One Tree Hill

Some of the most difficult passages to interpret in Scripture are the endless genealogical lists that one comes across from time to time. So and so begat so and so, and so and so begat so and so, until you’re blue in the face. But is it possible that, in each of these lists, there is a subtle message of the gospel’s redemption? Notice in the Bible’s very first genealogical list the recurring phrase “and then he died” (Gen. 5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31). The author of Genesis stresses that whether a person lives nine minutes or nine centuries, the end result is identical. Even for those who exercise. Even for those who eat right. Even for those who avoid high-fructose corn syrup and Yellow #5. Everyone is part of the same vicious cycle: a person is born, is given a few days, but is eventually swallowed up by the grave. Everyone dies.

I know that this is not exactly a wonderful, Monday morning topic, but you will have to forgive me because death has been on my mind as of late. This morning, I am traveling to Tyler to attend a funeral for the wife/mother/mother-in-law of dear friends. I was notified a week ago that she had been placed under the care of hospice, so I knew that her time on earth was short and her graduation to glory was imminent. In addition, Wednesday night, I will be blessed to speak at the Lewisville Church of Christ in their Summer Series. My topic that evening is, of all things, death.

The Bible itself paints a grim and dark picture of death. It is depicted as “a fleeting shadow” (Job 14:2), “the journey of no return” (Job 16:22), “the king of terrors” (Job 18:14), and a “return to the dust” (Psa. 104:29). The Bible’s most iconic image is John’s depiction of death as a rider astride a pale horse (Rev. 6:8). Inspired writers also do their part to remind us of death’s impending certainty. In a Benjamin Franklinesque statement, the writer of Hebrews warns that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” (Heb. 9:27). You and I have an appointment that cannot be postponed forever, and none of us are here for very long as it is. Delusions of immortality are unfounded. “You’re nothing but a wisp of fog,” James writes, “catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing,” (Jas. 4:14).

In other words, everyone dies. So is there any real hope?

In fact, the Scriptures present Jesus as the one and only solution to the tyranny of death. Advanced echoes of an empty tomb came through the prophets. “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?” (Hos. 13:14). Those mocking words were repeated by Paul because he believed that such promises had been fulfilled in Christ. “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Cor. 15:57). With the gospel came life and immortality, Paul concluded, because Jesus had robbed death of its power (2 Tim. 1:10). No longer would death prey unchecked on the human race. There was now an antitoxin for its venom. In Christ, death has no victory!

Christians live in hope that on a not so distant day, and because the tomb is empty, “The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever,” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Paul’s next statement is especially fitting. “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18). Encouraging words, they are indeed.

English readers often miss the significance of names in the Bible, unless such is plainly spelled out for us. On the other hand, the implication of a name rarely escaped the notice of ancient Hebrew readers. It is therefore appropriate for us to observe one final note from the fifth chapter of Genesis. Buried within this genealogical list of Adam’s family is a hint of God’s redemptive intentions.

The name Adam means “man,” the name Seth means “appointed,” and Enosh means “frail” or “mortal.” The name Kenan means “sorrow,” Mahalalel means “blessed God,” Jared is derived from a Hebrew verb meaning “will descend,” and Enoch means “teaching.” The name Methuselah means “his death will bring” because he died in the year of the Flood. Lamech, meaning “despairing,” is from the same Hebrew root as our English word lament. The final name, Noah, means “rest.” Placed together, the ten names spanning Gen. 5 read thus:

“Man [is] appointed mortal sorrow, [but] the blessed God will descend teaching [that] his death will bring [the] despairing rest.”

God indeed came to earth and dwelt among us. His message was simple: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies,” (John 11:25). To the despairing—to those drowning in mortal sorrow—he brought hope of eternal rest. And with upward glances, we await his return in the clouds.

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

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