Death, death, death. It marches through Scripture like a seemingly invincible army and down through history invades life like a monster with an insatiable appetite. Once it fixes its gaze on one, there is no escape. You are its next prey.
Without Christ in the picture, a horrible and terrifying reality. Even with Christ in the picture, death can be a horrible reality. But however horrible and life crushing are its jaws, with Christ in the picture and the knowledge that the Angel of our Lord stands by us as it approaches, the terror is gone. The knowledge that this great Angel stood by the side of our loved one as death seized him/her removes the despair. He is the Angel of the Lord with the drawn sword, the same who stood before Balaam in his attempt to curse Israel, but who was warned not to, “lest this sword bite you.”
This same Angel contended with Satan over the body of Moses (Jude 9) saying “The Lord rebuke thee,” and with authority and power escorted Moses to heaven body and soul. Christ Himself, by His Angel, there to confront that last enemy, death, and lay claim to His own. “Fear not. It is I. Not only is death here, but I am here too. Your Lord, its Master.”
Yet, for all that, death is an awful and horrible reality. In Scripture it is often likened to a living creature, a cold-blooded reptile, a great python governed by its appetite and by that cruel appetite alone. In itself, no mercy, no compassion. Awful power, life-extinguishing reality.
So it was meant to be. After all, it was loosed upon the world because of man’s sin, and was and is the judgment of God on sin. Its terrible destructive power underscores just how seriously God takes sin, this ignoring the Almighty, thinking to banish Him from His own creation, defying His holy will.
This was the transgression of our first parents, Adam and Eve. In the interest of satisfying their appetite with that one fruit forbidden them, a willingness to consider the serpent’s suggestion that God, the God of truth and righteousness, was the great Deceiver!
Their Creator and Friend was not to be trusted but, rather, one who was withholding good from them so He could have it all for Himself—a selfish, self-serving God. What did Jehovah know about giving! Wanting to believe that about the God with whom they had walked in the garden, and doing so in order to justify feeding their appetites in disobedience, they were willing to declare Jehovah God a deceiver and not to be trusted.
As well, they were willing to have the whole creation, which had been entrusted to their care, suffer judgment for the satisfaction of their appetites, bringing violence and death. They were not going to deny their craving just to spare all those others!
Self-centered and self-serving to the extreme. Such is man in his sin.
The only just and righteous penalty? Death, and all that it entails.
Genesis makes plain, death of living souls, be they human or animal, is not the natural order of things. It is the visitation of God upon the enormity of man’s self-centered, God-defaming choice and transgression.
The wages of sin is death. It is what sin earned and what we as sinners—defiant transgressors—deserve. The penalty for sin just and right.
Striking, as evidence of this, were the words that the crucified malefactor (that brutal highway man) spoke to his fellow malefactor when considering his own guilt and approaching death: “[W]e indeed justly: for we receive the due reward of our deeds” (Luke 23:41). Being sentenced to death was no more than they both deserved, as do we all. Only One born of woman was not deserving it: “…but this man hath done nothing amiss.”
Death is covenantal in character. For the wicked this is part of its horror; for the believer, its grief, sometimes of an overwhelming sort.
A covenantal penalty in character, first of all, because death was imposed not only upon the two who transgressed, but also upon their children—the sentence of death was visited upon their generations. Their firstborn shows himself to be a murderer, slaying his brother by bludgeoning him to death. Grief added to grief.
And the same holds for the children we bring forth.
The life we give them is a dying life. As Scripture states, in Adam all die. Note, not simply, “shall die,” nor “have been sentenced to die,” but “all die”—present tense. They are dying as they live. And if outside Christ, a worse fate and reality awaits them at life’s end.
And covenantal in character because death means the termination of the fellowship and friendships of life. Death takes that from one. The joy brought by a beloved spouse, or child, or parent is gone. The ability to converse and embrace done. Upon learning of the drowning of his college roommate, a young poet once wrote, “For the tender grace of a day that is dead, will never come back to me.”
For the believer whose loved one has been wrenched from this life there is a truth to that. A ripping has occurred, and one experiences a deep, running wound that goes to one’s heart. Life will never be as it once was, not this side of the grave.
But for the ungodly the loss is forever. There will never be a mending. A loved one has entered the everlasting abyss. Gone forever. Hell is the termination of all relationships and joy. Loneliness without end. Just wrath and despair. That is all. One has been devoured by death and consumed. There will be no reunions in the everlasting abyss.
Faced by this reality and death’s horror, man tries to reason it away.
There is no God says the fool (Ps. 14:1).
Because if there is no God, then no need to fear what follows death. No judgment, no wrath, no everlasting anguish. Whatever miseries and pains are in this life, at least death is not a door to even greater misery. Or is it?
Confronted by death, that is the best they can hope for.
But, as Scripture declares, it is a fool’s hope and reasoning.
A fool is one who ignores what he knows to be reality, and then seeks to convince himself he can act contrary to it and yet escape the consequences.
The simple fact is, every man knows deep down that God is. There is the Creator to whom every man will give answer some day. It is how God has “wired” man. Man cannot escape this inner testimony. But in his folly he will suppress it, silence it, and continue headlong in his sinful ways. This is why those who decide to deny God become angry when you say to them, “But you will have to answer someday to that very One whom you deny. Do not play the fool.” That is all you have to say. They know it to be true as they try their utmost to deny it. Do not think they will thank you for the reminder.
