Death

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Danse Macabre

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

The timeworn, cynically homespun adage has it that there is nothing certain except for “death and taxes.” Nevertheless, modern science continues its relentlessly optimistic quest to abolish death, with tech entrepreneurs funding ever more ambitious schemes to live forever.[1] End-of-life medical care and the funeral industry – multibillion dollar businesses in North America alone – seek to dull the pain and obscure the ubiquity of death, veiling its grotesqueness under a cosmetically constructed façade of simulated sleep. A more recent concept in mitigating the horror of death came to my attention earlier in the week, appropriately enough in an obituary.

Sunbury, GA Cemetary (Photo by KRK)

The English Approach: Let’s Talk About Death

The late Mr. Jon Underwood of London was a pioneering proponent of the “Death Café” movement. The idea is to gather over tea and cake and discuss one’s own mortality. On the one hand, this is a commendable effort to face reality: death comes to all human beings and it behooves them to face that fact.[2] The only problem is that it does not go far enough in thinking about the matter. This is shown by Mr. Underwood’s comment when asked about his own demise: “It’s not ‘that I’m not scared of dying — I am! . . . But doing this work has given me confidence that whatever happens I will respond with openness and resilience. I know I will cope. That’s really useful!’”[3] Sadly, his Buddhism[4] offers no certainty for what comes after death; of course, that is the momentous issue. What comes after this life determines whether or not one can “cope” with death and its aftermath.

After Death, Eternal Existence, But Where?

The best place to learn about death is to the words of the Creator of life, who vanquished death through resurrection – The Lord Jesus Christ. He has been to the afterlife and returned to tell the tale (1 Cor. 15:3-8.) Death exists in our world because of mankind’s historical and ongoing sin (Romans 5:12; 6:23.) The Lord Jesus came to earth to destroy sin and the Devil who exploits it to human beings’ cost (1 John 3:8.) Not only did Christ physically die, He also suffered and died under the wrath of God for our sin (1 Pet. 3:18.) Thus, He knows what lies beyond this world and has dealt with sin which separates us from our Maker. Those who are trusting Christ for salvation need not fear death, for it is a vanquished foe.[5]

Christ’s words to Martha are revelatory: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25-26.) He can promise life after death because He has defeated death, as Hebrews 2 explains: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15; boldface mine.)

Elsewhere the Lord Jesus described the fruitfulness of His death and resurrection, saying: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24.) Commenting on His future harvest, one preacher remarked:

“The extent of this fruit-bearing we do not yet see. It is only one here, and another there, whom we see quickened from the death of sin by the all-vivifying power of him who, as the last Adam, is made a quickening spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). But, in the day of his glorious re-appearing; when he comes with the ten thousand of his saints, those who have slept in him, and those who shall be alive at his return; when he comes to smite Antichrist, to bind Satan, to deliver creation from its groans, to bless Israel, to be a light to the Gentiles, to set up his righteous kingdom, and to make all things new; it shall be seen what he has done by dying. In that day, when he presents to himself the Church of the first-born, the redeemed from among men, without spot or wrinkle, a great multitude that no man can number, we shall learn the extent and excellency of that fruitfulness which he acquired by dying. Heaven and earth, men and angels, shall then see why it was that this corn of wheat fell into the ground and died.”[6]

Christ For Us, With Us, And in Us

To those who receive Christ as their Lord and Savior, they are promised His presence through His indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:16-23; Col. 1:27.) He lives in them and empowers them for service (John 15:5); even if they should die physically, they are not separated from Him for an instant (2 Cor. 5:1-8.) Their soul and spirit – the incorporeal part of humans – are instantly in glory with Christ (Luke 23:43.) At His coming, their bodies will be raised, transformed into glorified form, and caught up to be with the Lord (Phil. 3:20-21; Psa. 17:15; 1 John 3:1-2.)

If one rejects Christ’s offer to save and transform one into His glorious image, there is nothing left but to suffer a lost eternity of conscious punishment in the Lake of Fire – what people commonly call “hell” (Mark 9:42-48; Luke 16:19-31; Rev. 20:11-15.) The only way to “cope” with life, dying, death and what comes after is to have a living relationship with the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 17:3.)

Ford Maddox Brown, Convalescent, (Portrait of Emma Maddox Brown); https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/Ford_Madox_Brown_-_Convalescent_-_Portrait_of_Emma_Madox_Brown.jpg, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/Ford_Madox_Brown_-_Convalescent_-_Portrait_of_Emma_Madox_Brown.jpg

Here are afflictions and trials severe,
Here is no rest—is no rest;
Here I must part
with the friends I hold dear,
Yet I am blest—I am blest.
Sweet is the promise
I read in Thy Word:
Blessed are they
who have died in the Lord;
They have been called
to receive their reward;
‘There, there is rest—there is rest.’

