When new babies are born most of us marvel at their smallness, their tiny feet, and their tiny hands. We delight at the sound of their coos, melt at their smiles, and celebrate every single milestone. But as we watch them grow from baby, to toddler, to child, to pre-teen, to teenager, and then to young adult, we are often stunned at how fast that time went by. In reality, of course, the time did not speed up as they grew. Instead, viewing their constant changes granted us a greater awareness of the measure of time.
Perhaps we can look at it another way. When we were children time seemed to proceed slowly. A school year went on forever, and the much-anticipated summer took on a life of its own. By September everyone had grown taller. We had spent a couple of months playing freely, exploring and relaxing, and a long new year lay ahead of us again. We could not wait to grow up, to gain more freedom, and to forge our own way in the world. Much of our play was in light of that dream, and each birthday was a source of pride; we were now one year closer to that fulfilment.
Somewhere along the line our perspective started to reverse. We found ourselves mouthing the words, “I don’t know where that year went” right along with the generations that came before us. Our attentiveness to the speed in which time moves grew acute as older family members and friends passed on, and it flashed at us in neon lights when those our own age or younger died too soon.
As our awareness of the passage of time was increasingly heightened, we now found ourselves more mindful of our own mortality. Instead of trying to run ahead of time, we were trying to grab it and slow it down or halt it altogether. Is it such a bad thing that we are more aware of our mortal limits? In Psalm 90:12 the psalmist cried out, “Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” As we see, there is much to be gained by accepting the shortness of our lives here.
1 Peter 1:24 spells it out for us with a very brilliant analogy. “For all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” Or in James 4: 14 our lives are likened to mist: “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” Like the mist or like the grass, our span of life is restricted by a mortal boundary. All of us reflect the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” We can go no further than these fleshly limits, and no amount of avoidance or denial can halt the course God has allowed for each of us.
We see a tug of war taking place within us. We cling to life because “God has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecc. 3:11), but because we live in a fallen world blackened by our sinful hearts, the consequence of our rebellion before a holy and just God is death (Rom. 6:23a). We are in a state of constant tension between these two opposing sides unless, of course, we have Christ.
No greater words have been penned to cut through this tension than those of John 3:16 which states that “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” The wages of sin is (indeed) death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23). When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54, 55, 57) This victory rests squarely on Christ. In Christ the limitations of the flesh are eternally overshadowed by the life we gain in Him.
Because of Christ these limitations of the flesh no longer bind us. We know that “if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Cor. 5:1) Since in Christ’s perfect love we have been given eternal life in Him, there is no longer a need to fear death. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18a) Death is swallowed up, our fear can be left at the foot of the cross.
The reality of our fleshly existence however, does not change simply because we are alive in Christ, we are still bound by the same physical limits as before. But now that “we have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer us who live, but Christ who lives in us. And the life we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us”(Gal. 2:20).
Since our lives have been bought at a very steep price, our lives are now hidden in Him. We are not our own, we belong to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith (Matt. 12:2b). We can no longer afford to stay asleep in denial, blindly living as if this life were all there is, living for our own pleasures and desires, living each day with the assumption that another day will follow. Nor should we live any longer under the perpetual fear of death, trying to control risk, living life in “safety”, making sure that every “t” is crossed and every ”i” is dotted. Instead we must number our days, look to God to change us according to His will, and surrender everything to Him. Denying ourselves we must take up His cross and follow Him, and as Jesus told His disciples,” whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”(Matt. 16: 24-26)
So friends, let us be alert and sober-minded, and not fall back to sleep. Our time here must be lived with urgency and in complete devotion to our Lord. “The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Cor. 7:29b)
Today let us “Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near”(Isa. 55:6). Let us confess to God that we struggle to stay awake, to number our days in humble submission, and to not be lured by this world and its myriad of distractions. Let us ask Him to help us release our fear of death which He overcame on the cross, embrace the reality of our mortality, and look ahead to the life that is to come. Let us get oil for our lamps, and prepare for the arrival of our Bridegroom (Matt. 25:1-11), keeping our eyes on Christ — for time is short for all of us.