Facing Death

  

 

FACING DEATH

 

The following poem is apparently displayed on a tombstone in Indiana:

 

Pause, stranger, when you pass me by

as you are now, so once was I

as I am now, so you will be

so prepare for death and follow me 1

 

 

 

Everyone is dying. We are born as mortal creatures. Just as sure as we entered the world, one day we will leave it, as well. Many, perhaps most people, would prefer not to think about death. However, we really do not have the luxury of never thinking about death. Life is full of jarring experiences that remind us of our appointment with the grave. Sometimes, it is the death of a friend or of a family member which causes us to search out answers on this important topic. Perhaps that is why you are reading this now. There are answers for our questions regarding death and you are doing the right thing to seek them out. The first place to look is in the Bible.

From the Bible, we learn that when God first created man there was no such thing as death on Earth. God created man to be at peace with God, Himself, and with God’s world. God gave man a command:

The LORDGod commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;  but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.’

Genesis 2.16-17 (NASB)

 

Why did God give man such a command? It was so that man could demonstrate his obedience to God, and his love for God, as a free choice. Disobedience came with the penalty of death. Sadly, man chose to disobey God and mankind has been choosing sin and death ever since.

Even though mankind has been choosing sin and death, death has been defeated by one man, the man, Jesus Christ. Jesus is more than just a man; He is the Son of God and He came to this world to save and reclaim a fallen mankind. Jesus died for our sins and then rose from the dead and, by so doing, defeated death. Now those who will come to God, through Christ, in repentance and faith, can share in this victory and have no fear of death.

The Bible uses different words to speak of the realm of the dead. In the Old Testament, we come across the the Hebrew word “sheol.” In the King James Bible, it is translated “hell” 31 times, “grave” 31 times and “pit” three times. Because of these inconsistencies, some have argued that the word should only be translated as the “grave.” Now, “sheol” can be translated as the grave but I believe that it is more than just the hole dug into the earth. In the Old Testament, I believe that it was the realm of the departed spirits, both good and bad. We read that it was here that people were reunited with their ancestors (see Genesis 49.33 and 15.15).

“Sheol” is an Old Testament, Hebrew word but in the New Testament we have the Greek word “hades.” They are considered to be the same place. In fact, when the Old Testament was translated into Greek, “sheol” was translated “hades.” This would suggest that they have the same meaning. Consider the word “hades” in Jesus’ teaching inLuke 16.23-26:

 

23 And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.

25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here he is comforted, and thou art in anguish.

26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they that would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us.

Luke 16.23-26(ASB)

 

Here, the rich man is conscious and tormented.

This brings us to the discussion on what happens to a man or woman who does not have a personal relationship with God, through Jesus Christ? We have just read of the rich man in Jesus’ parable who was taken to a place of torment. This is hell, “hades” in this passage. The word “hell” is a translation for several words in the Greek. “Tartarus” is one word translated as hell. In 2 Peter 2.4 we read; “For if God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;”(ASB). The word“geena” or “gehenna” is another one used to picture hell. “Gehenna” was known to the Jews as a valley outside of Jerusalem where garbage was thrown and where human sacrifices had at one time been offered. “Geena” is also translated as the “lake of fire” in Revelation 20.15; “And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.” The other Greek word that is sometimes translated as hell is “hades,” which we have discussed. 2

While many go to hell, there are others who go to heaven after this life.

The Bible uses the word “heaven” to mean different things; it can mean the atmosphere and even the universe. However, heaven is another place also, the abode of God. It is where God resides and, because of what Jesus has done for us, men and women can go there, too. At death, the believer enters into the presence of God and is taken to a place of rest and peace.To the Apostle Paul  being with Christ in Heaven is better than being on Earth. Heaven is better than any resting place. Heaven is better by far. We read:

 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;

Philippians 1.21-23 (NASB)

 

Death is a hard thing for many to face, but how much harder it seems when it is the death of a child. How can God allow the death of children? God loves children and knows what is best for them. He sees life from a different perspective than from what we can see. This is because God knows the future and we only see the present and the past. If you are grieving the loss of a child, I want to, first of all, say that I can’t know how much that must hurt. I can only try to imagine. If this is you, then I would offer some solace by saying, “Imagine Jesus coming to your child, taking them by the hand and saying to them, ‘I want to take you away from this world of suffering to a place of happiness and rest, where we will be together forever.’” That is a wonderful privilege for them. After a season of grieving, take time to be happy for them, for their happiness now.

