Summary: God redeems and will cure every disease, even death.
Over the last few weeks I have been rereading C. S. Lewis’ delightful Chronicles of Narnia series. I was struck by a scene in The Silver Chair in which the children’s faith is tested by an uncertain outcome. The children were given signs by which they could fulfill their mission in Narnia according to the Word of Aslan rather than the appearances of the world. But by the end of the book they have muffed every sign and now face a strange man under deep enchantment. He is bound by cords, desperate to be freed, and begs (while foaming at the mouth) for them to show mercy and untie him.
But they have steeled themselves against his pleadings because they believe him to be a terrible foe. Then he says, “I adjure you to set me free. By all fears and all loves,… by the great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you—”
That was the final sign – the Lion himself had told them, “You will know the lost prince by this: he will be the first person you have met who will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan.”
They are confused. “Could Aslan have really meant them to unbind anyone – even a lunatic – who asked it in his name?
Jill says, “Oh, if only we knew!”
“I think we do know,” said Puddleglum.
“Do you mean you think everything will come right if we do untie him?” asked Eustace.
Puddleglum’s response is profound: “I don’t know about that. You see, Aslan didn’t tell what would happen. He only told what to do. That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.” He did not tell us what would happen; he only told us what to do.
Two of my favorite Christian writers, David Powlison and John Piper, were both diagnosed with cancer one year ago. Together they wrote an essay, "Don’t Waste Your Cancer," in which they comment on ten glorious, biblical truths related to sin, suffering, sickness and our Savior. (The article is available from www.DesiringGod.org and I have reproduced a number of copies. It is my hope that many of us will deeply digest these truths. You will find that some of what I say today is from this article. I use their work not only because they are wiser than I, but because they have helped me think about this subject and because they have lived it.)
Their fifth point is: “You will waste your cancer if you think that ‘beating’ cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.”
Piper and Powlison press the same point as Puddleglum. There is a higher good than living another day. Cherishing Christ, following Aslan’s signs, obeying the Word of the Lord, giving glory to God – this is our great good and grand design. Yes, we strive to care for the body. Yes, we struggle against disease. Yes, we cherish life and seek to enjoy all the good gifts God gives. And, we grab hold this truth: “to die is gain.” Do you believe?
The Apostle Paul experienced intense suffering. Listen to his thoughts: “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Philippians 1.21-24). My hope, my home, is in heaven!
We all, with Eustace, want everything to come right. We err, however, when we equate “everything coming right” with “everything in this life.” Victory cannot be “living to fight another day.” If that were so, dying would be a lasting loss. But God promises that for his people, “to die is gain.”
If victory is cherishing Christ, then whether we live or die, we win, for we gain Christ. “To live is Christ, to die is gain” – for at death we will see “face to face.” "What we now know in part, then we shall know fully…" (1Corinthians 13.12).
This year has rained on us much sadness. Grandparents have died; husbands, fathers, elders, friends. And now one of our smallest members is very sick. We grieve; we are fearful; we wonder where God is and what is going on. We desperately want everything to come right, but we cannot make it so. Where are the answers? What questions should we ask? How do we cope? How do we respond when our dreams are dashed and our doubts inflamed?
My hope this morning is to give us “soul anchors,” solid truths which hold us stable in raging storms. Piper says: “Nothing glorifies God more than maintaining our stability and joy when we lose everything but God. That day is coming for each of us, and we do well to get ready, and to help the people we love get ready” (The Hidden Smile of God, 46). God’s word helps us get ready, first by telling us that…