Preparing for your Exodus or playing the Fool…

One of the most fascinating descriptions of the death of a believer is that of an exodus or departure. Paul said of his competing desires of continuing to live and minister juxtaposed to wanting to go home to be with the Lord, “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Phil 1:23, 24). On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus spoke of his impending death an exodus, a departure (Luke 9:31). And Peter wanted his brothers to remember his words after his departure (2 Peter 1:15). So the Christian should view her/his death not as the end, but as the beginning of a journey to a land of Promise and Rest that God has prepared for his children.

There was a story told of a King who had in his court a Jester (also called the Court Fool) whom he would call upon to make him laugh and lighten his heart when discouraged. During one visit, the King laughed so much that he exclaimed “Jester, I am going to give you my scepter and I want to you to search my kingdom for a fool greater than yourself.” So, the Jester spent months scouring the kingdom for one who would be more of a fool than he was. He travelled far and wide and could find no one. Finally, he received word to report back the castle because the King was on his deathbed. He sat beside the dying King who sadly told the Jester that he was going on a long journey from which he would never return. The Jester responded, “Sire, where will this journey take you?” The King said, “I don’t know.” The Jester then asked, “Your Majesty, are you prepared for this journey?” The King quietly said “No, I don’t even know how to prepare.” The Jester then took the King’s scepter that he had been carrying all these months and gave it to the King, for he had finally found a fool greater than himself.

There is truth here that if death is a journey then we should know where we are going and how to prepare for the trip. If we know Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord then we know that this journey will lead to the eternal kingdom of heaven. He has already gone on ahead of us as the Pioneer of our Salvation (Heb 2:10) to prepare a place for us in his Father’s House. (Jn 14:2,3) What a wonderful hope! In God’s House there is a place for us; a place of belonging because we are in the family of God. Do you have that hope? Do you trust in Christ alone as your entry way to heaven? Or are you unsure of where you stand with God and whether you will be accepted into heaven. Don’t be a fool and come to the end of your life unprepared for the journey.

So, the first part of preparing for your exodus is to know where you are going. The second part is to let people know that you know where you are going. You may have a will, a health-care proxy, a DNR, and you are an organ donor, but have you prepared your funeral or memorial service? I don’t mean printing up the bulletin at Staples complete with the order of worship. Have you written down some of your favorite passages of Scripture that you would like read, or suggested some of your favorite songs you’d like sung? Just doing this will make it easier on your family as they will be the ones who print up the bulletin.

Finally, have you thought of writing out a statement that could be read to the congregation by the Pastor or one of your family members. This statement can be a powerful witness to your faith in Christ and the certainty of your hope of eternal life. Don’t make it long or mysterious like, “If you are listening to this message then you will know that I’m dead.” Just make it a simple statement of your love for your family and of your hope in Jesus.” It can be powerful.

I will finish with two such a statements. The first, written by Jonathan Edwards, American Pastor and Theologian, 5 yrs. before his death; the second, the last will and testament of John Newton, the old converted slave trader and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”

First of all, I give and commend my soul into the hands of God that gives it, and to the Lord Jesus Christ its glorious, all sufficient, faithful and chosen Redeemer, relying alone on the free and infinite mercy and grace of God through his worthiness and mediation, for its eternal salvation; and my body I commend to the earth, to be committed to the dust in Christian burial…hoping through the grace, faithfulness, and almighty power of my everlasting Redeemer, to receive the same again, at the last day, made like unto his glorious body. (quoted in “Jonathan Edwards,” Ian Murray, 422)

I commit my soul to my gracious God and Saviour, who mercifully spared and preserved me, when I was an apostate, a blasphemer, and an infidel, and delivered me from that state of misery on the coast of Africa into which my obstinate wickedness had plunged me and who has been pleased to admit me (though most unworthy) to preach His glorious Gospel. I rely with humble confidence upon the atonement and mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ, God and Man, which I have often proposed to others as the only Foundation whereon a sinner can build His hope, trusting that He will guard and guide me through the uncertain remainder of my life, and that He will then admit me into His presence in His heavenly kingdom.” (John Newton, The Works of the John Newton, Ed. Richard Cecil (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 1:90-91)

Teach me to number my days so that…

In a play called The Proud and the Profane, a widow of a soldier who had been killed in WW2 became obsessed with knowing how her husband died. She had to know whether he died as a hero or coward. She saved her money and traveled to Europe to find his burial place. Visiting his grave on a French hillside, she noticed a brooding old man sitting in the cemetery and upon engaging him in conversation found out that he had been one of her husband’s comrades.

She asked him, “Did you know my husband?” 


“Were you there when he died?”


“I need to know… how did he die?” 

The old man paused and finally said, “He died like an amateur, just like the rest of us will.”

General George Patton once said to the men of Baker Company as they were about to launch an offensive against a German position known as Fort Driant, “You are not all going to die. Only 2% of you right here today will die in a major battle. Death must not be feared, but death, in time, comes to all men.” 

Ernest Hemingway, the famous war journalist and writer, who eventually committed suicide once wrote, “Death is the sovereign remedy for my misfortunes. I live in a vacuum that is as lonely as a radio tube when the batteries are dead and there is no current to plug into.” (quoted by Billy Graham in World Aflame.)

Woody Allen said in one of his films, “Its not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  

The Greek poet Euripedes said, “Death is the debt that we all must pay.” This mirrors the New Testament Scripture which says that, “the wages of sin is death…”

Whatever your viewpoint is on the subject of death, I think that we can agree that death will claim us all, and  all of us will die as amateurs. 

Psalm 90 in the OT Bible directs our attention to this inevitability: 

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Moses, who wrote this, acknowledges that there is something terribly wrong in the world because we who were the crown of God’s creation are fallen creatures. Our lives are short and filled with trouble, and our death is inevitable. In the face of this inevitability, Moses prays, Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom

What the Palmist is implying is that most people don’t number their days. They think they will live for ever and because of that they do not live wisely. Most people think that life will keep going and then when they get old they can correct or make up for the things they have done- like an 11th hour conversion. The problem is that those who wait for the 11thhour usually die at 10:59. “So, Lord, teach us to number our days, to recognize that they are brief, so we can get a heart of wisdom, to live wisely while we still have time.”

As a pastor and a chaplain who has presided at perhaps a hundred or more funerals and memorial services – many for people I did not know- I am usually able to tell by meeting the families, those who lived their lives wisely from those who did not. You know the old saying about living your life so that people smile at your birth and cry at your death and not vice versa? It’s true. I can often tell by people’s responses at funerals what they thought of the deceased.

So what would be the profile of a person who has lived his/her life wisely? In my next blog I will suggest a kind of bucket list of some things that can be done to get a heart of wisdom in the face of the brevity of life.