In the Face of Death

by

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Are you afraid of dying? I have seen some people overcome their fear of death. Many become so tired of a chronic, debilitating illness and embrace death as a relief. Some people are so weighed down with the pressures of life they welcome death as an escape. Most of us have known such feelings. But that is not the way the Bible says Christians should find deliverance from the fear of the grave.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:14–18). Jesus made the teaching of the Old Testament clear: His people would live with Him forever. In his writings, the apostle John continually reminded his readers they had eternal life. That is an important truth to know. Think about how differently you would face death if you knew Jesus had prepared a magnificent life and home for you. When the Philippian church wrote the imprisoned Paul expressing its concern that Caesar would execute him, his response demonstrated a fearless anticipation: “To live is Christ; to die is gain” (1:21).

Confidence in the face of death — this has always been a characteristic of God’s children. Although David was constantly surrounded by death he walked with an intrepid poise: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (Ps. 23:4). Job used graphic words to describe what death would do to his body, yet he remained unshaken: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself” (19:26). Job, David, Paul, and Jesus were not speaking of relief from the pressures of this world or release from the grip of a specific disease, they were speaking in anticipation of “eternal life” in glory with God.

When I think of a young man named George Coors I laugh and cry at the same time. He was so full of life and fun. Yet he suffered from birth with cystic fibrosis. George was not expected to live through his first year. Somehow, he lived twenty-five rich, full years. He was larger than life — never giving in to his disease. He led a gang of notorious hedonists. Somewhere along the way God changed George’s life. He still had his wonderful love of life, but now he loved Jesus more. And just as he had lived fast, hard, and full before Christ, He began to live fast, hard, and full for Christ. All over town lives were changed by the impact of young Coors. But that insipid disease crept onward, slowly killing his body. In early 1985 he had been in the hospital for two months. His life was slipping away. He was still full of mischief. One evening he laid his head on the bedside table, his friends thought it was over. He suddenly sat up and said, “Fooled you, didn’t I?” You may think that morbid — it was just vintage George Coors. Later that evening the end really was close. With a clear voice he said, “I can see heaven; you will never have this chance again to ask questions. I feel so filled with wisdom and love — the light is so unreal and God is here! I have been so stupid — it is so simple — I am healed and whole again.” He departed for glory with those words. George, like Job, David, and Paul, had his eyes fixed on heaven. I believe that is what John understood. He wanted us to be confident that we have eternal life.

A Dutchman suffering from a chronic illness was preparing to be euthanized (euthanasia is legal in Holland). Before he died his wife remarked that she was disappointed because he was leaving without her. He replied, “You know where to find me. Look for me at the Milky Way and the Big Dipper.” That sounds so brave, but where did that dying man get such an idea? What was the basis for his belief that he would be somewhere in the galaxy? He had no basis for making such a statement. It was a poetic thought with no historical foundation. So, is the Christian’s claim of eternal life “pie-in-the-sky by and by”? The apostle John had scientific and historical foundations for his confidence.

He had seen Jesus give life to men who had died. He had seen Jesus Himself die, he had seen Him buried, he had seen Him walk out of the tomb. Jesus told John: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2).

I love this life; I love living, even in this fallen world. I hate death. I am not looking forward to dying physically. The allies of death are sickness, pain, and agony. But I am looking forward to heaven. Father, so set our eyes and hearts on eternal life in Christ, that we are able to face death with poise and passionate confidence. May life in glory become so large that death becomes small and pales into the anemic worm that it is. Amen.

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