We are living in a generation in which people try to forget death. We try to cope with death by pretending it does not exist. We even try to change the appearance of death with word games. We change undertaker to mortician, coffin to casket, cemetery to memorial park. We want to soften the reality of death.
Young people have told me that they will not go to a funeral–they don’t want even to think about death. They think, Everybody else is going to die, but I’m not. Someone else may have a motorcycle accident, but I won’t.
Yet everybody is dying. From the moment we are born we start to die. Death is the most democratic experience in life, for we all participate in it. I stood at the emergency entrance to a hospital once and watched the ambulances as they rolled up. Doors were opened, and hospital personnel brought in people who had been involved in an accident or had been shot, knifed or mugged. Others were cardiac patients. I thought, How quickly death comes–like the snap of a finger!
If we can understand death and get a proper perspective on it, it will help us to live. I want you to look at death through the eyes of the Bible, and learn what God’s Word has to say about it.
Death is an Enemy
First, the Bible teaches that death is an enemy of mankind and God. I am not speaking of the weakness and fear and pain and distress, I am speaking of death itself. It is an enemy. It snatches away people in the prime of life, when they are still needed by their family, their work, their nation. It leaves behind the sorrowing widow or widower and children.
God never meant that men and women should die. There was no death in the Garden of Eden, no pain, no tears, no suffering. No military or police forces were needed; mankind was perfect in a perfect environment. But men and women had a will of their own, and they rebelled against God. That rebellion is called sin. The Bible teaches that because of sin death came, and death reigns today over the whole human race. It is a judgment upon mankind because of our sin. We sinners are all under the sentence of death.
Death will be Destroyed
Second, the Bible teaches that this enemy, death, will ultimately be destroyed forever. The day is coming when Jesus Christ will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. Everything that resists the will of God will be destroyed, and the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).
Those who are in Jesus Christ will participate in the resurrection and will be given new bodies. These bodies will be glorious, powerful, spiritual, immortal, imperishable, sin-proof, age-proof and death-proof.
Death Has Already Been Defeated
Third, the Bible teaches that death has already been defeated. It was defeated at the cross and at the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The final destruction of death lies in the future and the fight with death continues at this present hour, but death was defeated in the past, at the cross and the Resurrection. Today, death doesn’t seem to be defeated. We read in the obituary columns of people who are no longer with us. But Paul says the sting of death has been withdrawn.
One of the reasons we fear death is that the Bible teaches that after death comes judgment. In tribes all over the world there exists an innate belief that we are going to a judgment. We are afraid of that judgment because we have a sense of guilt. We know we have offended God. That is the reason every culture practices some form of blood atonement. I majored in anthropology in college, and I learned that there is not a tribe or a people anywhere that at some time in history has not practiced blood sacrifice.
Death is the Reason for the Cross
Scripture says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness, and that is why Jesus died on the cross. In the First Letter of John we are told, “The blood of Jesus Christ [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Apart from that blood there is no cleansing; apart from that death there is no conquest of death. Jesus had to die so that we could live; and He removed the sting of death by taking away the fear of judgment. As the Scripture teaches, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
When I preach at a funeral I say to the mourners, “Go ahead and cry.” There is nothing wrong with shedding tears over the passing of a loved one. But Scripture says we are not to sorrow like those without hope. “Happy are the dead who die in the Lord” (Cf. Revelation 14:13). Those who have gone to Heaven in Christ are a lot happier than we are; they wouldn’t come back for anything in the world.
The death of an unbeliever was well described by Samuel Johnson as he witnessed the passing of a friend: “I felt a sensation never known to me before, a confusion, a passion, an awful stillness and sorrow, a gloomy terror without a name.” Somerset Maugham, the novelist, said, “Dying is a hellish experience.”
Death Brings Freedom
But what happens to a believer, to a person who has faith? First, death brings permanent freedom from evil. Those of us who have tasted the delights of God’s righteousness have a longing to be totally pure. We long to live in a society that is holy, in which there is no lying, cheating, hatred or crime.
As long as we live on this earth, that will not be attained, for you cannot build a perfect society on the cracked foundation of human nature.
When I die in Christ, the Bible says I go immediately into the presence of Christ, into a new world that is free from the pull of sin and pain and care and anxiety. Paul uses the word depart, carrying with it the idea of sailing away on a ship, or the freeing of a slave, or the solving of a great problem, or of going home. That is part of what death brings to the Christian.
Death Conforms Us to Jesus
It also means that the believer will be like Jesus. Death brings a final perfection to that sanctification of the believer that is begun on earth. The Apostle Paul calls it a “crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day” (2 Timothy 4:8). The thought to me is almost breathtaking. Crowned with righteousness! We have only tasted it here. I’m so excited about the moment when I will have the privilege of being crowned with righteousness that sometimes I can hardly bear it.
Some time ago a columnist suggested five things that ought to be done about death. He said, “First, accept the fact that you will die; second, make arrangements, if you are past 50 years, for the mechanics of dying; third, make provision for those you are leaving behind (check your insurance); fourth, make a will. Fifth,” he said, “make an appointment with God, but I don’t know how to suggest you do that.”
Death Can be Faced
Well, I want to make a suggestion about how to do it. Repent of your sins and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. You can do it now. It’s more than making an appointment with God; you have to know Jesus Christ.
It’s more than being a member of the church, more than being baptized, more than just living a good life. It is an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ in which you have become willing to take up your cross and follow Him; you have become willing to deny self and make Him your Lord and Master and Savior.
I am asking you to make sure that Jesus Christ is in your heart and that you are ready to face the last great enemy of mankind–death. Are you ready to go through the valley of the shadow of death, fearing no evil? Will His rod and staff comfort you? Do you know that? Is Christ yours? Will He be in that room with you when your last moment comes?