Which is Better? Life or Death?
3rd Sunday after Pentecost – Confirmation Sunday
Which is Better?
Text: Philippians 1:18b-26
Today is a special day for Christ the King. We haven’t done this before. Strange enough, in the six year history of Christ the King today is our first ever confirmation Sunday. We’ve had plenty of adults join our church when standing up here to confirm their unity of belief and dedication to the Lord. I’m privileged to have taken most of you adults here today through those instructional classes.
We’ve also had plenty of young’uns at Christ the King. Hence the herd that stampeded down the hallway to children’s church a few minutes ago. But we’ve never had eighth grade students go through catechism classes and confirmation. Today, we have our first three.
The practice of catechism classes and confirmation is not something unique to Christ the King. It’s not even specifically Lutheran. In fact, the practice is as old as the Christian church itself. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven he told his disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing the in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You heard those words this morning and saw that command carried out with Lucy’s awesome baptism. But Jesus also continued that command saying, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing the in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” So Jesus’ disciples and the early Christians began to thoroughly teach everything Christ taught.
As the Christian Church grew, persecution also grew. As persecution grew, so did the number of people who ran away from the church in fear. So the church developed a process for new Christians. Those learning the Christian faith would receive thorough instruction in what was called catechism classes. Those new Christians in catechism classes were called catechumenates. But this was no “quick and easy” 10 week Bible study on Tuesday nights. It was a three year process!
Finally, after three years of instruction, the catechumenate would be examined to see if they truly believed everything of the Christian faith. Then they would be baptized and confirmed as members of the Christians Church. This all would take place on the evening before Easter.
This is a special day for Christ the King. Today we have three young men who are about to become our first catechism students confirmed in the Christian faith. Our first three catechumenates!
But more importantly, this is a special day for Martin, John, and Christian. In a few moments they are about to confess their belief in our true God, in our Savior Jesus Christ, and in our one true faith. Then I will commission them to a lifetime of service to God and to others in love for our Savior. This is special!
Many of us adults can look at these three young men and smile. Ah, to be young again! Once upon a time we were young and dumb, right? We had ambition, confidence, energy. We had our whole lives in front of us and we were ready to grab life by the tail and run.
Those were the days. Those were the days before we had kids, before we worked ourselves sick, before we had back pain, before we had bills. Those were the days when we didn’t know heartache, when we couldn’t fathom loss, and when we really didn’t know true pain.
Many of you have been in their shoes before. Some of you have done an 8th grade confirmation just like this. Others of you made a commitment to the Lord in a confirmation of your faith as adults. Some of you may have done the youth confirmation then, fell away for awhile, then realized how important God is, and now you’re back here going to church again.
No matter who you are, this you probably do know: It does take a commitment to be a Christian. There are a lot of bumps and bruises along the way. You face things that shake your faith down the core. You face attacks from Satan who wants to rip your faith away completely.
It makes me think of the apostle Paul. There’s a man who had been through a lot and lived quite a life. He was raised as a Jew. He was trained as a top-level Pharisee. But in his zealous fervor he actually denied Jesus and killed Christians. Then the Lord appeared to him and turned his life around. Saul the murderer of Christians became Paul the Christian apostle.
As a Christian and an apostle Paul quickly found out what it meant to make a commitment to serving the Lord. He was beaten, tortured, used and abused, mocked, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and much more all for the name of Christ.
Around the year 63 A.D. Paul was in prison yet again. This time in the city of Rome. But this time Paul was also a much older man. He knew he might not have much more time left on this earth. At the same time he also knew the recent trends in Christian persecution. He knew that being in a Roman prison in Rome was much more serious. Even if he lived longer, he might not escape persecution much longer.
So having lived such a life and having suffered so much and potentially staring death in the face, Paul was pondering a nearly impossible question. Everything he did, everything he thought came back to this debate raging on in his mind: Which is Better? Life or death?
It’s not that Paul had suicidal thoughts and wanted to finally “end it all.” As a Christian, Paul knew the benefits of each. If he continued living he could go on serving the Lord and spreading the Word of God. But if Paul died, he would be in heaven with Jesus forever. So Which is Better?
I wonder first if we always have that same kind of perspective in our lives. Do we have the Christian perspective to be able to look at every situation that we are in and see the good in it? Do we recognize that every moment we have in this life is an opportunity to serve the Lord? Do we understand that when death comes, even if it comes earlier than expected, it is a blessing because we can be with the Lord?
Or might it be that sometimes we get so preoccupied with life that we don’t ever consider either of those options? Who has time to think about serving the Lord when there are a hundred doctor visits to make (and certainly more than a hundred dollars to pay the doctor!)? Who has time to serve the Lord when kids have to be carted all over town for any and every recreational activity one could ever imagine? Who has time to think about serving the Lord when I barely have family time because I work so much?
And how can we think about joy and blessings when staring death in the face? What about the loved one we are losing? Or if I’m the one dying, what about the loved ones I’m leaving behind? Who will take care of them? What will happen when I’m gone? How much will my death hurt? Is God going to really follow through with his promises and take me to heaven? I sure hope this God thing has been right and I haven’t been believing a fairy tale this whole time!
