Your Final Act of Worship
Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: John 21:18-19
Grace Community Church
February 5, 2012 (evening service)
It is a joy to preach the word of God. It is a joy to be a pastor. One of the things over the years that I have come to personally appreciate almost the most about being a pastor is being able to walk through the process of dying with those who have come in to contact with my ministry. There is something very special about that, about being with the individual and hearing their final thoughts, something special about being with the family in that time of vulnerability. I love the fact that all pretense is gone at the time when someone is about to slip in to eternity. I love the vulnerability and the transparency that those moments bring about. You are able to talk with people about the things that are most precious on their hearts and the things that are most important to them, at times be able to answer questions that can bring them peace.
Tonight I want to address the whole matter of approaching death as a Christian. That’s going to sound like quite a bummer—“I missed the Super Bowl for this?” But trust me, I am hear to help you tonight and I am hear to give you things that I know are going to be encouragement and to enrich your hearts. So stay with me as we go through this.
First of all, let us just be up front and honest about it, death is a terrible force. Death is an ugly, black force that is the depths of the human experience. It breaks the union between body and soul, it removes us from the only realm of existence that we have known. When it takes those that we love, it takes them to a realm where we cannot communicate with them and the barrier of silence with people that we used to walk through life with is almost unbearable at times. You can measure the awfulness of sin by remembering that death is the consequence of sin as Romans 5 said: “Death entered the world through sin…” and the awfulness of death gives us a means to measure the awfulness of sin in the sight of Almighty God—it is an enemy to humanity. And if you are like me, in times gone by at least, even as a believer, it is uncomfortable to think about the process of dying, what is going to happen to the ones that I leave behind? What is that going to be like?
And just to acknowledge one other thing, if you have been around death at all, you realize that there is very little dignity and certainly no glory in it as life slips from the body, as pain and unconsciousness take their toll—it is a terrible, terrible force. If we look at that honestly, we will shrink from it instinctively because we are used to life and we love life and we love the people that we have gone through life with. And so there is that element of dread that some times colors our thoughts when we think about death realistically.
But the promise of the Bible is that Jesus Christ has conquered death through His resurrection. We who believe in Christ have also overcome death and share in His victory. If we were honest, if we were able to have a transparent discussion without any fear of what is the pastor going to think by what I really believe and what I think about that, the truth of it is that we don’t always live in the victory that is ours in Christ. What I mean by that is that we think about death with a sense of fear. Some of you refuse to even think about death even though it is as certain as taxes in your life. You refuse to even think about it because you don’t want your mind to go there. Others live with a silent fear of dying and leaving their loved ones behind. And that fear, that dread, that unknown, “What is going to happen? How will I leave this earth?” It can become a controlling fear even in the lives of believers—I’ve seen it.
What I want to do with you this evening is to look death square in the face from the position of strength that is ours in Christ, the position of victory. And I want to change the way that you think about approaching death. Whether death is 50 years away from you or for some of you with recent diagnoses, you know the fear of death, the prospect of death has been brought to your immediate experience even within the past few days.
I want to change the way that you look at death this evening. I want to change it from something that is not supposed to be talked about or something that you fear or something that you look totally beyond death to heaven. I want you to think about death from this perspective that death, the process of dying, if God gives you any kind of time to anticipate death, to approach death, the process of dying as your final act of worship in this life. And when we approach it from that perspective, there is a nobility to it that gives you strength, that gives you a motivation to rise up over those fears and to die like a Christian, to die in a manner that is worthy of the glory of God. A clear focus diminishes the fear of death in our own mortality.
I invite you to turn to the gospel of John, chapter 21 for our passage this evening where I believe you can see these things drawn out for you with great clarity. John 21, the Lord’s interaction with Peter is going to be our subject for this evening. These things have just so helped me personally that I want to share them with you. I’m not going to be around you at your death bed, but perhaps these things from the word of God will give you strength that you might not otherwise have had. Just looking at two verses to start with, John 21:18-19, Jesus says speaking to Peter:
Truly, truly I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walked where ever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you and bring you where you do not wish to go.
