Posts Tagged 'death'

The End of Death

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Harold Kushner got the worst news a father could get when his son was three years old. He had been diagnosed with a degenerative disease that meant the boy would live in almost constant pain until the of his death. He wasn’t expected lived past his teen years. This terrible situation made Kushner ask a question a lot of people have asked: Why God? In fact, years later, Harold Kushner would write a best selling book that examines the question of suffering, and you’ve likely either heard of it or read it: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Out of his family’s suffering, many people have found a measure of comfort in Kushner’s observations on the subject.

Somebody else who suffered greatly was Eliza Edmunds Hewitt. She was born on June 21, 1851 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She attended the Girls Normal School and was the valedictorian of her class when she graduated, and she became a teacher.

She led a charmed life, until the day of her suffering came. In no time, she was confined to bed with an awful spinal problem. She was in constant pain for years. Her grand children think her condition resulted from a very minor accident on the playground when she was child in school. Her whole life changed. No longer able to teach or walk or enjoy a normal life, Eliza Edmunds Hewitt could easily have become bitter and miserable, spending her lonely days and nights blaming God for the sorry state of her life. Instead of that, though, she put pen to paper and wrote words that we sing in church today:

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace;
In the mansions bright and blessed,
He’ll prepare for us a place.

Refrain:

When we all get to heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But when trav’ling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.

Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving every day;
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay.

Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we’ll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open;
We shall tread the streets of gold.

She would later recover somewhat and return to an almost normal life, although she would have recurrences of the pain until the day she died. It’s amazing that in the midst of a far less than ideal life, a woman like Eliza Hewitt could write songs about life in Heaven!

A lot of people think about heaven, though. They may not write books or songs about it, but they long for a day when their suffering will come to an end and a life without pain or struggle. Christians know Heaven is that place. Christians also know they have to die to get there. That’s a good news-bad news kind of thing. In considering our eventual end, what we’re really considering is our own personal eschatology. While most of us know that “eschatology” is a study of end-time events, it is also a term that describes how WE will end. So, let’s try to get a grasp on an issue we all think about, but world rather not talk about.

Death

We all die. In spite of Bible verses like this one, there’s not a person reading this who won’t die:

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55c-57 | NIV84)

It sure seems like there’s no victory over death! But of course, we know that’s not exactly what Paul is getting at in those verses. The fact is, sooner or later, we will all die. There is no escaping death.

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28 | NIV84)

“Man is destined to die.” There it is, in black and white. Now we know that we human beings die only physically; our souls live on. Our Lord taught as much:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. (Matthew 10:28a | NIV84)

In a very real sense, man is an immortal being the minute he is born into this world. His body may die, but he will continue on for all of eternity, in one location or another. But make no mistake about it, what kills the body is not cancer or heart disease or old age. Ultimately, sin is what kills the human body. Death is the result of sin entering the world.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 | NIV84)

An interesting thought, though, is this line of reasoning from the apostle Paul to the Romans in Romans 5. In that chapter, he taught that death entered the world through the act of one man, Adam. We are Adam’s descendant and therefore we inherit his ability to not only sin but also to die. But the Christian has been set free from that curse thanks to Christ’s death. We are no longer slaves to sin. Why, we might ask Paul, do Christians still die? Obviously death was originally the punishment (or as Paul wrote, the “wage”) for sin, but there is no possibility of any kind of punishment for the Christian. God’s wrath has been removed from us.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.(Romans 8:1-2 | NIV84)

The answer to that question takes us back to the cases of Harold Kushner and Eliza Hewitt and God’s remarkable ability to take an intolerable situation and turn it into something good and beneficial. For years, Kushner’s book has brought comfort and solace to countless people who have lost loved ones or who are going through some sort of tragedy. Generations of Christians have been uplifted and able to worship God as they sung the words to Eliza Hewitt’s hymns, written from her sick bed. God has done the same thing with death. For the Christian, what appears to be a disaster is really the means by which our salvation is consummated. Death becomes the doorway to eternal life with the Father. Death is merely a part of the sanctification process that will lead to our final resurrection.

