Skip Heitzig - How To Live And Die Well
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Would you turn in your Bibles, please, to Second Peter, chapter 1; Second Peter, chapter 1. Whenever people are asked questions that are big questions in life, life and death issues, you always get some interesting responses to those questions. And I suppose that the most interesting responses about life and death come from kids. A seven-year-old named Alan said, "God doesn't tell you when you're going to die, because he wants it to be a big surprise." Interesting way to look at it, Alan. Raymond, ten years old, said, "A good doctor can help you so you won't die, a bad doctor will send you to heaven." Or nine-year-old Stephanie who remarked, "Doctors help you so you won't die until you paid all their bills," insightful.
Nine-year-old Marsha said, "When you die, you don't have to do homework in heaven, unless, of course, your teacher's there too." Very dismal view of heaven. I'm aware that the title of this message could be alarming to some. I'm calling it "How to Live and Die Well." The first part is not an alarming part, but the second part for some would be. Most people want to know about living well. They think that's important. Most people would agree with Socrates who said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." But the second idea of how to die well is equally as significant. I give you the immortal words of the great theologian Captain Kirk, who said, "Has it ever occurred to you that how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life?"
Did you know, for instance, that the early Puritans believed the aim of every person should be to "die well"? And they said what that meant was embracing one's own death, one's own demise, one's own terminal condition while having their wits about them and remaining faithful to God. One of the most notable examples of somebody who lived well and died well was a guy by the name of Polycarp. Some of you who know church history will know that he was a disciple of the apostle John. He lived in a time and he died at a time when martyrdom was at an all-time high. He was arrested because of his faith when he was eighty-six years old. And when he was arrested, the words that came out of his mouth were these: "May the will of the Lord be done."
He was taken by the Romans and the Romans tried to get him to repent of his faith in Christ. They said, "Come on, how hard can it be to just say the words κυριος Καισαρ, Caesar is lord? Just say those words." And the old man said, "You know, for eighty-six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" This merely served to irk the Romans further and the Roman executioner said that he would put him in a fire and the fire would be hot. Polycarp responded by saying, "You threaten me with a fire that burns for one hour, and you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly." How's that for your last words? How's that for living well and dying well? Here's a man who embraced it, who had his wits about him, and was faithful to the end.
Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes, "There's a time to be born, and there's a time do die." And between those two points is what we call "life." We are creatures of time, but we are bound for eternity. And so the question we have to face is: How will we spend our time to make it count for eternity? With that question I give to you the next words of Peter in Second Peter chapter 1 verse 12. "For this reason," he writes, "For this reason," and we want to find out for what reason. But, "For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as the Lord Jesus Christ showed me."
"Moreover I will be carefully to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease." In that short little paragraph, only four verses, Peter gives some keys to us on what it means to live and to die well. Leonardo da Vinci the great inventor and artist said, "As a day well spent brings a happy sleep, so a life well used brings a happy death." So how do you live well and how do you die well? Let me give you some of those keys as I see written in this text. First of all, live with death in mind. I know that sounds so foreign to say, especially to a younger person. Live with death in mind? Who does that? Peter does that. In fact, through this entire passage Peter is aware of his looming death. It's pervasive in the entire passage.
I want to show it to you. If you go back one verse to verse 11, the last verse of the paragraph we shared last week, Peter writes to his audience about the prospect of entering heaven, the eternal kingdom. For he says, "For so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." So he writes about entering heaven one day, followed by, notice the first phrase in verse 12, "For this very reason." For what reason? For the reason he just wrote about in verse 11. For the reason of one day entering heaven. That becomes his present motivation for everything he does now. "For this very reason, this is what I write to you and say to you." A third thing I want you to notice is that it was obvious that Peter believed his own death was pretty imminent.
Verse 14, "Knowing that shortly I must put off my tent." That's speaking of his body. I'll explain that in a moment. "Just as our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me." Evidently, the Lord revealed to Peter that he didn't have much time left. He was going to die. And then Peter speaks of his death twice, once cryptically and once very plainly: cryptically, when he speaks about getting rid of the tent; plainly, when in verse 15 he says, "That you will have a reminder of these things after my", what's the last word?, "my decease." That's his death. But the word is interesting. "Decease" is the word exodos, exodus. It's leaving one place on your way to another place. "I'm leaving earth; I'm on my way to heaven." So, in this entire passage, Peter is living his life with his own death in mind.
