Topical Scripture: John 11:21-26
Two deaths during the month of April dominated the news here and abroad. One lived a full life devoted to public service; the other never had a chance to live. Both had families who loved them. When former first lady Barbara Bush died at the age of 92 a few weeks ago, she told one of her sons, “I believe in Jesus and he is my savior. I don’t want to leave your dad but I know I’ll be in a beautiful place.”
When Alfie Evans died in Great Britain after life support was withdrawn upon court order, his father said, “My gladiator laid down his shield and gained his wings….” His 23-month-old son had been the subject of a legal battle by his parents to keep the child alive for further treatments.
When Mark Twain buried his beloved daughter Olivia’s body, he placed over her grave this epitaph: “Warm summer sun, shine kindly here; Warm southern wind, blow softly here; Green sod, lie light, good night, dear heart.” He was sure that she was in the grave, that death is all there is.
Was he right?
What happens when we die? When death comes to someone we care about? In our series on faith issues from the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus, we can consider no more relevant or emotional questions than these.
Why do we die?
W.C. Fields on his deathbed was seen thumbing through a Bible. Someone asked why. His answer: “Looking for loopholes.” But he didn’t find any. The death rate is still 100 percent. If Lazarus, Jesus’ best friend, was not kept from dying, neither will we.
In fact, you and I are one day closer to death and eternity than we have ever been before.
God’s word warns us: “It is appointed unto all men once to die, and then the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Death comes for us all.
Neither wisdom nor wealth can prevent it: “All can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others” (Psalm 49:10). We all face the same end, unless Jesus returns first: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
On a tombstone in Sevenoaks, Kent, England, are found these words:
“Grim death took me without any warning
I was well at night, and dead in the morning.”
It can happen that way for any of us.
But why? Why does death exist? If God were all-loving, he’d want to destroy death, we assume. If he were all powerful, he could. But he doesn’t. Why did he allow someone you loved to die, or the Holocaust, or 9/11?
Here’s the simple answer: because of sin.
The Bible teaches, “Sin entered the world through man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). The thief on the cross said, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve” (Luke 23:41).
This wasn’t God’s intention. He created a perfect world for his children. But when sin entered, death stayed. Death exists, not because God doesn’t love us or isn’t powerful, but because of sin.
Sometimes we die because of our own sin, as did the thief at Jesus’ side. Sometimes we die because of the sins of others, as when a drunk driver kills a child, or a terrorist flies an airplane into a skyscraper. Sometimes we die because of the sin of humanity, as a result of the diseases and disasters which plague this fallen planet. But we all die because of the existence of sin.
However, Jesus died so our sins could be forgiven. Why, then, do we still die?
God’s word is clear: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Physical death frees us to live forever in glorified bodies with God in his heaven.
Then one day, death will be destroyed forever: “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of five” (Revelation 20:14). His word promises: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
What happens when we die?
So, what happens in the moment when you die?
You are with Christ, if Jesus is your Lord.
Jesus told the thief at his side, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus taught us that the moment we die, the angels carry us to God’s side (Luke 16:22). When you close your eyes here you open them there. You will never die (John 11:26; Philippians 1:23). You are forever and always with Jesus.
Paul said, “We would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Most of us have had surgery of some kind. You are in one room, then you fall asleep; when you awake, you’re done. It’s that way for us all.
You’re in glory.
Heaven is paradise, as Jesus said. Paul said, “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), for “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13). We will gain imperishable, glorified, spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44), and be like Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:49). We will know God and each other as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). And we will eat of the tree of life and live forever (Revelation 22).
Dwight Moody on his deathbed said, “If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. Dwight! Irene! I see the children’s faces. God is calling me. I must go. Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me.”
If Jesus is your Lord, when you die you won’t. Instead, you’ll see God. And you’ll be safely home.
Three reasons your resurrection is relevant today
When Martha began her conversation with Jesus, she was full of grief but also faith. She clearly believed that Jesus could have saved her brother had he arrived sooner, and she held onto hope that he could still bring healing to their crisis (John 11:22). However, her response when he spoke of resurrection, and even more her objections when he began raising Lazarus (v. 39), showed that her optimism was limited to the next life.
Before Jesus, resurrection was little more than a theological hope. The Sadducees denied it even existed, while the Pharisees incorporated it into their understanding of the afterlife. Jesus, however, made it relevant here and now. He made it something more than a hope—he made it a reality.
What difference does the reality of your resurrection make in your life today?
One: The security of eternity in Christ gives us courage in the present.
If you were told that you have ten years to live, but that you are guaranteed not to die until then, would you be more or less afraid of tomorrow? As Christians, this is how we should approach every day.
The worst that can happen to us leads to the best that can happen to us. We can say every day with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Where do you need courage to serve Jesus today?
Two: The security of eternity in Christ gives us hope for those who have died.
Most of us have loved someone who died. My father died in 1979, my mother in 2008. A personal friend died recently at the age of twenty-nine. But the fact of our resurrection means that we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NIV).
Our faith in the midst of our loss is a powerful witness to an unbelieving world. And it sustains us in the darkest nights of grief.
We can say with David, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). Notice that David did not say we walk “into” the valley, but “through” it to the other side.
Three: The security of eternity in Christ gives us motivation to share our faith.
Jesus is the only resurrection and life. He is the only way to life beyond death. Giving the gospel to others is not imposing our values on them—it is sharing the greatest gift there is.
If you had a cure for all cancer, sharing it with the world would be an obvious imperative. In Christ, you have a cure for eternal death. Sharing it is a privilege.
Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, when we die, we don’t. When we breathe our last breath here, we breathe our first breath in paradise. When we close our eyes on earth, we open them in God’s presence.
Jesus was emphatic: “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26). Are you ready for that day?
There’s an old legend about a Baghdad merchant who sent his servant to the market to buy food. After a few minutes the servant ran back, pale and trembling. He stammered, “Down in the marketplace I was pushed by a man in the crowd. I turned around and saw the man was Death. He raised his arm to strike me. Please, Master, lend me your fastest horse so I can get away. I will ride to Samarra, where I can hide. Death will not find me there.”
The merchant lent his fastest horse to the servant, who rode away swiftly. He then went down to the marketplace himself, where he also saw Death standing in the crowd.
“Why did you frighten my servant this morning?” he asked. “Why did you scare him like that?” Death replied, “I was not trying to scare him. I was simply surprised. I was astonished to see him here in Baghdad. You see, I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
Let’s make sure we’re ready for ours.