A Time to be Born and a Time to Die
A Time to Be Born and A Time to Die
Appointments are part and parcel of our lives! I face appointments every day. I am scheduled for travel appointments, preaching appointments, counseling appointments, eating appointments, and most important of all, my daily appointment with God.
There are, however, two inescapable appointments in the life of every one of us. The one is the hour of our birth, and the other is the hour of our death. Birth ushers us into time, while death ushers us into eternity. God oversees the one and overrules the other. To reject this doctrine is to be a fatalist; to accept it is to be a realist—in the best sense of that word; for the Bible teaches that ultimate reality is to be found in Jesus Christ alone. He claimed, "I am ... the truth [or reality] .... No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).
From this point on in our study, we have a catalog of contrasts listed in pairs, beginning with the entrance and close of life. The rest of the couplets cover the events and circumstances that take place between these two extremes. In this first contrasting couplet we observe there is "a time to be born, and a time to die" (Eccl. 3:2). The language of the Preacher emphasizes the ordering of a sovereign God, both in our coming into the world and in the way we leave it. There is no question here of untimely births or suicides. In the divinely determined sequence of events, births and deaths have their appointed seasons—without any interference from man. To amplify this a little more fully, let us concentrate, first all, on the fact that:
Birth Is a Sovereign Mystery
We cannot read the Bible or study life without associating the event we call "birth" with the miracle of God—and what a miracle it is! At birth, an heir of immortality is brought into being, because we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps. 139:14). No wonder Job exclaims: "The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life!" (Job 33:4). So we see that the whole idea of mystery surrounds the miracle of birth. This is true of physical, as well as spiritual, birth. So there is the mystery of physical birth. The element of mystery in this whole process of birth is elaborated by Solomon in the 11th chapter of this book and the 5th verse, where he writes, "As you do not know what is the way of the wind, or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, so you do not know the works of God who makes everything." The statement is consistent with medical science. Experts in this field tell us that while there is much we do know about the birth of a child, there is even more that we do not know. For instance, no one has yet been able to decide at what point the fetus becomes "a living being" (Gen. 2:7). And no gynecologist or pediatrician has yet pronounced on the manner in which the bones develop in the womb of a pregnant woman. This entire process, including those parts of the process we think we understand, is shrouded in mystery. With the Psalmist we can sing:
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them (Ps. 139:14-16).
There surely is a divine secret about the event we call physical birth. Have you ever dropped to your knees and looked up into the face of God and said, "O God, thank you for making me just as I am"? You see, God never makes duplicates. He only makes originals. Did you know that you are an original? If you despise your body, your being, then you are despising the work of God. Have you ever said, "Thank you for making me like this. I know there is sin in my life, and I know I have been marred, but I still bear your image, and I still have the potential for all you designed for my life"? Have you ever said, "Thank you"? Say it right now!
There is also the mystery of spiritual birth. Speaking to Nicodemus of this, Jesus enounced that "the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). And the apostle John adds that we are born "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). Then there is Peter's statement which reminds us that we are "born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever" (1 Pet. 1:23).
It appears, therefore, that in that sovereign and mysterious way in which God alone works out His purpose, the Word of God begets faith in Christ, and then the Spirit of God begets life in Christ. We are told for instance that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). And at the same time, the Spirit of God begets life in Christ, for He is described in Scripture as the Spirit who "gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6). Through the activity of preaching there is the communication of the truth of the Word; and in response to the activity of praying, there is the fertilization of the seed of the Word.
Thus we see that God's supreme agents of spiritual birth are the Word of God and the Spirit of God. The event of birth, whether considered physically or spiritually, is a mystery, and we are dependent upon God for the bringing about of this miracle. Just as God responds to human faith when we obey the natural laws of physical birth, so in like manner He responds to saving faith, when we obey the biblical laws of spiritual birth. There is a time to be born physically and a time to be born spiritually; and, just as it necessary to be born into the physical family in order to start our human life, so it is necessary to be born into the spiritual family in order start our divine life.
