When I announced that I would be sharing the Biblical View of Death I was not aware of how involved that view really is. To deal properly with this would require a series of messages.
The intended purpose in my sharing is the Biblical view of deathparticularly in relation to the believer in Christ. The good people from Reid’s are here to deal with the practical details of death as they pertain to the physical, material order of this time/space realm; a very necessary reality and responsibility.
So, where to begin? Billy Graham wrote in his final book – Nearing Home – which I believe was written after his ninetieth birthday, and this is not an exact quote but the essence of his statement: ‘The church teaches us how to live in youth but fails to teach us how to grow old.’ For our purposes this morning let me change that to this: ‘The church has taught us how to live but has failed to teach us how to die.’ So let’s see what can be done to correct that failure.
Listen to the following short story: Rendezvous in Samarra. I am presenting this from a sermon by Peter Marshal – one of my very favourite preachers from near history.
An old legend tells of a merchant in Bagdad who one day sent his servant to the market. Before very long the servant came back, white and trembling, and in great agitation said to his mater: “Down in the market place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd, and when I turned around I saw that it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Master, please lend me your horse, for I must hasten away to avoid her. I will ride to Samarra and there I will hide, and death will not find me.”
The merchant lent him his horse and the servant galloped away in great haste. Later the merchant went down to the market place and saw Death standing in the crowd. He went over to her and asked, “Why did you frighten my servant this morning? Why did you make a threatening gesture?”
“O, that was not a threatening gesture,” Death said. “It was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
This story speaks to the universality of death; we all have an appointment in “Samarra.” If you are looking for something with an almost perfect track record death would have to be right up near the top of the list. As far as I know, only Enoch and Elijah managed to get out of here without passing through death. And even Lazarus – whom Jesus raised from the dead – would die yet again. This was also true of the widow’s son whom Christ raised from the dead and the twelve year old daughter of Jairus.
How do we explain the universality of death? Remember, we are looking at the Biblical view, and that Biblical view is fully expressed in a single verse of scripture which I will present from several translations: Rom. 5:12 Therefore, as sin came into the world through one man, and death as the result of sin, so death spread to all men, [no one being able to stop it or to escape its power] because all men sinned. (AMP.)
Adam sinned, and that sin brought death into the world. Now everyone has sinned, and so everyone must die. (Contemporary Version)
Here is how it works: it was through one individual that sin entered the world, and through sin, death; and in this way death passed through to the whole human race, inasmuch as everyone sinned. (Complete Jewish Bible)
You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we’re in—first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death. (The Message)
Any Biblical understanding of death begins with a Biblical understanding of sin. With that statement it is clear why the North American church has such a struggle with the whole idea of death, and why we remain so unprepared to deal with it. We do not want to acknowledge the reality of sin. We even avoid using the word. And here is the tragedy in that – until I accept the Biblical view of sin I can never come to the Biblical view of death.
I read to you this morning from the Genesis account what we call the fall of man. Paul tells us that this is where sin was introduced into the human experience. And based on that first act of sin it is clear that sin was and continues to be a deliberate act of disobedience to the known will, command or directive of God.
But sin is far more than behaviour; far more than an act of disobedience. If it was only an issue of behaviour perhaps we could change it. This is where the news gets really bad. Sin is a matter of nature.
How many of you had to be taught how to sin? Did we take a course on how to commit sin in three easy steps? Did we have to take “sin classes” before knowing how to behave sinfully?
The truth is our first father committed an act of sin and every one of his sons and daughters – with the exception of Jesus Christ – was and continues to be born with a sin nature. It was this aspect of sin – that is the sin nature – David had in mind when he prayed that profound prayer of repentance in Psalm 51. His behaviour was certainly sinful: he committed adultery with a married woman and arranged to have her husband killed, making it appear to be a casualty of war.
Listen to his prayer: Ps.51:1- 4 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinnedand done what is evil in Your sight, so thatYou are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.
The focus here is upon the actof sin, the behaviour of sin, what he had done; and what he had done was exactly what his first father had done – wilfully disobeyed the known command of the Sovereign God.
