Some of you have been stunned by the sudden passing of a consecrated person, a godly pastor, a devout missionary or a saintly mother. You have stood at the open grave with hot tears coursing down your cheeks and have asked in utter bewilderment, “Why, O God, why?”
Allow me to assure you that the death of the righteous is no accident. Do you think that the God whose watchful vigil notes the sparrow’s fall and who knows the number of hairs on our heads would turn His back on one of His children in the hour of peril? With Him there are no accidents, no tragedies and no catastrophes as far as His children are concerned.
Paul, who lived most of his Christian life on the brink of death, expressed triumphant certainty about life beyond this realm of time and space. His rugged, disciplined soul took trouble, persecution, injustice, pain, thwarted plans and broken dreams in stride.
He never bristled in questioning cynicism. He knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that his life was being fashioned into the image and likeness of his blessed Redeemer.
When things didn’t work out according to Paul’s plan, and when those about him began to murmur and question, he said, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV).
When his tired, bruised body began to weaken under the load, he said in triumph, “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1, NIV).
The world called him foolish for his belief that men could become partakers of eternal life through faith. But he jutted out his chin and said exultantly, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12, NIV).
Every one of these triumphant affirmations rings with the immortal truth that the death of the righteous is unlike the death of the unrighteous.
Though Christians have no immunity from death and no claim to perpetual life on this planet, death is to them a friend rather than a foe–the beginning rather than the end–another step on the pathway to heaven rather than a leap into a dark unknown.
Paul believed in Christ and committed his all to Christ. The result was that he knew Christ was able to keep him against that day. Strong faith is the result of unconditional commitment to Jesus Christ.
A Wonderful Hope
One of the bonuses of being a Christian is the wonderful hope that extends beyond the grave into the glory of God’s tomorrow. There is a vast difference between the death of the sinner and the saint. I have talked to doctors and nurses who have held the hands of dying people, and they say that there is as much difference between the death of a Christian and of a non-Christian as there is between heaven and hell.
The death of the righteous is not to be feared–it is not to be shunned. It is the shadowed threshold to the palace of God. No wonder Balaam said, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like theirs!” (Numbers 23:10, NIV).
Let’s notice some of the statements that are set forth in the Bible about the death of a Christian, as distinguished from the death of a sinner who refuses or neglects to believe in Jesus Christ.
First, to the Christian, death is said in the Bible to be a coronation. The picture here is that of a regal prince who, after his struggles and conquests in an alien land, comes to his native country and court to be crowned and honored for his deeds.
The Bible says we are pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land. This world is not our home; our citizenship is in heaven. To those who are faithful, Christ will give a crown of life. Paul said, “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8, NIV).
When D. L. Moody was dying, he looked up to heaven and said, “Earth is receding; heaven is opening. This is my coronation day.” Yes, death is the Christian’s coronation, the end of conflict and the beginning of glory and triumph in heaven.
Second, the Bible speaks of death, for a Christian, as a rest from labor. The Bible says, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord É they will rest from their labor” (Revelation 14:13, NIV). It is as if the Lord of the harvest says to the weary laborer, “You have been faithful in your task, come and sit in the sheltered porch of my palace and rest from your labors–enter now into the joy of your Lord.”
Third, the Bible speaks of death as a departure. When Paul approached the valley of the shadow of death he did not shudder with fear; rather he announced with a note of triumph, “The time has come for my departure” (2 Timothy 4:6, NIV).
The word “departure” literally means “to pull up anchor and to set sail.” Everything that happens prior to death is a preparation for the journey. Death marks the beginning, not the end. It is a solemn, dramatic step in our journey to God.
Many times I have said farewell to my wife as I have departed for Europe or some other distant destination. Separation always brings a tinge of sadness, but there is the high hope that we shall meet again. In the meantime, the flame of love burns brightly in her heart and in mine.
This is like the hope of the believing Christian who stands at the grave of a loved one who is with the Lord. Believers know, as did Paul, that “he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12, NIV). The Christian says “Goodbye,” but only until the day breaks and the shadows flee away.
Fourth, the Bible speaks of the death of a Christian as a transition. Paul wrote, “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1, NIV).
Death to the Christian is the exchanging of a tent for a building. Here we are as pilgrims or refugees, living in a frail, flimsy home–subject to disease, pain and peril. But at death we exchange this crumbling, disintegrating tent for a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. The wandering wayfarers come into their own at death and are given the title to a mansion that will never deteriorate or crumble.
A Place Prepared for Us
Do you think that the God who has provided so amply for living has made no provision for dying? Bear this in mind: The hope of eternal life rests solely and exclusively upon your faith in Jesus Christ! Make no mistake about this.
Before Jesus told His disciples about the many mansions and before He gave them the hope of heaven, He said, “Trust in God; trust also in me.” Then He said, “I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-2, NIV).
Eternal life comes by and through the Lord Jesus Christ. To put it in the Bible’s exact words, here is the secret of the blessed hope: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life” (John 3:36, NIV).
When Christians die, they go straight into the presence of Christ–to heaven–to spend eternity with God. An unsaved sinner’s destiny is separation from God, a place that Jesus has called hell.
I wonder where you are going. Have you given your life to Jesus Christ? Have you been transformed by the power of the Spirit of God?
You may say, “I’d like to know that I am going to heaven–I would like to have this hope in my heart, that when I die I will go into the presence of Christ. I don’t want to be lost–I don’t want to go to hell–I don’t want to have to face the searching judgment of God.”
If you say that, then read Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (NIV).
There is no judgment, no hell, for those who are in Christ. You can confess your sins, turn your back on your sins and receive Jesus Christ as your Savior now.
At this moment, you can bow your head and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13, NIV). He will hear that simple prayer. The Spirit of God will come into your heart.
You will become a partaker of eternal life. You can have the hope of heaven today, so that if you died tonight, you would be ready to meet your God. You would go straight into His presence!
Even if you are an elderly man or woman lying on a sickbed and you have never made your peace with God, it is still not too late. The dying thief on the cross turned to Christ and said, “Jesus, remember me.” And Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43, NIV).
At this moment you can receive the Savior and have the hope of heaven in your heart.