It’s a fact. Some day we are going to die. Until we learn how to face the reality of our pending death, we are not free to really live. The scriptures teach us how to look courageously at the fact that we are terminal and death is certain. Yes, Jesus heals the sick. There are many examples of this in the Bible, but where does it say these healings were permanent? Lazarus was raised from the dead, but the fact is he died later. These who see healing as a way to escape death are in for a rude awakening. In spite of all the miraculous healings we have experienced in life, the fact remains that we are still terminal and will die. Life is very fragile. We never know when death will strike. Facing this reality, our prayers should be, “teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”(Psalm 90:12) This heart of wisdom involves living a life in the midst of the reality of our mortality and learning how to let go. This letting go or disengaging can seem painful, but in reality it provides the freedom necessary to really live. It involves seeing death, not as the end, but as the doorway to a new life which is now possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 2:14, 15 we read, “so that by His death He (Jesus) might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” It is this fear of death which prevents us from really living. Once we face the reality of our pending death with the realization it is not the end, but only a new beginning, we are free to take the necessary risks that come from living courageous lives. We discover as we live such lives freed from the slavery of the fear of death that God meant what He said in Jeremiah 29:11. “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” This hope and a future exist not only now but also even beyond death itself. When Paul discovered this he declared, “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)
Those who refuse to accept the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection have every reason to fear death. Instead of an eternity in the presence of the Living God who is love, what awaits the unbeliever is condemnation and an eternal separation from God. “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”(John 3:18) Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”(John 5:24) This condemnation is hell. In Rev. 14:9-11 John describes hell as a place of intense suffering, “tormented with burning sulfur”, “the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever.” In Matthew 10:28 Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Jesus frequently warned against the danger of hell. Such warning is found in Matt. 5:22, 29-30: 7:13; 8:10-12; 10:26-28; 13:40-42, 47-50; 18:8-9; 23:33; 25:41, 45,46. Hell is a place of separation, pain and punishment, darkness and destruction of body and soul for those who refuse to believe and accept the atoning work of Jesus Christ. “God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”(2 Cor.5:21) “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.”(1 Peter 2:24)
As believers and receivers of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, we believe it when He says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled; trust in God; trust also in Me (Jesus). In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.”(John 14:1-3) What a wonderful place heaven will be! “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immorality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory, Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”(1 Cor.15:52-57)
The certainty of this victory after death affects the way we live and work in the here and now. Before such certainty existed, we were unstable, purposeless and hopeless. But now we have hope and Paul’s directive for our daily lives makes sense when he says, “stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain”(1 Cor.15:58)
The problem comes in between knowing and acting on this knowledge. We may accept the notion of death theoretically or theologically but in reality, most don’t want to think about death until death’s hand is on the door pressing to enter into their lives. Many often avoid the reality of death by giving in to the inward turbulence of fitful sounds and a rapid succession of preoccupying thoughts, if not denial of the reality of death itself. In order to come face to face with death and the peace and possibilities that it brings when one dies in the Lord, there must be first the stilling of the soul. In Psalm 46:10 God commands, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 37:7 declares, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” This stillness of the heart and soul, inner serenity, is a result of surrender to the reality of God’s love and all powerfulness and the acceptance of our own finality and death. This comes through prayer in a quiet, private setting. As such prayer takes place, it can open the deepest recesses of the human spirit. Those desiring to experience such prayer must first become vessels emptied of self, devoid of clamoring internal voices and open to hearing and receiving the still small voice of God. Such receptivity makes one available to experiencing the peace of God and the assurance of graceful living and dying. “Be still,” the Spirit speaks “and know that I am God.” Experience Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” Knowing that God is with us provides that stillness which enables us to come to terms with our finiteness and God’s bountifulness. We discover a new freedom of the spirit that is no longer bound to actualize the inner drives to accomplish everything in this single life span. We come to the realization that we have been given time that spans all eternity on the other side of death. We see death, not as the end, but as a new birth experience where we move from the dark womb of this existence to the eternal bliss of being in the personal presence of God in a place called heaven. This realization enables us to say “good-bye” to this world and all we cherish in it, knowing that when the day of death arrives, we can say “hello” to the new reality it brings.
The question is: how can we really know that we are going to go to heaven after we die? After all, Jesus Himself said in Matt. 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Is that what Jesus is going to say to you? How do you know; after all, your eternal destiny depends upon it? According to Matt. 25:31-46, what is the will of the Father?
Jesus declares in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand.” What does this promise mean to you as you come face to face with death? Remember, to know Christ means following Him in obedience. “The one who says, ‘I know Him, but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”(1 John 2:4) “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.”(1 John 3:10) “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”(1 John 3:16-18) “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”(1 John 5:10-12)
We do not need to fear death if we believe that Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins through His death and resurrection. To believe means to adhere to, to trust in and put our faith in Christ totally as the provider of our salvation and the hope of eternal life with God forever. “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God (Jesus) keeps him safe and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”(1 John 5:18-20)
As we face death, we can experience a peace that passes all understanding because Jesus has conquered death and provided for us the gift of eternal life. That is why Paul could declare, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Romans 8:38, 39)