The Intermediate State

But what happens after we die? Theologians refer this period immediately after death as our “intermediate state.” It’s called “intermediate” because it’s a temporary state. It’s that period of time after our physical death and before our resurrection. While our body remains in the grave when it dies, our soul and spirit will be made perfect when they are freed from the body and pass directly into glory.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 | NIV84)

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:23-24 | NIV84)

During this period, we will be conscious. Some religions teach “soul sleep,” but the Bible makes it clear that there is no such thing. After death and during this “intermediate state,” we are fully awake and fully aware of what’s happening and fully aware of where we are. For the believer, our destination is heaven, or “Abraham’s side” in the parable Jesus told. For the unrepentant sinner, the destination is a less than desirable location. What should be noted in this parable is that in either location, the soul/spirit is conscious.

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. (Luke 16:22-23 | NIV84)

At the final resurrection, both parties receive their body and will spend eternity in a location based on God’s righteous judgment. The unrepentant sinner (the “rich man” in the parable) will spend an eternity of his own making, based on his rejection of God’s truth and the quality of the life he lived.

Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. (Matthew 11:21-22 | NIV84)

The believer (a fellow named “Lazarus” in the parable) enters his “final state” in his glorified body and will receive his inheritance or reward and will forever dwell in the New Heavens and the New Earth, Revelation 21, 22.

  • The Resurrection

Let’s take a closer look at our resurrection. Christians are very familiar with Christ’s Resurrection; we celebrate that event every Easter! But we are generally uninformed about our resurrection, even though it is spoken of many times in Scripture.

Basically, the Bible teaches that when Christ returns, the dead will be raised. The entirety of 1 Corinthians 15 deals with this very topic, and so do these verses:

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2 | NIV84)

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:24-26 | NIV84)

It’s hard to get your mind wrapped around this, but the resurrection of our bodies will be similar to that of Christ’s and at that time we will receive our eternal, glorified bodies. This is called the “redemption of our bodies,” meaning that our old, worn out bodies will be exchanged for our perfect ones. All this happens in an instant.

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23 | NIV84)

Both the saved and the unsaved will be raised, but there are different ideas as to the exact order of timing events. For now, the important thing to remember is that death is not the end for either the saved or the unsaved. Both will live on in eternity, in one location or the other, and each will receive a new “house” for their spirit/soul.

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The Master Multiplier, Part 3

We serve a God who gives. And gives. And gives. He gave us Jesus, who is our salvation. He gives us blessings that cannot be counted; so many they often go unnoticed or unappreciated. God gives us answers to prayer. He gives us life and He sustains our lives. God gives and He miraculously multiplies His gifts to us. That’s why what He provides for us goes further than what we provide for ourselves. And why when we give to Him in the form of offerings or service, our gifts seem to do so much – He multiplies them to accomplish His will! The way God works is, in a word, amazing.

In 1 Corinthians, we discover that God gives His people something in addition to what we’ve already looked at: God gives victory!

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57 | NIV84)

What could be more exciting than than “free victory?” God gives it to us! And yet, your experience has probably demonstrated that most victories are either hard fought or elusive. So what was Paul getting at here? Let’s take a look.

The central fact of Christianity

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central fact of the Christian faith. Had it all ended with His crucifixion, Christianity would be indistinguishable from virtually any other belief system on earth. The Resurrection IS what Christianity is all about. Had our Lord not risen from the dead, there would be no Gospel to preach, no church to start, no hope for the future. It’s hard to imagine a Christian who would seriously doubt or question the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and yet during the very early days of the Church, the Resurrection was doubted and questioned and the question as to whether or not it actually happened threatened to rip apart the Body of Christ.

1 Corinthian 15 is Paul’s brilliant defense of the Resurrection, and though volumes could be written about what Paul taught in this chapter, I’ll just barely glance at the highlights. The first thing Paul wanted his friends to understand was that the Gospel they received; the one they believed in by faith; the one that proclaimed the Resurrection, was the one that changed their lives.