Christian hearts that have misplaced priorities push God out of the spotlight. When God is out of the spotlight, our purpose for serving him in life is lost. But then, when God is out of the spotlight, we also lose hope when facing death.
Remember God, who has always put us in the spotlight. He has elevated us and cherished us to the point of calling us his own children. What a privilege to be called children of God! We know that we surely aren’t naturally-born children of God. We don’t deserve to be called children of God. But we are. We are God’s children because God sent his Son Jesus to make us his children. He sent Jesus to take away our sins, to erase our doubts, to give us real hope in real life forever in heaven.
This is what gave the apostle Paul proper perspective and priority for his life. He wanted to live every moment of his life for Jesus because Jesus gave up his life for him. He wanted to tell every single person about Jesus, because he wanted others to live in heaven with him. At the same time, when he faced death Paul was unafraid because he knew what was waiting for him. The Savior who took away his sins was waiting to welcome him to eternal life with open arms. There was no fear or sadness or doubt facing death. Only happiness, hope, and joy.
Yet this proper perspective still leaves Christians with a curious conundrum for our lives. Which is Better for Christians? Is it better for us to stay here in this world and serve our God and serve other people? Is it better for us to stay here in this world sharing our faith with others and spreading the good news of Jesus? Or is it better for us to be out of this world and in heaven? Is it better for us to be done with all the temptations and troubles? Is it better for us to go on living with Christ for eternity? There are certain times in life when we can’t get this question out of our minds: Which is Better?
When you are stuck in a rut and can’t seem to find happiness and feel lonely, sad, and depressed, you start to wonder. Which is Better? Is it better to go on living in this depressing world or is it better to be in heaven?
When you get the bad news from the doctor—and all of us at some point will get bad news from a doctor—you start to wonder again. Which is Better? Will I go on living? Is it worth fighting through this sickness, this cancer, this ICU visit? Or is it better to be in heaven?
When your loved one is lying on the deathbed—your grandmother, your father, your sister, your best friend—you start to wonder. Which is Better? Is it better for this Christian to go on living and be with us family and friends? Or is it better for this Christian to simply go on to be with the Lord? It is a curious conundrum and peculiar problem that Christians try to sort through.
Listen to the apostle Paul—an older man sitting in prison, perhaps staring death in the face—as he considers the same question. You can almost see him verbalizing this debate as he is writing these very words. The second lesson this morning:
“Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will remain fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.”
What incredible Christian perspective! First, Paul was determined to rejoice no matter what the situation. He knew that know matter what the Lord had planned, he would be “delivered,” whether that meant delivered out of jail or delivered out of this life into heaven.
Second, Paul was determined that while he was still living, however long that would be, he would serve the Lord. Yes, being in heaven is better. But he also had important things to do as a Christian in this world. It was necessary for him to teach the Philippians and others more about God’s Word yet. He had lots of “fruitful labor” he could do in his life to give glory to Christ.
Yet ultimately, Paul had the perspective to understand that it was “better by far” to be with Christ. Nothing can compare to the joy of perfection with the Lord forever in heaven. No pain, no problems, no suffering, no sin! If the Lord did choose for him to die at this time, he had something to look forward to!
As an interesting side note, Paul did go on living. He was released from jail and did more ministry. However, only about a year later he was imprisoned once again and finally beheaded because of his Christian faith. Within a year’s time of writing this, Paul did both. He served the Lord with fruitful labor and then finally departed to be with Christ.
So what’s the answer then? If we Christians follow these brilliant words of God written by his apostle Paul, what’s the answer? Which is Better? Is it better to go on living for the Lord, or is it better to depart and be with Christ? As Paul would say, we are torn between the two! What’s the answer? Which is Better?
Paul makes it very clear. What’s the answer? Which is Better? Both! If God wills that we continue living in this life—whether for one more day, one more year, or one ore decade—we have an opportunity to serve the Lord! We can give our lives to serving the one who gave his life for us! We can dedicate our lives to sharing the good news of new life in Christ with others!
But if God wills that our life ends and we die—whether that is when expected or earlier than expected—we have something to look forward to! Nothing will be better than the perfection of heaven. Nothing will be better than the joy of heaven. Nothing will be better than being with our God forever in heaven.
Which is Better? Life here for the Lord or death and eternal life with the Lord? Whatever God wills. Both are good options. Either one the Lord determines for us can bring us great joy. Serving him is a joy. Being in heaven is a joy. Both are great. So gladly, like Paul, we leave it in God’s hands.
Today is a special day for Martin, John, and Christian. Today these three are being confirmed in their faith and commissioned to a life for the Lord. They are committing themselves to joy in the Lord, whether in life or in death.
Encourage these young men today as they move forward in life. But also, be encouraged by these young men today. Renew your commitment to the Lord. Consider what your God has done for you. Consider what your Savior has done for you. Rededicate your life to him. Find joy in him whatever life brings. If God wills you many more days of life, great! You get to serve the Lord. But when God wills your life to end, great! You get to be with the Lord. With these three young men, take Paul’s mantra in mind: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Posted on June 9, 2013, in Church, Sermons and tagged Catechism, Catechumenate, Church, Confirmation, Death, Disciples, Heaven, Hope, Joy, Life, Paul, Philippians, Philippians 1, Saul, Sermons, Suffering, Suicide. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.