In his gospel, John tells us that to "as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12). Those action words are essential. If we are to know the wonder of spiritual birth, we must believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is the living and saving Word, and then we must receive Him personally and decisively. In response to this act of faith, God effects the new birth, and life in Christ begins. What a mystery! What a miracle! Has it happened to you?
So birth is a sovereign mystery; but, by the same token:
Death Is a Solemn Certainty
While birth is shrouded in mystery, death is shrouded with certainty. The fact is that every one will die! While it is impossible to predict with final accuracy the birth of a child, it is possible to say without any reservation that every one of us will eventually die. The only exception to the inevitability of death is the rapture of all living believers at the Second Coming of Christ; otherwise, humanity moves on inexorably to the grave. Throughout Scripture we have such statements as "you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:17); "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:4); "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23); "When desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:15).
This certainty of mortality can mean the agony of a coming death. The Bible calls death "the king of terrors" (Job 18:14), and the Psalmist speaks of "the terrors of death" (Ps. 55:4). The writer to the Hebrews expresses the same thought when he describes those "who through fear of death [are] all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2:15). This agony, or "anxiety," as the theologians prefer to call it, has three forms. There is the normal anxiety of apprehension before a known cause of danger. For example, a person awaiting serious surgery can be in a state of normal anxiety. Then there is neurotic anxiety, which is a sense of apprehension and fear where there is no definable cause for the anxiety. But, once again, there is the anxiety of life itself, or what has been called the "existential anxiety." Contemporary thinkers are concerned with this third type of anxiety. This anxiety, as Bultmann and others have shown, reveals itself most clearly in the agony of approaching death. This is why all life is spent in postponing death. We breathe, we eat, we exercise, we sleep, we work, we hope, we pray, in order to escape death; indeed, because of this anxiety or agony, latent or expressed, many have committed suicide in order to save themselves from further anxiety. The only cure for such agony is a child-like faith in God and the redemptive use of such anxiety in the winning of other men and women to Jesus Christ. After all, if we know that "it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27), how diligent, how earnest, how prayerful we ought to be about our loved ones who don't know Jesus Christ. How burdened we should be for our neighbors who are lost, for the millions in the far-flung places of the earth who never have accepted the Savior.
The certainty of mortality can also mean the tragedy of a Christless death. The Bible declares, "It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). Far greater than the fear of physical death is the fear of spiritual death. The apostle John points this out in his first epistle, where he writes: "Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love" (1 John 4:17-18). There is no sadder sight on earth than to watch a dying man or woman approach a Christless eternity.
The tragedy is that, in this day of a revived universalism, men and women are being taught that there is no such place as hell, no such state as "outer darkness," and that all people are redeemed already through the cross of Christ, and therefore, individual salvation is unnecessary. All we have to do is to renew the structures of society in order that we may eliminate the evils of war, poverty, racism, and so on. But this is a humanistic lie which utterly contradicts the clear teaching of the Word of God. Jesus warned, "He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36).
When Pablo Picasso reached his 90th birthday, Time magazine celebrated the event by covering his career as an artist. Not mentioned in the Time article, but referred to by Harvey Hudson in the Associated Press, was the fact that the famous artist hated birthdays, banned talk of death in his presence, and acted as if he expected to reach 100 (Prairie Bible Institute 1972).
Here was a man who had fame and fortune, and yet nursed a dreaded fear of death. This is so often the combination of factors that mark the world's greatest names. And yet, on the other hand, the humblest believer can know complete deliverance from this fear because the Lord Jesus overcame "him who had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb. 2:14). Because of this victory He can now deliver "those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2:15). May God save you from the fact and the fear of a Christless eternity.