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1, 2 | NIV84)

No matter what other teachings these people may have heard after they received the Gospel, it’s the Gospel Paul wanted them to “hold firmly to.” And why would anybody believer hold any teaching above the Gospel when it was the Gospel that saved them in the first place? Let’s face it, teachings come and go, man’s philosophies wax and wane with generational changes, but the Gospel is constant. The Gospel doesn’t change. A culture doesn’t effect the truth of its teachings. And it’s the Gospel that changes lives.

The Corinthians heard it, they received it by faith, and by that Gospel they took their stand in the world. If a teaching, say a teaching that questions or denies the Resurrection, came along and they believed it, then they wasted their time with the Gospel. In other words, the Corinthians had to accept all the Gospel or none of it. This is not an insignificant concept. A lot of people like parts of the Gospel but hate other parts of it, and they foolishly think believing in some of it is better than nothing at all. Not according to Paul, though. Christianity is an all or nothing proposition; you believe it all or you walk.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 | NIV84)

Instead of getting all metaphysical, Paul makes it clear the the Resurrection is a historic fact, and he makes three statements in order of importance:

• Christ died for our sins.
• Christ was buried, which means He was dead; He wasn’t pretending to be dead. He wasn’t putting on an act. Jesus Christ’s death was real – it was an accomplished, historical fact that is provable.
• Christ rose again after three days. Interestingly, Paul notes that these three elements of the Gospel are all “according to the Scriptures,” meaning these three points are not made up fables or tall tales told by himself and other apostles.

But with this third point, Paul adds something: Proof positive that the Resurrection took place.

and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8 | NIV84)

Eyewitness, many of whom were still alive at the time he wrote this letter, could attest to the reality of the Resurrection. Skeptics today may balk at this, but in Paul’s day, this was a huge deal. All those eyewitnesses, Paul estimated 500 in all, saw Jesus alive after He had died. And he named names!

Reduction ad Absurdum

Paul used the Scriptures and eyewitness accounts to prove Jesus rose from the dead. Now the apostle goes negative.

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:12 | NIV84)

Since the evidence for the Resurrection is overwhelming, Paul reasons, if even one person has indeed been raised from the dead, how can anybody say that there is no resurrection of the dead? To question this basic fact is to start a chain reaction that in effect nullifies the entire gospel.

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:16-19 | NIV84)

And that’s the crux of the matter; this is why the Resurrection is so important: Without it, we have no hope for the future. Christ’s Resurrection shows that: (1) it is possible for the dead to rise again; (2) Christ will be the first of many who will rise from the dead; (3) that is our hope – that just as death wasn’t the end for Him, it won’t be the end of us, either.

By the way, this is exactly how liberals destroy the Word of God, even today. They deny parts of it – the parts they don’t like; the parts that don’t fit into their particular world-view – but in denying one part, eventually all the parts are called into question. That’s why the Bible in it’s entirety must be accepted, on the basis of faith, to be the complete, true and accurate Word of God.

It’s evident that Paul looked at the doctrine of the Resurrection of Christ as a hopeful thing. I’d wager not many of you look at it that way. Most modern Christians in the West, especially, have it so good and are so comfortable, the idea of being raised from the dead never enters their minds. But these Corinthians didn’t have healthcare. They didn’t enjoy good health. They died young. Yes, even just the mere possibility of resurrection would have given those with a bleak outlook, HOPE.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:17-19 | NIV84)

Without the Resurrection, there is no forgiveness for sins because after all, if the Resurrection is a fable; a mere invention of man’s over-active imagination, then so is the idea of forgiveness, for if you can’t trust the Word of God to be truthful about Resurrection, how can you trust it for anything else? Worse, without the Resurrection of Christ, there would be no resurrection of believers, and that means there’s no future – no hope for any of us.