Now, admittedly, Peter when he writes this is in his seventies. And in saying that, some of you might immediately be thinking, "Well, that only makes sense that you would live your life with death in mind when you're in your seventies," but not in your twenties, not in your thirties. Nobody really thinks about this stuff. Now, I will admit that that's true, but that's not always healthy. Gordon MacDonald who was a pastor did us a great service when he said to pastors and to worship leaders that whenever you speak to any crowd, you ought to be aware that there are multiple age groups involved, and that different people who come are thinking of different thoughts. For example, he said, somebody in their twenties, among other things, when they get together, are thinking thoughts like this: "What makes me unique?
"How am I different from the others around me? Where is my life heading?" Those are questions that dominate someone in their twenties he says. When you get to your thirties, you think a little bit differently, because now there are marriages and mortgages. So questions like, "How will I get all these things done that I'm responsible for?" And questions like, "What happened to all the fun I used to have? Where did that go?" When you get to your forties, questions rattle around in your mind like this: "Why are my peers doing better than I am?" You start comparing how you're doing. You take self-report cards. And questions like, "Why is my marriage less dazzling than it used to be?" Once you get to your fifties, questions like this: "Do young people think that I'm obsolete?" comes to mind.
And this question: "Why is my body becoming increasingly unreliable?" When you get to your sixties, questions like this come to mind: "Why do my peers look older than me?" I like that question. And, "Why do my friends talk so much about death?" When you get to your seventies and above, frequently these questions surface: "How many years do I have left?" "When will I die?" "How will I die?" And, "Does anyone know who I once was?" question of significance. So admittedly the older you get, the more you would think about the end life. But I'm telling you it is unwise to wait that long. It is wiser to live with death in mind. In fact, do you know that Solomon, when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, says, "It's better to go to a funeral than to go to a party"?
I want to give you his exact words. This is Ecclesiastes, chapter 7. There are two verses I want to share are you. Listen to them. In verse 2 of Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon writes, "It's better to spend your time at funerals than at festivals. For you are going to die, and you should think about it while there is still time." Two verses below that, verse 4, he says, "A wise person thinks much about death, while the fool thinks only about having a good time now." Now, by the time we get to Solomon's last words in that book, he says, "Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before those difficult days come. And dust will return to the earth." Did you get his advice? Going to a funeral can be better than going to a party; taking a stroll through a cemetery can be more helpful than a weekend in Vegas.
And here's why it's important: when you at least spend some time thinking about the end of your life, whatever that will be. You don't know. But whatever you do, you're dealing now with the basics. And when you think about that stuff, you get real, you become real. First of all, because you don't know when it's going to come, right? You don't know when it's going to come. Nobody plans this stuff, typically. Have you ever seen a calendar that says: "8:30, business meeting; 10:30, bank; 12:00, lunch; 2:00, die." Nobody does that. You don't plan it. Yet, the Bible says, "It is appointed for every man once to die, and after this the judgment." God has made an appointment for your death. The problem is he didn't tell you when the appointment is, so you don't know.
You may have heard the joke about the man who died and he went to heaven. When he got to heaven, he looked around. It was so beautiful. His wife was there. She had preceded him by years. She had been in heaven a while, and when he saw his wife, he said, "You know, I'd have gotten here a lot sooner if you wouldn't have made me eat all that health food." But the truth is we don't know when we're going to die. We don't have any kind of way to predict that exactly, usually. But when you think about it, you get real, because you don't know when it's going to come, and, second, because just thinking about it makes you live more wisely. Here's an example: let's say you go to a lawyer, I'm not picking on lawyers.
But let's say you go to a lawyer, and you have one hour with the lawyer and he says, "This is going cost you two hundred and fifty dollars per hour." Okay, so the clock begins. Do you immediately ask him superfluous questions like, "So, tell me about your upbringing"? You could care less about his upbringing or her upbringing at that time. You don't care about the weather, what's going on. You want to get your money's worth. You want to make sure that in that hour you're thinking about how much this is costing you. You're going to use it wisely. So when you start thinking about your life in these terms that "You know what? This lifetime, well, it's costing me my life," you start thinking and planning. So live with death in mind; that's the first key.
Here's the second: live your life like your camping out, you're camping out, you're doing something that is not permanent. Now, I want you to look at a word that he uses. We've already seen it, but I'm going to zero in on it. Twice he uses the word "tent." In verse 13 he says, "I think it's right, as long as I'm in this tent [his body], to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as the Lord Jesus Christ has shown me." Peter uses the familiar metaphor of the human body being like what they in that time saw so often around that part of the world: nomads traveling in tents, temporary shelters on their way from one place to another place. So when a person dies, it's like taking down one's tent. It's a camping metaphor for those of us in the modern world.
