Every now and then, I think about death…
I know it sounds a bit morbid but the older I get the more often thoughts about death, and the future it holds for me and you occupies my thoughts.
Most often, death-related thoughts come on the tail of the death of a loved one, former church member (which happens quite frequently since I was privileged to pastor for over 10 years) and even the death of famous people. (Robin Williams, Bobbie Kristina Brown, Julian Bond, the tragic victims of shootings, etc.)
I recently had the opportunity to eulogize one of my former members. As I thought about what to share with the family and congregation, I was impressed to share words of encouragement around the topic.
This is not an exhaustive list, but my observations from life and the Bible about death and dying.
Christians are human and humans die.
As mortal beings you and I are susceptible to death; and even if you accept Jesus as your personal Savior and live a good Christian life, we may still die. The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:51 “behold, I show you a mystery, we shall not all sleep”, but we will come back to that later.
Because God wants only purely motivated service.
I believe God wants us to serve Him because we love Him not, and not only for what we receive from Him. The New International Version of John 6:26 tells us that after feeding five thousand–that is 5,000 men plus women and children–Jesus had this to say to the multitudes that were excited about following Him:
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”
Serving God should be motivated by our love for Him. It should be motivated by our appreciation for the blessings of life He gives us each day. It should be motivated by the gift of salvation He has provided for us in the sacrifice of His Son on the cross, not merely for the material blessings He gives to us!
In certain limited areas of earthly and heavenly interplay, God lives willingly by pre-set, pre-agreed upon rules.
In the first chapter of the Old Testament book of Job, God gets into a conversation with Satan. A side-note here, this is always a risky thing to do for you and me, but not for God. Read the story of the interaction between God and Satan and Job, although he didn’t know he was a part of it. You see the implementation of some unwritten rules of engagement. At the conclusion of their first conversation, God says, in effect, “OK Satan, I give you permission to touch everything Job possesses, even his children, but don’t touch him. Then, at the end of the second conversation, in Job chapter 2, God agrees to let Satan touch Job’s body but does not allow him to take his life. In this instance, God sets the rules and then steps back and obeys them.
In law, we frequently have a general rule and an exception or exceptions. This is also true in everyday life: following God will not result in exemption from death. Miracles, such as when God intervenes to heal our loved ones, are the exception to that rule. Therefore, if the Lord delays his coming, you and I and everybody currently alive will eventually die!
Additionally, in the vast majority of cases, when you and I see a loved one on his or her deathbed, when we pray for their healing, anoint them and even make vows to God if He spares them, they will die, and God will not intervene to stop Satan from exercising his right to bring death upon even the best of human beings.
But, don’t stop here. It looks bleak, but it will get better, I promise.
Revelation chapter 14 and verse 13 has this to say in response to the question: Why do Christian’s die?
Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me,[a] “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”
Christians who live lives of dedicated and tireless labor for God, sometimes decades upon decades of such labor need to rest. So, I believe that every now and then, God allows His children to go to sleep for now.
To permit His children to miss out on the time of trouble.
Based on the prophetic time-clock outlined in the Old Testament book of Daniel, chapter 2 (the chapter about Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about the future of the world) we are living in the final days of earth’s history, in the kingdom of the feet and toes.
As you look around this world has gotten pretty scary! Earthquakes and natural disasters, domestic violence, child abuse, sexual exploitation of millions, shootings of innocent youth, wars, terrorism and threatened economic collapse of entire country economies!
You think it’s bad now?
Well, based on Daniel’s prophetic perspective in Dan. 12:1 and 2, it is going to get a lot worse soon.
“At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book.”
But note Isaiah the prophet’s words in Isaiah 26:20. “Come, my people, enter your chambers,
And shut your doors behind you;
Hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment,
Until the indignation is past.” These verses suggest that God allows his people to go to sleep in death in order to sleep through the most terrible time in the history of the world! In fact, in Matthew 24:19-22, Jesus gave this description of the future as proof of the challenging days ahead:
“But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.”
This world and God’s people are headed for a time of great trial and tribulation, I believe God at times says, “My son, my daughter, you’ve been through enough trouble and trial in your life, it is time to take your rest until “the indignation is past.”
To allow the rest of us to work, do our share of the labor for the finishing of God’s work in the earth
Why should persons who have labored their entire lives for God have to continue to labor on alone? In the Parable of the Talents recorded in Matthew 25:14-30, the five- and two-talent servants who used their talents for the Master were rewarded while the one-talent worker (who buried the talent he/she was given) was rebuked! Why? Because he or she was a slacker! That is, he or she didn’t do a fair share of their God-given assignment! The Point of the Parable? No matter how many talents you and I have, we need to use them for God’s work in the earth while we have life and breath.
Which brings us to the final reason I believe Christians die…
To Open the Door for the Greater Miracle
The Miracle of the raising of Lazarus recorded was a great miracle. Why? Because Jesus delayed. He waited for two whole days before responding to Mary and Martha’s plea for healing of their brother Lazarus, the one who the Bible says: “Jesus loved”.
Tina Turner used to sing a song entitled: What’s Love Got To Do With It? and when God fails to deliver our loved ones from the cold grip of death,we wonder the same thing! To withhold healing when we need it most. Is that love?
The fact is there are times in our lives when delay can equal love! Note Jesus’ words in John 11:15, and Martha’s response in John 11:21. If Jesus had responded right away to Martha and Mary’s request and to the disciples expectations, He would have forfeited the greatest miracle of his earthly ministry, and so Jesus delayed.
When God allows His children to fall asleep in death, there is no miracle, Satan exercises his power of death over those who Jesus loves, and after their death, Jesus delays. But one day soon, a greater miracle will take place. No, not after days of delay, but after long years of delay. And this takes us back to I Corinthians 15:51 (I told you we would come back to that verse!)
The apostle Paul states with passion and confidence:
“Behold, I show you a mystery, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible.” 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.
I Thessalonians 4:16-17
While we have sought to find the reasons why Christian’s die, God has His own reasons for letting that happen and some which may be far different and far wiser than the ones we have suggested…
The question for us today is what do we do while we wait to learn the real reasons our loved ones fell asleep when they did? I believe we have the choice to live in doubt and fear about our death or to trust the words of Jesus in John 11:25 “I am the resurrection and the life…He who believes in Me, though he may die he shall live.”