The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. (John 12:25-27)
Jesus is troubled, but resolute in the face of his coming death. His faith sets the example for all.
Those who cling to life, Jesus says, will lose it. The truth is that all will lose it. The death rate is 100%. In Western cultures, the young can understand this intellectually but not emotionally.
Some time back I talked with an with a man in our organization that I knew only in passing. He is a little older than I am. It turns out that was Vietnam veteran who served during the Tet offensive. “Were you afraid,” I asked. “I was 17 years old,” he told me. “What do 17 year-olds think? They’re invincible.”
As the years pass, however, the truth of our mortality begins to sink in. I remember hearing Tony Campolo talk one time about his growing awareness of his own mortality. It’s like listening to a faucet drip, he said. At first you hardly notice it, but as time passes on, it’s all you can hear.
Except at Lord’s appearing, death will come to all. Some will die at the end of a full-life, at least as full as this age can offer. Others will die tragically with their lives unfinished, their deaths mocking the goodness of creation and the meaning of existence. Still others will die doing something they think is important, spending their lives for a cause greater than themselves.
However one meets one’s end in this age, Jesus promises that those who entrust their existence to God will find life. If you value your own life above all things, you will find you are powerless to hold on to it. If, on the other hand, you value the things of God more than the things of this age, and if you are willing to put your life completely into God’s hands, surrendering your will to him and trusting him enough to follow no matter where he leads, then you will find that you possess the “life of the ages.” At least that’s what Jesus says.
Does anyone really believe this? Does anybody really believe that if we follow God’s call to trust him in the life-threatening parts of existence, he’ll hold on to us and see us through? Jesus believed it enough to live by it. He led the way and he asks us to trust him enough to follow.
Early Christians were put to the test, giving their lives for Christ in martyrdom. Did they believe him enough to trust him when they were thrown to wild beasts in the arena?
Many Christians still face this danger daily, but those of us in the post-Christian West don’t. Still, we all face future death through illness or accident or violence or other danger.
As I have said, though, most don’t live every day with the awareness of death. The irony is that we let even lesser possibilities rob us of our courage and our faith. Someone may say something bad about us. Oh my!
I shouldn’t make light of life’s dangers that fall short of death. All of us face personal disasters from time to time. Workers lose jobs. Marriages end. Children make bad decisions. The stock market crashes, along with your retirement funds. Houses burn down. The innocent are victims of crime. People suffer from serious illnesses and injuries. If you are going through them, they are not little tragedies; they are tragedies. Their grip on your life is strong; the threat they pose is all too real.
Nevertheless, the Jesus who called his disciples to trust him to the point of laying down their lives for him also calls us to trust him in all of life’s circumstances.
At the grave of a believer, I pray for those who mourn:
Give us such faith that by day and by night, at all times and in all places, we may without fear commit ourselves and those dear to us to you never-failing love, in this age and in the age to come.
Martin Luther’s great hymn “A Mighty Fortress” is a celebration of God’s victory over “our ancient foe” on the cross. As a result, Luther says, we can let “goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever.”