Overcoming the Fear of Death

 

A few weeks ago, we talked about how God can make death look good when we see autumn leaves and snow covered forests. And today, we’re going to see it again, but it’s going to be with a human. I don’t mean for this to sound morbid, but God does have a way of doing this. What we’ll really see, though, is how death really isn’t something the believer should fear, as God has all of these things within His control.

As I stated last week, we continue on in Numbers 20 and we discussed the death of dream when it came to Moses, and this week we’ll look at mainly the death of Aaron. Numbers 20 opens with death and closes with death. In verse 1 we see that Miriam died as we read last week. We’re going to talk more about this in a minute, but let’s look quick at God sticking to the prophesy given way back to Rebecca in Genesis 25:23 concerning Jacob and Esau, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”

Look at Numbers 20:14-21. Edomites are descendants of Esau. Remember, Esau and Jacob kind of make amends back in Genesis 33, however, according to this account in Numbers, Edom is holding tightly to bitterness. It’s probable that the story of Jacob fooling Esau for the birthright has been passed down through the generations and they can’t stand their brothers. In reading this, Edom really has no reason to fear Israel. Israel isn’t exactly known as a powerful nation right now. The battle they fought in was over 40 years ago back in Exodus 17, and most of the people that fought in the battle are dead. On top of it, Israel comes as a “family member” letting them know of the hardships they’ve faced and have no interest in taking their land, they simply want to pass through. It’s an easier, more direct route to Canaan. Initially, they say their simply going to stay on the “king’s highway” and not mess with anything in the land of the Edomite. When Edom denies passage, Israel says if they do take anything, they will replace all of it. Edom still refuses, and Israel has to go the longer route. This is the beginning of Edom being a thorn in the side of Israel, and it will do nothing but hurt Edom.

In fact, this is what will happen whenever anybody messes with the children of God. It may not be immediate, but God will pour out his justice on those that would come against His children. Specifically for the Israelites, it was promised through Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse…” Fast forward to the New Testament, and we kind of get the same kind of promise, it’s just worded very differently. Jesus says in  Mark 9:42,“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to (stumble), it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” These words are also recorded in Matthew 18:6 Luke 17:2.

When we choose to follow Christ, we become a part of the family, and God is a great Father who watches over his family. People may come against us, but we are actually called to kind of take it on the chin and allow God to dish out His justice when we are wronged. God specifically tells the Israelites in Deuteronomy 23:7, “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother.” But for everyone, Old Testament Israelite and New Testament believers, it says in  Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” How was that also for the Israelite, Paul (the author of Romans) says “it is written”…where was “it written”? Deuteronomy 32:35. So after that lesson there, we come to the story of Aaron’s death. Let me remind you of what was said about Miriam’s death back in verse 1, “And Miriam died there, and was buried there.” Now let’s read about Aaron’s death,  Numbers 20:22-29. Wow…Miriam got a whole 8 words about her death, while Aaron got 8 verses.

Now before we get in an uproar, and start complaining about what we feel are misogynistic leanings of the Bible, let’s recall the last thing we heard about Miriam, and that was what? Back in Numbers 12 (it may not seem too long ago as it’s only 8 chapters back, but it was 40 years earlier), we see Miriam on the brink of death after God gives her leprosy for opposing Moses’ leadership. Now before we say, “See? Moses gives her 8 words because she opposed him…typical guy!”, let’s recall what happened at the end of the story. Moses’ prays for God to relent, heal and save Miriam…the person who opposed him.

You can disagree with me if you’d like, that’s your prerogative,  but it says a lot (without actually saying anything) that the last thing we heard about Miriam before her death was a wicked act she did 40 years previously. Sure she was a prophetess, and the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29), but is it possible that she never “recovers” from this, and stops physically practicing her gift?

Hence, she’s given a whole 8 words about her death?

But look at Aaron…he’s not perfect by any means. He succumbed to the Israelites to build a golden calf when it took Moses too long to come down the mountain back in Exodus 32. In fact, Aaron seems to be a master at succumbing to the whims of people. He went along with Miriam’s idea of opposing Moses. We saw last week, and we heard it from the very word of God, that he was all good with Moses striking the rock.

