When Failure Isn’t Failure — and Death Isn’t Dying

By Mark Clifton

As one decade concludes and another begins (I know technically the new decade begins 2021, but lighten up!), I’m reminded that the older we become, the more resistant to change we are inclined.

I know this is true in my life. It’s also true among dying churches. It’s also true that we often try to cling too long to the past. Perhaps we are tempted to remain in leadership beyond our effectiveness. Maybe we become reluctant to equip young leaders and release leadership to them.

I am drawn to a portion of one of my favorite sermons of Charles Spurgeon,

In this sermon,  Spurgeon beautifully explains describes the death of Moses not as a failure, but as a necessary transition of leadership for a new season in the life of the children of Israel. As we contemplate the inevitable transitions of life, leadership, and ministry I commend these words about Moses from our brother, Charles Spurgeon, who finished well himself.

Sermon Delivered On Lord’s Day Morning, June 5, 1887, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington:

His death leaves nothing to regret; neither is any desirable thing lacking. Failing to pass over Jordan seems a mere pin’s prick, in the presence of the honours which surrounded his departing hours. His death was the climax of his life. He now saw that he had fulfilled his destiny, and was not like a pillar broken short. He was ordered to lead the people through the wilderness, and he had done so. There they stood on the borders of their inheritance, a people moulded by his hand. By his instrumentality they were, so to speak, a regenerated race, far more prepared than their fathers to become a nation. The degrading results of long bondage had been shaken off in the free air of the desert. They were all young men, vigorous, hardy, and ready for the fray. It is grand to pass away while there is nothing of infirmity yet seen, nothing left undone, and nothing allowed to fail through too long a persistence in office. We may say of Moses, that he did —

His body with his charge lay down,

And cease at once to work and live.

Moreover, his successor was appointed, and was just below in the plain. It was not his son, but it was his servant who had become his son at length. He did not leave his flock to be scattered, his building to be thrown down. Happy Moses, to see his Joshua! Happy Elijah, to see his Elisha! No trembling for the ark of the Lord to mar such a departure. The succession of workers lies with the Master, not with the workers. We are to train men “who can teach others also”; but our own special work we must leave with the Lord. Yet just as Paul was glad of Timothy, so must Moses have rejoiced over Joshua, and felt in his appointment a release from care.

He died, moreover, in the best company possible. Some men expire most fitly in the presence of their children; their strength has laid in their domestic duties and affections, and their children fitly close their eyes: but for the man Moses there was no true kindred. You hear that he married an Ethiopian woman; but you know nothing about her. You know that he had sons, but you do not hear a word about them except their names: their father was too engrossed in honouring his God to crave an office for them. As we have seen, he lived with respect to men, alone, and with respect to men he died alone. But God was with him, and in the particularly near and dear company of God he closed his life on the lone peak. If he suffered any weakness no mortal eye beheld it. As far as his people were concerned, “he was not, for God took him”; Pisgah was to him the vestibule of heaven. God met him at the gates of Paradise.

As he died, the sweetness of his last thought was indescribable. Before his strengthened eye there lay the goodly land and Lebanon. The Lord showed him all the land of Gilead to Dan. Over there is Carmel, and beyond it he sees the gleam of the utmost sea. Through breaks of the mountains he sees Bethlehem and Jebus, which is Jerusalem. Then, like Abraham, he saw the day of Christ, and by faith beheld the track of the incarnate God. Your land, oh Emmanuel, appeared before him, and he saw it in all its spiritual bearings. What a vision! Yet even this melted into a nobler view. Just as we have seen in our childhood by the light of the kaleidoscope one view dissolve into another, so did the lower scene gradually melt away into another; and the servant of the Lord found himself removed from the shadows which his eye had seen into the realities which eyes cannot behold. He had gone from Canaan below to Canaan above, and from the vision of Jerusalem on earth to the joy of the City of Peace in glory.

Just as a mother takes her child and kisses him, and then lays him down to sleep in his own bed; so the Lord kissed the soul of Moses away to be with him for ever, and then he hid his body and we do not know where. Whoever had such a burial as that of Moses? Angels contended over it, but Satan has failed to use it for his purposes. That body was not lost, for in due time it appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration, talking with Jesus concerning the greatest event that ever transpired. Oh that we may also pass away amid the most joyful prospects; heaven coming down to us as we go up to heaven! May we also attain to the resurrection from among the dead, and be with our Lord in his glory!

Soon our turn shall come. Do we dread it? As we are favoured to serve our Lord we shall be favoured to be called home in due season. Let us be always ready; yes, joyfully ready. When we are dying we shall see, not the land of Naphtali and Ephraim, but the covenant; and the infinite provisions of its promises will be spread out before our soul, as Canaan at the feet of Moses. Wrapped in happy enjoyment of precious promises, we shall with surprise find ourselves ushered into the place where the promises are all fulfilled.

There shall we see his face,

And never, never sin,

But from the rivers of his grace,

Drink endless pleasures in.

To the believer it is not death to die. Since Jesus has died and risen again, the sting of death is gone; therefore let us prepare ourselves to climb where Moses stood, and survey the landscape.,

Mark Clifton

Mark Clifton is the senior director of replanting at the North American Mission Board. Mark has served as a pastor, church planter, church revitalizer, mission strategist, coach and mentor to young leaders. He has planted and replanted numerous churches and has also served as a national and regional leader for church planting and missions. His experience includes serving as the lead mission strategist for the Kansas/Nebraska Southern Baptist Convention, leading church planting efforts in the regions of north metro Atlanta, Georgia, serving as a church planter in Montreal, Quebec, as a Southern Baptist National Church Planting Missionary for eastern Canada, and has lead Southern Baptist church planting projects west of the Mississippi. Mark has been planting, replanting and providing strategic mission leadership since 1978. Mark and his wife, Jill, live in Kansas City, Missouri and have two sons, two daughters-in-law and three grandsons.