"Comfort in Dying"
Rev. Carl Haak
Death is a frightening reality. It is a frightening reality that also comes to the children of God, to you and to me.
There are two things that we must not lose sight of as believers as we consider death. Jesus spoke of them in Matthew 22. In that chapter there were certain religious leaders, called the Sadducees, who were filled with unbelief and skepticism and thought that they had put the Lord Jesus on the horns of a dilemma concerning the afterlife. They proposed to Him the situation of a certain woman who was married. Her husband died. Then his brother married her and he died. This man had seven brothers. All seven had her for a wife and they all died before she did. The Sadducees asked Jesus, "Now, which one of the seven brothers will have her for wife in the afterlife?"
Jesus calmly and powerfully answered, "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God." The Sadducees, who denied the resurrection of the dead, were all mixed up because they were ignorant of two things: the content of the Scriptures and the unlimited power of God.
In light of those two great truths concerning death, I would like to speak to you for a few moments today.
As we consider death, we must remember, first of all, that we approach death through the Scriptures. We know the Scriptures to be the Word of God. They are the Spirit-inspired, infallible Word of God. Therefore, we have the true and certain comfort concerning death as we know the Scriptures, and only as we know the Scriptures. Only when we are well grounded in the Scriptures and when we testify that these Scriptures are not of men but of God, then alone do we have the truth concerning the reality of death and of salvation in Christ.
Still more, as we consider death we must remember the mighty power of God. We read in Jeremiah 32:27, "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?" Is God able to give us peace in death, the death of our loved one? Is He able to fill the void in the days ahead when your husband or wife dies? What if He takes from you a child, a teenager? Is He able to bear you in that grief? Can He do that? Yes! "Is there any thing too hard for me?" He is able to give peace, able to make us say, "Have Thine own way, Lord. It is well with my soul." Yes, He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we could ask or think.
When we come before the subject of death, then we ask, first of all, the question: What happens at death? Where is my loved one who dies in Christ? The ones who die in Christ, where are they? The Bible answers: For the child of God, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Cor. 5). Or the apostle Paul's words: "For to me to live is Christ; and to die is gain." When the child of God dies, he is with Christ. That is why death is gain.
That is striking language. We can hardly bear thinking about death today. It is the separation of our loved one - our husband, our wife, our son, our daughter, our dear one, our child - and it is so final! Of itself, because death is the sentence of God upon sin, death is too much for us. But now, because of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, for all who belong to Jesus, death has become the door which brings them to the Lord, to the One who has bought us with His own blood. The body of our loved one may be in the casket and then, later, after the funeral, be laid into the earth. But the soul of our loved one in Christ is not in that casket. That soul does not float somewhere in the atmosphere. It is at home with the Lord. Where is the soul of those who have died in the Lord Jesus Christ? The Scriptures are very clear. To be with Christ is far better. There !the apostle Paul piles up words. He says it is far better, it is exceeding better. The moment the soul of the child of God leaves the body at death, at that moment and in that place that God knew all about, then, through the rough door of death we enter into the presence of our God. Death with all of its suddenness and all of its terror and horror, in that moment, God takes us to be with Himself and we join the company of those whom He has made perfect in Christ.
Do you remember in the Bible the stoning of the man called Stephen? In Acts 7, after Stephen had preached against the Jews of their wickedness and sin and they had rushed upon him and stoned him, we read, "But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" (vv. 55, 56). Stephen's body was being buffeted with stones. Soon the life would be crushed out of him. But then he saw heaven open. Our Bibles tell us that the ascended Lord sits at the right hand of God. But Stephen saw Him standing. I believe that that means that, so anxious is the Lord Jesus to receive the departing spirit of His children that He stands up and says, "Stephen, come home. I'm waiting to receive you." Do you not stand up to greet a loved one when he enters the room?
Where is the child of God who dies? He is present with the Lord, with Christ.
But you ask, "How can that be?" I answer with one word, no not one word, but one person: Christ. "For to me to live is Christ." The Bible teaches that that means that the risen Lord Jesus Christ, by grace alone, enters into the hearts of His people so that now we might live with Him. Death, you see, physical death, does not change anything really for a child of God. Death confirms what is. Death, by the power of God, perfects what we have in Christ. Death is not the great change for the child of God. To be born again, by grace, is the great change. To be given living faith, to be raised from being a dead sinner, to live in Christ - that is the great change. And that is the change over which the angels in heaven marvel and are stupefied.
