Background: This man was the father of one of our church members. He belonged to the Church of Christ, and I preached this message in a Church of Christ church.
We have reflected on the life of Jim Smith and sought to honor his life and his memory. If his life brings to mind many pleasant thoughts, his death also confronts us with some harsh realities. Faith is needed in all the circumstances in life, but it is never needed more than in the face of death. In the few moments that we have, I would like to remind you of four truths from the Word of God which describe the relationship of faith and death. These truths are the source of true comfort, hope, and joy, in the face of death. They are truths which are offered to all men, but which are experienced only by those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ.
1. Faith Faces Death Squarely
Hebrews chapter 11 has often been referred to as the "Hall of Faith". It is a summary of the faith of many of the characters described in the Old Testament. While we find the word "faith" frequently in chapter 11, there is another word (or concept) which is found alongside of faith--it is death. While every one of these members of the "Hall of Faith" had faith, every one of them died without receiving the promises which they believed and acted upon in their lives. We see, then, that biblical faith is that faith which faces death squarely, indeed, which looks beyond death. If men can say, "Where there's life, there's hope", the man or woman of faith can say, "Where there is death, there is hope", for faith is the basis for hope beyond death.
2. Faith Takes Death Seriously
Faith does not deal with death by minimizing it, it deals with sin as a most serious matter. It is, without trying to be humorous, a grave matter. Death is serious because it is the penalty which God has pronounced on sin. Death is serious because it is a certainty for all men. Death is to be taken seriously because, as God says, "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Death is an irreversible step into eternity, an eternity which is one of eternal bliss in the presence of God, or of eternal agony, removed from the presence of God (cf. Luke 16:19-31; 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
The seriousness of death is indicated by our Lord's response to it. One of the few times that we are told the Lord Jesus wept was at the grave of Lazarus, a man whom He was shortly to call forth from the grave. Jesus took His own death seriously as well, as can be seen from His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Death must be taken seriously, for it is the unavoidable consequence of sin.
3. Faith Enables the Christian to be Comforted, even to Worship God, When a Loved One Has Died
In the first chapter of the Book of Job, we are told of the tragic death of Job's children (Job 1:18-22). Job was a man of faith. He did not merely accept the news of his children's death, he fell to the ground in worship. What was it that enabled Job to worship, when all of his children died tragically, and (from a human point of view) prematurely? Job's faith was evidenced in three ways. Job had faith in the power of God. Job believed in God's sovereignty, in the fact that God was in control. Thus, he did not view the death of his children as a natural disaster (though, in a sense, it was), but as an act of God. He said, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD" (1:20). Job knew that his children were not his, ultimately, but God's. He knew that just as God had given his children life, God had also taken it away. To Job, it was not "their time", it was "God's time". God was in control, specifically in the manner and timing of the death of his family. Thus, Job could worship.
But further, Job had faith not only in the power of God (in His sovereignty, in His control), but in His person. Job's faith was rooted in the character of God. God was both powerful and good. Job, we are told, "did not sin nor did he blame God" (1:22). He did not see God as being in any way "at fault", as doing wrong in the death of His children. He was a God whom Job trusted. Thus he worshipped him, even in this time of tragedy.
There is one final dimension to Job's faith, as I understand this text. It is that Job was willing to trust God in the death of his children, even though he did not understand it. Job knew that God was good, and that God had taken his children in death. Job did not know why. And it would seem that his faith was such that he did not need to know why, at least not then. Time will sometimes reveal those reasons, but it is often only in eternity that they will be known. Faith finds comfort in the power, in the goodness, and in the purposes of God, even though we do not understand them at the moment.
As we face the loss of Jim Smith, there are many questions to ask, there are many things we do not, at this moment in time, understand. But if we, by faith, have come to know God as our Savior, then we do know that He is in control, that He is good, and that His wisdom and grace in Mr. Smith's death will someday be evident.
4. Faith Views Death Through the Person and Work of Jesus Christ
Part of the reason why death is so difficult for men is because they fear death. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of the incarnation and death of Jesus Christ was in order that He "might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:15). Men rightly fear death, apart from Christ. It is a just and certain punishment, and it is the entrance into a life of separation from God, for all sinners. Thus, men who do not have faith in God fear death. They dread it. They live their lives in the bondage of this fear of death.
Christians no longer fear death because of their faith in Jesus Christ. He came to die in the sinner's place, to bear the penalty of death. He not only suffered God's wrath, He was raised from the dead, so that death no longer reigns over the Christian. Death is a defeated foe. Death holds no fear for those who have faith in Christ. Paul looked at death as a deliverance, as a promotion (Philippians 1:19-26). These triumphant words of the apostle Paul, recorded in the 8th chapter of the Book of Romans, reveal faith's perspective of death:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).
Lord, I thank you for the life of Jim Smith. And I pray that through faith in Jesus Christ, each of us may worship you in his death. May we rejoice in your goodness and power, and in your plans which are beyond our ability to understand this side of heaven. May each one here, through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, experience the joy of being delivered from the fear of death, to the anticipation of death as the entrance into His presence forever more. May your comfort and joy be experienced by those who are here today, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who died that sin and death might no longer reign. We look forward to the day when death itself shall be cast into the lake of fire for all eternity. In Jesus' name, amen.