Christ’s Resurrection and Ours

But, because of His Resurrection, ours is guaranteed:

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20 | NIV84)

That’s right, and that’s the hope of every believer; that we won’t die; that we will live on after this life is over. Part of that “living on” has to involve our bodies. Man is a spirit, he has a soul, and he lives in a body – all three parts of man are eternal and God has made provision for all three to live on. The Resurrection (Christ’s and ours) is as certain as death. As death had entered the world through Adam, resurrection entered through Christ. As Adam opened the door to death, so Christ opened the door to resurrection life. But there’s an orderly process to this whole business:

But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:23-26 | NIV84)

Death still reigns today. You might have noticed people are dropping dead all over the world. But we have the hope that until Death is destroyed, God has made provision for His people, as He made provision for His Son. Death may come to you, but the joke is on Death. You’re coming back! Just as death couldn’t hold our Lord, it can’t hold you either. Death is, we might say, an inconvenience; something we have to put up with because of what sin had done to human beings and the world in general.

A special kind of victory

Earlier I said that your body is eternal. It is, yet it isn’t. Paul clarifies the issue of your immortal body beginning at verse 50:

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed–in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:50-53 | NIV84)

God’s people are special people, and in keeping with their special place in the Kingdom, they will be given a body that is able to enter into the eternal, spiritual Kingdom of God. Your mortal body would be no good in Heaven. Just like you can’t exist in the water without SCUBA gear, so you can’t exist in Heaven without the appropriate body. And whether a body is in the grave (or in the belly of a lion or at the bottom of sea), or living at moment in the future when Jesus returns, all believers will be able to exchange their flesh-and-blood bodies for new ones – perfect ones that will last forever.

Paul called that “a mystery,” and it was in his day. He was the first person to talk about it. It’s not a mystery to us, thanks to Paul’s profound teaching here in 1 Corinthians 15.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55a | NIV84)

The death of Death will occur when Jesus returns and we receive our new bodies. At that time and not before, Death will forever come to an end on planet Earth. And that gets us to the verse that started this whole thing:

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57 | NIV84)

The victory He has given us is the victory of death and sin. It may seem like Death is winning, but Death is a defeated enemy. If it were not for sin, Death would have no sting. If it were not for the law of God that shows us how sinful we are, Death would have no power over us. But Death doesn’t have the final word! God has the final word and, and that word is VICTORY. Victory over death, hell, and the grace has been won by Jesus Christ and He shares that victory with all of us. Because Jesus died and rose, Death’s back has been broken, and you and I never need to fear it. That’s the victory – multiplied millions upon millions of times.

The Days of Our Lives, Part 4

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Depending on your spiritual state, your impending demise is either the greatest fear you’ll ever face, or the greatest journey you’ll ever take.  For the Christian, it’s the latter.  For unbelievers, the end of life is a tragic time filled with fear, anxiety, and uncertainty.  But Christians understand there is no tragedy in death, and there is no need to be anxious because there is no uncertainty.  We also understand that this world is temporal; that nothing on the earth, including us, is meant to last forever.  In his novella, The Langoliers, author Stephen King describes how time is winding down for everybody and everything, and how nobody can stop that from happening:

We know what happens to today when it becomes yesterday.  It waits for them.  It waits for them, the timekeepers of eternity.  Always following them behind, cleaning up the mess in the most efficient way possible: by eating it. 

Well, Stephen King is no theologian, but he is right about one thing:  you can’t outrun what he called “the langoliers,” those timekeepers of eternity, that stalk all of us. They are called other names:  Father Time, the Grim Reaper; but Christians call the great enemy of all men Death.  But Death’s days are numbered and he is nothing more than an inconvenience to Christians.  Death has been taken care of:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Corinthians 15:54 – 57 | NIV84)

The Bible gives us some powerful and profound insights into eternity and the blessed hope that sustains believers through all the days of their lives.