Peter didn't alone do this. Paul also spoke of death this way. Second Corinthians 5, "We know," writes Paul, "that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed", the word literally means "taken down", "we have a building from God, a house not made with hands that is eternal in the heavens." It's just interesting that the word both Peter and Paul used to describe the body is a tent. I understand for Paul, he was a tentmaker. Peter was a fisherman, but he knew that metaphor. Now, when you think of a tent, you think of something temporary, you think of something flimsy, and you think of something that really isn't all that beautiful. It's just very temporary. Show of hands, how many of you like to go camping? Honestly, raise your hand, you like to go camping? Okay, hands down.
Of those people that raised their hands, how many of you would like to go tent camping, raise your hands? Okay, you like the tent better. Okay, hands down. RV? Okay. Motel, hotel? Okay, okay, yeah. See, there's different ways to do it, right? So, camping in a tent is very rudimentary. It's down to basics. Camping in an RV, you still got 400 channels on television if you want. Really, not like roughing it. You still got a bed. You still got a shower. You still have a stove. Hotel room, you got room service. But when you're in a tent, you are down to the basics, and that's the advantage of it, because you boil life down to its irreducible minimum, you realize how much stuff you can live without, right? It's just the basics.
It's very helpful to be reminded of that sometimes. Also, the advantage of camping out in a tent is you cannot wait to get home if you're camping for very long. Now you go, "Oh, not me, I could be out here forever." I don't know if you've ever tried a long time. I was once camping for three straight months. I traveled around America and Canada in a tent. Well, it was in a truck that had, and then I'd pitch a tent at night. It was wonderful. I'm glad I did it. But you know what? After three months, I was done. I could care less if I ever saw a tent after that. Now I did go camping, but it was a while. You can't wait to get home. You want a bed. You want a shower. You want real food. So a tent, for that reason, has an advantage.
Now our body, like a tent, is temporary. And after a while, like a tent, the threads unravel, and the flaps get torn, and the tent leaks, like all tents do. What's amazing to me, what's interesting to me, I've always been amused at it, we all have this tendency, is the tendency to make our tent last forever. And so some people will surgically lift the tent flaps to make it look like you just bought the thing, or dye the threads that are unraveling, because it looks so young, or at least they think it looks so young. I remind you of what James said. He said, "What is your life? It is a vapor", haaaa, that's you, "it appears only for a little time and then it vanishes away." So just think of the tent, the body, that you and I live in and compare that with this promise.
Jesus said, "In my Father's house there are many mansions." When I think that I'm going to trade in the tent for a building, a mansion, give me the mansion, because after a while living in this tent, you're done with the tent. Now I'm looking at lots of tents right now. I'm looking at lots of you. The real you is not your tent. Your spirit is the real you. The body is simply the means by which you can convey and relate and communicate with others. It's helpful, but after a while it ceases to be helpful. It becomes less and less helpful in conveying who you are really are. And one day, when what we call death happens, the movers will come and you will move from one place to another. You will make your own exodus, a departure, a taking down of the tent. And that is the best way to view death.
It is not accurate to say of a believer, "He died, she died." It is more accurate to say, "He moved, she moved into the everlasting kingdom prepared for you by the Lord." No wonder Paul, when he writes Philippians, says, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Only a believer can make that statement. It's "gain," because the believer says, "For me to live is Christ." Now substitute "Christ" for something else: "For me to live is money, to die is, well, to lose it all." "For me to live is pleasure, for me to die is so cease the earthly pleasure and have to face the music of my life with God." But to say, "For me to live is Christ," is to say, "to die then is gain." Paul goes on to say, "To die is much better." So live your life like you're on a campground and don't make it all about "my tent."
"Hey, how's my tent look today?" "Like a tent." However, do you know you can send supplies up ahead for your mansion? Jesus said, "Don't lay-up treasures for yourself on earth, where moth and rust can destroy and corrupt and thieves can break in and steal; but lay up for yourself treasures in heaven." The idea, the thought that I can start decorating now intrigues me. Live with death in mind. Live like you're camping out. Here's a third key: live for the benefit of others. Live for the benefit of others. Now, here's what interesting about the passage we're reading: Peter, as I mentioned, is in his seventies. He's getting older. The tent is unraveling. But it's clear where his energy and his focus is, not in himself. His focus is on others. He is all about being motivated for others.
