It is a remarkable thing which we have witnessed in the last few weeks. There is no doubt that it is something which you would rather not have experienced, but what is remarkable is that the death of Liz is something in which we have seen God at work. As she lay there aware that she was dying, Liz was at peace and the peace she had came from more than the drugs she was given for pain relief. Tina, we talked about how God was giving you the strength to be with her, which was very difficult for you, but somehow God sustained and enabled you to do what needed to be done. It was a hard time, and it continues to be a hard time as you grieve the loss of your sister, aunt and friend. But the same God who was there giving peace to Liz and strength to Tina will continue to be with you.
He has promised you His presence in Matthew 28:20b where Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” He has also promised you hope as we read in I Corinthians 15:20-22, "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."
Whenever Carla and I had an opportunity to visit with you, Tina and with Liz we always have enjoyed our conversations. We enjoyed Liz’ teasing and also the words of encouragement which she always gave.
Something she said a few days before she died got me thinking. We were talking about going home and she expressed a desire to go home. When asked a little more about that she made it clear that she was ready to go home to Jesus. When we talked about that and what it was about going home to Jesus that she was looking forward to I heard her say that she was looking forward to seeing Jesus. What an amazing statement and it made me think of Philippians 1:20, 21 where it says, "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."
What a powerful verse and I think what Liz said is another way of saying what this verse says. It makes me think, “What kind of a person says that?”
It was the apostle Paul who wrote this and he wrote it at a time when his own life was in jeopardy. He was in prison and he was not at all certain of the outcome of his imprisonment. Would he live? Would he be released? Would he die a martyr’s death? Would he die in prison? What he was saying in these verses was that it didn’t really matter. Whether he lived or died, the fundamental hope and reality of his life was Jesus and that Jesus would be exalted.
Can we say the same? What kind of a person says this?
The kind of person who is able to say this is a person whose foundation is Jesus. In the passage, Paul says, “now as always.” There were circumstances happening to him which made him think about these things. That is why he speaks about “now.” But this reflection was based on an “always.” There were truths in his life that were supporting and guiding him in the present and they were the same truths which always guided him.
You don’t talk about living for Jesus nor about being ready to die and be with Jesus unless Jesus is the foundation of your life. From the day that Paul met Jesus on the Damascus road until the present difficult circumstances Jesus had been the foundation of His life. Jesus was the foundation of Liz’s life. When we first met she shared her faith journey with us and told us that she had personally accepted the faith which she had been taught by her parents. What was that faith? Simply put it was faith in Jesus.
Liz had an understanding that we are all sinners and therefore separated from God. She understood the meaning of Romans 3:23 which says, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…"
But she also believed that Jesus, the Son of God, came to this earth in order to die in our place for our sins and so to provide forgiveness of sins. The promise of the gospel says in 1 Peter 3:18a, "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”
She also had a hope that by faith she had eternal life. John 3:16 confirms, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
So I believe that Liz said what she did because Jesus was the foundation of her life. I suspect that if she had one more word to say to us today, she would want to make an invitation to anyone who does not have this foundation to make sure that you also have Jesus as the one who has forgiven your sins and given you eternal life.
If Jesus is the foundation of a person’s life, the other thing that these verses mean is that they will also live their life in Jesus. Paul’s desire, expressed in these verses, was that “Christ will be exalted in my body” and “For to me to live is Christ.”
What does that mean? Paul was at a critical place in his life. He was not sure if he would live or die. But of one thing he was sure. If he was to go on living, it was his desire that he would not be ashamed. What could possibly have caused him to be ashamed? There are a lot of things which could cause us to be shamed. If we say something embarrassing, that would cause us to be ashamed. If someone said something negative about us, we might feel a sense of shame. If someone humbled us and put us down in front of others, that would also cause us to feel shame. The thing that would cause Paul shame was not really any of these things, as we can see from much of his writing. In this text, we see what it was that would have caused Paul to be ashamed and that was if somehow the name of Christ would not be glorified in his life. This points clearly to the central reality of his life and that was that Jesus would be exalted in his life. What Paul really wanted more than anything else in his life was that Jesus would be lifted up. Fee says, “The heart of everything, of course, is Paul’s utter devotion to Christ, and his desire that Christ alone be ‘magnified’ in his life, however present circumstances turn out. Here surely is a word for all seasons, if we also are to be effective bearers of the gospel in our day.”
I think Liz would want us to recognize that she did not live her life for Jesus perfectly. She wrestled with things and had doubts. For example, during the time of her illness it was hard for her to accept that her body was deteriorating and that God wasn’t answering the prayer for healing. But in spite of these struggles, I think that she would affirm that on the basis of Christ’s forgiveness, deep in her heart there was a conviction and that was that she wanted to lift up Jesus with her whole life. There are evidences in her life that this was her desire.
She had a prayer life which demonstrated a desire to bring praises and concerns before the heavenly father. You mentioned how she prayed for all of her siblings and their families including all the generations. Apparently that is quite a prayer list and demonstrates a heart that desires God’s way.
Her life of service also demonstrated a life lived in Jesus. That servant attitude came out when anyone visited her, in her involvements in the Heritage meal program and in her involvement with others of you with visiting and caring for people at Riverview Health Center.
One of the times that we visited during these last 8 months of her life we asked what we could pray for and the desire she expressed was that she would be faithful. That is also a sign of someone whose life is lived in Jesus.
So upon the foundation of Jesus is a life lived in Christ. It was Paul’s desire, it was Liz’s desire and the words of Scripture invite us also to such a life.
With such a foundation and such a life it is also not surprising that a person who says these things is also a person who looks forward to seeing Jesus. As I mentioned a moment ago, when lying on her death bed and realizing that the end was near, we heard Liz say that she was looking forward to seeing Jesus. Paul expressed it this way. His desire was that Jesus would be exalted, “whether by life or by death.” Furthermore, he acknowledged that “To die is gain.”
For some people death may be gain because it is a way of escaping the suffering of this life. There probably was an element of that for Liz. Life had gotten very difficult and there was no hope that her physical body would recover again. But her comment did not suggest that she only wanted to escape suffering. Rather, I believe that these words express the hope that if the foundation of life is Jesus and if one’s whole life has been lived in Jesus, death will be gain because it will be the fulfillment of what the entire life has been directed towards. It is the achievement of a person’s lifelong desire. What a comfort to know that she lives on in the presence of the one she longed to see!
Matthew Henry says, “Death is a great loss to a carnal worldly man; for he loses all his comforts and all his hopes: but to a (good) Christian it is gain, for it is the end of all his weakness and misery and the perfection of his comforts and accomplishment of his hopes; it delivers him from all the evils of life, and brings him to the possession of the chief good.”
What a great hope it is when life is lived in Jesus. When Jesus our foundation it becomes very clear what our life is all about. When we live our life in Christ, then death is experienced as an accomplishment of what is dearest to us.
In the days to come there will be grief. You will be discouraged and wish that Liz wasn’t gone. As you grieve, remember the message she left for us, a message that came from deep in her heart and that is to seek the glory of Jesus above all. I like the way The Message puts it, “Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose.”
How will our life bring glory to Christ? How will our death bring glory to Christ?