Look what Jesus was talking to him about in verse 19:
Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “follow me.”
I am going to structure tonight’s message around four main points as we look at what the Lord said to Peter about Peter’s eventual death and let that be that which would instruct us about the way that we should think about our own exit from this planet.
Four main points tonight. First of all, I want to talk about the problem that we have. The problem is the certainty of death. This life is not going to go on uninterrupted for ever—is it? We know that, but sometimes we forget and we live as though death was not a reality. We don’t number our days like Psalm 90 tells us to do. WE just go on with the unspoken presupposition that life tomorrow will be like life today and in an infinite unfolding of similarity, but it is not that way. And Jesus brings to Peter’s mind here in this passage, He brings to his mind the upcoming certainty of his own death. You remember from verses 15 and 17 that He had just restored Peter to ministry, asked him three times, “Peter, do you love me.” Peter said, “Yes Lord, I love you.” And in that process, Jesus commissions him to ministry, “Then go, feed my lambs, shepherd my sheep.” And the three times reversing the three denials that Peter had made earlier in life. But now, instead of reversing the past, HE is preparing Peter for the future. And He previews Peter’s subsequent earthly life for him, He give him an insight, a window in to what the end of his life is going to be. Look at verse 18 with me again, He says:
When you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walked where ever you wished.
Peter, life used to be seemingly under your own control, you went and did what you wanted to do. You had a freedom of action, you had the strength and the vigor of youth and you went about that way. And He says to him, but Peter, when you grow old, it is not going to be like that. Look at verse 18 with me again:
When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you and bring you where you do not wish to go.
And He makes clear what He is talking about in verse 19:
He said this, signifying by what kind of death Peter would glorify God.
When He said “stretch out your hands,” HE is referring to the process of crucifixion. When a prisoner was prepared for crucifixion, the cross beam would be placed on his shoulders and his arms would be tied to that cross beam and then he would be led away to death. He would stretch out his arms over the cross beam and then be led away to the crucifixion site.
God had appointed Peter for death by crucifixion and it was a certainty, it was certain to come about even though it was still 30 years future in Peter’s life when Jesus spoke, He said Peter, you are going to be crucified, be prepared, be ready for that because God has appointed it, your death and the manner of your death is certain.
You read that passage, you are reading it through your yearly Bible plan or whatever, you kind of skim right through that and say, “Ha, that’s for Peter, wonder what’s for dinner tonight.” But the truth is that you and I are in a much more similar position to Peter than you might think. The truth of the matter is for you and me, God has prepared the entirety of our circumstances of all of life and that includes the very circumstances of your death. You don’t know the details, but God will bring those details to pass as He orchestrates the totality of your life. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 says:
There is a time for every event under heaven, a time to give birth and a time to die.
Hebrews 9:27 says:
It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.
Unless the Lord returns during your earthly life, it is a certainty that you are going to face death—there is no escaping it. Death is the consequence of our sin and we are all going to die—some of us are closer to it than we realize. You are going to die, God has planned the circumstances under which you are going to die—there is a level of comfort in that, isn’t it? There is a level of comfort even though at first it sounds kind of creepy to talk this way. The truth of the matter is that the God that has had His hand on your life from birth, the God who saved you from sin, who brought you to salvation in Jesus Christ and has lovingly guided and shepherded you up to this point to night where you are hearing this message, that same gracious God is the God who is sovereign over the manner in which you will leave this life as well. He gave you life and He has appointed the time at which life will leave you and you will enter in to eternity—there is a certainty about it. Peter got a little more insight than most of us do. Jesus told him exactly what was going to happen to him. But here is what I want you to see. Even though the circumstances are withheld from our knowledge now as we look forward in to life and the exact manner in which we die, the certainty of it is no less real and the sovereignty of God over it is no less real--this is certain.
