There is no experience in life so generally dreaded as death. People seek to avoid death; they do not want to face death. At the funeral they place artificial grass over the rough clods and line the grave with flowers to hide the hideous fact of death. Many try and hide the “king of terrors” (Job 18:14) by the embalmer’s art, beautiful flowers, and comforting words. And yet most people do not fear death, they simply ignore it.
But the fact remains that death is very real. We are all marching in the long parade of death. Most of our names are mentioned in the newspaper at least three times: Our birth is noted, our marriage, and finally our death. The epitaph of all generations is: He was born; he lived; he died.
God has taken people all around you, and yet your heart is still beating. But one day your heart will forget to beat; your knees will buckle under your tired body; the hearse will back up to your door; the undertaker will notify the newspaper; and your name will appear in the obituary column. Every one of us is on his way to the cemetery (barring the return of Christ). If the funeral were final and the grave were the end of everything and a human being died like a dog, we could not blame people for living like beasts of the field. But the grave is not all. Death is more than simply pushing up daisies from the ground above the buried body. Out in the great beyond your soul will live somewhere forever! Death does not end it all. The Bible says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). The details of the Great White Throne Judgment are described in Revelation 20:1213.
1. The Certainty and Reality of Death
There is a tendency on the part of many people to avoid any serious thought or discussion on the subject of death. Some are like the man who said to his wife, “I wish I knew where I was going to die. If I knew that, I’d never go there.” Yet every person knows that in the normal course of events, sooner or later, the experience of death will come to him. Every community has its cemetery; nothing is more certain than the fact of death; it may be long delayed but it will surely come; it is just as natural to die as it is to be born. The Bible says, “What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death?” (Psalm 89:48).
We set out on the journey of life with high hopes and soaring ambitions. Life seems rosy and death seems far away. Year after year, life smoothly runs its accustomed course. We read of thousands dying from starvation in some countries, but the places are far away and the people are not known to us. Then a neighbor down the street dies. That causes us to stop and think, but still it does not affect us directly, and we soon continue our work and our play. We tend to develop a sense of immunity to tragedy and death. Then suddenly the bottom drops out of our world. Perhaps a mother or father, or a dear child, or some other close friend is taken from this life. Many of us have already had that experience. We have watched the changing face of the dying one. We have listened helplessly to the shortening breath. We have spoken the last “goodbye”—and then in an instant, the departing one has passed out of sight and into the world of the unknown.
The Bible says, “Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down; he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not . . . his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou has appointed his bounds that he cannot pass” (Job 14:1,2,5). Flowers bloom a few short hours and then die. And just so, our years go by like the mileposts along a Turnpike. It’s Christmas, New Year, Easter, Thanksgiving, and then it’s Christmas again. And so it continues year after year. In just a few years, every one of us will be wearing shrouds and sleeping in coffins. Our bodies will become a mass of decaying flesh. And our souls will either be enjoying the bliss of the redeemed or suffering the eternal miseries of Hell. Death will come to you just as it has come to millions of others. There is indeed a certainty and reality to death.
2. The Events Which Occur At Death
Job asked the question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14). Job was simply asking, “Where do we go from here?” Death and the future state are by their very nature mysteries that cannot be solved apart from the revelation that has been given in the Bible.
The Bible answers the question “What happens at death?” Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” At death your body will be placed in a grave and it will decay back to the dust of the earth and await the resurrection morning. At death the soul of the Christian will immediately pass into glory. Lazarus was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22). There is, without a doubt, a heavenly escort of angels awaiting God’s people at their death, to carry them in triumph from earth to Heaven. I am positive that the first five minutes after death will bring experiences to the redeemed soul far more awesome than anything ever experienced in this world. It will be a real homegoing for the saint of God. The Bible says “We are . . . willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
The soul, however, of one who dies in his sins will pass immediately into the place of torment (Psalm 9:17). Robert Ingersoll professed to be an atheist. He ridiculed the Bible and the God of the Bible. When he came to the gates of death his soul began to freeze with terror. In his fright he cried out, “Oh God, if there be a God, have mercy on my soul if I have a soul.” In the clutches of death, even liars are forced to tell the truth. And Robert Ingersoll seemed to realize that when a man ceases to breathe he does not cease to exist.
