One of the striking things about the New Testament is the casual attitude toward death presented there. Some of the writers speak of their approaching death with no more fear or alarm than they would speak of going to the store to buy groceries. The threat of death hangs over them all and they know it’s coming, possibly in some terrible way. But they seem unafraid, unflinching, even cheerful.
In Acts 20 Paul says good-bye to his friends in Ephesus saying, “I am going on to Jerusalem, but I don’t know what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships await me. However, I consider my life of little account, if only I may finish the race and complete the task that the Lord Jesus has given me.” At this point all his friends start to cry, and Paul then says, “What are you all crying for? Don’t you know that I am ready not only to go to prison but even to die for Jesus?” In Romans 14 Paul had written, “Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.”
Jesus said to his disciples, “A little while and you won’t see me, but then in another little while, you will see me again.”
John, in his first letter wrote, “This whole world is passing away, but the man who does God’s will will live forever.”
And in some of the closing words of the Bible, in the book of Revelation the voice from the throne in heaven says, “God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death… Come, Lord Jesus, come.” These are just a few of many verses expressing confidence and hope and joy in the face of death.
This courageous, hope-filled attitude comes not from a denial of death’s reality like we sometimes hear these days. ‘Death is beautiful,’ some will say, ‘because it is so natural; we return to the earth, just like all living things, and isn’t that nice?’ So we get poems in sympathy cards about seeing our departed loved one living on in the sparkle of the snow and the gold on the grain and in the cool evening breeze. But what does that even mean? How would that be helpful or comforting to anyone? There is no hope in such denial.
But that is not the message of the Bible. The Bible begins by facing death’s reality, calling it the enemy, speaking of its sting, and warning of its ever present and awful threat. Death is an awful reality, to be sure, but the Bible speaks of a greater reality, a greater hope, a deeper promise. “Who will rescue me from this body of death,” asks Paul in Romans, and then answering his own question saying, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.” Paul came to know and believe in Jesus, and by faith took hold of that resurrection fact and promise in which Jesus defeated the power of death. “I’ll see you again,” Jesus had said, “I am going on ahead to prepare a place for you, and I will bring you there. Do not be troubled and do not be afraid. Just believe in God. Just trust in me.” And with that kind of promise, death for Paul and for all believers since then is no longer the ultimate enemy. Rather, it is an annoyance, a minor inconvenience, a brief interruption, and nothing more than “a momentary affliction.”
When he was an old man Lutheran pastor and author Al Rogness wrote, “I don’t have time for death. God has given me a life now and he has promised me an eternal life in heaven. So what is death? It is a moment in my future, and that’s all I’ll give it– just a moment of my time. I have too much living to do. Somewhere between my life here on earth and my life in heaven, death will get its moment, but that’s all. Believers in Jesus don’t go from life unto death, we go from death onto more life.”
“In an instant,” said Paul, “in the twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised, never to die again.” The blink of an eye: that is all the time we need to give to death.
II Corinthians 4:16-18 — So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Philippians 1:21-26 — 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.
Psalm 23:4, 6 — Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me… Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
BLESSING BASED ON PHILIPPIANS 4:7:
Now may the Prince of Peace give thee that peace which passes all understanding;
and when thou hast finished thy course on earth, may the King of Glory welcome thee into His glorious kingdom.