While there are other topics that I could have chosen to speak about tonight, I like to look reality square in the face. I don’t know about you, but if I know what reality is, I want to deal with it and then I can shape life around reality. And if death intervenes and something happens and I am facing death sooner than I expected, that’s okay, I’m ready for it at that point.
And part of the Christian life is calculating the reality and certainty of death in to the way that you approach life because you live differently. Some of you, if you would calculate the reality of death and ultimate separation from earthly relationships, you would not hold on to the bitternesses and the grudges and the things that have controlled you—you wouldn’t hold on to that so much because you would realize: “Look, there is a time of separation coming and I want that separation to be a time of peace not conflict.” That’s just one application among many. But if we are going to think rightly about approaching death, we have to realize that it is a certainty, this is going to happen to you and to me. And once we accept that, once we embrace that, once we start to thinking about it, we can go back to the scriptures and say: “Okay, what do I do with that then? What do I do with the certain knowledge that this life is temporary? What do I do with that? How should I think about it?”
That brings us to our second point this evening. And I am really excited to be able to tell you this. What is the purpose? WE have seen the problem, the problem is the certainty of death. What is your purpose? What is your goal? What is your duty? What is your responsibility when you approach death?
Simply this, your purpose in dying is the glory of God. Your purpose is to glorify God when you die and in the manner in which you approach dying. Look at verse 19 with me. Jesus said this, talking about the crucifixion. He was signifying by what kind of death Peter would glorify God. Peter was going to go through crucifixion and as part of the out working of God’s purposes in his life, he was going to glorify God in his dying—and Peter did just that. Church history tells us that Peter was crucified during Nero’s persecution in the mid 60’s. And as most of you know, history tells us that Peter asked to be hung up side down when he was crucified because he felt unworthy to die as Christ did. How did Peter glorify God in his death, in his dying? He glorified God by trusting Christ even in the face of a violent death. Get this, he trusted God, he glorified God by regarding his own life as of no account and he gave honor to Christ when he died. Knowing what was coming, knowing that it would be violent, that it would be painful, that it would be against his wishes, that it would be a death of shame as crucifixion was an instrument of shame and torture, Peter with clarity of mind said, hay, turn me up side down because I want to honor Christ by dying differently than He did. I’m not worthy to go out like Christ did, so turn me up side down, and honored God with the way that he died. There was a clarity of conviction, a certainty of glory and a sense of responsibility that he would exit this earthly life in a way that brought honor to Christ.
Again, we, you and I are in a more similar position to Peter than you might think. You say: “What is a crucifixion 2000 years ago have to do with me? I’m not going to be crucified up side down.” Look, again, you must calculate death in to your view of life and the desire to glorify God in death should be your desire as well, that it becomes a crowning climax of the life that you devoted to living to His glory. And so you do not set aside your responsibility and your privilege to glorify God simply because the specter of death is coming to your realm of existence, you don’t suspend that duty. The totality of our life from beginning to dying breath is devoted to the glory of God.
Let me say this, just to take a quick pause, a quick break here. If you are not a Christian, you are not ready for this death at all. Death will just ushers you in to eternal punishment and death is a fearful thing for you. Let the thought of death be that which would motivate you to come to Christ for salvation.
But for the rest of you, you brothers and sisters in Christ, death is approaching. Peter glorified God in his death. I just want to lay out before you, even if you don’t need to draw upon this for 60 years, I want to lay before you that you should approach death with that exact same goal in mind. “When I die, when I go out of this life, I am going to be found glorifying the God of my salvation.” You say: “Where do you get that?” Well, look, 1 Corinthians 10:31 says:
What ever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.
Do all to the glory of God. I think when you take the totality of the teaching of scripture on these issues, you see that we don’t suspend that responsibility and privilege to glorify God at the time of death. Fear and pain do not suspend your commitment to glorify Christ with your life.