We belong to the Lord

Upon the death of his friend Lazarus, Jesus had a conversation with his sister that went like this:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; 26 and those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?”. (John 11:25-26 | GNTCE) 

The story of Lazarus “coming forth” from his tomb is well-known.  It’s so well-known that a lot of people miss the subtle nuances of its details.  “Lazarus,” the name of Jesus’ friend who was so ill he died, means, “one whom God helps,” and it’s a good thing that was his name because he needed a lot help.  When our Lord was notified of his good friend’s looming death, here’s His curious response:

When Jesus heard it, he said, “The final result of this sickness will not be the death of Lazarus; this has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the Son of God will receive glory.” (John 11:4 | GNTCE) 

Lazarus’ death wasn’t about Lazarus, it was about Jesus.  It’s always about Jesus – everything in our lives, or our eventual death, has little enough to do with us but everything to with our Lord.  Paul glommed on to this idea when he wrote to a couple of churches:

Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father.  (Colossians 3:17 | GNTCE) 

Well, whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for God’s glory. (1 Corinthians 10:31 | GNTCE) 

Your life should glorify God, and so should your death.  When Jesus showed up a little late, Lazarus was dead and, as everybody’s knows, “Jesus wept.”  There’s no question as to why Jesus, the Son of God, wept.  Lazarus’ sister Martha came up to Jesus and this happened:

Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died!  (John 11:21 | GNTCE) 

We human beings must seem mighty odd to the Lord.  Martha obviously had faith in Jesus, but her faith was not so much based on Him but on what she thought about Him. She thought He needed to be there personally, and so she was distraught when He didn’t show up in time.  Poor Martha.  If she only knew the truth.  What Martha thought others thought:

But some of them said, “He gave sight to the blind man, didn’t he? Could he not have kept Lazarus from dying?” (John 11:37 | GNTCE) 

These folks weren’t being mean, they were filled with grief.  There’s nothing wrong with grief, but how a Christian grieves speaks volumes about his faith – or his lack of faith.  Jesus was about to not only help Lazarus, but also Martha and Mary; He’s going to teach them something about what faith is all about.  Martha definitely had a dynamic faith, but it wasn’t complete.  He was about to make it complete.  Martha, for her part, believed in a “final resurrection,” as most Jews of her day did.  But Jesus, in His next few comments, points out how close the resurrection really is:  The Resurrection is right beside her; it’s not just a future event, it’s a present reality.  The basis of our Lord’s statement about His being the resurrection and the life is summed up nicely by William Law:

You are to think of yourself as only existing in this world to do God’s will.  To think that you are your own is as absurd as to think you are self-created.  It is an obvious first principle that you belong completely to God.

Jesus’ response to Martha’s grief shouts hope to all grieving over the loss of a loved one:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; and those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  (John 11:25-26 | GNTCE) 

All life is in the hands of Jesus.  He is the giver of life, and for those who believe in Him, even though they appear to die, they don’t really.  To prove the point, Jesus called out Lazarus from his tomb and the man who had been dead for three days, walked out alive, in need of a shower and a good meal.

But this event is incomplete without something Jesus said earlier, at another graveyard, under different circumstances:

“I am telling you the truth: those who hear my words and believe in him who sent me have eternal life. They will not be judged, but have already passed from death to life. I am telling you the truth: the time is coming—the time has already come—when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear it will come to life.  Just as the Father is himself the source of life, in the same way he has made his Son to be the source of life. And he has given the Son the right to judge, because he is the Son of Man.  Do not be surprised at this; the time is coming when all the dead will hear his voice and come out of their graves: those who have done good will rise and live, and those who have done evil will rise and be condemned.”  (John 5:24-29 | GNTCE) 

After reading that, Jesus’ question to Martha needs to be answered honestly:  Do you believe this?  If you do, God will be glorified in your death or the death of your loved one because you will grieve according to what you believe and you will face your death in faith, using the last event of your life as a way to testify to what you believe. Paul tried to explain this “big picture” attitude to the Romans:

We do not live for ourselves only, and we do not die for ourselves only. If we live, it is for the Lord that we live, and if we die, it is for the Lord that we die. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  (Romans 14:7-8 | GNTCE)

It takes faith, and Spurgeon expressed the essence of the issue best when he wrote:

When the time comes for you to die, you need not be afraid, because death cannot separate from from God’s love. 

