I am glad to bring you another Devotion from my friend Dallas Burdette. In this Devotional, Dallas shares some thoughts about the Christian and death, in contrast to the world. Praise God for His wonderful work in Christ!
Death among God’s People
I have experienced the death of several members of my family as well as numerous individuals that I have known over the years. Many persons reading this devotional have, no doubt, recently suffered death in their own families. As Christians, we live in a fallen world, and death is God’s decree for every person now living. Death is our gateway into the eternal abode of God. It is true that in this world, we often encounter regrettable circumstances, especially death, that is not necessarily the direct will of God—even though it may be the permissive will of God. The untimely death of a child is a case in point.
To illustrate this line of reasoning, Isaiah (739 BC) is called upon to drive home this point of God’s permissive will. God told Israel that He would remove tyranny and terror from their lives (Isaiah 54:14), which horror God brought upon the nation for their disobedience—God’s causal action. Yet, God, at the same time, also stated that all tragedies encountered by Israel would not necessarily be His doings: “If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing” (54:14). Yet, we cannot rule out God’s providence in all cases. In this section of Scripture, we see God’s active will and His permissive will.
In spite of the mental pain of family members left behind because of an untimely death or death in general, God does provide death providentially for the well-being of humanity; God made death an “escape valve” to shake off a life of eternal agony and pain. With the Resurrection of Jesus, God removed the sting of death. Having said this, we need to be conscious that God does not view death in the same way that we view death. A classic example of God’s mindset is found in the writings of Isaiah (739 BC). For example, He addressed the death of the
righteous from God’s point of view:
The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. 2 Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death. (Isaiah 57:1-2)
Death, from God’s perspective, is an act of mercy, not necessarily retribution or payback. God in His mercy designed death as a means of escape from a life that is completely hopeless, especially a life doomed to excruciating pain. Death for the Christian is a “beginning” rather than an “end.” We need to remember that we are sojourners in time; eternity is our true habitat. Death, in essence, is simply moving from one room to another. We can hardly read these arresting words of Isaiah (57:1-2) without reflection upon the words of the psalmist found in Psalm 116:15. His language, too, shocks our sensibilities and our emotional responses. His words penetrate to the very depth of our souls: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” God does not view death in the same light as we look at death.
Anotherexample of death in the Bible is that of an innocent child’s death that is found in the Book of Kings. For those of us who have experienced the death of a child, we can recall the suffering and pain. The author of the Book of First Kings tells the story of Jeroboam (king in the northern kingdom from 793-753 BC), who’s son was extremely ill, even to the point of death. Jeroboam sent his wife to Ahijah, God’s prophet, to inquire if his son, Abijah, would live. The prophet told the wife, “No.” What is striking about God’s reason for allowing the boy to die staggers the imagination: “because he is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the Lord, the God of Israel, has found anything good” (I Kings 14:1-14). God allowed the death of Jeroboam’s son in order to spare him from the evil that God intended to bring upon Jeroboam’s household for his wickedness. Again, the words of Isaiah (57:1-2) about the death of the righteous should bring comfort.
In spite of the sadness of death, we, as believers in the Messiah, can still rejoice that our loved ones are all still alive, not dead. Seven hundred years after Isaiah, Jesus dealt with the death of Lazarus. Martha, sister of Lazarus, confronted Jesus about this death. John records this conversation between Jesus and Martha. He reports Jesus’ view of death:
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:21-27)
Some are cut down in the very beginning of life, but others live to a ripe age—beyond the three score and ten (age 70 years—Psalm 90:10).Even though death is heartbreaking, nevertheless, God in His wisdom designed death as a getaway from pain and entrance into the very presence of God. We may never really understand the agony that many suffer for so many months prior to death. Yet, the important thing is that we can learn from our afflictions, especially death, of how to continue to look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). When we gaze toward Jesus, this enables us not to waiver in our faith in the sovereignty of God.