It follows, therefore, that for the Christian, the certainty of mortality can mean the victory of a conquered death. The apostle Paul cries: "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:55-57). Like David, who destroyed Goliath with the giant's own sword, so the greater David has defeated death with death itself. In the language of Isaiah, "He will swallow up death forever" (Isa 25:8). Because of this mighty work of Jesus Christ our Lord, all believers have been saved from spiritual death, and no believer need fear physical death. David knew this experience when he sang: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me" (Ps. 23:4). Later Paul could identify with the Psalmist and confess, "I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better" (Phil. 1:23); and again, "To be absent from the body [is] to be present with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8). Did you know that death for the Christian is only a tunnel? A dark tunnel for sure, but there is always light on the other side of the tunnel. That is why David said, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" (Ps. 23:4). Where there is a shadow the sun is shining somewhere. And the sun is always shining in Emmanuel's land. For the Christian it is just a release from the limitations and restrictions of this body to be present or "at home" with the Lord, which is a state infinitely better than what we enjoy here. We are enjoying a good life here, but it will be a much better life then. And when Jesus comes to give us our immortal bodies, we will have the best life.
For the genuine Christian, then, the sting, the fear, and the power of death are forever gone. What is more, he can employ the very laws of death to conquer Satan, sin, and self in his everyday experience. Every Christian can overcome Satan by "the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 12:11). By identification with that same victorious death, every Christian can know victory over sin and self. Indeed, this is the teaching of Romans 6, where we are exhorted to "reckon [ourselves] to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord [and not to] let sin reign in [our] mortal body, that [we] should obey it in its lusts" (Rom. 6:11-12). And in another place Paul adds, "If [we] live according to the flesh [we] will die; but if by the Spirit [we] put to death the deeds of the body, [we] will live" (Rom. 8:13). Notice the significance of these words. "If [we] live according to the flesh [we] will die." In other words, if we live carnal lives and follow our fleshly nature, we will die. We will die in the sense in which everything we do and say will not have the blessing of God on it. Our prayers will be dead, our devotions will be dead, our Christian life will be dead, and our witness will be dead. Everything we touch will carry corruption. "But if by the Spirit [we] put to death the deeds of the body, [we] will live" (Rom. 8:13). If we count on the Holy Spirit to apply the principle of the cross to our self-life, we will live. For the Holy Spirit's ministry is to put to death the deeds of the body, to keep them under subjection in order that the glorious life of the Lord Jesus comes through—that resurrection life, that reigning life, that rejoicing life, that righteous life. This is the glory of the liberated life! As we count upon the Holy Spirit to apply the mortifying power of the cross to our self-life, God be praised! Christ's resurrection life breaks through in victory, power, and blessing. This then, is the victory of a conquered death.
We can choose, then, whether we suffer the agony of a coming death, the tragedy of a Christless death, or enjoy the victory of a conquered death. But just as there is a time to die, in the redemptive sense, there is also a time to be born, in the regenerative sense. In Christ, both death and birth find their ultimate answer! To know Him personally and savingly is to be born again. To know Him personally and savingly is to die to self and sin, and to live eternally unto God. The secret is knowing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Life! That is why He came and looked into the faces of men and women just like you and me and declared, "I have come that [you] may have life, and that [you] may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). Are you merely existing, or are you really living? Do you know the fullness, wonder, and glory of His life? His whole purpose in coming into this world was that you "may have life, and ... [life] more abundantly." True, you were born physically, but if you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you are born spiritually. Enter into the heritage and glory of His life. Pray and mean:
Out of my bondage, sorrow, and night,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of my sickness into Thy health,
Out of my want and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of the fear and dread of the tomb,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the joy and light of Thy home,
Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of the depths of ruin untold,
Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,
Ever Thy glorious face to behold,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Think on These Things (Phil. 4:8)
We are born again to fulfill God's purpose for our lives. That purpose is "to be conformed to the image of [God's] Son" (Rom. 8:29). We are born again to fulfill God's plan for our lives. That plan "God prepared beforehand that we should walk [in it]" (Eph. 2:10). The road is already built, let's start walking!
— Time for Truth, A