“What I want you to see in that is that in nobles dying, it in nobles it by seeing it as your final act of worship in this life, it is not something that you simply go through to get out of the way and you dread it and you are in fear and questioning.” No, as a Christian, your heart rises up to the greatest challenge of life. Your heart rises up to the greatest living threat (if you could call death a living threat. I don’t know, I don’t script every single word that I say up here.) The greatest threat in life.
You say: “I’m not going to buckle my knee in fear even to death. I’m going to glorify God. I’m going to trust God even when death approaches.” And the manner in which we get to live that out is as varied as the number of people in this room. Some people lose their mental faculties long before hand and really don’t have a conscious approach to it—I understand that. Some get the cancer diagnosis and they trust God for an extended period of time like a plane coming in to LAX on a long approach. Death is like a plane coming in for landing. For others, it is sudden and it is unexpected.
One of my seminary class mates was hit by a drunk driver when he was going out for donuts—unexpected, just a simple little trip to the market for donuts. And he lived just long enough to look at his son in the car seat in the back seat and say: “You go with the fireman, I’m going to go see Jesus.” And in that dying moment glorified God, glorified Christ, glorified Him by manifesting the reality of trust, discharging his final earthly obligation and then turning his face to heaven and say, ”I’m going to see Jesus.” Death didn’t win the victory over my class mate, he conquered death even when it came in an unexpected way.
Beloved, the details of your precise passing when they come are secondary, the key is to trust Christ when it does come. What does that trust look like? WE throw around these words, “trust Christ”. What does that mean when everything you have ever known is about to slip away from you? What does it mean to trust Christ at that dying moment?
I want to tell you this, it means that you face death with faithful courage. You trust the love of God to the very last breath. You trust His love, you trust the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to bring you in to His presence as He has promised to do. And that kind of courage is the high privilege and responsibility of the Christian life, that we would so nobly, so gloriously look death in the face and say: “I would not be cowed by fear.” WE would manifest as we leave this life that our confidence in Christ is unwavering, that our trust in Him can look at the darkest moment and say: “My heart is at rest, my heart is at peace, I trust Him even now and nothing will shake me from that confidence.”
If you wrestle with this and it makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t feel bad. I have wrestled with this too. The prospect of saying goodbye to my wife and six kids whom I love and have spent life together, that’s kind of weird. But God has provided a path forward from that kind of fear to courage. As we continue on in this text, you are going to see that God has not left us to simply try to conjure up this kind of courage out of thin air. God has given us what we need in order to live exactly this way.
That brings us to the third major point, the provision for this kind of triumphant approach to dying. The provision is spiritual understanding. We saw the problem is the certainty of death, the purpose in dying is to glorify God. What is the provision that God has given us in order to glorify Him in life’s darkest moment? He has given us spiritual understanding, and I trust that this is going to be a wonderful encouragement to you. There are three steps that I want to go through in this third main point, the provision of spiritual understanding.
Step #1 in thinking rightly about death so that you can approach death with an attitude that will glorify God.
Step #1 is to let go of this world. Here is what I mean by that. Most of us to one degree or another enjoy life and we should, it is good that we should. Every good and perfect gift comes from above. We enjoy all manner of graces from God, the of family, a good meal and all the elements that make earthly life enjoyable—our relationships in the church and we work and we get satisfaction out of our work. And so we enjoy life and we should. God blesses us, He sends rain upon us and causes the sun to rise upon us and we enjoy all of the good things from His hand. But as you enjoy those blessings beloved, keep in the back of your mind this crucial thought so that you would deal with life from a perspective us reality. This world is not our destination, this world is not our home, it is not the final stopping point. These blessings of life were never meant to be the final destination of the affections of your heart, and therefore, we don’t give them our highest affections.
1 John 2:17 says: “This world is passing away…” Matthew 6:19 says:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.
You hold life with an open hand in other words, so that when death approaches, you step back and you say to yourself: “Ah, but of course, this was all temporary from the beginning, this isn’t anything unexpected. God has given me the spiritual provision to understand what is happening here. God has given me the insight from His word to understand that this was never meant to be permanent to begin with.” And that loosens your grip on life in a way that lets you more readily say goodbye to it.