Friend, if you are not ready for death, I am inviting you to consider it and all of its seriousness. I am not calling you to consider your own demise onlybut, also, the death of another person, Jesus Christ. It is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that you can be made ready for both life and death.

I invite you to pray a prayer like this:

Lord, open the eyes of my heart and soul to understand Your crucifixion and the cup from which You had to drink. I want to fully understand the reason for it and what it means for me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

It is popular today to wear a cross as a pendant on a necklace or as earrings. You may even have one on a wall in your home or have one hanging from the mirror in your car. However, in the first century, there was nothing popular or pleasant about a cross. It was understood by all to be a sign of torture and death. There is no man who has endured so great a torture, even to the point of death, as Jesus Christ, Himself. The Bible tells us; “For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.(Mark 10.45ASB).

In the last days before His crucifixion, the Bible records Jesus sharing a final supper with His disciples. As they gathered around a table, Jesus proceeded to break bread, hand it to them, and say; “ … Take, eat; this is my body.” (Matthew 26.26). This broken bread symbolized His body which would soon be broken upon the cross. He next gave thanks and shared with them a cup of wine and said; “… Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins.” (Matthew 26.27-28ASB). The drink symbolized His precious blood. The bread and drink were to be a symbol to the disciples of what was about to happen shortly. Jesus and His disciples then went to a place called the Garden of Gethsemane. There, Jesus found a spot, alone, where He prayed to God, His Father, and reflected upon what, He knew, was about to happen to Him. The Bible says that He was exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death; “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.” (Luke 22.44ASB). Soon, armed soldiers came for Him. His disciples, it appeared, were prepared to fight. One of His disciples did act violently and, with a sword, cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus interrupted at this point. In the Gospel of John, it is said this way; “Jesus therefore said unto Peter, Put up the sword into the sheath: the cup which the Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18.11ASB).

Jesus was taken and tried by the Jewish leaders and Pontius Pilate and, at the will of the crowds of people, a death sentence was passed upon Him. He was blindfolded, beaten, spit upon, mocked and a crown of thorns was placed on His head. Despite the agony of His wounds, He was made to walk to a place called Golgotha, while carrying His cross, or a portion of it, for a part of that distance. Nails were driven into His hands and feet and His cross, with Him upon it, was erected for all to see. In His final hours, He granted eternal life to one of the two thieves who was also being crucified alongside Him. He prayed to God, His Father, asking God to forgive even the executioners who were doing this to Him. His very words were; “ … Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. … ” (Luke 23.34ASB). He cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His Spirit.

Dear reader, I wonder if you understand the cup from which Jesus Christ had to drink. For, remember, in the Garden of Gethsemane when His disciples, or at least Peter, would have fought for His freedom, He stopped them from doing any more than they did with these words; “… ‘Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?’” (John 18.11 NASB). The cup, which symbolizes the wrath of God, was made for us as a consequence for our many sins. Jesus drank it instead, to spare us from this fate. Remember, He could have prayed for twelve legions of angels to deliver Him. However, that would have left you and me holding the cup, leaving us without hope before the judgment throne of God.

He was despised and rejected by men. He was oppressed and afflicted. He was silent before His accusers, like a lamb before his shearers. He was cut off from the land of the living.

We read in Isaiah:

4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53.4-6 KJV

 

Jesus’ death was for each of us, for our sins. Through His crucifixion, God has made a way for us to be saved. Oh, I pray that if you don’t know this forgiveness that you will open your heart and come to faith in Jesus today. God bless you.

The account of the life of Jesus Christ does not end with His death on the cross, but it climaxes with His resurrection from the dead. Before His death, Jesus repeatedly spoke about this great miracle that would occur:

31 And he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all the things that are written through the prophets shall be accomplished unto the Son of man.

