WHAT IS LIFE?
by Pastor Max Solbrekken, D.D.
“As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.” (Psalms 103:1, 5, 16)
DEATH IS SO FINAL!
Many years ago, I was asked to officiate at the funeral of a relative of one of our parishioners. The lady who had passed away was forty-six years of age. Only a few people were at the funeral chapel to mourn her passing but those who attended were close relatives and friends and I could tell they loved her dearly. I chose for my sermon the title of this article, ‘What is Life?’
Muriel Heppner was in her place at the organ. The strains of the hymn ‘Abide With Me’ set the tone for the service, even before I entered the sanctuary. The tears were already welling up within my eyes as I thought of death, eternity and the grief the loved ones must feel, together with the emptiness that would follow!
Death is so final! I thought back briefly to my mother - her smile, her warmth, and her absence. As I knelt to pray momentarily before stepping to the pulpit, I thanked God that my heart was still soft after seeing so much sickness and death. Officiating at so many funerals hadn't made me hard! I have often thought about how Jesus felt at the grave of Lazarus and when He wept over Jerusalem. The Bible says, “He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” (Heb. 4:15). A certain solemnity seemed to grip my voice as I read Psalms 90:1-12.
AS A WATCH IN THE NIGHT!
“LORD Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.
“For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.
“For we are consumed by Thine anger, and by Thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to Thy fear, so is Thy wrath."
Hilder Commins brought hope and encouragement as her voice filled the air with a message of song. The obituary and eulogy were very brief and to the point. And then, it was time for my message, ‘What is Life?’ I chose for my text James 4:14; "Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."
AT BEST, LIFE IS BRIEF!
The 90th Psalm was written by Moses to a rebellious people who were not going to make it into the Promised Land! He states that God was giving them seventy years and possibly eighty years! And just before God sent the flood that wiped out the antediluvian population, with the exception of Noah and his family, He set the boundaries for mankind’s longevity:
“And the Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh; yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” (Gen. 6: 4)
What are seventy, eighty or even a hundred years when you have lived them? What is any amount of time when it is used up? Think of it, my friend, and no more time to live!! And that moment comes to every man. Moses warned: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is there strength, labour and sorrow. For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” (Psalms 90:10)
People have said to me, “My, how wonderful it would have been to live in the time of the prophets of old and at the time of Jesus' earthly ministry!” I reply, “Yes, but if I would have lived then I would be dead now and I am glad to be alive now!” Here is another great truth, we are placed here by the Lord to do a certain work and in His infinite wisdom He knew when we should make our appearance on this earth, to fit into His great and glorious plan for man. Praise God.
TODAY IS MINE: TOMORROW MAY NOT COME!
We have no guarantee of life for the future. We only have now! The hymn writer wrote, ‘Today is mine, tomorrow may not come; I may not see the rising of the sun but when evening falls, may my work on earth be done. Today is mine, tomorrow may never come.’
The woman whom I was burying had lived less than forty-seven years. For her, life was over on this earth. What guarantee do you have, my dear friend, that you will live fifty, sixty, or even seventy years? Some are taken at an even earlier age. Others get a few more years, still others live to be seventy, eighty or even one hundred, but even then life is short compared to eternity! Just stop for a moment and consider the possibility that even today your life could be snuffed out. What have you accomplished for God, family and fellow man in the years you have lived? Where do you stand with God, my friend? And if you are a Christian, what have you done for God with your life? Remember, ‘Only one life - it will soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last.’
St. James - one of the world's greatest pastors - said, “For what is your life? lt is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away.” (Verse 14)
St. James likens life to a fog that moves into an area overnight, but when the sunshine comes in the morning or when the wind arises, it is gone! Life is like a mist or a vapour that is only temporary and leaves so suddenly. You can be driving down a highway to work in the morning and there may be a heavy fog or mist. In the evening on your way home, it could be gone. Life is like a dew on the grass, or like a light frost on the window that disappears at the rising of the warm sun. You could also be driving to work some morning, healthy and strong with no thought of death or eternity, and not make it home for supper! Death could prevent you!
FROM DUST TO DUST!
The Scriptures declare, "For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night." (Psalms 90:4) In the sight of God a thousand years is as brief as one day. (2 Peter 3:8)
God compares a millennium of time to a watch in the night or to the remembrance of a day gone by. The Bible tells us that God created man from the dust of the earth, and gave him dominion over all things upon the earth. When he fell into sin, disobeying God and rebelling against the command of the Almighty, man consequently lost that dominion.