As I looked at chapter 1 this week, I counted four times the word "your" appears and eleven times the word, the pronoun "you" appears. He's doing this for them, for you, for yours. Here's just a sampling and look at verse 11, if you don't mind. "For so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly." Verse 12, "For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you of these things, though you know and are established in them." Verse 13, "I think it's right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up." Peter is thinking about others. Peter is living for the benefit of others. Now, he does it two ways: one, by reminding them of things that they already know, and, two, by waking them up; by reminding them and by waking them up.
First of all, he wants to remind them. He says, "You already know these things. You're established in the present truth. Even though that's true, I think it's right that I remind you of what you already know." A good teacher will do that. So if you ever wonder, "I've heard this before." That's a good thing. Jesus would often repeat himself in his parables, in his sermons. Solomon would do this in Proverbs, David in Psalms. There would be certain themes that are repeated, because a good teacher will repeat himself over and over again. Let me say that again. A good, no, I'm just kidding. Now, here's why that is, here's why you need to be reminded: simply because you forget and I forget. Virtually every study on learning I have ever found gives the most dismal statistics of retention.
Do you know that the average person retains, at best, that's if you're locked in and not looking at your cell phone right now. You're locked into the message, you will only remember 25 percent of this. And some experts say only if you hear it twice. So you have to listen to what I'm saying and get the tape...tape? The electronic digital media provided and listen to it again, to get a 25 or better percent retention of anything you hear. That is very discouraging for a teacher, can I just say that. However, you will retain 45 percent if you see it and hear it; 70 percent if you see, hear it, and do it. That's why we say get involved in Connect Groups, small groups. Because the more you can interact over that truth and reinforce it, the better you will be at retaining it.
So here's Peter saying, "I know you already know this stuff, but I just think it's right. I'm an old guy now, and I'm reminding you of these things over and over and over." And that's good. Have you ever had this experience? I have, where I've read a text, I know the text, but I've forgotten that truth. And I get back to it over, after several months or even years. I look and I open up that section in my Bible and I see that I've underlined it. I might even have a note on the side of it. But I've forgotten about it till now, and just now this is so helpful to be reminded of that. And Peter's doing that, he's stirring up and reminding them. Second thing he is doing is waking them up. Look at verse 13 at the word "stir": "Yes, I think it's right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up." Could be translated: "to arouse you or wake you up from your lethargy or your drowsiness."
That's what the word means: "to awaken from drowsiness or lethargy." Do you ever feel like you sort of fall asleep in the light? I have a dog who likes to find the bright window where the sun comes in and fall asleep. I look at that and I go, "I-I-I'd do that. That looks very attractive." I love the sunshine, just falling asleep in that warmth. Sometimes we live in the light of the gospel truth and it's so easy to become drowsy and lethargic. And so Peter said, "I want stir you up. I want to wake you up." And what I think he means here is what he's going to write starting in the very next chapter. You'll see he kind of, he unleashes it and he writes head-on about the danger of false prophets and false teachers in the church, and their need to be able to spot a fake when they see one or hear one.
So he wants to stir them up. He's living for others, to remind them as well as to stir them up. But here's the greater point: Peter is nearing his death, his departure is near, he's in his seventies, but he's not thinking about himself, he's thinking about others. That's the point I want to leave you with. He's thinking about others. He's living his life for others. Instead of becoming consumed, as so often happens when we're about to die or we're getting old and we just sort of think about how I'm doing, is that he is thinking about others. Somebody once said, "A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package." I remember growing up, my parents had a subscription to Life Magazine. Ever seen that magazine? It was a large magazine, great photographs. I wanted to be a Life photographer.
I just fell in love with the pictures and the articles. I enjoyed it. It came out in the early 1900s and it continued till around the year 2000, Life Magazine. Well, years later another magazine sort of overtook the sales, and that was in 1974, a magazine called People magazine, still very successful and read by a lot of people. So we went from Life to just People now. Now in 1977 something else happened in the print world. A new magazine sort of eclipsed People. It was called Us Magazine. Do you see the trend from Life to People to Us? Nineteen seventy-nine yet another magazine was spotted on the market, and that's called Self Magazine. Did you see this trend: Life, People, Us, Self? I use to note this and I used the make jokes, "One day there's going to be Me Magazine." Do you know in 2004 they unveiled Me Magazine?