No fear of death 

The one thing all human beings have in common is the fear of death.  From the first moment a child figures out what death is and to varying degrees the fear of dying dogs that person until it is realized.   Unlike so many fears we have that never materialize, fear of death will – death is absolutely unavoidable.  However, for the Christian there ought to be no fear of death.  Apprehension, perhaps.  Some anxiety, maybe.  But fear?  Never!

Psalm 23 was written by David.  He was uniquely qualified to write a psalm from the shepherd’s perspective.  Over the course of his life, David was a shepherd, a writer, and a king.  

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  (Psalm 23:4 | KJV) 

It wasn’t unusual to view one’s King as a sort of shepherd; many other ancient cultures did.  For example, the god of the Babylonians, Marduk, was viewed as a divine shepherd.  Of this god was written:

You shepherd all living creatures together, you are their herds-man, above and below. 

One ancient Sumerian wisdom text has a couple of sentences that parallel closely Psalm 23:

A man’s personal god is a shepherd who finds pasturage for him. Let him lead him like sheep to the grass they can eat. 

All this proves, of course, is that deep within all people is this universal need to be led, cared for, and protected by someone greater than themselves.  

The KJV’s translation of “the shadow of death,” may or may not be 100% accurate.  David might have meant, “deep shadows,” as in, “the valley of deep shadows.”  Either way, the sense is the same. Through all of life’s moments of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety, the Good Shepherd leads His sheep – His people.  The ultimate period of uncertainty, fear and anxiety surely occurs when one is facing the end of life.  The thing is this, though:  If you’ve trusted the Lord through all the dark valleys of your life, how can you NOT trust Him as you approach death?  You and I view death as the end of life, but a more accurate way to view death is merely a continuation of life – a sort of “getting on with” our promised eternal life.  Hellen Keller’s thoughts on the subject are meaningful:

Death is no more than passing from one room into another.  But there’s a difference for me, you know.  Because in that other room, I shall be able to see. 

Now there’s the right attitude!  No fear for Ms Keller!  She was looking for something better after death than what she had during her life.  And so should we.

And so we come back to what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

O death, where then your victory? Where then your sting? For sin-the sting that causes death-will all be gone; and the law, which reveals our sins, will no longer be our judge.  How we thank God for all of this! It is he who makes us victorious through Jesus Christ our Lord!  (1 Corinthians 15:55 – 57 |TLB) 

When a Christian dies, Death has no victory.  There is no sting in death for the Christian.  The thing that causes people to fear death is the way they lived their lives.  Did they live well enough to avoid punishment?  Some may regret that they didn’t express some kind of faith in God, “just in case,” and now it’s too late.  This is what people think of as they feel the cold breath of the Grim Reaper on the back of their necks.  But the Christian never needs to worry about that because Jesus Christ, through His work on the Cross and His resurrection, has done away the worry about your life.  If you’ve confessed Jesus Christ as Savior, then you may experience the same kind of victory over death Jesus did.  It didn’t hold Him in the ground.  Jesus experienced the death you should have so would never have to.  You get to avoid all that He experienced in dying because He experienced it for you.  

Now, granted, it takes faith to believe that.  But isn’t that what Christianity is all about?  Except for Christians who are alive at the Second Coming, everyone will face death.  You can’t avoid it.  If you aren’t sure about the state of your soul, why take the chance?  Trust in Jesus – make Him Lord of your life and the Savior of your soul.

Help For Your Family: Facing the End

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We call old age “the golden years,” but sometimes they are anything but golden!  Many seniors, looking forward to traveling and a life of leisure in retirement, end up finding sickness, pain, and a lack of resources.

