Vol. 7, No. 8
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Typically, a tombstone has three main portions: name, date and brief message. There are actually two dates, one of birth and one of death. The message gives a bit of information about the deceased, such as "loving husband and father." So I ask, what is the most important thing on the tombstone? It is not the name, the message or the dates, but what is between the dates--a dash, as it represents the entirety of life from birth until death. When we die, will the dash represent a life of service to God, or a life of refusal to obey?
The Eleventh Chapter of Hebrews is often called Faith's Hall of Fame. In that list Abel, Enoch, Noah and many other Old Testament characters are cited for their great and exceeding faith. They are called by name, and a brief account of their active faith is cited as well. In verse thirteen of that text, the writer gives an epitaph for them all: "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." Guided by the Holy Spirit, the writer praises the lives of these individuals due to their service to God. Though it is only specified for Abel (verse 4), though they are all dead they yet speak, encouraging us to have an active faith in our lives.
Consider what the Bible has to say about the life of Enoch. Genesis 5:23-24 and Hebrews 11:5 both stand as divine epitaphs for the life of Enoch. These verses tell us for what the dash between his two dates stands. In Genesis 5:24, we find his life summed up in a few words, "Enoch walked with God." The same is said in Hebrews, but with different words, "he pleased God." Enoch had such a relationship with God that he shared a fate with only one other man--he did not see death. The Genesis account uses the phrase "and was not" in relation to the end of his physical life. Genesis Five gives a list of generations. For the majority of these individuals the Scriptures cite the number of years lived followed by "and he died." Enoch, however, did not die; he was simply no longer found on earth. The account in Hebrews explains: "Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him." Quite simply, God took him to heaven. What an epitaph! Enoch walked with God; Enoch pleased God! In Enoch's case, the dash in between stands for devoted service and obedience to God.
Elijah is the only other person, recorded by Scripture, to have been taken by God. Second Kings Eleven records the event: "...behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." Though a divine epitaph is not recorded in the Scriptures for Elijah, this event alone shows the devoted service Elijah gave to God. Why was Enoch taken by God? It was because he walked with God; "he pleased God." It seems to me the only way God would also take Elijah is for a similar life lived. Though not specifically stated, Elijah walked with and was pleasing to God. Did Elijah sin? Yes, but so have all of God's other children. Overall, however, his life was a life of dedicated service to God. For Elijah the dash in between stands for all that is right in the sight of God.
Moses is another character who held a special relationship with God. Though God did not take him, God did bury him--a fate unique to Moses. The last eight verses of Deuteronomy Thirty-four stand as a divine epitaph for Moses. Verse five tells us Moses was a "servant of the Lord." Skipping down to verse ten, a great epitaph is divinely recorded, "And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face." Again we see a character of obedience and service to God. Did Moses sin? Yes, that's why he did not enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 34:5; Numbers 20:12). Overall, the life of Moses was one of service and obedience to God. God, therefore, blessed Moses with the opportunity to see the Promised Land, after which he died and was buried by God upon the mountain. Again we see the dash in between representing a faithful life of servitude to God.
The apostle Paul writes to the Roman Christians, "For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's" (14:7-8). Among other things, we see that our lives are not really our own--they are God's. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul told them our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost which we have on loan from God, therefore we are not our own; we belong to God (6:19). Since these things are so, do we not owe a life of servitude and obedience to God? We have a decision to make. In the words of Joshua, "choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15). We, likewise, need to have the courage of Peter and the other apostles to stand up in the face of danger and boldly declare "we ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). We should have the mind of Christ as he prayed in the Garden "not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42).
How we live our lives on this earth truly makes a difference upon how we will spend eternity. Our lives need to be of such a nature that the dash in between will stand for good works, faithfulness, obedience and righteousness. Paul recognized this truth when he penned these words: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). The following verses tell us what mind that is: servitude, humility and obedience. What will your dash represent?