When man sinned, instant judgment passed upon the human race. God said: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it was thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." (Gen. 3:19)
While committing the body of the deceased to the earth in Christian burial, I always use the dust (some ministers use flowers) to toss upon the casket as I say the final words, “From earth to earth, from dust to dust and from ashes to ashes.”
GOD CALLS MAN TO RETURN!
God calls mankind back to the earth: “…return ye children of men.” (Psalms 93) Return to where? The dust of the earth! It's God's call to humanity. St. Paul spells it out very clearly in Hebrews 9:27, “…it is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment.” Here is an appointment no one can break, postpone or miss!
First the grave, and then the judgment of God! There is no way around it. One day we will all stand before God. (Rev. 20:11-15; 1 Cor. 3:12-15)
True saints of God who are alive when Christ returns to rapture the church will, however, miss the grave! Instead of returning to the dust they will be changed in a moment, glorified and raptured to meet Christ in the air. (1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:15-17) Praise the Lord!
My constant prayer these last many years has been, “Lord, let me live until the coming of Jesus so that I may experience this great event!”
Regardless, whether we live till that moment or not, we are sure of His glorious salvation if we put our complete and total trust in Him. “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, and whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.” (I Thess. 5: 9, 10)
REST: AFTER A WEARY DAY?
Dying really is the natural end of the ‘cycle of man’ upon the earth since the fall. It almost seems like the earth beckons - as though ‘earth calls to the human tabernacles of men.’ Often, when people become aged, they desire to die and go to be with the Lord. It is only natural that man should want to be with His Maker because when the body dies the spirit departs to be with our Lord and God. (2 Cor. 5:6 - 8; Phil. 1:23)
Could it be that the body which is made from the dust, actually desires to be laid to rest, at the end of a long life? (Long weary day) I do not know! There seems however to be that possibility! All of us like to go back to the place of our birth, drive around the block and view the homes we had to leave after so many years! There is a feeling of belonging, identification, and a relating to the country of our forefathers and the place of our childhood, be it ever so humble. And then, of course, the Scripture tells us that God actually calls man to return to the earth. (Psalms 93)
CREMATION - A HEATHEN PRACTICE!
All through the Old Testament, the prophets of God were very explicit about the burying of their bones. They did not want their bones buried just anywhere – “and they buried them with their fathers.” (2 Kings 12:21) And they also purchased burial land so that they could bury their dead properly. (Gen. 23:4-11). Joseph gave commandments concerning his bones, which they kept for several hundred years in Egypt, and finally carried to their resting place in the land of Canaan. (Josh. 24:32, 33)
God sometimes used fire as judgment upon those who disobeyed Him. For example, Sodom and Gomorrah were totally consumed by fire. (Gen. 19:24-28). Some sins of immorality were punishable by stoning, others by burning in Old Testament times. (Lev. 20:14; 21:9). Entire enemy cities were destroyed together with their heathen idols and images by burning. (Josh. 6:24)
Achan, his household and all his possessions were burned by fire because he had broken the covenant with the Lord. (Josh. 7:24 - 26) It was a pagan practice to sacrifice children to the gods of the heathen and to make their sons and daughters pass through the fire. (2 Kings 16:2 - 4; 17: 16, 17, 31). The heathen still walk on hot coals in some countries, as they “pass through the fire” under the influence of evil spirits.
PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST!
Atheists think that by burning the body they can do away with any thought of the resurrection. They disclaim any thought of a hereafter or eternity, but the Bible says: “The sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hell delivered up the dead that were in them . . .” (Rev. 20:13)
Very definitely this Scripture proves that all the dead will come back to life either in the first or second resurrection regardless of what happens to the body at death. (Rev. 20:6)
And just because unbelievers, atheists and pagans burn the bodies of their dead, that does not prove anything but their own ignorance of God and His Word! In India where the Hindus worship three hundred million gods and the land is filled with images and idols, they burn their dead loved ones but bury their dead cows, which are considered holy, and are an object of worship. If you want to know why India is in the state it is in, read Rom. 1:20 - 32, "…who changed the truth of God into a lie and worshipped and served the creature (created things) more than the creator …"
Tradition says that St. James preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in India, sent missionaries from India to other countries, and is buried in India. I believe very strongly that cremation is a heathen practice and the proper way to dispose of the body of the deceased is in Christian burial, allowing the body to return to the dust of the earth! (Dan. 20:2; Eccl. 3:20; 12: 7)
When we bury the body of a departed believer, we are proclaiming that we believe the Gospel of Christ! As Jesus was laid in the tomb and rose from the dead three days later, we plant the believer’s body in hope and faith of a harvest – the resurrection from death to life at the hour of Christ’s return for His Church! (1 Cor. 15: 50-57; 1 Thes. 4: 13-18)
LIFE IS LIKE THE GRASS!