When we reflect upon the lives of those who have preceded us in death, we are always mindful of the imperfections in their lives as well as ours. We are ever aware that being in the flesh, we never experience perfection. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Even though the flesh is often times extremely weak, nevertheless, God is still cognizant of our make-up. The psalmist expresses it this way:
Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrain
ed his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. 39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return. (Psalm78:38-39)
“He [God] remembered that they were but flesh” reflects the tender mercies that He exhibits in spite of our frailties. We can hardly meditate upon Psalm 78 without recalling the words of Jesus to Nicodemus:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 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 3:16-18)
THE REMOVAL OF THE STING OF DEATH
As we wonder about our sufferings, yet, we are always cognizant that the final enemy that we will all meet someday is death. Yes, death is inevitable, ruthless, and final. Death confronts us with the stark reality that our earthly life is transient, or short-lived. It is in this regard that James, our Lord’s brother, penned: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). The author of the Book of Hebrews expresses it this way: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Job singled out the brevity of life this way: “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. 2He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure” (Job 14:1-2). Yet, having said this, Job then asked the question that confronts all humanity: “If a man dies, will he live again” (14:14)? The answer is yes! Job answered:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth26And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; 27I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (19:25-27)
IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL
Faith in the immortality of the soul and in a life after death can be traced to the beginning of human history. Daniel (605 BC), too, wrote about life after death: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). Jesus also gave this testimony: to Nicodemus: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36). Martha, a dear friend of Jesus, struggled with the harsh reality of death and responded to Jesus’ statement about Lazarus’ death—“Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23)—with the following comments: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (11:24). Jesus then responded by cutting away all underbrush about life after death: “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this” (11:25)?
JESUS AND THE SADDUCEES
There are some today who do not believe in the afterlife following death. Some relig
ious leaders in Jesus’ day also denied the resurrection of the dead—life after death. Jesus confronted the Sadducees who denied the resurrection of the dead, with a statement from the Old Testament concerning life beyond this life: “But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). Abraham (2166-1991 BC) died almost 2000 years prior to the Incarnation, but, according to Jesus, he is still alive. Their resurrection occurred at the time of death.
Apparently Moses who died in 1406 BC experienced this resurrection. He appeared with Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration and talked with Jesus about His impending death. We need to remember that Moses (1526-1406 BC) had been dead physically almost 1500 years prior to the coming of Jesus in the flesh, but, he, too, was still alive. Do we wish to conquer death? Remember, the finality of death is conquered “in” and “through” Jesus. When we die, we exchange our mortal bodies with immortality. We are immediately with the Lord upon our physical death. For one to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (Philippians 1:23).
As a result of this change of clothes (a righteousness from God—see Zachariah 3), we can now say: “Death has been swallowed up in victory,” and this victory over the “sting of death” is “through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54, 57). Nothing but redemption in Christ meets the “sting of death.” It is through Christ upon the Cross that we find the amazing wonder of God’s forgiveness and eternal life. God’s act of deliverance comes from beyond history, and, at the same time, it is given in terms of history—God becomes flesh. God’s redeeming action is witnessed in the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. This action on the part of God is our victory over the sting of death.
Remember, humanity is differentiated from the animal kingdom. One thing that separates the animal world from the world of humanity is death. If we wish to raise the beast to the level of humanity, it would be necessary to give to the animal world the idea of death and an afterlife, which they do not possess. We grieve over the passing of loved ones, and, at the same time, we celebrate their homecoming? We have hope because we believe in God, in Christ, and the Holy Spirit. We believe that there is life after death. Our time upon earth is very short. Death is the great leveler of all humanity; we all equally turn to dust. The reality of death should remind each of us of the sovereignty of God. Moses writes: “You turn men back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, O sons of men’” (Psalms 90:3). Death, again and again, should be a constant reminder of the frailties of our human nature. Again, Moses captures man’s frailties:
For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. 5 You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning— 6 though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered. (90:4-6)