What Death Means for the Believer in Christ
If we are to find endurance, encouragement, and comfort amidst the pressures, losses, and tragedies of life, man must turn to the Bible, the Word of God. Why?
Because this Book, God has graciously authenticated with tremendous evidence as not merely the Word of man, but as it is, the Word of God to man, God breathed, accurate, and without error. As the Apostle affirms, what has been written in the Bible has been written "that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4b).
As the Word of God, the Bible is the revelation of the sovereign God and planner of the universe. It is the revelation of a God who cares and who is in control of all the affairs of our lives, and who has not left us to ourselves, but has reached out to us in Christ and in the Bible. As the word of such a God, the Bible alone can give man an adequate understanding, meaning, and hope in the face of the facts and realities of life with its complexities, trials, and losses as with death.
So today, for a few moments, let us turn to the Bible and let us reflect together on some of its truth and promises that we might find courage, hope, and joy in the Lord in the midst of our sorrow.
First, we might start with a question? Why death? Why was our beloved friend, taken home at this time in her life? We simply do not know the answer to that? That is one of the mysteries of life that Scripture does not answer.
But when is death convenient? When is death ever timely for the individual or for the family and friends? When is death not a shock? When is death normal? Certainly, sometimes it is a relief because of sickness or the pains of this life, but who can ever really be thankful for death. So let’s ask a question.
Death Is An Enemy
According to Scripture, death is not really normal or natural even though it is a persistent fact of human history. Why? Because man was created by God to be a unity of body, soul, and spirit and in that state to live forever with God in fellowship with Him. This is the natural, normal state that God planned for man. This is why we have the hope and promise of the resurrection (cf. 2 Cor. 5:1-9).
Further, according to Scripture, death is an enemy, the last enemy to be conquered by God, and as such, it is the result of a cause, the result of sin and the fall of the human race. "For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death" (1 Cor. 15:25-26).
How is death our enemy? It is our enemy:
1. because it separates man from his body,
2. because is the result of sin and Satan's attack on man who was created in the image of God for fellowship with God,
3. because it separates us from our loved ones,
4. because it ends ministries and often makes life seem futile or without purpose, and
5. because, if men are without Christ, it sends them into a Christless eternity, forever separated from God.
But dear friends in Christ, there is an answer to death, there is victory and deliverance from this ancient and ever present, stalking enemy.
Victory Over Death
So, the Apostle, in the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, declared in the that great chapter on the resurrection: "But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory. "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
What is that victory over death? Let's think together and reflect for a moment on some of the great declarations of the Bible:
(1) Because of Christ's victory for us, God assures us in His Word that this separation is not permanent for believers in Christ. For one day there will be a reuniting of believing loved ones in heaven, never to be separated again. Even now, (Name) is enjoying not only fellowship with the Lord, but with other members of her family that have gone on before.
In the OT, it is often repeated that a saint who died "was gathered to his people." This was said of Abraham, Isaac, Aaron, and Moses. This does not mean they were laid to rest with their people, for Moses was not. It means their souls and spirits were reunited in a place called Abraham's bosom or paradise.
When David's child died, he said "Can I bring him back? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (II Sam. 12:23). It was comforting to David to know he would someday be reunited with his child whom he would know and with whom he would have eternal fellowship.
(2) The Word of God tells us that the sting of death has been swallowed up in the victory of Christ. The "sting of death," Scripture says, "is sin," and Scripture says because of this sin "it is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment." But for (Name), the sting, which is sin, has been removed and so also the judgment. For Romans 8:1 says "there is therefore now no condemnation (no Great White Throne Judgment for sin) to them who are in Christ Jesus."
(3) For (Name), this appointment has been canceled because an earlier appointment was made and kept when she received Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. Christ's death canceled sin's penalty and its judgment was born by the Lord in the sinners place on the cross.
(4) Because of the victory of Christ, death for (Name) was a departure for home and means being in the presence of the Lord as well as in the presence of other believing loved ones. In II Timothy 4:6, Paul wrote to Timothy "for I am now ready to be offered and the time of my departure is at hand."
The Greek word here for departure is analusis which is (a) a nautical term used of a ship which pulls up its anchor and sets sail; (b) it also used in a military way of an army breaking camp to move on; and (c) it was used of freeing someone from his chains.
Do you see? This, for the Christian, is what death is--it’s setting sail, it’s breaking camp, it’s being freed from this life so we can go home. The anchor is weighed and we set sail for the golden shore of the blessed presence of God, carried into God's presence.
Have you never been away from home and then boarded a plane or train, and as the time to depart approached, experienced that warm feeling and the thought--I am going home. This explains what death is like for the believer--it’s a going home experience.
John 14:1-3 "Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 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. 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."
II Corinthians 5:8 "We are of good courage, I say, and prefer to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord."
There is no intermediate state. The Bible teaches us there is no soul sleep, no purgatory, but instant entrance into God's presence and home. So, heaven is our eternal home. Our Lord is there. Our friends and loved ones in Christ are there. There is no sin nor sinful nature there to cause unhappiness.
Death for the believer is not a venture into the unknown, or a strange or alien atmosphere: it’s like going home. But it is even more wonderful than that because it is a home in God’s presence.
(5) While the ultimate wiping away of every tear awaits the final battle and the resurrection, our victory in Christ means that at death, we are ushered into the Lord's presence which brings joy unspeakable. In this heavenly home there won't be the sorrow, the tears, and the pain that we have here, and certainly, there is no death there (Rev. 21:4). The believer there experiences perfect happiness and all the joys which attend being in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When thinking of the glories of heaven and being at home with the Lord, the apostle Paul wrote, "I am in a straight between two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better, or to abide here."
So you can see we should receive much comfort and joy if we think about what death really means to the departed believer in Christ.
(6) Our victory in Christ also assures us that the believer will one day experience a glorious resurrection and a glorified body like that of Christ. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live."
Paul said, "For our manner of life is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Phil. 3:20-21).
This life is so often beset by ailing and painfully sick bodies, but our future body will know no such problems.
(7) The Word of God assures us that the victory accomplished for us by the Lord Jesus means a glorious, eternal inheritance "an inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, that fadeth not away, which is reserved in heaven for those who are kept by the power of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" (I Pet. 1:3-5).
In other words, our heavenly inheritance is everything that our earthy inheritances are not. Our heavenly inheritance is: incorruptible in substance, undefiled in purity, unfading in beauty and joy, and reserved in heaven (kept sure) for every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ by the eternal power and love of God in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:39).
This means that our work on earth is never forgotten and that the labors of believers will follow them into eternity. So the Apostle concludes the resurrection chapter with these words:
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58).
(8) Finally, we can find further comfort in knowing "that precious in the sight of the LORD, is the death of His saints." There are no accidents with God, His timing is perfect, and He works all things together for good, for the one taken and those left (Rom. 8:28-29). When a believer is called home, it's because God's purposes for that believer are over. It's because in God's love and wisdom, He wants that believer with Him in glory.
The apostle also wrote: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The awful pity is when one dies and departs without faith in Jesus Christ. And I only hope that this service, which causes us all to face the realities of death and what lies beyond, will cause you, if you have never done so, to do what (Name) did, trust in Jesus Christ, to consider Him . . .
Further, may this cause each of us to reflect on the meaning of life . . .
The Psalmist exclaimed:
Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.
Then in Psalm 90:12, in view of the temporality of life, the Psalmist wrote,
So teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
That is, that we may redeem the time, that, through the knowledge and application of God's truth, we may glorify god and live for Him.
May we think on these things: