Precious & Painful Death

When the Lord speaks, a sentence can feed and fuel a soul. This morning in the corporate reading of Scripture, a seemingly random verse jumped out, arrested my attention, and comforted my soul.

“Truly, truly I say t o you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18–19).

“By what kind of death he was to glorify God.” In some ways, it seems like a throwaway phrase. After all, it is a parenthetical statement John added to aide the reader. But every word of God drips with soul-deep meaning.

The same God who had directed his steps all this life would direct his steps in death. The God who had given him a portion in life appointed for him a specific death, tailor-made for the glory of God and Peter’s good.

Peter’s first hints at the death apportioned for him didn’t paint a hopeful picture. Rather, Jesus eased him into the grim reality of an approaching martyr’s death. But Peter is not the same Peter whose flesh raised up against the idea of redemptive suffering in Matthew 16. When Jesus initially shared his own coming suffering that would eventually lead to his death, Peter would have none of it.

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him saying, “Far be it from you, Lord!” This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:22).

Stubborn though he was, Peter learned his lessons. What he balked at before the cross, he understood afterwards. His self-willed ways were giving way to deep dependence upon and trust in God’s ways.

If God would be glorified in Peter being led to cruel death, Peter would walk with confidence and calling toward that end. For he knew it was not the end, but the beginning of being fully reunited with his resurrected Lord forever. The same call that equipped him for life would equip him for death: “Follow me.”

Precious & Painful

Everything in culture tries to avoid death, yet it comes nonetheless. Sometimes death is sudden and shocking; other times it is a long, drawn out roller coaster of disease after diagnosis. For the past decade, my mother-in-law has done little else than care for my father-in-law who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. Death is an ever-approaching reality for him and thus for us who love him. The imagery Jesus gave Peter about his death is actually an apt description of what Appa’s last days (or decade) have looked like. A once strong, gregarious man now being dressed and led by many hands from bed to bathroom and back again. God is leading him where he would never have wanted to go.

A friend shared about her dear friend dying from ALS this week. She, too, had been led where no flesh wants to go. Another church member lost his father two weeks ago. A dear friends lost her husband to COVID over a year ago. The list goes on and on. In light of a growing list of deaths, the reality that God knows by what deaths his children will glorify him comforted my aching soul.

When friends lose a loved one, I try to send a beautiful floral handkerchief as a reminder of beauty amidst the brokenness and hope in the midst of hollowing loss. In the notes to these friends, I always share Psalm 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” While I always include it, it always give me pause when I write it. It feels so off. The death of his children is precious in the sight of the Lord?

But precious does not mean cute like the little porcelain figurines I collected as a child. The Hebrew word yaqar literally means “rare, splendid, costly, or weighty.” God does not take death lightly, but he also knows what (or rather whom) is on the other side. What is painful in our experience is precious in his.

As believers, we can trust that faithful daily dying will lead to faithful final breath. We, like Peter, need only to do one thing: keep following Jesus. For he knows by what deaths we will glorify God and he will enable us to meet death like a friend knowing that God’s presence awaits us on the other side.

When Death Comes for Me

When Death comes for me, 
Let there be little to take. 
Let all be given, entrusted
Into hands nothing can shake. 

When Death comes for me, 
Let me see him only as friend,
The mean doorway leading
To His presence without end. 

When Death comes for me, 
Let him find me already spent,
Poured out as living sacrifice
Laid down in delighted consent.

When Death comes for me, 
Let me remember whom I serve,
The One who conquered death
To give me love I don’t deserve. 

1 thought on “Precious & Painful Death

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