5. What Can We Learn From Death?
Background: I am not sure this man was a professing Christian.
As I talked with the family yesterday I was reminded of the biblical proverb which says, "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children" (13:22).
Joe Smith has certainly left a great heritage to his family, his friends, and to his city. Many knew him as like a father and as friend. There is for all of you, a great heritage in the fond memories which Joe Smith has left you.
It is because of such a heritage that there is such sorrow at the death of Joe for their is much we might have wished to have said or done, and there is so much more of his friendship and fellowship we would have wished to have enjoyed.
It is good and proper for us to reflect on the good things which Joe Smith has done for family, friends, and city, let us be careful to distinguish his good works from that which assures us that he is now in the presence of God. The comfort which we can find regarding Joe's eternal future is not the result of Joe's works, but of his personal faith in Jesus Christ, who died in his place and has forgiven his sins.
When Russian interceptors shoot down a civilian airliner we were justly irate. While we do protest the evil of such an act, we are not surprised, for we know that although Russia is great, it is not good. When a loved on like Joe Smith passes away it is a different matter. We know that God, unlike the communist regime of Russia, is both great and good. The question which we must ask is why a God who is good and great allows men to die.
A few have explained suffering, death, and tragedy by insisting that God is not good, but evil. He uses His power, they tell us, to entertain Himself at our expense. Most have sought consolation in the idea that while God is good, He is not so great as to be able to keep evil from making men miserable. This solution is not acceptable because the Bible insists that God is both good and great.
The Bible helps us to accept the tragedy of death by teaching us what we would never have expected to hear--that death is good, a gracious gift from God.
To say that death is good and gracious is not to deny the evils associated with death. Death, the Bible teaches, is the consequence of sin (Romans 6:23). Death brings separation and sorrow. Our Lord did not look forward to His death, even when He was confident that He would be raised from the grave (cf. John 10:17-18). The Bible does teach us that God is able to use what is, in and of itself, evil, in order to bring about what is good. So it was that God could use the sin of Joseph's brothers, who sought to do him harm, to bring about the deliverance of a the nation Israel (cf. Gen. 50:20).
Let us consider, then, how death can be called a good and gracious thing in our lives.
1. Death is a reminder to man of the seriousness of sin in God's sight.
When God created Adam and Eve and put them in the garden of Eden, He warned them that if they ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree, they would surely die (Gen. 2:17). While our society has taken a casual attitude toward sin, God never has and never will. Death is a reminder of the seriousness of sin.
2. Death is a reminder of the certainty of God's promises.
Not only does death instruct us that God takes sin seriously, but that God takes His promises seriously. God told Adam that eating of the forbidden fruit would bring death. No man has ever avoided death, which strongly underscores that God always keeps His word. And if this is true of the warnings concerning His judgment, it is just as true of His promise of salvation.
3. Death is good because it gives us the opportunity to glorify God by believing in Him.
In the portion of Scripture in the 11th chapter of the gospel of John which I read to you, our Lord made some startling statements about the death of Lazarus, which our Lord brought about by His delay in going to him while he was still ill. In verse 11 our Lord told His disciples that the Son of God was to be glorified by the death of Lazarus. In verse 15, He told the disciples that He was glad he was not present when Lazarus died, so that they might believe. When our Lord arrived, He spoke to both Mary and Martha about the necessity of belief in Him as the Resurrection and the Life (vss. 25-27, 40). In verse 40 our Lord said that His glory was to be seen only by their belief. It is clear that many believed on the occasion of the raising of Lazarus, while many others did not (vss. 45-46).
Death is an occasion which God has designed to bring men to faith in Himself and thus to bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. For those of us who remain, the death of Joe Smith is an investment in heaven.
In the sermon on the Mount our Lord taught that "where our treasure is, there our heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21). Knowing the Joe Smith is in heaven loosens our grasp on the things of this life and makes us hunger for heaven.
5. If death is a result of sin, it is also a remedy for sin, for those who are in Christ.
It was gracious of God to terminate the life of Adam, and of all his offspring, for had man not been subject to death, he would have to live eternally as a sinner.
In the Book of II Corinthians we find these words from the inspired pen of the apostle Paul: "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day."
All of us who have left our youth behind can agree with Paul's words. We do find our bodies slowly deteriorating. Death is already at work in us. But while this is the result of sin, it is also the remedy. While the body is undergoing deterioration, the spirit of the saint is being renewed. The process of physical death cannot hinder the progress of spiritual renewal.
Rather than keeping us from glory, death brings us to it. In the next verses in the Book of II Corinthians Paul speaks of the joys of heaven which await the Christian:
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven . . . . Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord--for we walk by faith, not by sight--we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord (II Cor. 5:1-2, 6-8).
For the Christian, death is the remedy for sin. First and foremost, it is the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, which frees us from sin and its consequences:
Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God (Rom. 6:6-10).
When we come to trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, we become a participant in His death, thus being freed from the penalty and power of death.
And when we die physically, we are freed from the presence and power of sin and enter into the totality of the life which is in Christ. Death for the Christian is therefore not to be dreaded, for it looses us from sin and its consequences.
I have said that Joe's Smith has left each of us a heritage of wonderful memories. He has also left behind a heritage in his example of personal faith. We can all find comfort in the teaching of the Scriptures that his death was both good and gracious. We can also find comfort in the assurance that because of his faith he is now with the Lord, delivered forever from the consequences of sin. While we can be comforted at the time of Joe's death because of his faith, we will only find comfort regarding our own death in our own personal relationship to Jesus Christ as our Savior.
I am convinced from the teaching of the Scriptures that the one thing which presently concerns Joe Smith is what will happen to you at your death. The one heritage which no man can leave to another, no matter how good or how godly his life, is a personal faith for each of his family and friends. That is something which each of us must decide for ourselves.
Related Topics: Funerals