For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
The Prussian king Frederick the Great was widely known as an agnostic. In striking contrast, one of his most trusted officers, General Von Zealand, was a deeply convicted believer. It is reported that during a very festive gathering of his general staff, the king created uproarious laughter with his crude jokes about the Son of God. Finally, after enduring this with much patience, Von Zealand arose quietly and addressed the king: “Sire, you know that I have not feared death. I have fought and won 38 battles for you. I am an old man; I shall soon have to go into the presence of one greater than you, the mighty God who saved me from sin, the Lord Jesus Christ whom you are blaspheming. I salute you, sire, as an old man who loves his Savior on the edge of eternity.” The room went deathly still, and with a trembling voice, the king replied, “General Von Zealand – I beg your pardon! I beg your pardon!” The party quietly ended with that.
Facing death is standing on the edge of eternity. The denied reality is that all men stand on the edge of eternity, not knowing when the time will come to face God. Young people can die, and the old must die, and the truth is that all men die. Since the beginning of time, human wisdom has sought ways to extend life but to no avail. Methuselah lived nearly one thousand years, but he still died. Modern science cannot extend life beyond the habitation established by God. Instead of trying to prolong life, men should prepare life for death. No one chose to be born, and no one can change the reality of death. How to prepare for and embrace it makes a difference in the concept of dying.
Paul faced death with hope because he knew he would die. History suggests the aged apostle was beheaded in Rome. When the blade of the Roman sword did its deed, angels in heaven rejoiced as the eyes of the man from Tarsus opened up to the vista of the heavenly glories found in the bosom of Abraham. Angels carried the apostle to where the saints of old rested. The infirmities of the body were gone, and there was no more sorrow. Death was the release of hope promised in Jesus Christ and the joys of eternal life. Paul believed in God’s promises and did not fear death. He knew it was only a door to take him where he longed to be. His labors were over, his journey complete, and the faith in the Son of God assured with a heavenly crown. The time of his departure was a time of joy and peace. When Paul faced death, he encountered something he had prepared for and believed in.
There is fear in the dying process, but death is only a river of peace that soothes the soul to accept the inevitable. When the heart immerses itself in the grace of a loving Father who gave His Son as a sacrifice for sin, it will find the greatest peace that calms the soul and prepares the heart for death. When Paul was beheaded, onlookers were astonished but not Paul. His death was a release. He embraced his death as the reward given by his Savior and King. Facing death is where the heart finds answers to have the courage to overcome the fear of the sting of death. Death is a singular action that finds accountability in the individual. The world may mourn, but for the individual, it is personal. Nothing matters but the eternal joy of salvation for those who die in Christ. There is no greater joy than to face death with the hope and promise of a crown of righteousness. Death is the end of the war, the finality of the race, and the accomplishment of faith. Fight, run and keep – those are the words of Paul. One day the war will be over, the race completed, and faith realized in the hope of eternal life. Lord Jesus – come quickly.