This is what I would say to you if I was beside you on your death bed. When death approaches, you can say in your heart: “Life has been good, but it was never the ultimate goal-I can leave now. If this is the time that God has appointed for me to leave this life, I’m okay with that because I understand that this was never meant to be my final stop in my existence to begin with. I thank Him for everything that went by, everything that I have enjoyed, but I can leave now because I trust my sovereign, wise, good, loving, gracious God. He is saying ‘This is the time to go,’ I’m ready to go because my heart affection belongs to Him.”
That’s the first step, let go of this world, that’s the spiritual provision for approaching it. Now secondly, this is a hard one.
Step #2 is commit your loved ones to Christ. I think the hardest thing about dying is contemplating those that we are going to leave behind, but the Bible gives us direction and help to think through even that.
And here is what I want to say to you. Even the most noble, worthy, satisfying earthly relationships, the most godly, earthly relationships, the closest family relationships for the Christian are not grounds to cling to this life when death approaches. Hear me out on this. When you contemplate leaving those earthly relationships behind, what I want you to see is that you trust the Lord even for them. Let me step back and explain it this way.
You have already trusted God if you are a Christian. You have already trusted Him with the most important thing that you possess and that is the well-being of your eternal soul—right? You have already trusted Him and said: “Lord, I trust you with my eternal soul.” If you trust Him for the greater thing, you can trust Him for the lesser thing which is your earthly relationships.
Go back to John 21:20. Jesus had just told Peter “follow me,” we will come back to those words at the end of the message. But Peter in verse 20 turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them—self-reference that John the apostle makes to himself. Peter turned around and saw John, he was following them. John is the one that leaned back on Jesus’ bosom at the supper and said: “Lord, who is the one who betrays you?” So Peter is looking at John just after Jesus had said you are going to die by crucifixion, now follow me. Peter turns and sees John and look at verse 21:
Peter, seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” (Look at what Jesus said to him.) “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you, you follow me.”
Peter, get your focus right, you are following me. And Jesus tells Peter to be content with his own calling and to leave to God God’s will for other disciples of Christ. Jesus (listen beloved) Jesus created your loved ones, Jesus guides their lives according to His own purposes. He has been gracious and wise with you—understand that. He will be gracious and wise with them even after you are gone—leave them with Christ. Trust Christ even for your most precious earthly relationships. When it comes time to leave this earthly life, you look at them and you say:
I commend you to God and to the word of His grace which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among the sanctified. (Acts 20:32)
You realize that the God and Father of your Lord Jesus Christ so has your best interest at heart that even after you are gone, His ability to care for your loved ones will be completely uncompromised and His goodness and mercy will live on after you have gone to heaven. You cannot prefer your loved ones to Christ. Jesus made that very plain in Matthew 10:37 when He said:
He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
All I am saying to you this evening is that part of what helps you let go when the process of dying is to realize that your singular highest devotion of affection to Christ transcends even those that you leave behind. Your love for Christ must transcend your earthly relationships.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ biographer, Ian Murray, wrote this about the great doctor’s final days—I love this quote out of the two volume biography that he did on Martyn Lloyd-Jones. (I named my son after Martyn Lloyd-Jones by the way, give you a measure of my affection for that man.) Ian Murray writes this: “As Martyn Lloyd-Jones was approaching death, as with every Christian husband, father, and grandfather, he had not found it easy to contemplate leaving a much loved family. But now, he had assurance that all would be well for them. He said in the privacy of his home from what I remember: ‘When this illness came, I tended to worry as to what would happen to them, I have been delivered from it completely. I know that God can care for them very much better than I can and that no longer troubles me at all.’”
