Summary: Death is viewed a lot of ways by different people, but for us as Christians it is nothing less than the Gate of Heaven.
The Gate of Heaven
It wasn’t too long ago I was snooping through some boxes that I had long packed away, and found one of those little electronic games I used to play with when I was a teenager. Maybe you had one – a Mattel hand held football or baseball game – with the back drop of a field on pasted onto plastic and little more than red flashing lights that we’re supposed to represent the various players on the field. It was like finding an old lost friend. I found a battery, got it operating and quickly called my sons so I could share this wonderful toy that had filled so many of my young hours with joy.
But I can’t say they were nearly so excited about this find as I was. They mastered it, dropped it and forgot it over the course of about an hour. And I’ve rarely seen them again. They just can’t compete with the more elaborate hand held games of today with real players, multiple choices of play, real game audio and the ability to schedule an entire season worth of games recorded and stored in units that are smaller and lighter than those of the past. My great discovery wasn’t much of a discovery at all. It was no big deal; just a bunch of blinking lights and corny artificial sounds.
And as I think about Jacob returning to this place some time later in his life; rekindling the memory of what took place here; most likely sharing it with the sons and daughters that he brought with him; they probably had a similar reaction. What’s the big deal, dad? It’s just a rock. You dragged us out here in the middle of nowhere to see a pile of rocks.
But it was so much more. Jacob had arrived here the first time because of some rather unscrupulous schemes he had perpetrated against his father and brother that had landed him out of their graces, especially his brothers, and far from home. He was tired. He was hungry. He was on the run, afraid of his brother who was breathing out murderous threats against him. And he was all alone, or at least that’s what he thought.
But when he laid his head down on that rock to sleep God gave him the assurance that he surely hadn’t been left abandoned by God, forsaken and all alone. Though he hadn’t deserved to be so welcomely received, Jacob was given to see the Lord God, standing in heaven; and to hear his promise. Not only would Jacob’s future be secure, his family vast in number; but Jacob would be able to rest in the knowledge that the Lord would be with him and would watch over him wherever he would go, and the Lord would bring him back to this land. He would not leave Jacob until He had done all that He had promised. “Jacob, you’re my man,” he said, “and I’m your God. Nothing shall part us. I guarantee it.” And out of the awe and majesty of the moment; in the strength and promise of what had happened there; he placed a memorial and boldly declared, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; the very gate of heaven.” It’s just a stone in the middle of nowhere; but so much more than a stone. It’s the very gate of heaven.
How reminiscent that is of what we are living today. It’s the week before Holy Week and our minds are very set upon Jesus and the road he took as he traveled to the cross. In the week ahead we’ll spend a number of days here in God’s house, recalling what Jesus did, reflecting on his great love, remembering his violent death on the cross. But for some that’s all they’ll see. A man who loved his friends, a man who suffered a terrible, unjust death, a man who died, but in the end just a man placed in a nice, new, but still a rather customary tomb.
And that’s how many would look at (name’s) death too. It’s tragic, sudden, unexpected at this time; but not so out of the ordinary, not really. Men and women die every day. (name’s) medical condition always made it a possibility. The very mortality of all of our human condition makes us all vulnerable to death at any time of life. (name’s) death could be seen by some as just another passage of life, another event in the ebb and flow of the endless stream of time.
But we know that there is so much more, more because Jesus wasn’t any ordinary man. Jesus was a true man, “born of woman, born to be our substitute under the law, to keep it perfectly as we could not,” as Paul was given to write; but also true God so as to redeem us who are under the law. He was true God so that in his death, He who had no sin of his own, would become our sin; cleansing us and clothing us with His righteousness before God while he bore our sin and death on the cross. Jesus’ cross was like many other crosses that our men were forced to bear; and yet unique in that it became the instrument whereby God would bring us peace of conscience and mind, the forgiveness of sin, the hope of new life. Jesus died, but no ordinary death. He died our death and was placed in a tomb; but our death couldn’t hold him. That tomb, unlike any other is empty now; empty because Jesus rose triumphant on Easter morn, the conqueror of sin, the victor over our death, and the firstfruits of the resurrection guaranteeing that those who believe in him will rise in victory as well.