A 2007 CNN article focused on a “new” medical focus known as “age management.” The article cites the website of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, which speaks of “the arcane, outmoded stance that aging is natural and inevitable.” The Academy is in the business of helping one live longer and beating back the effects of aging. One client, cited in the CNN article, claimed, “I’ve read in the Bible how we’re supposed to live to see 120, and those prophets lived to be 400 or 500 years old.”
The quest for longevity and immortality is, of course, nothing “new.” It is as old as the ages. But it is an elusive quest when pursued medically or mythologically. The simple fact is, death comes for all of us. Human mortality is a fact of life. It is inescapable. Psalm 49 makes this point.
The writer of this psalm puts an appeal to his readers—“both low and high, rich and poor together” (v. 1)—to consider the reality of death. “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit” (vv. 7–9). Death comes for everyone: rich and poor; wise and foolish; men and women (and children!). Death makes no distinction: “Their graves are their home forever; their dwelling places to all generations, though they called lands by their own names. Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish” (vv. 11–12). The writer speaks of the “foolish confidence” of those who think they can escape death (v. 13).
As I have said, the desire to escape death, and foolish attempts to do so, are nothing new. Psalm 49 reminds us that wealth and wisdom are incapable of halting the steady march of death. But this is where Christians find hope in the gospel.
Christians know that, in fact, a man—one man—can ransom another. This man paid the price of his very life to purchase the eternal life of all who trust in him. The ransom of his life did suffice, and though he saw the grave, he did so that he might deliver forever those who trust in him from their own graves.
We cannot say for sure how much the writer understood about the nature of Christ’s atonement, but it is clear that he had some concept of it. He knew that death was coming for him—as it comes for all of us. He knew that he would not escape the grave. But he also knew that he would be delivered from the grave. “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (v. 15). “Sheol” was the Jewish word for the realm of the dead. Sheol held power over every human because it would come for every human. But the psalmist was confident that God would deliver him from the power of Sheol and would receive him into his own presence.
We who live under the new covenant are privileged to know exactly how that happened. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Unless we live to see the Lord’s return (and we have no reason to think that we will!), we can be sure that death will come for us. We don’t know how it will do so, but we know that it will. Your wealth and your wisdom are incapable of delivering you from death. But there is one who can do so. There is one who has authority over death and the grave and who can give to all who believe in him everlasting life so that, even as they face the first death, they will be delivered eternally from the second death.
Christian, go into this new day, having reflected on Psalm 49, with fresh gratitude that you have the promise of eternal ransom from the power of Sheol. Praise God for the salvation he gives in Christ.