It is beautiful, that is glorifying God in the process of dying—do you see that? That a man at the most critical hour of life, looks at those that he has given his life to and loves and says, I trust God so completely that I can leave them behind because I know God will have them in His hand and He will care for them.
Listen, that is a supernatural reaction response to the process of dying, earthly people don’t think that way. And by manifesting that kind of trust in God, you show forth the reality of the eternal life that He gave to you at the moment you believed.
And understand this my friends. I realize we are talking about really sensitive things here, things that go to the very deepest core of your heart affections in life. But understand this, you do not love your family less by entrusting them to Christ. You don’t love them less because you love Christ more. This is all about the supremacy of Christ in your affections. This is all about trusting Christ even for the most important things in life at the most important time in life. The time is going to come when I can no longer care for my family, I am going to have to say goodbye to them—I trust Him for that. He is able to care for them even better than I am. And so, part of the spiritual provision is letting go of this world, you commit your loved ones to Christ, you let go of this world.
But let’s get to the good stuff. I want to get to the good stuff. WE are turning the corner now and we are getting to the good stuff. Here is step #3 in your spiritual provision for approaching death to the glory of God.
Step #3 is to look forward to heaven. Look forward to heaven—this is so awesome! First of all, why look to heaven? There is going to be a total absence of affliction. Heaven will bring the end to earthly suffering, earthly conflict. Those of you that struggle particularly with the besetting sin and are in Christ and wrestle against that and it grieves you, all of that struggle is going to be over-it is going to be gone, never to trouble your heart again. Revelation 21:4:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and there will no longer be any death. There will no longer be any mourning or crying or pain.
Affliction is going to be gone. The things that brought sorrow in this life, all of those broken relationships, it is all going to be gone—That’s reason enough to look forward to heaven, isn’t it? Look forward to that because it will strengthen you as death approaches and your body is wrecked by decay as you approach death, realize it is just temporary, it is just a little bit longer and that’s all going to be over and heaven is going to be the release from the earthly suffering that you have known in this life.
Secondly, there is another reason to look forward to heaven—I love this one, it’s the presence of the saints. WE will be reunited with those who have gone before us in the Lord, those who have died in the Lord, scripture makes this clear. Scripture describes God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, long after they had died. Those distinct individuals even after they had left this earthly life, God was still their God by name. At the transfiguration, Peter recognized men he had never seen before. He recognized Moses and Elijah, even though they had lived centuries beforehand, he recognized them instantly. I don’t know how that works, but it works—and it’s going to be great to see them. Somehow after death, we will have recognizable personalities, we will know the believers who went before us and we will be reunited with them all—I can’t imagine the glory of that.
I am going to see for the first time in heaven my sister Debbie who died before I was born. You know who else I’m going to see? I’m going to see Bob Moroun and Bob Grindley and Mike Taylor and Carol Pass, and all of these wonderful friends that I have had that died before I was ready to say goodbye to them—I’m going to be reunited with them.
And if you are a Christian, just think about the names of those believers that you had loved that are no longer with you. The separation that we know now is a very brief parenthesis and there is a permanent, eternal reunion that we are going to enjoy with them where sin is banished and where separation and death will be no more and the fullness of blessing and godly relationships will be on full display, never to be broken again in ways that we can’t even imagine.
Listen, think about that and ask yourself the question, in light of what scripture describes about that, would you really stay on earth in a broken body to miss that? You see, it is much more than simply saying: “Okay, this world is temporary and I can’t stay here anyway.” That’s part of preparing for dying, but the greater power is in realizing what is to come and remembering that and thinking about it and bringing it to bear on your thinking and your total attitude about how you approach the end of life because that anticipation will undergirds you when death approaches. I am looking at the names of these friends that just meant so much to me in life—I’m going to see them again, I can’t wait.