So the circle, the tendency in life for most people is to draw that circle tighter and tighter. Have you ever seen a magazine called Others? I haven't. There might be one, but I've never seen one, and I don't think if there is one that it's popular. And yet the Bible tells us we ought to live for others and think about others and place others above ourselves. In fact, the Bible would say, "If you want a joyful life, think about others more than yourself." Ask any missionary who is camping in another culture and has stripped himself down or herself down out of all the pleasures of the Western world and gives his or her life for another people group, and ask them, "Are you happy?" They're going to go, "Oh, I'm so happy. I so don't have what I had in the states, but I'm so filled with fulfillment in doing what I'm doing."
Ask any relief worker who feels God has called them to do that as well. When they pour themselves out for others, there's an increase in the quality of one's life. So you want to live well and die well? Live with death in mind. Live like you're camping out. Live for the benefit of others. And, finally, we close with this: live for a legacy that outlives you. One day you're going to die, unless the Lord comes back before then. What are you going to leave behind you? What legacy will you leave that will outlive you? Verse 15 is Peter's: "Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease." I'm thinking that at the very least he has in his mind the book that he's writing, First Peter, and Second Peter the one he's writing.
Don't you find it interesting that after 2,000 years, 2,000 years, we are still being instructed and nourished by First and Second Peter? Talk about leaving a legacy that outlives you. That's amazing. One of the reasons that I feel Peter knew his time was up right about here is because of a promise the Lord Jesus had given him when he was a young man. It was right after the resurrection. You know the story, I'll just jog your memory: Jesus appears to Peter after the resurrection. Peter's a young guy and Jesus said something like this: "You know, Peter, when you were younger, you got dressed however you wanted to and you went wherever you wanted to go, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands", a euphemism for crucifixion in the New Testament.
"You will stretch out your hands and others with clothe you and they will take you where you don't want to go." And then John adds these words: "Jesus was telling Peter about the death he would die in which he would glorify God." So Peter has a promise: "When I'm old, this is going to happen." Now this, this is helpful to me, because when I read passages like Acts 12 where Peter is threatened, they said that he was going to die the next day. He was put in prison. His buddy James was killed and the Romans said, "You're next. Tomorrow you're going to die." It says, "And Peter fell asleep" in prison. Funny, it doesn't strike you the same way it struck me. How do you fall asleep knowing you're going to die the next day? Would you just say, "Okay, good night. I'm going to die in the morning"?
But you know why he could do that? Because Jesus said, "Peter, when you are old, you're going to die. When you are old, this is going to happen to you." Peter was still a young man, so he said, "Good night," went to sleep. Now he is old. And now the Lord has freshly impressed upon his mind that, "Time is up. They're going to take down the tent. You are making an exodus from one place to another place." And so he says, "Because that's true, because I know this really is the time, I want to make sure that I'm leaving something for others behind." So I ask you: What are you leaving behind? What is your legacy? What are you leaving the next generation? And the very least, are you leaving an example of a well-lived life?
Here's another suggestion: How about getting your affairs in order now, like a will, like a trust, like your funeral, so you don't encumber children and grandchildren with that? The most important thing is: Are you passing your faith on to the next generation? I keep a couple of journals that I've written in over the years about private matters and issues of faith and struggles and victories and triumphs. And I write them down by hand and I want to give them to the next generation of my son and my grandchildren. I want them to read that. I want to leave that legacy with them. And I think that living well is seen in these four keys: that you live with death in mind; you live like you're camping out, it's only temporary; you live for the sake of others; but you live wanting to leave something that will outlive you.
There's a great Native American proverb that says, "When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced; make sure that you live your life in such a manner that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice." Wouldn't it be horrible if it were the opposite, when you die for people to go "Whew! Hallelujah!" Out of my hair"? Nah, you want to be the one rejoicing when you leave and others weeping. And, well, we should, because we would miss your presence and your contribution. Moses, the only Psalm he ever wrote, Psalm 90, said, "Lord, teach us to number our days, that we might gain a heart of wisdom." Every day hundreds of thousands of babies are born on this planet. Every day hundreds of thousands of people leave into eternity.
This earth is sort of like a giant Titanic sailing with doomed people toward eternity. All of us have an exit date. It is appointed for all of us to die once. What then? Well, right now, right here in this sphere, in this time we can live well and thus die well.
Father, we think of Peter's example, and his words, and his mistakes. He was far from perfect, and how thankful we are that the record tells us that. But, Lord, we're thankful for his candid words, a man knowing that he was facing a death sentence. All of us are. All of us are terminal. I pray, Father, that we would not ignore that fact, but think soberly about that, knowing that it's very transitory, we're moving from one place to another, and we would think of other people as we go in our journey and put into place something that will go beyond us in this life, that we would live behind an example and a faith that endures for generations to come, in Jesus' name we pray, amen.