February 6, 2015

Fear of death overwhelms the desire for life?

Some people fear speaking in public more than dying. One consolation is that although everyone will die, few are ever called up to speak!

The Israelites were afraid of dying. When Moses led them out of Egypt, Pharaoh and his army were in hot pursuit. They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:11–14)

Moses trusted God even though he had no idea how the Lord would deliver them. Imagine his surprise when the waters of the sea parted so God’s people could travel across.
Then the Lord said to him, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses. (Exodus 14:26–31)

Their fear dissolved into the awe of worship and their faith increased. Then they worshiped the Lord in song. The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15:2)

The second reading offered a similar praise for the God who takes care of His people: “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” (Song of Solomon 2:4)

God gives life even though death was expected. But there is a death involved in receiving that life. These people feared dying more than slavery, even wanted to go back to Egypt and remain as slaves rather than perish. But they would perish eventually and they had no idea of the truth represented by their situation.

They were set free from the bondage of slavery, just as Christ sets Christians free from the bondage of sin. They feared death in the wilderness without realizing that everyone who puts their faith in Christ will live forever, but also must die. This is not about physical death, even though that will eventually happen. It is about the death that marks our identification with Christ, for in Him we die . . .

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16–21)

Jesus said this to a religious leader named Nicodemas. He heard about eternal life as Jesus explained how those who believe in Him will be reborn. But he did not realize that this new life would not merely replace the old, but that the old life would die.

Paul explains that the old me died because of my union with Christ. He said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) In Christ, I died. In Christ, I live, both now and forever.

Those Israelites did not know they would physically die in the wilderness, yet because of His covenant with them, they would live with God forever. The new is different: God’s people die with Christ, yet live on in the flesh. When I die physically, I will live with Him forever, but even now, the old me is dead and the new me is set free from slavery to sin, all made possible by His death and resurrection.

My devotional book is called Connect the Testaments for good reason; the stories in it point to Jesus Christ and the wonder of a God who illustrates spiritual reality with the life stories of His people, and then comes to earth in person to live out those realities for us.

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