If death comes a little sooner than what I think it will right now (I think I’ve got another 25-30 years) if it comes sooner, that just means reunion is going to happen that much more quickly. And to loved ones, you did know Christ, that I would be leaving behind, you know what? You are just going to get there a little later after me—you’re going to follow afterwards. When Bob Grindley, when he was dying, his wife, Dolores died many years before he did. Bob had a great sense of humor—I loved that about him. He said he was concerned when Dolores saw him in heaven she was going to say: “Hey man, what took you so long? I was afraid you weren’t going to make it.” All those reunions—I can’t wait.
But even that is not the best part. The best part, we haven’t even talked about yet. As you look forward to heaven, remember that heaven is going to be the presence of Christ—the presence of Christ! Faith will become sight and it will more than compensate for everything that you leave behind.
As good as life is here, as much as you love these earthly relationships, understand that there is no comparison to the glory that will be revealed to you—there is no comparison. We don’t have language to express how magnificent and how glorious it is going to be to see Christ face to face, to see the wounds that were the price of your salvation, to see Him in glory. That all of the times of praying to Him, speaking to Him with no audible response, speaking to Him when you could not see Him and trusting Him because of what He revealed in His word, all of a sudden, it is all going to become sight—that is going to be so great that there is nothing on this earth that anything you would ever exchange for that vision, glorious. You are going to see the face of the one who saved your soul.
And this is not an inappropriate way to express it. As much as I am going to look forward to those reunions with my sister and all of those other people who have been so precious to me over the years, there is a sense in which you would just push them aside to get to Christ—right? Those reunions are as great as they are going to be, even those glorious reunions with the other saints are going to be pale in comparison to seeing Christ. Do you realize if you are a Christian? Have you thought about in the face of death that death is going to usher you in to the presence of your savior and you will see Him face to face and you will see Him like He is and you will be made like Him by that glorious vision?
You are thinking rightly about salvation if you say, there is nothing that is worth staying here for. Paul expressed that in Philippians 1:23, he said:
I have the desire to depart and be with Christ for that is very much better.
As good as life is here for many of us (if you knew my family and the love that we share here on the front row, you would know why I say that) as good as God has been to me in those loving family relationships, that is going to pale by comparison to being with the one who shed His blood for my soul, to see Him face to face. I don’t know what that is going to be like. Sometimes I worry that there is going to be so many people around Him that I’m not going to get to spend any time with Him, that I’m stuck in the back just like I’m stuck in traffic going to LAX.
But that moment is coming, I’m going to look full in to His face, I’m going to be able to say: “Jesus, thank you.” And I’ll fall on my face at His feet, kiss His feet, if I get that privilege. I don’t know what it is going to be like. That is the moment worth living for, that is the moment worth dying for. Do you see that? Do you get that? Because if you get that, then you are equipped to be able to face death to the glory of God. Do not be afraid to face it with the supernatural sense of anticipation.
One of the long-time church members at Grace Church (probably many of you wouldn’t know his name) Roy Anderson, he was like 89 when he died at the end of December. I went to see him a couple of weeks before he died. I knelt down beside his bed, his clear mind and I said: “Roy, tell me your thoughts.”
Roy got it, he said: “Don, I want to go be with the Lord.” Lying in bed, holding his wife’s hand after 60 some years of marriage, holding her hand and saying: “Don, I want to go be with the Lord.” That’s it, that’s glorifying God.
It is not the dramatic aspect, it is not the dramatic things, it is in those quiet moments where you are expressing the deepest affections of your heart that we are after this evening. That in that hour of extremity, the deepest affections of your heart would bubble forth with a confidence and a desire to go be with Christ because that is so very much better.
You say: “Are you sure that that is really going to happen?” Go back to John 21. At some point we need to be back in that text—don’t we? Let me point out something that would be easy to miss here. Who was speaking to Peter at that time? Who was speaking to him? Jesus, but not any Jesus, the resurrected Jesus. Jesus, standing before him, having passed through death and conquered it with His resurrection.
