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This Year Thou Shalt Die

Jeremiah 28:16

Don Fortner | Added: Aug 30, 2008 | Category: Theology


The Lord our God has graciously brought us to the dawn of another year. The word of His prophet pronounced upon the lying prophet, Hananiah, is a word we would be wise to consider. I hope you will hear it as if it were spoken directly to you, as we enter the new year. Though it must be qualified with a possibly or, perhaps, even a probably, may God the Holy Spirit cause it to ring in your ears today. “This year thou shalt die.” It is not only possible, but very probable, that some of us will die before the new year has ended. It may be that I will die this year. Perhaps you will. But we must soon die.

A Dying Man

In this world there are few things about which I can speak with absolute certainty. But I know this I am a dying man. The fatal disease is already in my body. I must die. My body is wearing out. Every day I am reminded of it. This earthly house, this tabernacle of clay, must be dissolved.

As much as I have loved and over-loved this body, I must leave it to the grave. There it must lie and rot in darkness as a neglected and hateful thing. These eyes must see no more. These hands must move no more. These feet must walk no more. This tongue must speak no more. This body of my flesh must become a feast for loathsome worms. From the dust it came, and to the dust it must return; earth to earth, water to water, air to air, ashes to ashes. This is the fruit of my sin.

May the Lord graciously “teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12), that we may apply our hearts to Christ, who alone is Wisdom (Colossians 3:1-3). May He give us grace to live each day He has appointed for us in this world as if we knew it would be our last. It very well may be that God has said concerning you or me, “This year thou shalt die.”

Carnal men celebrate the dawning of the new year as carnal men, in utter frivolity. We ought to enter each new year with sober minds and spiritual aspirations. Shall we live on God’s earth as loiterers, standing in the way of others? Shall we be drones in the vineyard of God, cumbering the ground?

O Lord, arise; help us and deliver us from such, for Thy name’s sake. Enable us by Thy Spirit to devote ourselves entirely to the cause of Christ in this world, that we may serve our generation in the time given us in this world, for the glory of God. If this year is to be my last on earth, O Spirit of God, by Thy blessing, may it be my best. If my end is near, if my days are almost fulfilled, make me a blessing to many, for Christ’s sake.

Rejoice In Christ

Perhaps you ask, “Shouldn’t we rejoice as we remember the past and anticipate the new year? Shouldn’t believers, above all people, have real, heartfelt joy on such a day as this?” Indeed, we should be filled with joy and thanksgiving, with adoration and praise to our ever-gracious God as we remember the days and years of grace we have experienced. God our Father has chosen us in eternal love. Christ our Redeemer has bought us with His precious blood. And God the Holy Spirit has called us “out of darkness into his marvellous light” and has made us new creatures in Christ. We are justified, sanctified, forgiven of all sin, and “accepted in the Beloved.” We are “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ.”

All this and indescribably more God has done for us by His grace. Above all people, let us rejoice. “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice!” If He has said of me, “This year thou shalt die,” my heart replies, “My times are in thy hand.” They could not be in a wiser, more tender, or more loving hand.

“My times are in Thy hand,”
My God, I want them there:
Choose Lord the path that’s best for me
Throughout my journey here.

“My times are in Thy hand,”
There is no cause for fear:
My Father’s providence is good,
I should be free of care.

“My times are in Thy hand,”
I would submissive be:
Forgive my fears, forgive my doubts,
Drive unbelief from me!v

“My times are in Thy hand,”
My God, do what You will
Grant grace to me to honour You,
To trust You and be still.

The Possibility

I am not a prophet. I cannot tell you what tomorrow will bring. So I cannot speak to you as Jeremiah did to Hananiah, and say, “This year thou shalt die.” But this I can and must say, soon you shall die. It may be before the year ends, or even before this day ends. This year you may die. Your life is the greatest uncertainty in the world. You have no assurance of another year, another day, or even another moment. This year you may die. Thousands have died since this time last year. This year you may die. Thousands will die before the year’s end. This year you may die. You may be young, but cemeteries are full of the bodies of people who died at your age.

