A few months ago, I walked through the cemetery where my father is buried. It would be impossible to count the number of times I have walked or driven past that place in my lifetime. It sits next to my old high school. You could throw a rock to it from the house where my grandparents lived in until I was almost thirty. My mother still lives in the house we moved into before I could walk, it’s only half a mile away. I walked, ran, or drove past that cemetery almost every day when I was growing up.
When I walked past the cemetery in my younger years, I would read the names. The last names might be familiar, but the people whose earthly remains occupied the graves were unknown to me. My early childhood years were, for the most part, blissfully unaffected by death and its sting. Driving past that cemetery involved no pain or loss.
I had a different experience walking through the same cemetery a few months ago. Of course, some things were the same. My grandparents’ old home still looks the same from the front and the high school football field is still across the street. Other things have changed, though. The halls I wandered in high school have been replaced by a nice, new building. The church in which I grew up burned to the ground in 1996 and a spacious new structure sits in its place.
The biggest change I noticed was in the cemetery itself. The names on the graves were no longer unfamiliar to me. Aside from the cemetery serving as my father’s resting place, I saw names of people I went to church with. The names of people I knew from around town stood out on the short walk from the car to Dad’s grave. Even though I drove past death every day of my life growing up, it wasn’t the kind of death I had to think about. The people and the names didn’t touch me. Now, walking through this cemetery as a forty-one-year-old man, the death that surrounded me was personal. It had touched me, my family, and my neighbors.
With every passing day, death becomes more and more of a reality. When faced with this sober truth, we can try to pretend it is not true and deceive ourselves into thinking we are invincible. Or, we can embrace the fact that we are going to die and allow this truth to help us number our days, live with sober-minded realism, and gain a renewed appreciation for the hope we have in Christ.
How does living in light of the reality of our impending death change our lives? Looking to events surrounding the death of David in 2 Samuel 23:1-7 and 1 Kings 2:1-12, we see three truths to help us live with purpose and resolve as our death daily grows closer.
Remember the Character of God
As the time of David’s death approached, he looked to the God he had known and worshipped his whole life. The last words of David, recorded in 2 Samuel 23:1-7, point to both the character of God and to the fidelity he shows in his covenant relationships. David referred to God as the God of Israel, recalling all that God had done to rescue and preserve his people. He also called God “the Rock of Israel,” pointing to him as the one who never changed and always provided stability for his people.
In his speech to Solomon in 1 Kings 2, David acknowledges the covenant that God made with him in 2 Samuel 7. While he recited this promise as an admonition to Solomon to remain faithful until the end, he also did so remembering that God was a promise-keeping God. David knew the promises God made to Israel and the promises God made to him. He had seen God keep them through impossible situations and looked to them as his greatest enemy approached.
There was a show when I was a kid called Rescue 911. They reenacted the circumstances of real 911 calls. What scared me the most about it was how often the reenactment started with a person living his normal day before tragedy struck. We do not know when death is coming, so we live in its constant shadow. Living with this reality might make some depressed and morbid, but it actually provides an opportunity to remember who God is for us in Christ. We look to God because we know that he is just, gracious, abounding in love, and forever remaining faithful to his promises.
Challenge the Next Generation
David challenged his son Solomon as he prepared to take the reigns as the king of God’s people. David told Solomon to “Be strong, and show yourself a man.” The call here sounds like the Lord’s words to Joshua when he told him to “Be strong and courageous. David called Solomon to be bold because the task before him would not be for the faint of heart. To walk in the ways of the Lord and lead the people would require moral and personal courage. He would need to summon this courage, not in one big moment, but multiple times throughout every day of his reign.
It is also instructive here to revisit David’s quotation from God’s covenant with him. David appeals to God’s promises in order to encourage Solomon to walk in faithfulness. David had seen the fulfillment of God’s promises with his own eyes and had held on to them in dark places. His words to Solomon are not platitudes, but rather the reflections of a man who had walked through the fire and points his son to the one who can sustain him in difficult times.
Every generation passes away and hands the baton to the generation behind them. If future generations are going to walk faithfully before the Lord, we must train them to do so. In the sovereignty of God, he ordained that the faith spreads by one generation speaking the truth to another. Paul showed this to Timothy when he said, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) Therefore, let us be faithful to teach, train, and challenge the next generation. Point them to the goodness and grace of God. Then entreat them to walk in a manner worthy of their calling.
Glory in Your Future Hope
David died and his son Solomon reigned in his place. They buried his body “in the city of David.” Readers of the Bible meet David in 1 Samuel 16 when he is a young man. In short order, he becomes a man, a fierce warrior, reigns as king, and dies. He may have killed the giant and prevailed over Saul, but he could not conquer death or escape it.
Peter seizes on this seemingly ordinary event in his sermon in Acts 2. He spoke of Psalm 16, where David expressed his hope that God would not allow “his holy one to undergo decay.” He reasoned that David could not have been talking about himself because they all knew where he was buried. Instead, David had to be looking forward to one of his sons whose body would not undergo decay before he was raised from the dead. Jesus conquered the enemy we would never be able to conquer on our own through his resurrection from the dead. Because Jesus rose again, we do not have to fear the fangs of our worst enemy. Jesus triumphed over death and by his grace, we will as well.
An appropriate remembrance of the reality of death won’t lead us to morbid introspection, rather, as Matt McCullough said in his book Remember Death, the knowledge of this truth is the “surprising path to living hope.” We know we are going to die, but we glory in the hope we have in Christ. We live with him, we will reign with him, and we will share in the inheritance the Father promised to him. So, as we look toward our own death, we look to Jesus’ death and resurrection. This living hope will help us live with sober-mindedness, resolve, and joy as we run our race to the finish.
“The Best Quotes from Remember Death“
For Further Reading:
Remember Death by Matt McCullough
Knowing God by J.I. Packer