Jesus was the one who was calling Peter to this and the resurrection of Christ guaranties the outcome for all of us who have put our faith in Him. When Christ called Peter to glorify God in death, Christ Himself had already conquered death. He was not calling Peter to something that power of God could not equip him to do. Christ was resurrected and Christ’s victory gives you the power to do this. 2 Corinthians 4:14 says:
That He who raised Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.
We are only talking about appropriating things that God has already promised and guarantied. United with Christ, made like Him we rise, death holds no fear for us. And so when death approaches, remember the promise of seeing Christ, remember the glory that awaits us, the absence of affliction, the presence of the saints and all surpassingly the presence of Christ. And all of a sudden, the sting of death is pulled out and it is just the bee without the sting is bouncing off your hand, there is no sting, there is no pain there because what lies ahead swallows it all up in victory. That’s the way you approach death to the glory of God, that’s what I want for you as the pastor here this evening.
But what about today? How do we bring this to bear? What do we do with this tonight? We looked at the problem which is the certainty of death, we looked at the purpose, the glory of God, we have seen the provision that God has given us to triumph in spiritual understanding of those multiple steps that we discussed. So what is the plan for you and me going forward as we go out tonight? I love this, it is faithful obedience. You don’t have to do anything heroic. If you are walking with Christ, you don’t even have to do anything different. Look at what Jesus said in verse 19, it signified to Peter what kind of death by which he would glorify God. WE know now in retrospect that that was 30 years ahead:
And when He had spoken this, HE said to him “follow me.”
And He repeated it at the end of verse 22:
He said “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you, you follow me.”
Christ outlined it for Peter. Between now and the approach of death, what do you do with this? You simply occupy yourself with your daily walk with Christ. You don’t have to be a hero, you don’t have to do something great that people will remember after you are gone. Where has Christ put you today, that’s where you follow Him.
You follow Him in the ordinary details of life, you are faithful to Him day by day, simply walking with Him, following Him where ever His providential leading takes you. You don’t have to do anything different if you are already walking with Him because Christ will use your present day faithfulness to prepare you to face death with faithful courage.
And you can anticipate when you think about the coming day of death, you don’t have to regard that day with fear and uncertainty and a sense of anxiety. You can look at that day and say: “God who has ordained my step up until this time, God will ordain the circumstances surrounding my death in a way and He will equip me to live through those to His glory.” You just trust Him for that as well. And then when the time comes, all of the confidence that God’s grace has strengthened your heart with, God will be faithful to give you grace for that dying hour. And when you draw that final breath here on earth and you exhale for the final time, you will inhale the air of heaven where all of the glory that we have talked about will become your present possession, never to be taken away.
I hope that as we have talked about these things, you have had a fresh sense of the greatness of what it means to be a Christian, the greatness of the gift that God has given to us and as good as this life has been, it is going to get a whole lot better. Bow with me in prayer, will you?
Father, your word says that Christ came in flesh and blood in part to take away the fear of death. We see tonight from your word why that can be. And I pray for these friends, these brothers and sisters in Christ father, some who do not know Christ, I pray for their salvation and ask that you would open their hearts by this contemplation of death, that you would quicken their minds—“I’m not ready, oh, Christ save me.”
For those of us that know Christ father, let us enjoy each day that you give us, knowing that it is a gift from you and an opportunity to serve you. But when you extend your hand and say to us, it’s time my beloved child for you to come home, Father, help our hearts respond from the truth that we have seen, the reservoir of biblical knowledge that we have seen here today that would let us embrace what otherwise would be life’s darkest hour, to embrace it as our greatest opportunity, the crowning climax of the life that we devoted to glorify you, to end this life on that high note and then enter in to your kingdom, enter in to heaven and see our savior face to face and rejoice with saints throughout all of the ages at the greatness of your salvation.
Father, as we contemplate these things, our prayer is your kingdom come, your will be done, as in heaven, so also upon earth. Give us this day our daily bread and lead us not in to temptation, but deliver us from evil, so that we would honor you with every aspect of life. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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March 30, 2014What Happens When We Die?