Youth is no security against the stroke of death. This year you may die. You may be strong and in good health; but good health this morning will not prevent you from dying this afternoon. This year you may die. You may have a prospering business; but your business and your plans for it may be left with all the other vanities of this world in a moment’s time. This year you may die. You may have a family to raise; but the needs of your family will not prolong the bounds of your habitation here. This year you may die. You may not have finished your education; but death will not wait. This year you may die. You may not be prepared to die, and may try your best not to think about dying; but this year you may die. When the almighty has issued the warrant, you will die.

Just Suppose

Just suppose this really is God’s word to you. “This year thou shalt die!” What then? How things will change for you, and change forever! If, like the rich man our Lord speaks of in Luke 16, you die without Christ, without the cleansing of His blood, without His righteousness, without His Spirit, without His saving grace, you will lift up your eyes in hell in torment, in the everlasting torments of the damned in hell! No words can describe your everlasting woe! Then, your doubts will all be gone. Your questions will all be answered. Your fears will all come upon you. Mercy will be gone forever! Your conscience will torment you forever!

If you die in the Lord, trusting Christ, washed in His blood, robed in His righteousness, born of His Spirit, save by His grace, like Lazarus, of whom our Saviour speaks in that same chapter, you will be carried by the angels of God into heaven’s glory! No words can begin to describe your everlasting bliss! Such is the fulness of the glory and bliss awaiting you that the heart of man has never even conceived it! We cannot even imagine the blessedness and glory of heaven, where God shall wipe all tears from our eyes, the former things are passed away, and we see our all-glorious Christ face to face forever. Death for you, my brother, my sister, will be the end of all your sin, the end of all your sorrow, the end of all your pain, the end of all your sickness, the end of all your longing, the end of all your hopes, the end of all your anticipations, the end of all your doubts, fears, and questions, the end of all your unbelief, rebellion, and waywardness, the end of all your fallings, failures, and frustrations, the end of all your death!

Whether we die this year, or another, is really of no great significance. The only matter of importance is that we die in Christ and that, until we die, we live unto Christ. To that end, I ask my God and Saviour to make me as “a weaned child,” weaning me of everything that rivals Him, setting my affection on Him who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Peace in Dying

We all want to die in peace. But multitudes die in a false peace, a peace that is nothing but a vain delusion. It appears that Hananiah did. He was a lying prophet who went on lying to others and lying to himself until he died. If you find your peace anywhere other than in Christ, you may die in peace; but in hell your peace will end.

Whether the Lord has said of me, as He did Hananiah, “This year thou shalt die,” I cannot know; but I rejoice to know that He has said of me, as He did Zedekiah, “Thou shalt die in peace” (Jeremiah 34:5). Zedekiah saw and experienced much evil, trouble, heartache and sorrow; but he died in peace, the peace that only Christ can give, who gives ransomed sinners peace with God.

I must confess, to my shame, that I have much in common with Zedekiah. There was absolutely no reason he should have expected to die in peace, be buried in honour, and remembered with fondness. Yet, the Lord God promised that he would be (Jeremiah 34:4-5), and he was. The king of Babylon took him captive, killed his sons before his eyes, then put out his eyes, and bound him in chains (Jeremiah 39:7), but Zedekiah died in peace. Zedekiah was the 20th and last king of Judah. Though Jeremiah was his prophet, “he did evil in the sight of the Lord,” just as his fathers had done, and provoked the Lord to anger (2 Kings 24:19-20).

Yet, the Lord God had chosen him in Christ as a vessel of mercy and was determined to show him mercy. His name means either, “the Lord is my judge”, or “the Lord is my righteousness,” and God, who providentially gave him that name, made Christ, the Justifier of His redeemed, the Lord his righteousness. Because Zedekiah died in Christ, who of God was made unto him righteousness, he died in peace. God’s prophet told him, “Thou shalt not die by the sword,” by violence; “but thou shalt die in peace.” Though he saw much violence, he died in peace. How could such a rebel, such a sinner as Zedekiah die in peace?