In the spring, green grass appears on the ground, flowers blossom and the robins begin to sing joyously! All through the summer, the beauties and fragrance of new life is everywhere. It seems like it should never have to end, but most of us who have seen the ice and the snow and heard the howling north wind, know it can never last!
Soon the chilling winds of autumn come sweeping across the land, and the beautiful birds take their flight to southern hospitality, the flowers fade, die and wither and then finally a gust of wind comes and carries them away. The grass that has been green and lush begins to turn brown and lifeless as winter sets in. How long was it since spring? Only a few short months! The Psalmist compares life with the flowers and grass of the field. Beautiful, fragrant, lively and vibrant during the spring and summer, but its life is short, all too short!
For some it is even shorter, like verse 6 implies; green grass, standing straight and tall, billowing in the breeze - then the mower comes along and it is cut down and soon withers. This speaks of an untimely death. Ellsworth Mackey travelled with me to Viet Nam, the Philippines, India and the North West Territories. He worked as our photographer and radio technician. One day while working all alone on a tractor he experienced a tragic, fatal accident and within moments was dead. The terrible news was shocking; unbelievable as it was, it was true. Ellsworth Mackey was dead.
The young man with so many goals, plans, and aspirations; the young man who was so full of life, now lay dead and cold in a city morgue. I had loved him as one of my own and had to identify his body, make all the preparations and stand at the head of his grave and toss the dust onto his casket, as he had seen me do so many times at other funerals! The Bible says that life is like the grass of the field, cut down even while it is flourishing. So it happened to Ellsworth Mackey. Thank God, he knew Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour.
LIFE IS LIKE A SLEEP!
The Bible is very graphic and illustrative in places. The Psalmist says, “God carries mankind away (into eternity) as with a flood.” Nothing can stop a flood, and when it comes and the waters rise, everything goes down in destruction and is torn away from their moorings by the cruel and relentless tide. Again the Bible likens our lives to a “sleep.” Most people get seven to eight hours sleep each night but even though you may sleep ten to twelve hours, when you awake you feel as though only an hour had passed. It seems too brief. You fall asleep and awaken and that's how life is: very, very short even at the longest in comparison to eternity, which is forever!
“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12). The admonition here is to use all our time wisely - not fool around or waste away precious time that could be given to seeking God and serving Him. The Scripture is very plain on this matter in the New Testament also where St. Paul says:
“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5: 1 5 - 17). To apply our hearts unto wisdom is definitely to understand the will of God for our lives and to do it! Praise God.
God’s Word spells it out in easy to understand words all through the Holy Bible - let me share two portions of Scripture with you on this matter. “…Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” (Job 28:28; “Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.” (Prov. 3:4)
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (Eccl. 12:13, 14)
My invitation to you, my friend, is to hearken to the voice of the Holy Spirit, repent of your sins confessing them to God and turn to Christ with faith and you will experience the glories of the New Birth and the subsequent gift of the Holy Ghost and fire. Jesus said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28).
BURY THE BODY: GO AND TELL JESUS!
When a loved one has passed away, the pain, hurt and loneliness doesn’t leave. Some grieve for a longer time than others. My advice is biblical. Put everything in God’s hands. He knows what is best for all of us!
When the disciples of John the Baptist heard the sad news that their leader had been beheaded, they did two things: “And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.” (Matt. 14: 12). Let us all in times of grief, sorrow and pain, go to God in prayer and tell it to Jesus!
is like a mountain railroad with an engineer that's brave. You must
make the run successful from the cradle to the grave. ‘Blessed
Saviour Thou wilt guide us till we reach the blissful shore. There
the angels wait to join us in Thy praise forevermore.’ Amen.