One of my favorite authors, Jerry Bridges, says,
“Most people, even Christians, live in a state of semi-denial about death. We hesitate to say a dearly love relative or friend ‘died.’
We prefer to say she ‘passed away’ or she ‘went to be with the Lord.’ Even unbelievers who assume that everyone ends up in heaven are known to say something such as ‘he’s gone to a better place.’”
And, you know, he’s right. There is something that seems harsh and final about saying that our friend or love one has “died.” But for we who know the Lord, who have the promise and a certainty of being present with Him the next moment after we breath our last breath on this earth, the prospect of death is really a bitter-sweet reality. It is bitter because we are losing a friend, mother, brother or nephew, and life will be decidedly different with them not being around to laugh with, to serve along side of, to bake meatloaf’s or to talk politics with.
There “will” be emptiness and an adjustment of varying proportions on our part, yet, there is great comfort in the sweet. You see, God’s Word, the bible, tells us everything we need to know about death and dying. It doesn’t tell us everything we might want to know, but it tells us everything we need to know for our instruction and comfort.
So, now that my mom has died – God called her to Himself this past Sunday morning – I am experiencing the bitter, the loss, the emptiness, but I am comforted greatly by the sweet…and oh, how sweet it is. I love what Martin Lloyd-Jones once said,
“When you are traveling through a bog, you look for solid ground.”
And friends, that is what God calls us to. He calls us to rest in the comfort of the hope that He promises in His Word. That is the solid ground…for us to be standing on His truth during times of distress, especially when the reality of death graces our lives.
Listen to how the Scriptures describe the death of a believer:
- Israel described his coming death as being “Gathered to his people.” (Gen. 49)
- God said to Hezekiah that he was going to be “gathered to his grave in peace.” (2 Kings 22)
- Psalm 116:15 tells us that death is precious – “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints.”
- Believers are “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.” (Luke 16:22)
- To the thief on the cross Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
- We are told that Jesus is preparing for us a mansion and to be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8)
- Paul tells us that death is “gain” and “far better.” (Phil. 1:21 & 23)
These are but a few of the ways in which the death of a believer is mentioned in Scripture, and they are for me, very comforting truths.
Now, we are so consumed with life that we often don’t grasp the extent to which our blessings are realized in and after death. That is what Paul stresses in 1 Cor. 15:19, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” You see, friend, we have hope in this life and in eternity.
“Christian hope is a hope that not only controls our present living, but also our anticipation of what will come to be beyond this life.” J. Ligon Duncan
In his short but helpful book, “Fear Not! Death and the Afterlife from a Christian Perspective”, J. Ligon Duncan offers these reminders in answer to the question, “What happens after death?”
1. When believers die, they are immediately with Christ, whom they prize more than all things.
Samuel Rutherford once said, “I am so in love with His love that if He were not in Heaven, I would not want to go there.” Believers have a longing to be with their Savior because He is their greatest prize.
2. When believers die, they are immediately perfected in holiness.
It is here that we pause and realize that the sin that has hammered and plagued us throughout life is finally cast off and we are now truly and fully able to live our lives wholly and completely according to His will because our perfection has been completed in Him.
3. When believers die, they pass immediately into glory.
Paul tells us that when we die it is “gain” and “far better” because we are no longer Ambassadors or Pilgrims journeying in another land. No, we are finally home. The minute death comes we are safe at home; safe in our Father’s arms; safe with our older brother Jesus, who shed His blood for us so that we could come home.
4. When believers die, their bodies remain united to Christ, resting in the grave, awaiting the resurrection.
Paul uses the term “asleep” to describe those believers who have died and are awaiting the resurrection. It is not a metaphor of inactivity, but of rest. It reminds us that our painful and relentless struggle does finally come to rest and that the rest we have in Christ will include the future resurrection of those bodies at His appointed time.
My mom suffered from Alzheimer’s and the last year and a half have been difficult to watch and to experience. Yet, because of my mom’s great faith in God all the above realities are promises that gave her hope and a confidence in God. I am thankful that I can grieve with hope in the promises given to me by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!