Death. The mere fact that the title of the post along with it's first word consisted simply of that one word will have a good many of you considering the writer to be a person or rather morbid character. It's not a popular topic. On the one hand, we glory and revel in it, just so long as it is confined to our video games, TV shows, and movies. But do we want to have real conversations about it? Do we want to delve into the reason it exists, how it affects us, what happens afterword, and so on? No. We embrace the idea in our entertainment because it is “real”, yet this same reality is something we are constantly running from. There is no end to the number of ways in which we are trying to extend our lives, make our later years more painless, and eliminate from ourselves the appearance of being old. Most of us want nothing to do with the idea that one day our life here on earth will be over. Furthermore, even those willing to entertain that notion and consider will very rarely contemplate the fact that death is truly imminent for us all.
Contrast this with the Scriptures handling of our life. The Psalmist says in Psalm 39:5, “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.” The majority of us not being familiar with measurements of biblical times, let me introduce you to a little measurement known as the handbreadth. It literally means the breadth, or width, of your hand. So roughly three inches on average. And that is what he says your life is like. Your life is like that. It is short, vapor like. James 5:14 would say it like this, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” These two verses obviously are not the entirety of the biblical teaching on life and death. But they give us a very accurate portrait of a consistent biblical theme. That being, life is short. Death is near, and -even for those given a long earthly life- our lives are but a vapor in the bigger picture of eternity.
Before going any further I would like to make two broad generalizations. I am going to clump the majority of the human race into two categories. First, those accept death as natural and just roll with it. Secondly, those who find it strange, scary, and unnatural. Then, finally, I hope to stamp out both of those wrong views of death that I believe most people fall into, and replace them with a biblical view. The reason I believe this is a healthy and right thing to do is based primarily on Ecclesiastes 7:2-4, which says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” Solomon tells us here that it is more profitable for our souls to be at funerals than weddings and happy feasts, because we are there faced with the reality that this will one day be our funeral. One day we will too be gone from this earth. And this pause forces us to deal with God. It is time each of us put aside our foolish pursuit of earthly pleasure and dealt with God, our Maker and Creator.
I first want to deal with my first group of people, those who simply accept that death is normal. I want to deal with them first because quite frankly I have spent a good bit of time living with this assumption myself. Certainly we know that death comes to all men, why then, would we not see it as normal? Why does it bug us when someone dies? Why are we so taken aback and wrought with remorse over the death of those close to us? And why do we feel sorrow over the death of young children, even if we did not know them or their families? We know that everyone dies eventually, why can't we just accept it and move on with life? The answer is because death is not natural. We know from Genesis 3 that sin comes into the world because of sin. Romans 6:23 would tell us, “the wages of sin is death.” And we know we are all going to pay that wage, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) We have all sinned, and therefore, we all die. But wait—if we die as a result of sin, does that not mean that without sin we would not die? Of course. God did not create us for death. Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” God is a God of life, He is the life-giver and Creator of all life. Jesus statement there in John 10:10 is a contrast of Himself with Satan, the “thief,” who comes to destroy and kill. Death comes to us all, yes. We sin, we rebel against God. God cannot tolerate this rebellious affront to His holy nature and must justly punish it. We are therefore subject to eternal damnation. God didn't create us for this purpose but we have, if you will, volunteered for it or asked for it. Death is not natural, it is the consequence of rebellion against a holy God. There is nothing more unnatural than that. However, God has dealt with this rebellion, which leads me to the second group.
There are those whom the subject of death absolutely petrifies. The avoid all talk on the subject, the simply would rather “think about happy things.” And yet Solomon is clear in Ecclesiastes 7 that such an opinion is unwise. So what's up with this? We know that death comes to all, yet we also know know that it is not good or natural. The pain and separation it causes, the sorrow, these are all results of our falleness. Where is the profit in knowing this? It comes in a couple of layers. First, from this should come a true fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). It is good to know our place in this universe. We are a rebellious people, deserving of eternal punishment, and death here is where we transition from this temporary life into eternal death, apart from the grace of God. But those last six words are key. Because God has not simply said “to Hell with you all!” He has instead, while we were yet His enemies, sent His Son to earth to die for us (Romans 5:8). We deserve unending punishment for our rebellion. And yet God has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). My sin deserves a death that never ends. But Jesus absorbs that. He has died in my place, for my sins. To believe that and repent of my sins and follow Jesus is to receive eternal life (John 3:16, 36). Because of Jesus' sacrifice I can die to my sins, rather than for my sins (1 Peter 2:24). He has made me a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20), allowing me to echo with Paul in Philippians 1:21, that “death is gain.” Instead of fearing the grave, I can know that the ultimate pain of eternal separation from God is removed, the sin that broke my relationship with God is taken care of (1 Corinthians 15:57).
So where does this leave us? First, for the one who does not believe in Jesus, it leaves you in a very bad place. Death for you brings a worse death. One that is forever, and is without relief (Luke 16:19-31). If you reject the claims of Christ you are under condemnation (John 3:18). Your sin separates you from God, and because of it, you stand condemned. You do not have the relationship with God that you were created for. Jesus words to you are simple to understand. Repent (Mark 1:15), that is, agree with God about your sin. Quit making excuses and trying to justify your wicked rebellion. Agree with God that you are a sinner and place your trust in Jesus Christ. Those who believe Him are given the right to be called the children of God (John 1:12). Jesus has died for your rebellion, in order to reconcile you to God (Romans 5:10), you must believe this or you stand condemned for eternity because of your rejection of Him (Hebrews 10:26-27).
Conversely, for the Christian, we can embrace death as the time we will meet our Savior face to face. It truly is the gain Paul speaks of. The cares of this life are no more, and we are in the presence of our Savior. But this does not mean we ignore the very real pain that exists in and around death. The death of our physical body is a reminder that while our souls have been redeemed, our bodies are still perishing, and creation is still groaning, waiting for it's redemption (Romans 8). We must face the reality that many we love and cherish are perishing without the hope of eternity with Christ that we have. These things are real. They are still real even with Jesus as our Savior. To ignore them is to ignore the urgency of Jesus' message of repentance. We must preach Christ to a dying world, because without Him there is no reconciliation to God. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, there will be none with the Father who did not come through Him (John 14:6). I want to leave you with a few questions. One, where is your citizenship? Are you living as a slave to sin or a bondservant of Jesus Christ? Two, are you ready to die? Are you living your life in such a manner that if Christ were to call you to Himself today that you would be ready? Have you valued Him above all else, taken up your cross and followed? And three, how have you viewed this world around you? Do you see a world full of inconveniences for you, that you just want to die and be rid of? Or do you see a lost world desperately in need of the Gospel—the Gospel that you have been entrusted to share with the world? In the words of John Piper, “don't waste your life.” Because someday you will die. And there are no second chances.