I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Death: A Fearful Foe
Living in Michigan, there is nothing like going into the Upper Peninsula to take a color tour of the leaves that are turning bright colors in the Fall. This time of year you see the green leaves turn shades of yellow, orange and red. But what causes these brilliant displays?
The green pigment in the leaves is chlorophyll. And the beauty that you see in those leaves is caused by death. With the shortening of the days and the changes in the temperature, the leaves stop making food for the tree. It is then that the chlorophyll breaks down and the green goes away. The breaking down process causes the bright and vivid colors that we see when we go on those famous tours.
That is all well and good for leaves, but can there be any beauty in the death of a loved one, a friend or someone who has contributed much to humanity by a life well-lived? After all, the leaves are going through a yearly cycle. The tree will produce new leaves and the whole process begins again. The Christian doesn't believe in reincarnation. We won't get a chance to get it right by coming back in another form in this present life like other religions believe. So there seems to be a finality about death, at least as we experience it today. Far from beautiful, there is something tragic about the death of a human being.
However, if we understand what the Bible has to say about this fearful foe we call death, it should allow us to be comforted concerning our own death and that of our loved ones who have died in the Lord. Let us look at several facts that Scripture tells us. These facts take a tragic and horrible event and make it into something that, in the end, will be a thing of beauty that transforms us from one existence to another.
I. The Beauty in Christ's Resurrection
Have you ever wished that someone whom you loved could come back from the dead and let you know that everything is all right with them? Where are they? What are they doing? Well, you're not alone. People have been wondering about this mystery for as long as there has been death in the world.
Shortly before his death in 1926, the master escape artist, Harry Houdini, vowed to perform his greatest feat ever by communicating from beyond the grave from Heaven. Sadly, this never actually occurred. However, Scripture teaches us that our Lord Jesus Christ not only rose from the dead but showed himself alive to many people. And he has made it possible for all who believe in him to conquer death as well! Paul tells us about this:
"But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all" (I Corinthians 15:20-28).
We truly serve a marvelously powerful God who has shown his power over sin, and the grave. With him, we have nothing to fear. Unlike Houdini, Jesus has come back from the dead to tell us what it is like and to offer us a place with Him. He not only has the power over death himself but Jesus also gives us the power over this enemy as well. And through faith in his sacrifice on the cross for us, we can share in the beauty of that resurrection day when He returns and all the saints will be gathered to him to share an eternity that He has planned for us.
II. The Beauty of Seeing the Lord
We can see in his writings that death wasn't a fearful thing for the Apostle Paul because he knew that being absent from the body meant that he would be present with the Lord whom he loved and served. In the book of Philippians, the great Apostle was writing from prison. He was most likely, at this point, under house arrest, living in the rented home spoken of in Acts 28:14-31.
Paul wasn't sure of his fate at this point. Maybe he'd be killed by the Romans. Or perhaps he'd be released and be able to continue his ministry to the Philippians and others. However, he believed rightly that he would most likely be released because God had more for him to do and the Philippians still needed him. Here is what he told them:
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me." (Philippians 1:18b-26).
For the Christian death is nothing to be feared. It is rather a passage from the land of the dying to enter the land of the living. It is a life which will be spent with the one who to know is life itself. He is the one who loves us with a love that we have never known on this earth. He is our Savior, Lord, and friend.
Fanny Crosby was a very prolific hymn writer who wrote 6000 hymns in her lifetime, several of which we still sing today. This gifted lady did all of this while completely blind, having been blinded by an illness as a baby of 6 weeks old. But she was never bitter about it.
One day a pastor lamented to her that out of the many gifts that the Lord had given her, it was too bad that He never gave her the gift of sight. But she responded:
"Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I should be born blind?" "Why?" asked the surprised clergyman. "Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior!"