But there is a significant difference. Back in Numbers 12 Aaron is the one who calls out to Moses to help them knowing that they sinned. You don’t hear that from Miriam.  And then from there on, you see Aaron’s obedience to God in the role God gave him as High Priest. He’s consistently by Moses’ side, not opposing him, and even helps save the people who came against him and Moses at the time of Korah’s rebellion in Numbers 16. Remember, he’s the one who took the scepter full of the incense of the Lord and ran out into the disease infested group where half of them died and half of them were healed. After this he’s again declared by God to lead in the religious rites and rituals of the nation after his staff buds, and then gets the honor of God speaking directly to him about the duties of the priests and Levites in Numbers 18.

We kind of talked about this last week, but there is power in confession to the Lord when we mess up and get back on the path that leads to him. Based on seeing this, it seems to me that Miriam didn’t quite do what she “needed” to do in order to be remembered as Aaron was, and not some misogynistic leaning in Moses’ writing.

But like I stated earlier, the thing I think we need to see here is that the believer need not fear death. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to say that if you’re to go like Aaron did. Let’s go up a mountain, we’ll give your clothes to your kid, and then you’ll just die. No pain, no heart attack, no disease, no animal mauling you to death, not being burned at the stake, etc. Those things, though, aren’t fearing death itself, those are fears of how you’re going to die.

Death itself, though, is something to not fear for the believer. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging you to seek death. I’m talking about two things here.

First, when Aaron is “called to die”, the Lord refers to it as he being “gathered to his people”. Which gives Aaron hope of what death is going to be like. It’s not doom, gloom and dark, but something to almost look forward to. It’s exactly what Paul says in Philippians 1:21, “…to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” What Paul means by this is that while living, we need to serve God just as Christ did. And Paul talks about this and his desire to continue to help lead people to a saving knowledge of Christ throughout this section of Philippians 1. However, to die, he gains eternal life, a crown, the treasures in heaven that he’s been working so hard here on earth to attain. The believer need not fear death because what God has for us after death is significantly better than what we have and where we’re at right now.

Second, we don’t need to fear death because God has everything in control. In this story, we see Moses stripping the priestly garments from Aaron and giving them to his son Eleazar, showing that the priesthood and the nation will continue on. If Aaron, and more so Moses, had any fear that this would crumble, it now has no basis.

Now as a parent of young children, I don’t and I don’t want you, to ponder this too much, just hear me out here. We have to realize that if our “time is up”, God will watch over our children. For us to think that God couldn’t do that as well as we could, is a dangerous mindset to live in. We have set ourselves above God. I understand this is an extreme example of the point I’m trying to get across, but hopefully it’s effective. God is in control and He knows exactly what he’s doing.

As we have sat here these last three weeks looking at passages about “death”, if you have feelings of fear or doubt about death, you probably have at least one of the two problems I just mentioned.

  1. You’re not saved or you’re not confident of your salvation because of your sinful lifestyle and all you have to look forward to is hell and then a lake of fire and burning sulfur. If you need to be saved, do it now. Cry out to God that you are a sinful person and need His forgiveness. Believe that Jesus died on the cross for all the sins you’ve committed, and start living under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Get into the Word of God and keep praying.
  2. Maybe you’ve come to the realization today that you don’t believe God is in control and you are constantly trying to take matter into your own hands. We talked about vengeance earlier. We talked about opposing God and his established leadership. We’re talking about fear. And we’ve seen and are going to see the consequences of continuing down a path in which we try to take over where God is in control. Stop doing that, and come under the authority of God today!

 

Just remember that these are just notes, hearing it in person will make much better sense, and tends to be funnier (says my wife). And no sermon notes, or online Bible study takes the place of gathering together with fellow believers. If you missed yesterday, please make plans to join us (or your local church) on Sunday. Crossroads Church meets at 721 Weston Ave in St. James, MN at 10am. We’ll save you a seat!

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