A Matter of Life Over Death
Severe circumstances and the most tormenting decisions often become matters of life and death to us. They are sometimes exaggerated and sometimes very real. The teen who does not get the right kind of denims considering it a matter of life and death would be an example of the first. The person who does not pay ransom to terrorists for the release of their family member would be the second. The phrase “matter of life and death” puts both life and death in a juxtaposition implying the outcomes and perhaps importance of both are equal.
Death is of course everywhere and just as prevalent as life since everything that lives will sometime at least temporally die. Both life and death dominate the landscape of the Bible. Some of the most gruesome episodes of death are found in the pages of Scripture. Some of the most inspiring, hopeful and miraculous stories of life are found there as well. In Jesus alone we have a death that is gruesome and the most underserved in human history and the most inspiring, miraculous and hope-instilling resurrection that brought him back to life and gives the hope of life to the entire race. Death and life accompany one another throughout the Bible. Nevertheless, they are not equal. Life trumped death throughout.
The more one looks through Scripture, though both death and life fill the pages, there are clear signs that they are not at all of equal focus. The creation story is about life in the formation of things. Though sin soon entered the world and death with it, God quickly made provisions for life with a broken human race. Though the flood resulted in massive death, it prevented the overall triumph of death and destruction of his creation, resulting in a kind of new creation or second start. Life triumphed when death seemed indefatigably pervasive and unrelenting. There is plenty of death during Israel’s enslavement in Egypt. The plagues made death inescapable and the drowning of the army in the sea was a crescendo of death in that story. Yet, the exodus is still today one of the most miraculous and tell-tale signs pointing forward that God is about creation, restoration and resurrection. The Passover and subsequent safe exodus leading to inhabiting a new land are all themes of life. The tragedy did not prevail for the people of God.
It is noteworthy that all of the prophets except Elijah experienced death. There are nearly 30 references acknowledging the death or murder of the prophets in the Bible. However, very few details are given in the Bible about their actual deaths. Lots of lore but little literature. It seems as though the plethora of mention of the deaths of prophets in the Bible was not to draw attention to the prophets themselves as much as the guilt of their murderers. The same with the apostles in the New Testament. The text itself mentions only the death of two apostles- Judas Iscariot and James the son of Zebedee. The story of the first is critical to understanding the events leading to the death of Jesus. The story of the second is critical to understanding the growth of the church in its nascent years. The death of the other apostles and even the prophets were not instrumental to the plot and may have occurred after the texts of scripture were complete.
It is not that the prophets and apostles were unimportant or their deaths not worthy of mourning. It is just good for us to remember that they did not exist to be a story to themselves, ending with their own demise. Their lives and ministries were not to celebrate their martyrdom status drawing attention away from the redemptive work of God. During their lives, they lived to tell the truth about God. They lived and spoke of God’s covenants and faithfulness leading to the possibility of our abundant life of obedient faith as well as an eternal life gained by the grace of our Living God.
We are on the cusp of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The circumstances of this week remind us of a matter filled with life and death. Both are unavoidable and of critical importance to the telling of the story. Nevertheless, let’s never forget that it was really a matter of life over death not just life and death. Death and life were not equal in the creation. They are not equal in the Kingdom of God. They will not stand on equal footing in eternity for those who believe. God’s story is and our faith story must be a matter of life over death.