How can such a rebel, such a sinner as I am, die in peace? The only way a sinner can die in peace is to die washed in the blood of Christ, robed in the garments of salvation, and born again by His Spirit. The only way a sinner can die in peace is to die in Christ, believing Christ, having Christ as his righteousness. Because Christ alone is my righteousness, God says to me, “Thou shalt die in peace,” and I hope to die in peace. It is written, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.”

Thank God, this body is only my shell, my tabernacle, my tent, my clothing, and not myself! Death is separation from the body. It must come. But it will be a welcome separation. It will be a separation from a troublesome and hateful companion. Death is like taking off a shoe that hurts my foot. It will be a welcome relief. To put this body aside will be like laying aside a worn-out tool, when all its work is done. It will be the dismissing of an employee whose work is no longer needed.

This body has been my greatest enemy. It has caused me pain, and toil, and sorrow. It has required my constant care and attention. I will be glad to put it aside. I know by long experience that this body of flesh has been a painful lodging for my soul. “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

When I am free from this body I will be free from the bondage of corruption and the prison of sin. By reason of sin dwelling within me, this body has become mortal, beastly, and vile. This body was created perfect. Had it never known sin, it would have been immortal, it would have never known death. But since the fall of our father Adam, the human body has become a decaying, dying, mortal body of sin.

This is what I am saying, Somehow, we must learn to treat this body as a perishing thing. I do not mean that we should be reckless about our health. That would be a great evil. But I do mean that we spend far too much time, care, and money pampering, soothing, and gratifying this body. Soon, very soon, it must rot in the grave.

It is your soul that is important. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world (for the comfort of his body), and lose his own soul?” “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”

But when death comes to this body of mine, it will be a welcome release for my soul. As a believer, united to Christ by faith, death is a happy prospect for me. I am redeemed by the blood of Christ, robed in His righteousness, and saved by His grace. For me, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” “To die is gain.” I have no reason to fear death, because the Lord Jesus Christ died for me, satisfying the wrath of God in my place, as my Substitute. He has put away my sin, and made me righteous and accepted before God. “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” No sooner shall I close my eyes in death than I shall awake in the presence of my Redeemer, who loved me and gave Himself for me. “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.”

Buried in Honour

Not only did he die in peace, Zedekiah was buried in honour. It is becoming popular, even among God’s people, to replace burial with cremation. But burial is throughout the Scriptures held before us as an honourable and instructive thing. The burial of our bodies distinguishes men from beasts. When a wild beast dies, his carcass is left to rot on the ground. We bury one another in hope of the resurrection, laying their bodies in the earth until the resurrection. Burial carries with it the implication of our immortality.

When the Lord assured Zedekiah he would be buried, He showed him great favour, saying, “They shall burn odours for thee.” God commanded His prophet to tell Jehoiakim that he would be buried in dishonour, with “the burial of an ass” (Jeremiah 22:19); but to Zedekiah, the object of His favour, He promised an honourable burial. He was buried in honour because the Lord God had made him an honourable man by His grace.

Lamented Blessing

Though we are not informed of Zedekiah’s life after the Lord revealed Christ to him, he who was once a curse was obviously made a blessing to many while the Jews were in Babylonian captivity (Zechariah 8:13), because after his death the children of Israel lamented him as the loss of a great blessing (Jeremiah 34:5).

As this new year begins, whether it is appointed for me to die this year or another, I pray that God the Holy Spirit will give me such grace, that He will make me a blessing to His people and all whose lives He allows me to touch, for Christ’s sake.

When I leave this world, I sure would like to leave it having served my generation by the will of God, having been useful to the souls of men, having been a blessing to the lives of those who have come under my influence. Has the Lord said of you, or of me, “This year thou shalt die”? If you trust His Son, he also says, “But thou shalt die in peace.”

Don Fortner