There was one hymn that she wrote that was quite personal and special to her and for many years Miss Crosby would not publish it. However, one day at a Bible conference she was asked by D.L. Moody to give a testimony. At first, she hesitated, but then decided to do it. She told the audience:
"There is one hymn I have written which has never been published. I call it my soul's poem. Sometimes when I am troubled, I repeat it to myself, for it brings comfort to my heart."
It is then that she recited the words to her song:
'Someday the silver cord will break, and I no more as now shall sing; but oh, the joy when I shall wake within the palace of the King! And I shall see Him face to face, and tell the story--saved by grace!"
It was at the age of 95 when Miss Fanny Crosby left this earth and actually fulfilled that song. She saw her beloved Savior face to face. And I can imagine she fell at his feet in worship and praise!
Oh, the beauty when we all one day see the Lord face to face!! But there's more still. There is the beauty of Christ's return.
III. The Beauty in Christ's Return
Man was created in the image of God to have eternal fellowship with his creator. He was to live forever in paradise. No sickness, pain or aging and aching bodies were in the picture. Because of the disobedience of Adam, the first man, sin entered the world with its sad consequences. Death entered the human race. Now every human being that comes into this world will experience death, except for one blessed generation who will be transformed and caught up to meet the Lord Jesus Christ in the air when He returns in an event called the Rapture of the Church.
The Apostle Paul dealt with this subject in speaking to the Thessalonians. Apparently several of the Thessalonian's relatives had died. This was most likely due to the persecution of saints that was taking place at this time. Paul had told the believers earlier that Christ would return and take us to be with him. However, the Thessalonians were concerned about their dead family and friends. Would they miss out on Christ's return? What would become of them?
Paul eased their minds by saying that, not only would they be involved in Christ's return, the dead would be the first to be taken to meet the Lord in the air! Here is what he said:
"But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this, we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord, Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).
What comforting words indeed, to know that every believer, living or dead, will have a part in the beauty of the Return of our Lord! However, even more beautiful is the death of death itself!!
IV. The Beauty in Death's Defeat
From the moment we are born, death is our great adversary. The Bible calls it the "final enemy to be destroyed" ( I Corinthians 15:26). However, Jesus has conquered this enemy and removed its terrible sword. For the Christian, it is no longer the dreaded fearful foe it once was. Today it is under the control of the Master who defeated it soundly and made it His servant. He rose from the dead, never to be overcome by it again (Romans 6:9). And He has taken the once dreadful opponent of all humanity and has made it the gatekeeper who opens the door for the saints to enter the presence of the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8).
And one day it will be completely eradicated. Revelation 20:14 tells us that death and Hell or Hades will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. And in Revelation 21:1-4
we find these moving words:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."
Imagine, no more funerals of loved ones. No more hospitals and emergency rooms. No more separation. Just an eternal communion with our Lord and with the ones we love. I am moved by the words of the poet John Donne who wrote:
"Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die!"
More beautiful and stunning words could never be spoken!
Death and the Bible
When it comes right down to it, there is nothing good in death itself. It is not part of Gods original plan for His universe or for us who were created in His image. It is a tragedy caused by our sin and rebellion against a Holy God. Yet, the Lord Jesus Christ, through his own death, burial and resurrection, has taken one of the most devastating things known to man and has given us a hope beyond the grave. And to have that hope you need only accept Jesus' sacrifice as your substitute for sin. He died that you might live eternally with Him.
This life, with its tragedies, heartaches, and pains, is not all there is. If we die in Christ the best is yet to come. If we like this earth, we will utterly love the New Heaven and the New Earth that God is making for those who belong to Him. Scripture tells us that:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him” ( I Corinthians 2:9).
Death, in all of its ugliness and sorrow, cannot stop the magnificence that God is going to make of us and this world despite how things may seem at the moment.
Only God can take a tragedy and make it into a triumph! Only God can take a mess and make it into a message of hope! And only God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, can take grotesque, hideous death and make it into a masterpiece of beauty through the resurrection to new life from the dead! What a marvelous and beautiful God that we serve!!
© 2018 Jeff Shirley