What happens at death? The body returns to the dust of the earth. The soul of one who is a Christian is carried by the angels into the Paradise of God. The soul of one who has never been born anew by faith in Jesus Christ will suffer torment in Hell.
3. The Christian Attitude Toward Death
Death should hold no terror for the true Christian. Death is not the end of life. Death for the Christian is the beginning of a far more wonderful and glorious existence than can possibly be experienced here. Death for the Christian is leaving a world of sin and sorrow and toil and hardship—and entering into a far better world. A number of Scripture passages express this truth. Revelation 14:13 says, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.” Philippians 1:21-23 says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain . . . for I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better; nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.”
On the other hand, death in itself is never to be thought of as a blessing. Death is a cruel and relentless enemy that brings grief and misery to human hearts. Death is something that would never have entered the world had it not become necessary as a punishment for sin.
When the soul is torn away from the body, and all tender affections and sweet associations are broken in a moment of time, even the most godly cannot look forward to this mysterious change without a strange and uncanny feeling. David spoke of the “valley of the shadow of death.” Paul described death as “the last enemy” with an awful sting like that of an adder. Jesus himself wept as He stood sorrowing with the friends of Lazarus. While death is no longer to be feared by the Christian, death itself is an enemy. It is a penalty. It brings grief and misery. And yet in a higher sense, since Jesus has “abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10), death simply becomes a homegoing for the Christian. The joy that comes through entering into the presence of the Lord is so glorious and so attractive that we should be ready and willing to leave the body and to be present with the Lord whenever the call comes. Adoniram Judson said, “I am not tired of my work, but when Christ calls me home, I shall go with the gladness of a schoolboy bounding away from school.”
4. Making Preparation For Death
How would you want to spend the time if you knew that tomorrow would be your last day on earth? It is important when we come to die that we have nothing to do but simply to die. Death often comes without advance notice. There will likely be no time then to right the wrongs we have been wanting to take care of so long already.
John Wesley was once asked: “If you knew you would die at 12 o’clock tomorrow night, how would you spend the intervening time?” “Why,” he said, “I would spend it just as I intend to spend it. I would preach tonight at Gloucester, and again tomorrow evening. I would then repair to my friend’s house as he expects me. I would converse and pray with the family, retire to my room about 10 o’clock, commend myself to my heavenly Father, lie down to sleep, and wake up in glory.” Surely each of us wants to die “the death of the righteous” (Numbers 23:10).
There are some conditions if you want to die the death of the righteous. You must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He brought from heaven a saving Gospel (Acts 16:31). You must repent of your sins and renounce Satan with all his pernicious ways, and all the sinful pleasures of this world (Acts 2:38; 1 John 2:15-17). You must covenant with God in Christian baptism to take Jesus as the Master of your life and live as a disciple of His (Mark 16:16). When these steps are taken, the blood that Jesus shed on Calvary’s Cross becomes a shield to hide you from the wrath of God (Romans 3:25).
In a country settlement of several hundred people, there lived a village doctor who had practiced for 50 years. He had attended three generations of patients and had endeared himself to all the country folk. He was more than a doctor. He was a friend and counselor and advisor. Dr. Brown had his office above a local drug store, and at the foot of the stairway leading up to his office, was a simple sign which read, “Dr. Brown, Office Upstairs.” No sign was more familiar to the neighborhood. After 50 years of service, he died. The entire village attended the funeral. After the memorial service, his friends met to discuss the matter of a fitting marker over his grave. They prepared a wooden slab giving the date of his birth and of his death—and then they took the old sign from the foot of the stairway leading to his office, and nailed it to the marker over his grave. The marker read, “Dr. Brown, Office Upstairs.” Will it be a home “upstairs” for you?