Death and the Christian
A pressing issue which is on the heart of all men, regardless of time, place, or circumstance is death. Of the things that separate us from the animals there is nothing more central to our identity than that we are aware of death in a way cats and dogs are not. We are haunted by it. There is some irony to that fact that even in our modern technological culture where life is so antiseptic, where the difficulties previous generations faced are not immediately present the way it may have been for them, we are without doubt even more afraid of death than they were.
We see it in how our media in its content and marketing is consumed with figuring out what to do about it, how to delay it, or how to prevent it altogether. However, the truth of the matter is barring the imminent return of Christ (Matt. 24:36-44) we will all die. The grave will be our home at some point in the future. Yet for believers, if we are being honest, something that must gnaw on us at some degree is spoken to by the content of the second catechism question we’ll be looking at this morning. If we are saved from the penalty of the law, which is death, why is it that we must still face the way of all men? Why do we not receive the blessing of Enoch or Elijah? What place does death have for the Christian?
They are good questions, ones that have been asked for ages.
I think that we will find our forefathers struggled with these as well and grant us a good reply.
Here are our Q/A’s for this morning:
Q. 84: Shall all men die?
A. Death being threatened as the wages of sin, it is appointed unto all men once to die; for that all have sinned.
Q. 85: Death, being the wages of sin, why are not the righteous delivered from death, seeing all their sins are forgiven in Christ?
A. The righteous shall be delivered from death itself at the last day, and even in death are delivered from the sting and curse of it; so that, although they die, yet it is out of God’s love, to free them perfectly from sin and misery, and to make them capable of further communion with Christ in glory, which they then enter upon.
The place of death in the mind of man needs to begin with two truths: 1) Death is not natural, it is not a thing that has always been with us, it is an interloper. 2) Death is the result, as the first catechism Q/A makes clear, of Adam’s sin and the spread of that sin to all men. It is a consequence of a decision made by our federal head. Expanding a little on the first truth it is helpful to remember that while Adam was in the Garden he ate no meat, nor did the lions, tigers, or bears. All were vegetarians. That may seem like a strange thing for us to mention while discussing this topic, but it is vital that we understand that death is a bigger subject than just the physical ceasing of the human heart. Death encompasses all the tragedies of this fallen world. Earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, and coyotes raiding the hen house all result from Adam’s breaking of the covenant of works and being set outside Eden. These were the wages of sin.
Again, another thing we don’t usually associate with this line of argument concerning the doctrine we have of death is why believers cannot square the teaching of evolution with a Christian understanding of history. God would not, and could not, use death to perfect His creatures or bring them to a particular station. The Fall of Genesis 3 was a de-evolution. Yet, as the second catechism question helps us to see part of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ is give to death meaning in life. We hear it described as providing a means to cleansing, recognizing the relief we feel from no longer having to deal with this present evil world, and the opportunity to see our Savior face-to-face. There is a hint as well in the Q/A of understanding that in death the Believer is allowed to truly live in the light of the good news of the gospel.
We downplay sometimes the affect our inward sin has on placing a damper on our experience of the divine. While we have a manifest blessing in worship in this life through the work of the Holy Spirit it is a pittance in comparison to the joy innumerable Christians experience through the release of death. This never makes death a good thing. However, having a proper perspective on it is what allows those who rest in Christ in life to rest in Him at the end as well. We say much about our faith in how we bring our time on earth to a close.
A famous quip from Ebenezer Erskine at hearing of the passing of his brother Ralph is a good example for us. He says:
“And is Ralph gone? He has twice got the start on me; he was first in Christ, and now he is first in glory!”
In closing, the message of the gospel is never more relevant than when men are facing the certainty of death. Words seem to fail at the gravity of the situation, yet it is in light of these realities that the Church has the only answer worth saying. The Apostle Paul summarizes it for us well in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22:
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
The people of God can never soften the message we have been given to preach because it is the very word that the world needs to hear. There is only one way to life, and that is Christ. There is only one way to heaven, and that is Christ. Of the titles we use to describe Jesus a particularly dear one is Redeemer. In that name we see what is that He has come to do. To pay the penalty, to rescue us, and bring us into the house of His Father, where there is only eternal peace, where there is no death, only life.
Here is an extra word this week:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church