We, then, go to be with the Lord in death not because all men go to be with Christ when they die, not because all people by nature are God's children and go to heaven when they die. That is not the truth. We do not go to Christ in death, and we are not saved to eternal glory, because of any work that we, of ourselves, could do to merit or to earn heaven. We do not go there because we were a good husband or we were a good person or we lived in a way that we had respect of our peers. No, God's Word says to us: All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
How do we enter into heaven? Christ. Because of the work of Jesus Christ. Because of being united to Him in a true, God-given faith. Because of the cross of Christ. There the Son of God actually stood in the place of His children, in my place, and in the place of all those given of the Father. There He was forsaken of the Father that we might never be forsaken of Him. To live in Christ is to live in faith in Jesus Christ. It is to live our entire life in trust and obedience and love to Jesus Christ. It is to be united to Christ by grace. Then, in death, all of that is made perfect and we are brought face to face to be with our Savior.
Another question we have in death is why? Why does God take from us our loved one, especially when that loved one might be so necessary, we think, for us? And we might ask the other side of the question: Why does God, we ask, linger when a child of God becomes so helpless and confused and decrepit in age? And yet they go on, perhaps for years, in a nursing home. Why? Why does God come in death?
We might say that today. Maybe you have cancer and that cancer is terminal. And you have many hopes. Perhaps you had hopes for years of service in the kingdom of Christ, and you have fears for your family. It seems as if you are going to be cut off. You say, "Could not the Lord spare me?" We do not want to ask that question irreverently, as though God is obligated to us to give account of His ways, but reverently, with an open Bible, we ask the question, "Lord, give us some light on this. Show us from Thy Word. Why?"
First of all, the answer of the why lies in the all-wise and absolutely sovereign will of God. Death is no accident. It is not something that God has no control over. All things work together for good. God works all things (Eph. 1) after the counsel of His own will. Life and death are in the Father's hands. And it is God's perfect wisdom and love that is done at all times. So we do not say when a child of God is taken, "His life wasn't finished. It was cut off. It was incomplete." No, it went exactly as far as the Lord intended it. It was full. We must remember that. We must rest, when the death of our loved one comes, with Christ, who was fully content to leave all things in the hands of His Father. He said in Matthew 11:26, "Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight." Shall not God do what is right? So, in death, we press our heart close t!o God and confess that He does all things well. I do know that all is according to God's wise and loving purpose.
But there is a second answer to our question. Death comes because it is the desire of Jesus Christ. Listen as Christ expresses His desires before the Father concerning His disciples (John 17:24): "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am." The Savior yearns for His bride, for His people, for those for whom He has given His precious blood. Every time a child of God is taken from this earth to Paradise, it is in answer to Christ's prayer. How many times we find ourselves pulling against the will of Him who has so loved us. Let us bend our knee today and pray: "Father, I will that the Savior's desires might be accomplished according to Thy good pleasure." But very often we pray instead: "Father, I will that my loved one be with me where I am," while Christ is praying, "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast give!n me, be with me where I am." When death comes, it is time. When death comes, it is an answer to the prayer of Jesus: "Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory."
There is a third reason. That third reason is for us who are left behind. In the death of the children of God, God would press upon us the confession: "For to me to live is Christ." Then we see that it is our Lord and Savior who is so precious to us. When God takes away, He does not do that to be cruel. But He takes away in order that you might see the fullness and the sufficiency that is in Christ, to show you that having Him on earth, there is nothing that you could yet desire.
One more question, then. When we see the death of God's people, what is God saying to us who yet live? The answer to that question is very clear. The only comfort in life and in death is to belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. That is what God is saying. God says that death is a reality. God, in that, says, "What is your life but a passing shadow. Where, in this world, are you going to find anything to comfort you? There is only one Rock and that Rock is Christ, the Christ of the infallible Scriptures." To live is Christ. That is the only comfort. And Christ is not simply a pious word that we throw around. He is the living Son of God. He is the One who lives, and we know that He lives, because He lives within our hearts.
Is that your confession today? Only in the risen Lord Jesus Christ can you stand before the grave, before your sin, and not turn away in despair. Then you see that life is not about money, it is not about beauty, it is not about sex and power and cars and parties and food and drink. If that is all that you have, you have nothing, absolutely nothing but terror. Life is Christ, who was crucified for our sins and is risen for our life.
Do not be afraid, then. As you stand before the death of your loved one or as you contemplate your own death today, do not be afraid, but rejoice in the victory that is in Jesus Christ. And believe that He will give you grace sufficient. For He has promised, "I will not leave thee, nor will I forsake thee." He will give you grace to say, "Death is gain to my soul."
Let us then praise God. As we consider the reality of death, the shortness of this present life, let us together with the apostle Paul in Romans 11 attribute our doxology to God: For of Him and through Him and to Him be all things, to whom be glory for ever.
Last Modified: 06-Dec-2001