The Two Sides of Death

Maybe we shouldn’t be hating death as much as we used to.

Ever since our Lord Jesus went to the cross and pulled its fangs, descended into grave and recovered the keys, then rose from the tomb as the first fruits of eternal life, the poor ogre has lost his threat.

He still growls but all his rantings are just so much bumping his gums.

Maybe we ought to pity death.

Like a honeybee that has lost its stinger but is still flying around scaring people, death can no longer do any kind of significant damage to all who are in Jesus Christ.

No more fear, Christian. It’s all gone.

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (I Cor. 15:55)

Hebrews 2:14 puts this in an unforgettable way: “He Himself partook of (flesh and blood) that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to bondage all their lives.”

Defeat the devil, deliver the hostages.

Big task. Great victory. Huge celebration–one that’s still going on.

Thank you, Lord, for that incredible weekend, one that changed life forever on this third rock from the sun.

A few years back, Franklin Graham was speaking to the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis about his wonderful parents. His father, Billy Graham, at home recovering from a couple of major surgeries, was experiencing constant pain. His mother, Ruth Bell Graham, no longer able to walk, was living in a wheelchair. (She has since gone to be with the Lord.)

Franklin said, “The other day, Daddy hobbled into Mother’s bedroom and said, ‘I feel so bad. I feel like the Lord is ready to take me home.’ Mother said, ‘That must feel wonderful.'”

As we laughed, Franklin said, “He won’t get any sympathy from Mother!”

I feel bad enough to die. That’s awful.

When I die, I’m going to Heaven. That’s wonderful.

That’s how it is with believers in this age: “caught betwixt the two,” as Paul expressed it in Philippians 1:23.

On the one hand, death is frequently accompanied by pain and suffering and when it arrives, it produces grief and separation. It’s terrible.

In those moments just after death, the believer steps into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and begins to experience celestial delights and sensations for which nothing on earth has prepared him. It’s terrific.

“To be absent from the body”–what we call death–strikes fear and torment into the hearts of humans. Nothing, we tend to think, could be worse than death.

“To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). Gone from here, but present there. Not so bad after all.

It’s all a matter of perspective. Through this world’s “exit” sign; through that world’s “entrance” sign.

You and I stand on this shore and watch our loved ones sail toward the horizon, sadly thinking, “There they go.”

On that distant shore, the redeemed of past generations watch them arrive and call out with anticipation, “Here they come.”

I may have figured something out about the grief we experience at the death of a loved one. And I’m fairly certain I know why our Lord wept at the graveside of His friend Lazarus, a man dead four days, whose demise Jesus could have prevented, and whom He was about to raise from the dead. That paradox has puzzled God’s people all these years.

When President Reagan died, watching the funeral on television, several times I came close to tears. In no way was I weeping for the former president, even though I admired him for many reasons. But he was 93 years old, had lived a long life, and was very sick. It was his time.

When military pallbearers carried his casket into the Capitol Rotunda and Mrs. Reagan reached out and touched it, that got me.

When military men and women–in uniform and without–reached the casket and stood at full attention and gave the salute to their former Commander in Chief, that got me.

When a child walking beside his parents stopped to remove his little glasses and wipe his eyes, that also got to me.

Then, at the burial site, when adopted son Michael Reagan spoke of the precious gift his father had given him by telling him he had received Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, that really got me.

My tears were prompted not by the death of the deceased, but by the tears and tender love of the mourners.

The Lord Jesus stood at the graveside of Lazarus and watched as the two grieving sisters poured out their heartbreak. That touched Him as nothing else had. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

I have admired and loved no pastor in this life more than James Richardson, whose last two pastorates were FBC of Leland and Madison, Mississippi. In the months before his death a few years ago, he was brought low by Alzheimer’s disease.

When James’ grandson, a teenager, was killed in a tragic accident, the family gathered at the daughter’s home. Extended family members arrived, hugging, crying, consoling one another. The one person in the house, however, who could not comprehend what was happening was the grandfather, my friend James.

At one point, he turned to his youngest son Ian and said, ‘I’m crying but I don’t know why.”

The tears of those he loved had touched him in ways he could not understand nor express.

Those tears were like the tears of Jesus.

“Thank you, my Lord, for the plans you have made for all who are redeemed through the blood of the Lord Jesus. Thank you for going to prepare a place for us. Your word assures us it is reserved for us in Heaven, that eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, neither has it entered the heart of man all you have prepared for us. Thank you for that.

“O, now help us to live like we really are heirs of Thy promises and destined for Heaven’s blessings. As you have delivered us from death, would you now deliver us from the fear of that toothless ogre who still roams to and fro trying to frighten the children.

“Through Jesus Christ. Amen.”

3 thoughts on “The Two Sides of Death

  1. Vance Havner said, “We should not speak of losing a loved one, because something is not lost if we know where it is.”

  2. I loved Thomas More’s lines to his executioner in A Man For All Seasons.

    “Do not despair of your office. You send souls to God.”

    “You are so confident you are going to God?”

    “He will not refuse one who goes to him so blithely.”

  3. No profundities today. Just a note: I read ’em all (today’s posts) and as usual have been blessed. Remind me to tell you about a little thing called the “sure hit songwriter’s pen.” It fits you, ’cause you are a “sure hit keyboarding writer!”

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