Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God,’ though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
Ever since the first man died, humanity has dreamed of ways to cheat death. One of the earliest works of literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh, focused on a hero’s quest for immortality. If you haven’t heard of Gilgamesh, you would probably have heard of the Philosopher’s Stone, said to turn basic metals like lead into precious metals like gold and silver. It is also known to make one immortal.
These, of course, are pure myths, created out of a desperate desire to live forever. There is, however, a way to never see death, and our Lord provides it in today’s passage. “Very truly, I tell you,” he says, “whoever keeps my word will never see death.” But, death is all around us, isn’t it? Thousands are dying, and it is quite likely that before our story ends, millions will die. So how does one understand this?
Ok. Listen. Our Lord Jesus once said: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). Later on, he would say: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25). Now this sounds very strange. Though they die, they will never die? How is this possible?
Let me explain the best I can. My father passed on a few years ago. I was on mission in Canada at the time, and I aborted it to come home for the funeral. I remember him being carried into the church in a coffin and as I looked at his body, I had this sense of looking at an empty shell. And I realized it was true. Because that wasn’t my father. It was just his body. And the body was dead. But my father was not. My father had not died. He had not died because he was a believer in Christ.
And as a believer in Christ he had ALREADY passed from death to life. Please listen to this carefully. I am a believer. As a believer I have ALREADY passed from death to life. This is eternal life. Eternal life, by definition, cannot end. Consequently, I cannot see death. My father did not see death. Neither will any of you who believe in Jesus. Try to process this because this is an elementary truth about our faith that is not commonly understood. Once understood, it is liberating!
I don’t know how long I will remain on this earth; not too long I suspect. But when I go, I would like my epitaph to read: He lives. Because I do.