Podcast Transcript. To listen to the audio version click HERE
Have you ever thought about your own death?
I am sure you have.
The reality of the finite time we have to live our lives deserves serious contemplation.
I know thinking about my own death comes in many layers.
On the surface level I think about the event itself and my own responsibility to prepare for the inevitability of it.
Will my family be taken care of?
Have I communicated clearly my wishes in a legal document?
But when I dig a little deeper I begin to ponder my belief in what actually happens to me after the event. What happens to me next?
Will I rot in the ground?
Float around as a disembodied spirit?
Be reincarnated back to life?
Go to heaven or possibly someplace much worse?
This pondering about what happens to me after I die naturally leads to the deepest level of contemplation regarding my own death: How I lived my life.
What legacy will I leave behind?
Have I accomplished my goals?
And of course, who will remember me when I am gone?
It is these set of questions that create the greatest anxiety in me when I think about our own death. Maybe you can relate?
Could it be that we don’t fear death as much as we fear not having done enough to be remembered when we are gone?
I believe it is this fear of being forgotten that drives us towards religion and the supernatural.
A couple of years ago Pixar released a film that specifically addressed this fear. The name of the movie was Coco.
The film opens in Mexico on the Day of the Dead where we are introduced to a boy named Miguel, whose family has gathered around to make offerings and remembrances to their dead ancestors. The story takes off when Miguel is accidentally transported to the Land of the Dead, where he seeks the help of his great-great-grandfather to help him return to the land of the living.
Our relationship to the dead is a key theme of Coco, introducing us to the concept of the “final death”. Those who reside within the colorful, bountiful Land of the Dead can do so only as long as there is someone to remember them in the Land of the Living; once that last memory is lost to time, that individual – quite literally – fades into nothingness.
It is hard to measure just how emotionally powerful this idea religiously binds the living to the dead. For who would want to carry the guilt of causing another final death; especially if it is your relative.
Strangely this is not so much of a foreign concept to western thinking as you might imagine.
All the ancients from the Egyptians all the way to the Romans believed this to be true. That is why their rulers all built great pyramids and monuments to exalt and in essence deify themselves by ensuring their memory lived on after they died.
Eventually even the church got into the game after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Instead of deifying emperors we began deifying saints ensuring their memory lived on by painting and sculpting images as well as dedicating whole churches in their honor. Towns and villages by the thousands had a patron saint assigned to watch over them and protect them.
Thus the dead were not only remembered but even worshiped
On the flip side, the most damning punishment the Roman Empire was Condemnation of Memory; enacted on traitors, or those who brought shame to the Senate, it involved the complete eradication of your name from history. Names would be erased off coins, statues would be reformed.
This was the Roman version of the final death.
Why? If no one remembers you then you never existed.
The Roman church took this concept a step father for those they declared heretics. The condemnation of memory became what we know today as excommunication.
Not only would your memory on earth be erased and forgotten, but your final death never ended and involved perpetual torment in Hell.
So how do we make sense of these different meritorious ideas of life after death.
is there even such a thing as a final death?
Does our quality of life after death depend upon the way we are remembered by the living?
Who is the ultimate judge? God or man?
Surprisingly this concept of final death is also found in the scriptures.
In fact in the book of Revelation we read:
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11–15 ESV)
It is interesting to note here that according to the Bible everyone of us is going to be judged by what we have done; how we lived our lives. The catch here is the interpreter of our deeds is not the history books of man, but the history books in heaven.
Everything we have ever done; even our thoughts are written down in plain sight for all the universe to see.
At times we may fret when the good we do on earth is unnoticed or we may comfort ourselves that the bad we have done is hidden.
But the Bible tells us
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7–8 ESV)
Every decision we make has an equal and opposite reaction that is either sowing good or evil. But it is not mans place to decide that now.
One day before the entire universe our name will come up for review and a decision will be made for life or for death.
If our name is written in the book of life then eternal life awaits us
However if our name is not written in the book then we will experience the final death that revelation called the 2nd death.
At this point we may be tempted to look at our life and wonder if we have done enough to have our names written in the book of life.
I am sure most of us would shake our heads in shame knowing the truth about ourselves that even those closest to us cannot see.
However there is hope.
It is called the gospel.
On the cross Jesus endured the condemnation of memory so we wouldn’t have to.
On the cross Jesus was excommunicated from the presence of the Father so we could be invited in.
Again the scriptures read:
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—” (Galatians 3:13 ESV)
He was forgotten by God so we could be remembered by him.
Perhaps the clearest demonstration of this fact can be found as we examine the story of the thief on the cross.
At the very moment when Jesus has been forgotten by the nation he came to save, his closest friends, and even God himself, the thief condemned to the same fate on the cross next to him is convicted he is the son of God and cries out.
““Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”” (Luke 23:42 ESV)
When did the thief want to be remembered?
At the great white throne judgment.
He knew his name was one day going to come up and he knew he hadn’t lived a life worthy to be included in the book of life – but taking hold of his faith that Jesus was taking his condemnation for him he plead for mercy. Not to be saved from the first death, which we all must die, but from the final death: the one that erases our life and memory for eternity.
This is what the thief was pleading for.
And how do you think Jesus responded to that plea?
““Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”” (Luke 23:43 ESV)
In these words Jesus spoke the true essence of the gospel.
Yes I will remember you.
Yes your name is now being written in the book of life
You have nothing more to fear. Nothing more to prove.
All your evil deeds have been wiped away and now all your goods deeds are recorded forever in a book of remembrance.
The very thing we fear the most about our own death, being forgotten, is the very thing Jesus has promised never to do.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;” (Isaiah 49:15–16 ESV)
When Jesus was raised from the dead on the 3rd day his disciples at first thought he was a ghost, and it wasn’t until they felt the scars in his hands that they believed what they were seeing.
And Jesus has taken those same scars with him into heaven.
Every time he sees those scars he remembers that thief and if you put your trust in him like that thief did he will remember you as well.
Death is not something to be feared when we have the confidence that Jesus will remember us in the judgment.
In trying to erase the memory of Jesus by nailing him to the cross – his enemies only accomplished the opposite.
It is the love of God demonstrated on the Cross that draws the world to him even to this day.
This whole idea that the living and the dead live concurrently and are somehow dependent on one another is not the story of the Bible.
the Bible never teaches us to worship the dead. In fact quite the opposite.
“For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5 ESV)
God wants us to take our eyes of the dead and and relieve ourselves from the pressure of remember them.
That is not our job it is his job.
Instead he would have our eyes pointed to the one who conquered death and hades: Jesus the resurrection and the life.
Jesus was not teaching that we go straight to heaven or hell when we die. He would have us know that their are no disembodied spirits flying around that we must appease.
These are deceptions of the enemy to get our eyes off Jesus.
Jesus didn’t go to heaven as a spirit and neither will we.
the Bible is quite clear on this in fact.
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:51–57 ESV)
Can you imagine that moment.
That moment when death itself is forgotten and all the living are united together in perfect love and harmony with one anther and God himself.
This is what being ready for Jesus prepares us for.
This is the promise that the thief laid hold of in the moment of his greatest need of hope. And it is there for you as well.
God will remember you.
The question is will you remember him?