For the Christian old age is a good opportunity to glance back, over your shoulder, and see how God has moved in your life.  Hindsight is 20/20 they say.  Many times we miss God’s interventions in our lives at the monent they happen, but as we age, we gain perspective and looking back, we see how involved God really was.

General Douglas MacArthur once told the people of the Philippines, “I shall return.”  Well, he did return in his latter years, and this time he told them, “The deepening shadows of life cast doubt upon my ability to pledge to you again, ‘I shall return.’”  That’s perspective.  All of us will eventually come to an end.  Rich and poor, famous and infamous, healthy or not, death is waiting for every human being.

No matter how you came into this world, you may leave it with honor.  How a Christian faces his death is at least as important as how he lived his life.

1.  Growing old with God

a.  Remember your Creator, Ecclesiastes 12:1—5

Don’t let the excitement of being young cause you to forget about your Creator. Honor him in your youth before the evil years come—when you’ll no longer enjoy living.  (Ecclesiastes 12:1  TLB)

It has been said:  Youth is a mistake, manhood a struggle, and old age a regret.  There may be some truth in Lord Beaconsfield’s words, but life doesn’t have to be that way.  Old age, for example, doesn’t have to be filled with regret.  Solomon, after telling his readers that nothing under the sun can satisfy the human heart, advises:  Get back to God.  It’s far better for us if we make our decision to follow God while we are young.

The picture of old age painted by Solomon isn’t pretty, but it is accurate.  The older you get, the more funerals you attend.  Friends and family leave you.  You lose your health.  You may lose your mind.  You’ll probably lose your hair; the hair you have will likely turn white.  Life itself slips away from you, but God never will!  Don’t forget about God in you’re old age; He might be all you’ve got.

b.  The end of life, Ecclesiastes 12:6, 7

Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young—before the silver cord of life snaps and the gold bowl is broken; before the pitcher is broken at the fountain and the wheel is broken at the cistern; then the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 

Solomon is really talking about the breakdown of the human body in these verses, in a poetic way.  The “silver cord” is the spinal cord; the “gold bowl” is the head.  Our minds slow down as we get older.  The “pitcher” refers to our lungs and the “wheel” is the heart.  At some point, it stops pumping blood around the body.  Yes, our bodies deteriorate; life cannot go on when out organs slow down and stop working.

At some point, we will return to the dust from which we came; we essentially return to our beginning.  The soul, which does not sleep, goes to be with God at death.  Our bodies, as taught by Solomon, are absolutely temporary.  Your body is nothing more than an outer covering for your spirit and soul.  President Adams knew this to be true, and he said shortly before his death:

I’m doing just fine, but this ‘house’ I live in is growing very feeble, and I think I’ll be moving out of it before long.

c.  Be fruitful to the end, Psalm 92:12—15

But the godly shall flourish like palm trees and grow tall as the cedars of Lebanon.  For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own garden and are under his personal care.  Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green.   This honors the Lord and exhibits his faithful care. He is my shelter. There is nothing but goodness in him!

This marvelous psalm is full of gratitude to God, recognizing His firm, dependable, and steadfast love and unending faithfulness.  This group of verses, in particular, points out that those who trust in God prosper.  The righteous are like mighty trees growing and flourishing in the Lord’s presence—a perfectly tended garden.  Even in old age, the righteous are still growing in the Lord and bearing fruit.  Ralph Browning said:

Trees have their seasons at certain times of the year when they bring forth fruit; but a Christian is for all seasons.

A Christian never retires.

2.  Losing loved ones

a.  Abraham and Sara, Genesis 23:1—4

Sara stuck by Abraham from his days back in Ur, when he was still known as Abram.  One could say this couple lived a life of high adventure!  The very fact that we have a record of her death and burial shows us how significant a figure she was.  Not every experience she had was a good one, however.  Her journey with Abraham was not an easy one, yet she never abandoned him.  No wonder he “mourned” her when she died!   Vance Havner wrote,

You haven’t lost anything when you know where it is.  Death can hide but not divide.