But at verse 5 the focus shifts from behaviour to something deeper. Ps.51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin my mother conceived me. This is not –as some have tried to make it – a statement about his mother: It’s a statement about himself. That statement was that from birth forward he had a sin problem not just as behaviour but as a nature he was born with.
Depending upon your translation you will find references in the New Testament to ‘the old man, the carnal mind, the mind of flesh, the sin nature, the old self and the flesh. Paul wrote the following: ‘...sin which dwells in me’; ‘...nothing good dwells in me, this is, in my flesh’; ‘...evil is present in me’; ‘...a law in the members of my body waging war against the law of my mind’; ‘...sin which is in my members’. (Romans 7). These expressions are not primarily referring to sinful behaviour. In each of these phrases you find the word “in” and sin is described –not as something in the air, something external, or something environmental –but as something in us as a matter of nature – something we are born with and that lives within our members.
Here is the terrible truth about sin: You don’t have to do anything to be constituted a sinner; all that’s required is to be born.
When Paul wrote of the body he connected it with two or three vital words: mortal, corruptible, death and sin. In standing before you this morning I can tell you that the body you see is mortal, corruptible and subject to death. And all of that is true of my body because of this – SIN. I do not mean sin as behaviour but as a nature, a principle or a law that works in my members. All of this needs to be given a much fuller treatment but we do not have time.
The only possibility of dealing with death is to first deal with its cause – sin. And this is where we find the good news in the presence of the bad news. Try to imagine this: You were born without a sin nature and lived a perfectly sinless life. (I know it requires much imagination.) But if that were true of us we would never die.
But here is the good news. There was One born sinless – without a sin nature, and who lived a perfectly sinless life. In fact the Advent season is upon us and once more we will celebrate the coming into this world of the Lord Jesus Christ. So the question arises, why did He die? And again the Biblical view answers that question. 2Cor.5: 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Christ, this sinless one – sinless from the deepest point of nature to every detail of behaviour – did not die for or because of personal sin, but die He did. He died because of sin and for sin; but it was our sin, the sin of the world.
Note the following words from the letter to the Hebrew believers – JB Philip’s:Since, then, “the children” have a common physical nature as human beings, HE also became a human being, so that by going through death as a man HE might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might also set free those who lived their whole lives a prey to the fear of death.
This is the answer to Job’s question– and keep in mind that Job is the oldest book of the Bible; so reaching back to ancient history we find that the core concern within the human heart was the same as it is today: “If a man die, shall he live again?” Add to this the question of the Psalmist: What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? (Ps.89:48)
Here is how Christ answered those questions. Jn.8:51 I tell you the solemn truth, if anyone obeys my teaching, he will never see death.
I say this with absolute confidence. If you practice what I’m telling you, you’ll never have to look death in the face.” (The Message)
Let me conclude with this: The only part of me that is going to die is my mortal body and it is going to die because of the sin principle resident within its members. But – and this is vital and fundamental – I am NOT my body, nor am I that sin nature that resides in my members. I –the true self, the soul, the true essence of personality or personhood – am redeemed through the finished work of the sinless Son of God. Right now I (my true self) is in Christ and Christ is in me. How can one in Christ ever see or experience death?
When my mortal body finally succumbs to death I – my true self – shall not see death but shall meet the holy angels of the most high God. This in part explains the scripture that say – Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. The only part of me that will see the grave is my mortal body; my soul will be “mixing it up” with the angels of God and all the other saints of God who preceded me in graduation.
What about this mortal body? This much I know for sure – the grave is not the final reality. The answer to my question is found in this: What happened to the physical body of the man Christ Jesus three days after he was placed in a tomb? Even on the day of His crucifixion the tombs in and around Jerusalem were suddenly opened and many of the saints – long dead – were seen walking in the streets of the city.
That pretty much indicates the future state of these mortal bodies. I believe in the literal, actual, physical resurrection of the body. But here’s the twist: they are placed in the grave a mortal body; they are raised in resurrection an immortal body. They are placed in the grave a corruptible body – they are resurrected an incorruptible body. They are placed in the grave a temporal body – they are resurrected an eternal body. They are placed in the grave a natural body – they are resurrected a glorified body just exactly like the body of the resurrected Christ.
And what I demand at that point is a refund from Reid’s.