OUR “SELL BY” DATE
BY: JAN A. ANTONSSON
NOVEMBER 8, 2014
The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway
“I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD. The LORD has chastened me sorely, but he has not given me over to death.” (Ps. 118:17-18, RSV)
My grandfather, who lived to within a few days of his 95th birthday, often said, “I could go anytime now.” I was unsure whether he was having premonitions of his own mortality, or just pondering the inevitable for one who had sailed way past the Psalmist’s “sell by” date for men and women: “70 years, or eighty, if we have the strength.” (Ps. 90:10) When this verse came to mind, I admit to feeling a little twinge myself since I’m now 73 and ticking, and yet, for as wonderful as the Psalms are in the encouragement department, the Psalmist was often very dark in his outlook. About our lifespan he declared, “All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.” (90:9) He had observed that some people go out with a joyful shout and others pass with a whimper and a groan. I know that many of us have gleaned strength from the Psalms over the years, but I only read them when led by the Spirit, because they were written before the cross, before our victory over death in Christ Jesus our Lord, and before men knew about the sure and certain resurrection. King David often asked for God to destroy his enemies with His fierce wrath, and deliver him from those who were constantly seeking to take his life. The Old Testament is long on God’s retribution of the wicked and short on man’s forgiveness for others.
My Bible computer software reveals that the word “forgive” appears only 35 times in the Old Testament, and the act of forgiving was only ascribed to God Himself, never to man’s forgiveness of his fellow man. Jeremiah, whose prophecies against Israel were mostly all bleak and full of dark and dire warnings, did occasionally rise above that, as in this verse: “And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and teach his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:34, RSV)
David was a man after God’s own heart, and as such, he lived and loved by the power of God’s hand, and he himself did forgive several people, including his own son Absalom, who sinned grievously against him. Even when Absalom had usurped the throne and caused David to flee for his life, his father gave instructions to his military leaders, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” (II Sam. 18:5, RSV) Clearly, David knew a great deal about his own forgiveness, and was ready to forgive Absalom, but it was not to be. For the young usurper was riding through a wood and got his glorious head of hair caught in the branches of a great Oak tree, where Joab, one of David’s main military men, found and killed him as he hung there (II Sam. 18:14). David’s grief upon learning that his son was dead, is palpable: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I have died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son.” (II Sam. 19:4, RSV)
David was anointed king at the age of 30 and reigned 40 years, meaning he lived at least until his “sell-by date.” Absalom died many years before his.
The Hebrew writer stated, “It is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgment.” (Heb. 9:27, KJV) Absalom had an appointment with death, and apparently, so do we all. As you know, Lenny believed he would never die, but would be changed in the twinkling of an eye. As I was pondering where God was taking me in this writing, I asked Him if my “expiration” date is nigh, and He replied that He is the author and finisher of my life, and it, like everything else under the stars, is defined by His will. My body may die, but I will not and neither will you! That’s what Lenny said, but we hoped that his body would live. We will never die because we are infused with the very DNA of God, who chose us in Christ, “before the creation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him.” (Eph. 1:4): before the cosmos was in motion, and before we had done anything right or wrong to deserve either life or death.
Life is not the absence of death but, people who believe it is hang on for dear life, trying to stay on this side of Jordan for as long as they can. My personal conviction is that fear keeps them hanging on in case they won’t make the cut and will thereby end up in hell. That’s a horrible reason to try to live longer, probably based upon what Job described as “..the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.” (Job 3:25, KJV)
Before I personally felt and tasted and touched God’s unconditional love, I lived in horrific fear of death. Many years ago, I grew fond of an older couple who attended the same church I did. We had some sweet fellowship together until the husband was diagnosed with a terminal disease. I don’t remember what it was, but I do remember being unable to go visit him as he neared the end of his journey, because death and dying filled me with such terror. Shame and great guilt overcame me because I could not bring myself to visit them. After he passed, I explained my feelings to his sweet widow and she graciously forgave me and said he did as well. God has loved that fear out of me for the most part, but I freely admit that one of the “hooks” of the Charismatic renewal for me was that it SEEMED to give us power to manipulate God into giving us what we wanted. What unbridled hubris, what folly!
When I was praying for God to heal Lenny, I heard, “He’ll be OK.” I knew, of course, that this could mean he was to pass into the realm of Spirit where he would be better than OK, but I fervently hoped it meant he would live. Psalms 116:15 is inscribed on my dad’s tombstone: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” For years, I wondered how could that possibly be if death is the last enemy? Now I see that all the things we joyfully do for the Lord in this life, even actions inspired by Him and empowered by His Spirit, are but child’s play compared to whatever awaits us on the other side when we will know as we are known and have full access to our Father’s unconditional love, mercy, and kindness, and yes, POWER! The power denied us on this earth at times will flow freely from Him through us to whatever His will has in mind.
By the Spirit, I know that Lenny is having a wonderful time over there, and that he has become one of my cloud of witnesses. That’s a statement of faith, not of fact, for I have not experienced him since he passed, other than in my memories. When I asked the Lord why this is so, He said it was because I need to let go of yesterday and move on into tomorrow. For me, that has been a “God job,” and as with every other difficult thing I face, I turn it over to the One who knows the end from the beginning and who does all things well.
Back to our “sell-by” date, the verse in Hebrews about our appointment with death may lead us to wonder if that day is sealed in cement, but scripture answers that with the story of King Hezekiah: “In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order; for you shall die, you shall not recover.’” (II Kings 20:1, RSV) Bad news indeed!
The King wept bitterly, and turning his face to the wall, prayed that God would spare him because he had been faithful and had done what was right. As Isaiah was leaving the palace, he heard the word of the Lord instructing him to go back and tell the King that the Lord, the God of his father David, had heard his prayer and would add fifteen years to his life (II Kings 20:2-6).
Hezekiah lived before the cross, when everything was judged by how well one kept the Law. Now, that we know the Law was nailed to the cross and that NO ONE has ever kept it except Jesus, we can relax because Christ lives in us, our hope of Glory, and He will never die. Neither will we! The flesh may pass and be sloughed off like an old garment, but WE, God’s children, will live forever!
Father, we worship and adore you. How unsearchable are Your judgments and how inscrutable your ways. We join “the voice of many waters, and the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.” (Rev. 19:6, KJV) Amen.