to fear a watery death because Christ was there. He was in control.
Jesus’ words encouraged the disciples, and Peter asked Him to call him out onto the water. Peter got out of the boat and walked on the sea to Jesus. Peter was walking on the water; but seeing the wind, he again feared death, and in this fear he began to sin. Immediately Christ grabbed Peter and pulled him from the water and said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14:31).
Why did Peter doubt? Why did he fear death again? The Lord of Creation was right there with him and He wasn’t going to let anything bad happen to him. But Peter still feared for his life because of his imperfect love. That’s why the disciples were afraid...and that’s why we fear death. We’re afraid of death because of our imperfect love: imperfect love for God and imperfect love for others.
In thesis 14 of his 95 Theses Luther wrote, “Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater the fear.” We fear death because our love is imperfect. We fear it because we fail to love. We fear death because of our sin. We know we deserve death because of our sin and this punishment is frightening. Adam and Eve hid after eating the fruit because they were afraid. Children hide the lamp they broke because they’re afraid. We try to cover up our sin because we’re afraid. We afraid of its punishment.
Our fear of death comes from our imperfect love for God. Like Peter we don’t trust the Lord of Creation to protect us, to care for us. How often do we worry about the necessary, and also the not so necessary, things of life? He promises to take care of us, but do we believe Him? We don’t trust His Word to do what it says. He says faith is produced by hearing His Word, and yet we think we need to change it to get people to believe.
Our imperfect love for God is seen in our imperfect love for others. If we loved God, we’d follow His commands, and we definitely don’t love others as He commanded. Our relationships are tainted with lies, hurtful words, adulterous actions, and thieving thoughts. We deny forgiveness to others, even though we want it ourselves.
We should rightly fear death. It’s the just punishment of sin. And yet in the face of death, the Lord of Creation, Jesus Christ, comes to you and says “Take heart; it is I; [ε?γώ ει?μι], don’t be afraid.” He says this to you not because death is a small thing or a normal part of life, but because He’s come into His creation and overcome death with His perfect love.
The Son of God became incarnate; He left His place in heaven, and took on our flesh so that He could also take your punishment of death upon Himself. The Lord of Creation entered creation to redeem creation. Jesus came into this sin filled world to go to the cross to pay for your sin. All of your sin, all of your imperfect love, Jesus carried to the cross, and there He died for it, in your place. He received God’s wrath so that you wouldn’t. On the cross, the punishment of sin was fulfilled. And three days later, Jesus rose from the grave, defeating death, winning everlasting life for you and for all who believe in Him, all who have faith in Christ’s sacrificial death, all who confess that Jesus is Lord.
This new life God gives you in your Baptism. Just as Christ pulled Peter out of the sea, the Lord of Creation has pulled you out of the sea of Baptism. In that water your old sinful man was drowned, along all his imperfect love and sin, and a new man was raised with faith and love for Christ your Savior.
With this faith and love, you trust in your Savior. You trust His promised words of life, “I am [ε?γώ ει?μι] the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25-26). You trust in the forgiveness of sins that He won for you on the cross, and in the face of death, with faith, you don’t fear eternal punishment. Instead you stand encouraged, knowing the Lord of Creation has saved you from it.
Does this mean we don’t mourn when friends and loved ones die? No. Does this mean we act as if death is no big deal? No. Death is still painful. It’s still a big deal. Death is never good. It wasn’t part of God’s creation. Our sin brought death upon us. But in the face of death we don’t fear it, because our Savior has conquered it.
Jesus took your punishment and gives you life. His perfect love overcomes death. Christ your Savior, the Lord of Creation, saves you from the punishment of death and with faith you take heart and fear not in the face of death, for you know that He gives you everlasting life. In Jesus’ name...Amen.