Dead Men Living
In The Voyage
Dawn Treader, Lucy finds a magical book that tells about a cup, a sword
and a green hill. The story is the Narnian equivalent to the gospel.
describes Lucy's fascination with the story. He writes, " She was
in the story as if it were real, and all the pictures were real too.
she had gotten to the third page she came to the end and said, 'That is
the loveliest story I've ever read or shall read in my whole life. Oh,
I wish I could have gone on reading it for ten years."1
the same fascination. We may listen to passages from Matthew, Mark,
and John year after year, but we never tire of hearing them. Each
and each sermon allows us to hear a different nuance. Our thoughts
on a different event. One year we are drawn to the women who walked out
to the tomb, while it was still dark, another time we focus on the men
who raced to the tomb and still another reading will direct us to the
of the folded grave clothes.
teaching instruments. They allow the listener to draw their own
They require us to think for ourselves. That demands the listen take an
active role in the learning process. But stories can also distract. We
may use stories to escape from the reality of our broken and depressed
lives. Fantasy substitutes for living. Make believe avoids
Even the stories from the Bible may become obstacles for faithful
Paul did not allow his readers to succumb to this temptation. Rather
retell the stories Paul wrote his interpreted and application of them.
He took the stories that he had heard and weaved their lessons into
teaching about God and the Christian life.
In the first
of Romans, Paul has been describing why all men and women are equal
God. He states that sin entered the world through the disobedience of
and Eve. Guilty by association, all of their descendants must suffer
punishment of a broken relationship with God, with one another, with
and finally the ultimate punishment-a physical death.
the Jew and the non-Jew are guilty of disobedience. The Jewish people
broken the law given through the prophet Moses and the Gentiles, the
have broken the law that God had written on their hearts. The Gentiles
have also, according to Paul, chosen to worship the creation rather
the Creator. Both groups stand guilty before God and deserve punishment
but God offers his grace through faith. Salvation is a gift not the
for religious works.
seem obvious to us, it was not obvious or logical to many. Paul's
argued that if God forgive so easily what is going to keep people from
continuing to disobey the law. Why would anyone want to go to the
effort and inconvenience of obeying the moral code? His rivals also
that if God likes to forgive and men and women like to sin, why not
on sinning so God will keep on forgiving. To which the apostle
with horrific outrage, "God forbid!"
was not based on his obsessive conformity to the moral law but in his
of the connection between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and
baptism. When he tells the Romans that they have been united in the
of Christ he is drawing upon the rich imagery of adult baptism.
presented by their parents and sprinkled with water, an adult is often
baptized by full immersion. The new convert enters the water, makes a
of faith and crosses their arms upon their chest. The minister
the convert by the back lowers him or her into the water as if the
is being lowered into the grave. The water symbolizes not only the
of sin but also being united with Christ in his death.
This was a
for Paul. In the act of baptism, our old self, with all of its
all of its inconsistencies, all of its idiosyncrasies become crucified
with Christ and placed in the tomb. They are dead. The first act of
the Christian life is to die to your past.
This may come
as a shock
to some to hear this message on Easter morning. Today is supposed to be
a day of new life, new birth, the blooming of spring but Easter Sunday
does not come without Friday afternoon. Life is born from death.
Too often, we
to Jesus he will accept you as you are. We talk about faith as a
pleasant, upward assent to the open arms of a warm, caring, loving
God.2 But that is a distorted message. Paul knew better. On his journey
to the city of Damascus, Jesus appeared to him in a blinding light.
fell on his knees and in that moment, Paul experienced a spiritual
His old self died; that part of him that was absorbed with obeying
and regulations; that part of him that hatred anyone who did not
On a dirty county road, Paul died to his past.
chaplain at Duke University, asked a group of people, "Has anyone ever
died to be a Christian?
The room was
a while. Everyone waited for someone to speak. Then an older man
I couldn't live in a world where black people were the same as white
When segregation ended, I thought I would die. But I didn't. I was
My next-door neighbor, my best friend, is black. Something old had to
in me for something new to be born."
to be terribly frightened to be alone by myself. When my husband went
of town on business, I either went with him or took the children and
with a neighbor. But the night that my eight-year-old child died of
I stopped being afraid."