It’s painful to lose a loved one.  Even Christians, who intellectually know all about the glory of life after death, still have to deal with memories and the feelings of loss and grief.

b.  Comfort in mourning, Matthew 5:4

Those who mourn are fortunate! for they shall be comforted.

People mourn for all kinds of reasons:  pain, suffering, loss of any kind, etc.  This verse, though, is specifically addressing those who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy and are seeking help from God; these people will find comfort.  But, there is a wonderful sense that the comfort extended to such repentant persons is not limited just to the strict context in which the statement is made.  One of the reasons why Jesus came in the first place was to offer comfort to those who needed it, first to His people, of course, but then to all who have come to Him in repentance:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the suffering and afflicted. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted, to announce liberty to captives, and to open the eyes of the blind.  He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of God’s favor to them has come, and the day of his wrath to their enemies.  To all who mourn in Israel he will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory.  (Isaiah 61:1—3  TLB)

Comfort is ours right now through a living, vital relationship with Jesus Christ.  That comfort, though, is eternal:

He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.  (Revelation 21:4  TLB)

c.  Hope in Christ, 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14

And now, dear brothers, I want you to know what happens to a Christian when he dies so that when it happens, you will not be full of sorrow, as those are who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and then came back to life again, we can also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him all the Christians who have died.

The members of the Thessalonian church, many only recent converts from paganism, were concerned about what happens to those who died in the faith before Christ returns.  Will they miss out on the glories of His kingdom?

To help his friends understand what happens at death, Paul began by giving the proper attitude a Christian should manifest toward death in verse 13.  When a believer dies, those left behind should not be “full of sorrow,” meaning a prolonged period of grieving.  The idea Paul is giving is that we should in no way be filled with a sense of hopelessness when a loved one dies in the faith.  In fact, Christians should be filled with hope even in the death of a loved one.  How is this possible?  Jesus is our example!  His resurrection is the basis of our hope.   Paul, in addressing their concern, made it clear that as far as the Thessalonians were concerned, if a believer died in Christ, then they were already with Christ in glory!  Their fear—that their deceased loved ones would miss out on His glorious reign—was unfounded because those deceased loved ones were experiencing the fullness of Christ’s glory now.  And our deceased loved ones are experiencing the same thing, if they died in Christ.

There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly.  (John 14:2, 3  TLB)

3.  Leaving a legacy

a.  Service in old age, Psalm 71:5, 17, 18

Earlier we noted that a Christian should never retire from service to the Lord.  They’ll be plenty of time for rest and relaxation in Heaven.  Besides, for all those seniors thinking they can miss church, stop fighting the good fight, and stop finding avenues of service for God, there is this to contend with:

Haven’t you yet learned that your body is the home of the Holy Spirit God gave you, and that he lives within you? Your own body does not belong to you.  For God has bought you with a great price. So use every part of your body to give glory back to God because he owns it.  (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20  TLB)

Seniors have a moral obligation to continue working for the Lord until the very end because up and coming generations need to know the Truth from mature believers and they need to see it modeled from those who have lived it.

Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, your power to everyone who is to come.  (Psalm 7118  NKJV)

b.  Victory in death, 2 Timothy 4:6—8

I say this because I won’t be around to help you very much longer. My time has almost run out. Very soon now I will be on my way to heaven. I have fought long and hard for my Lord, and through it all I have kept true to him. And now the time has come for me to stop fighting and rest.  In heaven a crown is waiting for me, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of his return. And not just to me but to all those whose lives show that they are eagerly looking forward to his coming back again.  (TLB)

Talk about perspective!  Paul certainly had it.  He was well aware of his circumstances and he knew that the days ahead were far less than those behind.  With infinite pathos Paul wrote about his coming death and separation from those he loved.   Verse 6 has in it the imagery of a ship weighing anchor and leaving port.

Paul found comfort in the thought of his death.  He offered that comfort to Timothy.  That same comfort is for all believers who, just like Paul, have that same assurance that at death.  All of Christ’s followers will enjoy eternity in His glorious presence.

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