I want to share with you a very personal story, about a man that I loved so dearly. This man was a devoted husband, a loving father, a brave firefighter, my superhero. He was my father. My dad had a special kind of faith that shined the light of God’s love to everyone who was blessed enough to know him. He seemed to have this special connection and fellowship with God like I have rarely seen in anyone. Faith like his was a gift to witness. My dad truly prayed without ceasing, he lived his faith, he walked with God. There is a character from the Bible way in the beginning of Genesis named Enoch. We don’t know much about this good man, but what we do know always makes me think of my dad.
“And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” Genesis 5:24 NKJV
That is just like my father. For 50 short years he walked with God. And then he “was not.” God took him. My dad fought cancer for a little over two years before he went home to the Lord. During that time I watched a strong man become weak and frail. He lost so much of what made him whole. Dad was a singer, he loved praising God with music. He didn’t have training, but his voice was like an angel, God given. By the end he couldn’t even sing, but he wrote a poem about praising God anyway in the quiet. In fact, I never heard my dad complain or be angry the whole time he was sick. I heard him pray, cry out for mercy and help. I heard him thank God for every little kindness. And I heard him try in his last days to make sure everyone he could tell heard that Jesus is the way to eternal life, and try to get just one more person to hear about the love of Christ. That was my father. And when he took his last breath we were there, all of my family, right beside him.
It is a powerful experience to watch someone you love that much die. It is sobering to see a body once full of life instantly become an empty vessel. But it is truly amazing to know that at that same instant the spirit is with the Lord. My dad’s greatest desire was to live a life pleasing to God and hear the words “well done my good and faithful servant,” upon leaving this world. I can just picture that scene taking place in heaven. No sooner had he left our arms, he rested in arms of Christ his savior, fully restored, likely already singing praises. God took him.
My father passed away one week after my 14th birthday. Somehow God gave me a grace even at that age where I wasn’t ever angry or confused. I never felt cheated. I was grateful for 14 years with a father that was so wonderful. I knew it was part of God’s plan. I just had peace. How could I question when my dad had so graciously accepted what God had allowed him to go through?
All of that happened nearly 25 years ago. But the story I have to share today, I just learned about a few months ago from my older sister. She was 21 years old at the time.
After going through surgery, chemo, radiation, and kidney dialysis three days a week, my dad’s cancer had gone into a very short period of remission in 1994. We were so happy! On this particular day, my sister went with dad to his appointment at a John Hopkin’s hospital in Baltimore. One of his good friends from the fire department was also with them. They sat down in the tiny room waiting for the latest update. It was on that day the doctors told my father the cancer had returned and spread; there was nothing more they could do to treat him. They recommended he begin hospice services. He wouldn’t have much time left.
No one showed much emotion in the room. No one cried. They just left the hospital and went to go get lunch. My sister sat there as my dad and his friend talked and even joked, in complete disbelief. How does a person accept news like this? How can they just eat and talk like the doctors didn’t just say “you are going to die”?
Later that same evening my dad was sitting out on the deck. My sister approached him and asked how he could be ok? My dad didn’t want cancer. He didn’t want to die and leave his family. But he trusted his God. His answer to my sister was “I’d rather it be me than any of you.” She went away in disbelief. It was only later when she became a parent that she understood that kind of love. Of course we would choose to go through the trials instead of seeing our children suffer. That is just the heart of a loving parent. And then she realized that is also the heart of God the Father. And that is the heart of the Gospel of Christ.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
John 3:16 NKJV
My dad was a good man, a great man even, who carried the cross of cancer that he was given in this life, but he was still a sinner saved by grace. He knew that. He knew he needed a savior in the Lord Jesus Christ more than anything.
God sent His own Son to earth, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man. He was completely sinless, holy and righteous, and yet He willingly chose to die so that we could live. He demonstrated to us “I would rather it be me than any of you.” And it could only have been Him. Jesus Christ was the only worthy sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins and restore us to God. It had to be Him. We couldn’t have done it. But He did it for us because He loves us that much. My dad didn’t choose to die, he just accepted it. But Jesus willingly put aside Himself and took up the cross that we couldn’t bear. He did it so we could be with Him forever.
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
II Corinthians 5:21 NKJV
“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
John 10:17-18 NIV
Tomorrow is Good Friday. We remember the suffering that Jesus went through to defeat sin and death and restore us to a relationship with God. I hope that you will think deeply about what that means. And if you don’t know Him as your Lord and Savior I pray that you will. I love Isaiah chapter 53 and how it foreshadows the person of Christ. I highly recommend reading the whole chapter and reflecting on it. But here is part of it that I find especially powerful.
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Isaiah 53:4-6 NIV
The punishment could have been for us, it should have been for us. But it was put on Him. It was Jesus. Because that is the heart of the gospel, a Father who loved His children so much, and a God that chose for it to be Him sacrificed instead of us. He loved us enough to die for us. Shouldn’t we love Him enough to live for Him?
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:6-8 NIV
His gift of salvation is offered to all who would believe in the Son. Jesus suffered the cross, died, and rose again that first Easter morning so that we could have the hope of being with Him forever in His kingdom. Do you have that hope today?
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 2:6-11 NIV
Being with the Lord was my dad’s greatest hope. His other hope was that everyone He loved “be there” too. Jesus Christ offers eternal life to all those that believe in Him. I know I will see my dad again someday. I will be there with him, but most importantly I will be there in the presence of God my Savior. Will you be there? A loving parent says “I would rather it be me than any of you.” The atoning death and resurrection of Christ say to us that it was Him, so it doesn’t have to be any of us. The debt has been paid, the veil has been torn. We are free to come into the presence of the Lord. Will you come? Praise God for the good news that Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death and that He lives! That is the heart of the Gospel!