"but I don't get the connection.
"once you've died, there is nothing left to fear, is there? When my
died, I did too."3
that the Good News of the Gospel is that death is not the end but only
an intermediate step to resurrection. Once we have died to ourselves,
can then live to God. So Paul tells the Romans to consider themselves
to all the things from their past; to treat every desire, every
every old habit as if they were lifeless.
John Stott in
on Romans writes:
make-believe. It is not screwing up our faith to believe what we do not
believe. We are not to pretend that our old nature has died, when we
perfectly well it has not. Instead we are to realize and remember that
our former self did die with Christ, thus putting an end to its career.
We are to consider what in fact we are, namely dead to sin and alive to
God like Christ (10). Once we grasp this, that our old life has ended,
with the score settle, the debt paid and the law satisfied, we shall
to have nothing more to do with it.4
What was once a
of your past? Or maybe that past is still apart of your present. You
still struggle with depression. Getting up in the morning is a grueling
You may still
much time surfing the Internet searching for certain sites. Your
are filled with images and a world of fantasy.
You may still
too much alcohol. You drink to enjoy but one leads to another and
You become defensive if someone questions how much you have drank.
You may have
the closets of your house with clothes and toys. Your credit cards are
approaching the limit. You spend all your time looking at picture of
items for the home, dreaming about a new car or a new summer vacation.
You won't look at pictures of hungry children or refugee camps and you
do not like to hear your minister talk about tithing.
You may be
a relationship that you know is not healthy to your marriage or your
This is all
part of our
old self that Paul tells us to count as dead; to put it aside; to be
with it; to act as if it is dead and has no life.
Before we can
to God, we must be willing to say an emphatic NO, to certain desires,
and behavior. We must be willing to die to that old self before we
a resurrection of the new.
OUR THOUGHTS ON LIFE
After we count
dead to our past, Paul tells the Romans to consider themselves alive to
God. Motivational speakers echo a message that the apostle Paul learn
years ago, attitude makes a difference. We can either choose to live
an attitude of limitations or live in a world of possibilities. We can
choose to wallow in self pity or choose to rejoice in the blessings of
one man walked down the 18th fairway at Augusta National for last time.
During his career Arnold Palmer won 4 Masters titles on that famed
course but at the age of 74 he has decided that his 50th Masters would
be his last. The game of golf would not be the same today without
Palmer's legacy. I still remember joining the ranks of his Army at
Golf Course for the Cleveland Open. Palmer had a special talent for
but he also credits his success to winning attitude. On the wall of his
study, hangs a plaque that captures his undefeatable spirit
you are beaten, you are.
If you think you
not, you don't.
If you'd like to
but think you can't,
almost certain you won't.
the stronger or faster man,
sooner or later the one who wins
the one who thinks they can."
took a swing, every time he stroked a putt he only thought about making
that one shot. In each of his victories, a moment would come in the
when Palmer would hitch up his pants and start his infamous charge. If
he missed a shot, he would recover on the next one. Bogey a hole and he
would tee up on the next expecting to make birdie. Somehow, someway he
would work his way into the lead and ultimately the winner's circle.
living is all about. It is more than a story about two women who walked
to a grave when it was still dark. It is more than a story about two
who race each other to an empty tomb. It is more than a story that
in the past.
about 11 uneducated, unskilled men, fishermen, tax collectors,
turning the world upside down with a message of hope, faith and love.
is a story about the transforming power of God to change lives. It is a
story that continues each day, whenever someone counts himself dead to
sin and alive to God.
1 C.S. Lewis,
of the Dawn Treader,
2 Adopted from
H. Willimon, "Through Death to Life," Pulpit Resource, Vol. 27, No. 2,
3 William H.
"Letting Go Down Here," Christian Century, March 5, 1986, p. 231,
April 9, 2004.
4 John Stott,
(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 179.