Summary: For the Christian death is not something to be feared, but anticipated and celebrated.
All Saint’s Day 2003
Precious Is the Death of His Saints
If some of you are like me, you’ve been waiting with a bit of anticipation for the final segment of J.R.R. Tolkiens, The Lord of the Rings, to be released to movie theatres some time in the near future. If you’ve been following the story on the screen or reading it from the pages of a book, you’ve been introduced to a rather unique character by the name of Gollum, who once possessed a ring forged by the evil Sardon, and now in the possession of Frodo Baggins, who knows that it ultimately must be destroyed in order to spare the world untold evil and destruction. The trouble is the ring has a history of driving those who possess it raving mad, a truth beginning to show itself in Frodo, but clearly witnessed in Gollum who appears totally consumed with the ring, calling it, as others owners have, “His precious.”
It’s really quite despicable to see a creature so absolutely driven and obsessed with something so evil. Perhaps it’s even more troubling when we recognize that this is us, every time our sinful human nature brings us to speak with a sharp and bitter tongue or act out our hateful or lustful desires which we’ve concluded to be more “precious” than the will of our God.
But I want you to keep that image of total consumption, of whole-hearted attention, of obsession in mind. Keep it there because as much as humanity is caught-up in sin, as negatively consumed and driven as Gollum was towards that symbol of evil; our God is positively consumed with us. In God’s eyes our lives are to be treated with the utmost care, so that even our deaths are a precious thing. “Precious in your sight, O Lord, is the death of your saints.”
Our God is not consumed with personal gain, but with ours. He’s not consumed with His own well-being, but with ours. He’s totally wrapped up in the troubles that confront us, death being the culmination of them all. He’s completely devoted to pouring out its remedy. Our life and that which threatens to destroy it completely in hell has our Lord’s whole-hearted attention. It’s His precious.
It has been from the start. When sin and death first threatened God’s creation in the Garden of Eden, there was God with a remedy. He would send forth a seed from the woman who would crush Satan’s head, who would right the wrong perpetrated on His people, who would save and restore them to life. Our God was driven to action. He was possessed with care and concern for those He had made as experienced by the psalmist today, and even more by others in the person of Jesus Christ. Not only do we see God’s concern for the life of His people witnessed in His Son’s healings and the re-giving of life to those who were already slain. We see it most clearly as Jesus gave His all, even His own life, on the cross; that all might have hope. And that hope is not just for a few extra years of life in this imperfect world; but a life totally restored and lasting forever, a life that is yet to come though already assured in Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead.
And this tells us a lot. It doesn’t tell us everything. There’s still much about our lives that remains a mystery. Some events, like what happened to Aaron last weekend, come without explanation. They only leave us asking, “Why?” which is exactly what I figure happened with three of the Lord’s most faithful followers during the days of Daniel. You remember them as Shadrach, Meshach and Abedneggo; three fellows who were to be thrown into Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace because they wouldn’t bow down and worship his god. To the faithful with them in the land of Babylon this must have come as a total shock. I just imagine what was said. “Sure, Nebuchadnezzar was a ruthless ruler. Sure, he had done some horribly brutal things before. But these are God’s servants. Why would God allow something so horrible, so cruel, so devastating to happen to these faithful men?” It’s not hard for us to imagine these three thinking this way themselves. Afterall, what do we do? Something bad happens and we sit around moping, groaning, complaining. But now listen to what they did say: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (Daniel 3:16-18). They knew something more. In fact, I can’t think of any other explanation. There was a lot they still didn’t know. They didn’t know exactly how this would turn out. They knew God could save them. They were confident that in the end He would save them. But they couldn’t be sure. Nonetheless they wouldn’t bow down. They wouldn’t bow down because they knew something more, not everything, but enough. Most would be consumed with themselves, with their circumstances, with trying to get out of their dilemma by their own designs; but they knew a God who had already consumed himself with their matters, who was totally driven and devoted to their life, a life that was planned to last far more than their lifetime on earth. They knew the Lord was completely wrapped up in their well-being and that of their soul so that they didn’t need to be. And in that they rested. They rested in this sure hope even as we do today.