This world of care is
a wilderness state,
Here is no rest—is no rest;
But I must bear from
the world all its hate,
Yet I am blest—I am blest.
Soon shall I be
from the wicked released;
Soon shall the weary forever be blest;
Soon shall I lean upon Jesus’ breast;
‘There, there is rest—there is rest.’
[7]

♰        ♰         ♰        ♰         ♰         ♰

Death and the curse were in our cup:
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
’Tis empty now for me.
That bitter cup, love drank it up;
Now blessing’s draught for me.

Jehovah lifted up His rod;
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God;
There’s not one stroke for me.
Thy tears, Thy blood, beneath it flowed;
Thy bruising healeth me.

The tempest’s awful voice was heard,
O Christ, it broke on Thee!
Thy open bosom was my ward,
It braved the storm for me.
Thy form was scarred, Thy visage marred;
Now cloudless peace for me.
 

Jehovah bade His sword awake;
O Christ, it woke ’gainst Thee!
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake;
Thine heart its sheath must be;
All for my sake, my peace to make;
Now sleeps that sword for me.

For me, Lord Jesus, Thou hast died,
And I have died in Thee!
Thou’rt ris’n—my hands are all untied,
And now Thou liv’st in me.
When purified, made white and tried,
Thy glory then for me![8]

______________________________________________________________________

[1] Time, 9/30/13, Cover story: http://time.com/574/google-vs-death/

[2] Heb. 9:27. Of course, Christ promised the notable exception of those believers who are alive when He returns “in the air” to collect His church, 1 Thes. 4:13-18. Even if a believer dies before this event, he will: 1. Not taste of death in the sense that he will never be separated from God’s love in Christ, John 11:25-26; Rom. 8:37-39; Heb. 2:9-13. 2. Be raised to meet the Lord in the sky, 1 Thes. 4:14-16; 1 Cor. 15:20-23.

[3] Quoted in his obituary: Iliana Magra, “Jon Underwood, Founder of Death Café Movement, Dies At 44,” New York Times, 7/11/17, electronic ed. accessed here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/11/international-home/jon-underwood-dead-death-cafe-movement.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fobituaries&action=click&contentCollection=obituaries&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0 [Boldface mine.]

[4] “As a Buddhist, Mr. Underwood had already contemplated the philosophical questions of dying.” Ibid.; His website also indicates that he was a student at “Jamyang Buddhist Centre,” Accessed here: http://deathcafe.com/profile/2/

[5] As a Puritan writer explained it: “Death to a holy man is nothing but the changing of his grace into glory, his faith into vision, his hope into fruition, and his love into perfect comprehension.” Thomas Brooks, “The Crown & Glory of Christianity,” in The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, Vol. 4. (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1867), 179.

[6] Horatius Bonar, “Sermon XXIII: Life & Fruitfulness Through Death,” in Family Sermons. (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1863), 180. In another sermon, he said: “The first Adam died; so also died the second Adam, who is the Lord from heaven. But there is a difference. The first Adam died, and, therefore, we die. The second Adam died, and therefore, we live; for the last Adam was made a quickening spirit; and this is the pledge of final victory over death and the tomb. Thus, the grave is the cradle of life; night is the womb of day; and sunset has become sunrise to our shaded and sorrowful earth. Yet, this is not yet realized. We are still under the reign of death, and this is the hour and the power of darkness. The day of the destruction of death, and the unlocking of sepulchers is not yet. It will come in due time. Meanwhile we have to look on death; for our dwelling is in a world of death,—a land of graves. If, then, we would get beyond death’s circle and shadow, we must look above. Death is here, but life is yonder! Corruption is here, incorruption is yonder. The fading is here, the blooming is yonder. We must take the wings of the morning and fly away to the region of the unsorrowing and the undying; where ‘that which is sown in weakness shall be raised in power, and death be swallowed up in victory.’” H. Bonar, “Sermon XLIII: The Mortal & The Immortal,” in Family Sermons, 418-419.

[7] Anon., Believer’s Hymnbook, #72.

[8] Anne Ross Cousin, “O Christ What Burdens Bowed Thy Head,”; electronic ed. accessed on 7/19/17 here: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/o/c/ocwbubth.htm

Death & Life, A Historic Post From Horatius Bonar

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

“Ours is a dying world; and immortality has no place upon this earth. That which is deathless is beyond these hills. Mortality is here; immortality is yonder! Mortality is below; immortality is above. “Neither can they die any more,” is the prediction of something future, not the announcement of anything either present or past. At every moment one of the sons of Adam passes from this life; and each swing of the pendulum is the death-warrant of some child of time. ‘Death,’ ‘death,’ is the sound of its dismal vibration. ‘Death,’ ‘death,’ it says, unceasingly, as it oscillates to and fro. The gate of death stands ever open, as if it had neither locks nor bars. The river of death flows sullenly past our dwellings; and continually we hear the splash and the cry of one, and another, and another, as they are flung into the rushing torrent, and carried down to the sea of eternity.

