1 And the LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ‘None shall defile himself for the dead among his people,
2 “‘except for his relatives who are nearest to him: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother;
3 “‘also his virgin sister who is near to him, who has had no husband, for her he may defile himself.
4 “‘Otherwise he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.'”
59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”
61 And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”
62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Death: what a foreign concept that must have been for Adam. Newly formed by God, walking in fellowship with his Creator and taking a tour of the Garden of Eden, and they come across a beautiful tree.
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;
17 “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
You can almost picture the childlike innocence on Adam’s face, the confusion and the question that lingered in his mind: “What does Father mean by ‘you shall surely die’?” Although God certainly explained it to him, it still must have seemed strange. Adam had known nothing but life, had never seen nor even heard of death. Death just simply wasn’t part of his world…yet.
Death entered the world through sin, and death is, as Paul reminds us, “the wages of sin.” (Romans 6:23) Death just simply is not holy. Death IS part of God’s plan, but only as a consequence of our sinfulness, not as a blessing to lead us to righteousness.
In today’s verses, we see hints of the unholiness of death. Certainly, on a sanitary level, touching a dead body is dangerous. But on another level, because it was a consequence of the first sin, death was not something with which God wanted His priests to have any contact. After the first death – the murder of Abel – the “voice of your brother’s blood” cried out to God from the ground where it was buried. (Genesis 4:10) Even death could not quiet the voice of sin crying out to God for recompense. Every death carries with it the reminder of the Fall and the murder of Abel. And no one holy should come into contact with that symbol and fact of our sinful nature.
Even Jesus tried to tell His disciples that death was not part of the message He brought to us. In today’s verses, He admonishes His wavering disciples to leave behind all connection to worldly things such as home and family. In a telling sentence, He tells them to “Let the dead bury their own dead” – i.e. let those who are perishing in their sin deal with those who die in their sin – “but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60)
Neither Jesus nor the Father is saying we should not respect the dead. Nor is God telling us to completely avoid the dead and dying. If we were to try avoiding those dying in their sin, we would all have to become hermits! No, God wants us to see death and be reminded that it is the unholy consequence of sin in the world. Whether by natural causes, violence, or disaster, death comes to us because the world is broken, cursed for our sake. (Genesis 3:17) Death is not the enemy, only the sign that the enemy – Sin – is still at large in the world.
So let’s bury the dead and be done with death. We should never forget that death is part of our world because of sin, and that Jesus gave His life to defeat sin and death once and for all. His Crucifixion paid the wages for our sin, and so we are now saved to eternal life – IF we but believe in Him as Savior and Lord. Let us put our hand to the plow and not look back at the dead but look forward to a new, eternal life in Christ.
Father God, Your eternal plan is ever a mystery to us, and yet You chose to use the death of Your Son to reveal Your will for us to live. You are our sovereign Lord, our Creator and our King. Renew Your Spirit in us today, Lord God, and urge us ever onward to life and holiness which only You can provide. Amen.