Walking Through The Valley of the Shadow of Death--Spiritually in the Shadow of Death

Walking Through The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Spiritually in the Shadow of Death

 

Psalms 23:4 (NKJV)

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

 The new series we begin today in entitled Walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  Session 1 will deal with spiritual death, session 2 will examine what we should do when someone we love is walking in the valley, session 3 what to do when it is our turn. 

 Death is most likely not the most encouraging topic to explore at the beginning of a new year.  The CDC recently released a 10 year, 10 million dollar study that revealed that the mortality rate among human beings is 100%.  Nobody makes it out alive.  It’s amazing the information we can glean from solid scientific research funded by taxpayer dollars.

We are going to skip physical death for now and consider spiritual death.  Spiritual death is separation from God.  Spiritual death is pictured in the scripture as “being cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14), as hell where “the maggots never die and the fire is never quenched” (Mark 9:47-48), and as a blazing furnace where there will be “wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42) or as the Message paraphrase has it complaints “to high heaven, but nobody is going to listen.”  All these descriptions are what separation from God is like.  They are word pictures to reveal to you that Spiritual death is a horrible fate.  Jesus tells a story about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus.  Because of his selfish choices, the rich man ends up in hell where he is in torment (Luke 16:23).  What makes the torment even worse is that the formerly rich man can see the paradise he rejected (Luke 16:26). When you are separated from God you are walking in the valley of the shadow of death, worse, you don’t even know it.  Could that be why your life is a mess? 

Hebrews 9:27 (MSG)

Everyone has to die once, then face the consequences.

That dying once is a fact that we like to avoid.  We even don’t like thinking about it.  But one day the breathing policy will expire.  In the Disney movie Pollyanna,

Karl Malden plays the Reverend Paul Ford, he preaches and the chandeliers in the church shake, “Death Comes Unexpectedly.”  I find it a very humorous scene, but it is packed with a this-worldly truth and a spiritual truth.

 [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7kA2idaLCo] 

The this-worldly truth is you have no idea when you will pass from this life to the next.  So get your worldly affairs in order now.  Closeout your relational accounts with those who you feel owe you and those you know you owe.  Where there has been a betrayal forgive, and when it’s you who have been the guilty party ask for forgiveness.  Keep that conscious clear.  There are legal matters to consider, that’s why a Will or trust is so important.  Life insurance at least enough to cover your memorial expenses and I would suggest a whole lot more is important.  A medical directive in which you remove difficult decisions that may have to be made from the hands of loved ones is a blessing to your family.  Hopefully, stuff like that will collect lots and lots of dust before they are needed.  Pastor Ford shakes the chandeliers “Death comes unexpectedly,” and as the Bible reveals, “then the consequences.”   

 Let’s take a look at the consequences, the spiritual truth.

 Revelation 20:12-15 (MSG)

And then I saw all the dead, great and small, standing there—before the Throne! And books were opened. Then another book was opened: the Book of Life. The dead were judged by what was written in the books, by the way they had lived. Sea released its dead, Death and Hell turned in their dead. Each man and woman was judged by the way he or she had lived. Then Death and Hell were hurled into Lake Fire. This is the second death—Lake Fire. Anyone whose name was not found inscribed in the Book of Life was hurled into Lake Fire.

 That’s one horribly graphic picture of the second death, a spiritual death, and it is a picture of eternal separation from God.

Jesus taught us that eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3).  In this picture of the final judgment, we see eternal death is having lived with no knowledge of God.  In our rather lengthy study of 1 John, we learned that knowing God is demonstrated by our love for God seen in our obedience to God’s commands and expressing love to our others by our respect and meeting their needs.  Failing to love is to walk in the valley of the shadow of death. 

 Jesus told us a parable, a parable is a story that reveals a spiritual truth.  We know that love is action, not just sentimentality.  Hear the parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

Matthew 25:31-46 (MSG)

 31 "When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. 32 Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, 33 putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. 35 And here's why:

 I was hungry and you fed me,

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,

I was homeless and you gave me a room,

 36 I was shivering and you gave me clothes,

I was sick and you stopped to visit,

I was in prison and you came to me.'

 37 "Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? 38  And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' 39  40 Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'

41 "Then he will turn to the 'goats,' the ones on his left, and say, 'Get out, worthless goats! You're good for nothing but the fires of hell. 42 And why? Because—

 I was hungry and you gave me no meal,

I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,

 43 I was homeless and you gave me no bed,

I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,

Sick and in prison, and you never visited.'

 44 "Then those 'goats' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn't help?'

45 "He will answer them, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.'

46 "Then those 'goats' will be herded to their eternal doom, but the 'sheep' to their eternal reward."

 Love meets the needs of the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned.  Love does. [Bob Goff, Love Does]  The loveless are spiritually dead, they do not know God (Colossians 2:13).  They are walking in the valley of the shadow of death and their destiny manifests in their life and that destiny is eternal separation from God.  In such a life you see self-centeredness, a selfishness that concerns itself only with what is judged to be most beneficial for me, myself, and I (1 John 3:6). 

 Galatians 5:19-21 (MSG)

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.

 To this list, we can add growing isolation.  Your world shrinks till you’re the only one in it.  Being spiritually dead your soul rots.  Bitter, angry, unforgiving, critical, judgmental, mean spirited, rude, manipulative, and of course self-indulgent is how an outside observer would describe you.

 This is not always the case.  What is particularly sad is good people, moral people, folks who would give you the shirt off their backs, can be spiritually dead too.  There are good people who don’t know God.  There are good people who are living a more upright life than I that are right now walking in the valley of the shadow of death alone.  They are doing their best to make the world a better place.  Their altruism is more Christian than many Christians.  Still, their destiny is the same as the vilest of sinners.  For it is by grace you are saved not your good works (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 You might think that doesn’t make sense if we are judged by the things we do.  Good people should have a good reward; bad people should suffer the consequences.  The Bible tells us that we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-9).  When it comes to the matter of being spiritually alive or spiritually dead, it’s not what you do, but who you know (John 17:3).

 Ephesians 2:1-5 (NIV)

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.

 You can become spiritually alive.  Acknowledge the condition of your ignorance of God.  Believe that Jesus reveals everything you need to know about God.  Commit yourself to a life time of learning, to walking with God, and then ask God to make you spiritually alive (Jeremiah 31:33-34).   You choose spiritual life or spiritual death.  Today is the day to choose, right now, because “Death Comes Unexpectedly!”

 Let God’s love for you draw you to knowing Him (Ephesians 1:17).  Estrangement from God ends, reconciliation with God happens, God will be with you, you will be with God and the second death will not touch you.  The Holy Spirit will guide you into making the best choices possible and as you make them your life will change from mess to masterpiece.  I’ve seen it happen over and over again.  It can happen for you too.  Choose spiritual life.

 Knowing that death is an inevitability, tie up your loose ends while you can.  Take care of the legal and medical stuff, most importantly take care of the relational stuff.  Keep very short accounts.  You are going to want to walk in the valley of the shadow of death with the light of Christ in your life.  Believe the gospel, become a Christ-follower, then there will be nothing to fear in the valley of death because God will be with you. 

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