For the ungodly death is awful to contemplate, but what is to follow is even worse. It is what nightmares, not dreams, are made of. Their denial of God is as an apron of fig leaves, easily blown away.
No wonder their poets advise them: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light”([of life).
Or the philosophers try to dismiss death’s horror by arguing that really dying is just the normal order of things, the natural cycle of life. Like leaves and plants dying in the Fall to be recycled in nature, death is just part of the recycling process of life. Perhaps to be reincarnated in a tree or a tulip as the worms spread our remains?
My, what wonderful comfort!
To what foolish extremes mortal men go to escape being confronted by death as a life-sentence, to silence the sound of the tolling of the bells signaling the end of a life and of that second death that is sure to follow.
Indeed, to paraphrase what is written in I Corinthians 15:19: “If in this life only one has hope, he, like so many others, is most miserable.”
What death does to a person (be he a believing child of God) is not pretty. Its destructive power is awful to behold and then to contemplate. We bury it away. What it does to the dignity of a human being when it strikes is grievous. This I have witnessed with my own eyes. A ruined, vacant house.
And, as well, what death does to those left behind, especially when it comes with sudden violence, ripping a loved one from this life. Shattering, leaving only broken pieces behind. Who can withstand such death and its aftermath? It brings one to his knees.
But…but…is hope and gladness clean gone forever? Has God forgotten to be kind, that God whom we and our first parents have so highly offended? After all, death is His sentence and His “creature” set loose upon the human race and on creation itself. Is there no remedy? Just the sadness of farewell and the terror of what follows hereafter?
What can be said to the dying or to those struggling to cope with that empty spot due to a beloved family member taken and gone? What indeed.
Not this: this is evil. It is not God’s will or doing. It is just the Devil’s mischief. God is too loving and kind to have willed this to happen.
Not so. For, if the calamity was not what God willed, He was, evidently, powerless to prevent it. And then, to what purpose is this death? Really, to no good purpose at all, except to magnify Satan’s power prevailing against God’s will. All comfort is gone. We cannot put our trust in or turn to God as the Almighty after all. Who can be sure whether death will not have the last word and mocking laughter after all!
Powerless to prevent it, powerless to overcome it.
Away with such nonsense!
To be sure, death is an awful power, and as far as we mortal men are concerned, invincible. But there is one mightier than death, and that is the Almighty One, who is Jehovah God.
And God be thanked, to those living in the midst of death in a creation under the sentence of death, this LORD God has given a Word, a Word that gives us mortal men words to withstand the horror of death. Words that give hope so real that the believer can stand at the lip of the grave and say “Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?” Words of defiance when nothing but a corpse remains and the grave is about to swallow our loved one.
How can this be?
It can only be because of who Jehovah God is. The almighty Creator God to be sure, but also God triune, who as such is a covenant-making and keeping God. And not only within Himself, but also regarding a people, a remnant of the human race He would call His own.
How God’s people dealing with the awful power of death need to hear this!
How pastors and preachers need to remember this!
When death visits a family of believers, they call for their pastor. And in the face of death, especially those of tragic proportions, we ask, what are we? Who am I? What can I say to minister to this grief? What can I say that can possibly comfort, as if there is some good in all this?
Of self, nothing. We are as useless as Job’s three friends.
But God gave the Word—concerning Himself.
And when death strikes, there are two truths that must be and—God be thanked—can be brought home. And then a third. Words that the Holy Spirit Himself will apply to grieving hearts.
First, Jehovah God is sovereign—meaning He is almighty, stronger even than death. There may be no power on earth to overcome death, but One in heaven can. A power to save a man’s soul and raise that body, that person as whole, again. And with that power, wisdom—wisdom so that there is purpose to that death as it affects others in the body of Christ, working the salvation of God’s whole church in the end.
And second, Jehovah is the God of the everlasting covenant, meaning He is the God of friendship and love. Being such, He will never forget nor forsake His children and friends.
He is the Father God, not allowing death to extinguish life, taking loved ones in Christ to glory. And not only that, but He will Himself minister to those bereft in grief. One passage in particular comes to mind. “He will swallow up death in victory: and the LORD God will wipe away tears from off all faces” (Is. 25:8). Both phrases are quoted in the New Testament. The second in Revelation 21:4.
Imagine, Jehovah God Himself stooping down and with His own napkin dabbing our tears and as a Father whispering, “Fear not. That loved one so close to your heart is with Me. And I will keep those left behind. And good shall come of this evil. I will see it so. This farewell is not forever.”
And then, one more word—Jesus. By Jehovah’s wonderful grace, mother Eve’s gift to her posterity to counteract the evil she brought into the world. God’s Promised Seed, at last. Revelation of the promise, power, and Fatherly love of our great Jehovah.
“…so in Christ shall all be made alive” (I Cor. 15:22).
“I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep.” Asleep in Jesus.
The God whom we have offended has removed the curse.
Death be not proud. The mortal hath put on immortality.
Death swallowed up in victory.
A grand reunion awaits.
Lord, haste the day!