John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach, died yesterday at the age of 99. John Wooden was a great basketball coach, but an even more incredible human being. He was a Christian, and is now with Jesus. Loving God was more important to him than Final Fours or X’s and O’s. So we don’t mourn the loss of this person — we celebrate his life and rejoice that he’s with the Lord.
At the same time, our thoughts are with the Wooden family — even when someone is 99 years old and their eternity is set, it’s still not easy when they take their last breath. Until death is destroyed when Jesus returns, death will always be (as it should) strange. We were created to live in constant, intimate fellowship with God. Sin ruined that. Death is not right and one day, Jesus will fix that.
Today, when I was watching ESPN’s coverage of Wooden’s death, I read a quote from Wooden’s children. They were thankful for their father’s guidance and love and then they said, for me, the most discomforting thing they could have said: "Our peace of mind at this time is knowing that he has gone to be with our mother, whom he has continued to love and cherish."
That seems wonderful and spiritual. But the sad part is this: as great as it might seem to be reuinted with loved ones gone before us, that is not our peace of mind. Our peace of mind is this: "[Jesus said] ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die’" (John 11:25-26). John Wooden is with Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, Creator of the universe, Savior of the world, at this very moment. No doubt he has seen his wife and had a conversation or two with her, but his true delight — truer than any day on this sinful earth — is to be at the feet of his crucified and risen Lord.
I realize that I’m treading deep water because many of you may have loved ones — even spouses — who are in heaven, and you want to be with them. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just not the ultimate thing. Remember that even Jesus said, "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Matt. 22:30). Why? Because Jesus will be our Groom, and we, the Church, will be his Bride.
I love my wife, Carly, more than any person in the world. And I want to grow to love her more. She knows this, and I know she would say the same about me. But, as much as I love her, my prayer is that if I am on my death bed and she is already with Jesus, I would not say, "I can’t wait to be with her." I pray that I would say, "I cannot wait to be with my precious Jesus." And even more, I pray that my children say of me when I die, "Our peace and hope and joy is that our dad is with Jesus."