[Jesus] said to the disciples,
“Let us go to Judea again.”
The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Judeans were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”....
Thomas, who was called The Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” -John 11:7-8, 16
You have probably heard the popular country song that advises us to “live like you were dyin’.” Heard against the background of our society, where people seem to be either scrambling to survive or drugging themselves to escape their fears and troubles, the song brings an inspiring message.
The disciples in John 11 seem to be following that same daredevil impulse: “If we’re gonna go, we may as well go out with a thrill!”
But when we look at Jesus at this point in John’s gospel, we see that he was not going back to Judea as a daredevil. Rather, he was going with powerful confidence that he held the very keys of death and hell. He went back to Judea to give life back to a dead man, Lazarus, and shortly afterward to allow himself to be killed by the authorities. He walked into the whole situation perfectly aware of death, yet focused beyond death, on his Father’s power to give life even to the dead.
Ezekiel 37 deals with the same issues. The prophet was responsible for speaking God’s good news about the gift of life to Israel. But, Israel in exile was as dead and scattered as a bunch of dried-up bones lying on the ground. The LORD asked the prophet, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel was sharp enough to not answer Yes or No, but instead, “You know, O LORD.” The LORD then showed Ezekiel in a vision that He is the Creator of human bodies, and the One who puts breath in us.
While a student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in 2008, we had a visit from Lynn Miller. The talk he gave in our chapel worship service was called, “Resurrection Economics.” Based mostly on Acts 4, but also on Luke 16, Miller pointed out that Jesus, and later, the Apostles, handled money and possessions as if they were looking past this life altogether. Live like you were dyin’, indeed.
In Luke 16, Jesus tells the story of a crooked manager who schemes to line up his next job, even as he is being fired for embezzling from the boss in his current job. Jesus sarcastically “praises” this crook who saved his financial life by cooking the books.
Lynn Miller called our attention to the ‘punch line’ of this joke, Luke 16:11, where Jesus concludes, “You cannot serve God AND Mammon.” Mammon is the idol we worship when we are tied up in knots about our finances. Either we serve God or we bow down to what we think will save our pocketbooks from ruin. One or the other; not both.
Miller remarked that most people he knows are more afraid of financial death than of their bodies’ deaths.
Reading Acts chapter 4, Miller suggested that we try taking the commas and periods out of this passage— they are not in the original Greek text anyway. When we do, we read this:
“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions but everything they owned was held in common with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all there was not a needy person among them for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:32-35).
You can see in this mixture of thoughts that the Apostles’ practice of sharing was well-blended with God’s grace: their focus was on Jesus who had overcome death itself, so they weren’t sweating the small stuff.
Living with Jesus is not “liv[in’] like you were dyin’” It is livin’ like you trust the good news that God will raise you, even from the dead.
“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in His word I hope....” -Psalm 130:5