32 For he shall be delivered up unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and shamefully treated, and spit upon:

33 and they shall scourge and kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.

 

Luke 18.31-33ASV

 

This and other prophecies of Christ’s death found their fulfilment in the crucifixion. Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. The opening was sealed with a large boulder. A Roman garrison was deployed to guard the tomb. The world had to wait only three days for the greatest miracle and further fulfilment of these divine prophecies. At the appointed time, the ground shook with a violent earthquake and an angel descended and moved the boulder.We read:

 

1 Now late on the sabbath day, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone, and sat upon it.

3 His appearance was as lightning, and his raiment white as snow:

4 and for fear of him the watchers did quake, and became as dead men.

5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye; for I know that ye seek Jesus, who hath been crucified.

6 He is not here; for he is risen, even as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples, He is risen from the dead; and lo, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

8 And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word.

 

Matthew 28.1-8ASV

 

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has very important meaning. It was the final proof that everything He had said was true. Because He rose from physical death to life, then ascended to heaven, it proves He has the authority to grant spiritual life to spiritually dead men and women who are in need of it. His resurrection also is held out as proof that He will judge the world. The Bible says that God “ … is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.’” (Acts 17.30-31 NASB).

Friend, one day, around two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ drank a very bitter cup. It was the cup of God’s wrath. He did not deserve this wrath, but drank it on your behalf and on mine. He was accused falsely. He was sentenced to death. He was mocked. He was whipped and beaten. He, Himself, carried His cross, or a portion of it, part of the way to Golgotha’s hill. He was nailed to it. From the cross He did not utter threats or words of hatred. Instead, He offered words of hope and forgiveness. Now, that same forgiveness is offered to you. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The atoning sacrifice has been made for our sins. If you don’t know what it is like to have your sins forgiven by God, then come to Him today. All that is needed is your response and having the atonement applied to your own sins, personally. Heaven waits, God the Father waits, and Jesus Christ waits, for you to surrender your whole life to Him and His will, and for you to repent and put faith in Him and His sacrifice. Jesus has suffered for you and for me. We committed sin and He was totally pure. Yet He suffered, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God; He suffered that we would be brought to God for forgiveness, restoration, healing, deliverance and for a new life of following Him. It is imperative for us to realize our guilt and sin and to cry out to God for forgiveness.

Friend, if you do not know the Lord’s salvation and forgiveness, then it is time for you to pray. Call out to God in your own words.

I would like to pray for your soul:

Lord Jesus, today we have come once again to remember Your sacrifice of love and atonement for us. Lord, You did not come to this world to be served but to serve others and to give Your life a ransom for many. Your blood is precious. The shedding of Your blood at Calvary was the only sacrifice worthy and sufficient to atone for human sin. Your blood washes sin away. Lord, I pray for this reader to be free from the curse of sin, guilt and judgment. They have gone astray; we all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to our own way and the LORD has laid on You the iniquity of us all. Lord, the sacrifice of Your life was a substitution for ours. We transgressed, yet You were wounded. We committed iniquity, yet You were bruised. You were chastised for our peace. I pray for this soul, that they would know the peace of having their sins taken away, that they would know the peace of pardon. Lord, You are a very forgiving God. As they call out to You in surrender and ask for Your forgiveness, be merciful to their unrighteousness and remember their lawless deeds no more. Lord, You not only died, You rose again and conquered death. You won the victory over sin, death and evil and You are triumphant. As this one cries out to You, committing to repent of their self-rule and give their life to follow You, let faith rise up in them. Let this be the moment of faith and belief that You call for. Let this be the moment that You establish a relationship with them. May they never fear death again. You have suffered death for us. Hold them in Your arms and may they know in their heart Your great salvation. Amen.


Shawn Stevens

 

ENDNOTES :

 

  1. Erwin W. Lutzer, quoting an inscription on a tombstone, One Minute After You Die (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1997), 11.

  2. Erwin W. Lutzer,  One Minute After You Die (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1997).

 

REFERENCES :

 

Lutzer, Erwin W. One Minute After You Die. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1997.

Scriptures taken from the American Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible and the King James Version.

“Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,
1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation 
Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org)

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