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Freedom from the Fear of Death (John 14:1-6 and Hebrews 2:14-15)

Background: This was an older man, the father of one of our church members. I met this gentleman when I conducted his wife's funeral service after her death. All along, Mr. Smith had been making preparations for his own death. After he moved to a retirement village, he asked for me to visit with him about conducting his funeral service, as I had done for his wife. Early this year, when Mr. Smith was very ill, I visited him in the hospital. I did not expect him to remember of recognize me. I was mistaken. He not only recognized me, he quickly reminded me that I "had a job to do." Both he and I knew that "job" was to conduct his funeral. I did not wish to assume or to suggest that the time for my "job" had come, and so I responded by saying that I would be glad to do my "job" when the time came. He responded, "We don't live forever, you know.".

I would like to speak to you very briefly about a passage in the Bible which I shared with Mr. Smith as we talked about his funeral and his eternal future. I know he would want me to share this with you, today.

Mr. Smith was right. We don't live forever. He was also wise to plan for his death in advance. Death is one of the ugly realities of life, a reality which we must all face. Our gathering here today is to honor the memory of Mr. Smith. It is also to find comfort, not just in his death, but in the certainty of our own death. This comfort can only be found in Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Word of God. I know of no more comforting text than the words of our Lord Jesus, recorded in John chapter 14. These are the words which I shared with Mr. Smith as we talked of his death. These are the words which I would also share with you today, as we seek to find comfort in the face of death.

As Jesus was approaching the time of His own death, He spoke these words of comfort and assurance to His disciples:

"Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, {there} you may be also. 4 "And you know the way where I am going." 5 Thomas *said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?" 6 Jesus *said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me" (John 14:1-6).

There is one great fear common to all men, which is greater than all other fears. It is a fear which paralyzes men all of their lives. It is the fear of death. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of that fear in these words:

Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives (Hebrews 2:14-15).

The disciples were no different than anyone else when it came to the fear of death. Even though they had been with Jesus, and had witnessed His power over death, the fear of death was always with them, especially when He spoke of His own death. Every time that Jesus told His disciples He was going to die, they were uneasy, and they sometimes even tried to persuade Him to give up His destiny of death.

Jesus was eating the Passover with His disciples, on the night He was to be arrested, and soon after to be crucified. He had just shaken His disciples by telling them that one of them would betray Him, that He would be put to death, and that they would not be able to follow Him immediately, but would follow Him later on.

Imagine for a moment how you would have felt, if you were one of the disciples, hearing from Jesus that He was about to die, and that they would not be able to come to Him to be with Him for some time. The words of Jesus in John 14 are spoken to comfort His troubled followers. They are words of comfort not only for those troubled disciples, but for everyone who has trusted in Jesus for eternal life.

Just how do the words of Jesus, spoken here, give us comfort? Many people seek comfort from this task by focusing upon the "mansions" or "dwelling places" to which our Lord refers as being in His Father's house. They seem to think of Jesus as the foreman of a construction project in heaven, which has not yet completed. Jesus, they think has to go away, so that He can finish up the project, and so that our dwelling places, now being built, will be completed in time for us to arrive.

This misses the point almost completely. The disciples are troubled because Jesus will die, and because they will be separated from Him. They do not care about the heavenly mansions, they care about Him. They see death as the enemy, death as the thief which will snatch their Lord away. Jesus' words are given to His disciples to give them comfort concerning His death.

In John chapters 13-17, which is sometimes called the "Upper Room Discourse", Jesus gives comfort to His disciples by telling them two things. First, He told them that His death was to be the means by which they would dwell with Him forever. Second, He told them that during the time of His physical absence He would be even more present with them through the sending of His Holy Spirit, to dwell not only among them, but within them (see John 14:16-31; 16:7-15).

In our text, the "going" of our Lord was directly linked with His "preparing" of a place. More than this, His "going away" He described as the means by which they would "be with Him". The disciples dreaded Jesus' death because they thought that it would separate them forever. Jesus encouraged them by assuring them that His death was the means by which they would dwell with Him forever. The death of our Lord was not the problem, it was the solution. Our Lord's death did not create a problem, it solved the problem. If Jesus had not been separated from them by His death for their sins, they would die in their sins and be separated from Him forever. Jesus' going, His death, paid the price for men's sins, so that men may live forever in the presence of our Lord.

The disciples did not understand Jesus at the time, but the did after His resurrection from the dead. They preached Jesus as the One whose death and resurrection brings eternal life to all who believe. They no longer feared His death, as they once did. By their own desire, and in obedience to His command, the disciples, followed by Christians down through the ages, celebrate His death. The death of our Lord is God's way to heaven, and it is the means by which we can live forever with Christ. Death, once our enemy, is defeated. Death does not keep us from God; Christ's death draws us to Him.

When the disciples came to understand what Jesus meant in John 14, they no longer looked on the death of our Lord with dread, but with joy and hope. But the death of our Lord also changed the way that the disciples looked upon their own death, and the deaths of all who had trusted in Jesus. They understood that death, for them, resulted in their immediate entrance into the presence of our Lord. Listen to these words from the pen of the apostle Paul, which he speaks in reference to his own death:

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better (Philippians 1:21-23).

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 (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).

Mr. Smith's death brings us face to face with our own death. We will either face our own death with fear or with faith. It all depends on our response to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus told His disciples that He is the way, not just a way to heaven. Our response to the death of the Lord Jesus Christ determines our response to death, especially our own.

These words of our Lord, recorded in John's gospel, are the solution to the fear of death. I pray that you will, by faith, trust in the Lord Jesus, in His death for your sin and in His resurrection for your own. Death will no longer be your enemy, because the death of our Lord overcame death and its terror, to all who believe in Him.

Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come), Funerals