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TEXT: Isaiah 40:31
SUBJECT: Gospel Changes Everything #16: Aging
After my father died last month, I spent a lot of time looking at old photographs, a good many of which were taken here at the church. It was fun seeing us back in the day, except for one thing: it reminded me of how old we've gotten.
THE BLESSINGS OF AGING
Popular culture makes aging the worst thing in the world, something to deny as long as you can, and when you can't, to fight off with exercise and cosmetics, face lifts and hair replacement surgery. This is not the perspective of the Bible. It looks at aging as a good thing, for the most part-
The silver-haired head is a crown of
if it is found in the way of
It tells children to honor their parents, young men to stand in the presence of their elders, young women to learn from older women, and pastors to show respect to the senior members of the church. The world is youth-oriented, and in this way, among others, the church is-
Conformed to the world.
Instead of pretending to be young, or fretting that we're not anymore, we ought to accept God's call to age with grace and become the spiritual grownups He wants us to be.
THE PREACHIER ON AGING
If the Bible sees aging as a good thing, for the most part, it's not blind to the other side of aging. The prophets and wise men of Israel don't say 'it's all good' because it isn't. No one is more honest about getting old than the man who wrote Ecclesiastes, especially 12:1-5.
In the first part of v.1, he contrasts the days of your youth to your difficult days. What's easy to do when you're young is hard to do when you're older. From tying your shoes to reading a menu to going to the bathroom. Everything's harder!
In the second part of v.1, he says with old age comes the loss of pleasure. Food doesn't taste as good as it used to, for example.
V.2 says things get darker with the years, because we lose our eyesight. My mother used to bawl me out for reading in the dark; now I can't see without a floodlight and a powerful pair of glasses!
We become weaker, v3, and our teeth fall out or break. Nothing I love more than peanut brittle, but now it's harder than my teeth!
The closed doors of v.4 likely point to hardness of hearing, and rising at the sound of a bird means you don't sleep well.
The fifth verse hints at the loss of balance and strength and courage and vitality. Followed by death and a funeral.
Is 'aging' a natural thing? In a certain way it is. Adam and Eve were put in time, and if they had not sinned, they would have gotten older. But what 'getting older' looks like in a sinless world, only God knows. One thing is sure, however: it doesn't look like disease and decrepitude and death. In this sense, 'aging' is a natural thing, a part of life, and the gift of God.
But the 'aging' we know is unnatural. God did not make us to be grow deaf and blind and slow and forgetful and sick and feeble. He did not make us to die! Sin brought these things into the world.
And this is why, 'the Gospel changes everything' includes aging. This is today's topic, and may the Lord give us the understanding we need.
The Gospel changes aging.
THE GOSPEL-THEN AND NOW
Does the Gospel keep us young and healthy and full of vim, vigor, and vitality? It will some day, when our bodies are raised immortal and incorruptible at the Resurrection.
But for now, it doesn't. Believers in Christ age like everyone else, and suffer all the problems that go with it. My father was the finest man I ever knew, and he took good care of himself. But, over the years, he went from young and strong to old and strong to old and weak to an invalid, and then he died.
If the Gospel does not change the fact of aging in this world, it does change the way we age.
What are the spiritual problems attached to getting old? As I see it, there are three sets of them: past, present, and future.
Older people tend to look back on their lives and feel regret. They regret the evil things they've done; they regret the good things they left undone; and, they regret the harm they've done other people, especially their families.
How do they deal with these regrets?
Some people try to make up for their past wrongs by being super-good in the present. The problem is, being super-good is hard, and most of us can't achieve it. And, even if we could, how can my being the world's best grandpa make up for being the world's worst father? Life doesn't work this way. Of course we should apologize for the sins we've committed, and when possible, we ought to make the restitution we can, but we cannot undo the past, and therefore, 'resolving to do better' will never take your regrets away.
Others, knowing they can't make up for the past, try to atone for it by suffering pangs of conscience. If I feel guilty enough about rebelling against my parents, my tears will wash away my regrets. They won't. This is what Paul describes as-
The sorrow of the world that works death.
Others medicate against regret, and this makes them feel better, but it does nothing to undo the wrongs they've done.
Only the Gospel can rid you of your regrets. It starts with the fact of sin: yes you really did these things, and worse things, too. It confirms your conscience: what you did was awful and there's no way you can make up for it. Then it goes on the present Christ, the Just dying for the unjust, and rising from the dead to remake the world and wipe away all the damage we've done to it.
You don't have to live with regrets! You don't have to take them to your sick bed! You don't have to age burdened with guilt because Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Older people are also worried about the present, and in particular, three things: (1) loneliness, all of my friends are sick or dead; (2) uselessness-I'm no good to anyone; and (3) being a burden to their family-I used to take care of them, now they have to take care of me.
I thank the Lord that good families can often help their aging parents, aunts and uncles. We can spend time with them; we can ask for their help and make them feel important; we can assure them that we're honored to help them in their declining years, and that they're not burdens.
Good families and friends can help in these matters, but only the Gospel can set things right.
On the issue of loneliness, the Gospel says, 'God is a Man and that He is nearer to us than we are to ourselves'. Also, in filling us with love for Him and others, it frees us from the self-centeredness and self-pity that make people want to stay away from us. And, filling others with God's love, the Gospel causes them to think of us and to love our company.
In the matter of uselessness, the Gospel says the most useful thing Jesus ever did for us was when He was helpless on the cross. God's power is make perfect in our weakness. Therefore, the most useless Christian is useful.
The Gospel puts us into the Body of Christ where everyone has something to do, including the person who has to spoon feed his dear father or change her mother's diaper. We're not burdens to each other, we're members of each other. By the Gospel.
Aging people also fear the future, the suffering that lies ahead and death. The Gospel changes suffering from the evil that it is to a part in our salvation. If God used the unique sufferings of Christ to save the world, then He uses our personal sufferings to bring His grace to us and others. Thus, there's nothing to fear, for Christ went through it all first and now He's bidding us to follow Him, with the promise that-
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.
As far as death is concerned, the Gospel abolishes that fear by pointing us to our Savior who used to be dead Himself, and is now alive as a kind of firstfruit of all who die with faith in God.
Does the Gospel make old age into a party? No, it doesn't do that, but into something better than a party: it makes it into a passage, a passage to Glory.
A few years ago, a friend told me my dad was slowing down and getting old. He was wrong: Dad was speeding up and getting ripe! Let's remember this as we age, and let's keep in mind the words of Paul-
The night is far spent, the day is at hand. For our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
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