Earth is full of death-beds. The groan of pain is heard everywhere,—in cottage or castle, in prince’s palace or peasant’s hut. The tear of parting is seen falling everywhere; rich and poor, good and evil, are called to weep over the departure of beloved kindred, husband or wife, or child, or friend. Who can bind the strong man that he shall not lay his hand upon us or our beloved ones? Who can say to sickness, Thou shalt not touch my frame; or to pain, Thou shalt not come nigh; or to death, Thou shalt not enter here? Who can light up the dimmed eye, or recolour the faded cheek, or reinvigorate the icy hand, or bid the sealed lip open, or the stiffened tongue speak once more the words of warm affection? Who can enter the death-chamber, and speak the ‘Talitha Cumi’ of resurrection? Who can look into the coffin, and say, Young man, arise? Who can go into the tomb, and say, Lazarus, come forth?

The voice of death is heard everywhere. Not from the bier alone, nor the funeral procession, nor the dark vault, nor the heaving churchyard. Death springs up all around. Each season speaks of death. The dropping spring-blossom; the scorched leaf of summer; the ripe sheaf of autumn; the bare black winter mould,—all tell of death. The wild storm, with its thick clouds and hurrying shadows; the sharp lightning, bent on smiting; the dark torrent, ravaging field and vale; the cold seawave; the ebbing tide; the crumbling rock; the up-torn tree,—all speak of dissolution and corruption. Earth numbers its grave-yards by hundreds of thousands; and the sea covers the dust of uncounted millions, who, coffined and uncoffined, have gone down into its unknown darkness.

Death reigns over earth and sea; city and village are his. Into every house this last enemy has entered, in spite of man’s desperate efforts to keep him out. There is no family without some empty seat or crib; no fireside without a blank; no circle out of which some brightness has not departed. There is no garden without some faded rose; no forest without some sere leaf; no tree without some shattered bough; no harp without some broken string.

In Adam all die. He is the head of death, and we its mortal members. There is no exemption from this necessity; there is no discharge in this war. The old man dies; but the young also; the grey and the golden head are laid in the same cold clay. The sinner dies; so also does the saint; the common earth from which they sprang receives them both. The fool dies; so also does the wise. The poor man dies; so also does the rich. ‘All flesh is grass.’

The first Adam died; so also died the second Adam, who is the Lord from heaven. But there is a difference. The first Adam died, and, therefore, we die. The second Adam died, and therefore, we live; for the last Adam was made a quickening spirit; and this is the pledge of final victory over death and the tomb. Thus, the grave is the cradle of life; night is the womb of day; and sunset has become sunrise to our shaded and sorrowful earth. Yet, this is not yet realised. We are still under the reign of death, and this is the hour and the power of darkness. The day of the destruction of death, and the unlocking of sepulchres is not yet. It will come in due time. Meanwhile we have to look on death; for our dwelling is in a world of death,—a land of graves.

If, then, we would get beyond death’s circle and shadow, we must look above. Death is here, but life is yonder! Corruption is here, incorruption is yonder. The fading is here, the blooming is yonder. We must take the wings of the morning and fly away to the region of the unsorrowing and the undying; where ‘that which is sown in weakness shall be raised in power, and death be swallowed up in victory.’”

Horatius Bonar, Family Sermons. (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1863), 416–419.

Book Review: Facing Death by Franklin D. Taylor, Sr.

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Facing Death by Franklin D. Taylor, Sr.

Port Colborne, ON: Everyday Publications International, 2013.

Available here: http://everydaypublications.org/EPI/Order/Books.php?id=617

Reviewed by: Keith R. Keyser

Death is ubiquitous in our fallen world. The Scriptures affirm that “…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27.) Given its universality, it is not surprising that death is a necessary subject to consider.

Franklin D. Taylor, Sr.’s recently published book, Facing Death concisely examines death and the practical issues surrounding it from a Christian perspective. Dr. Taylor is described as an educator who has lengthy familiarity in counseling people, including the terminally ill and their bereaved loved ones. His practical experience lends helpful weight to his teaching. Having said that, his points are grounded in the Scriptures. In dealing with such a momentous subject, brother Taylor does not fall back on personal opinion or mere human wisdom; rather, he goes straight to God’s Word for answers to questions about death and the afterlife.

Facing Death helpfully deals with the questions that both Christian believers and unbelievers pose. To this latter group, brother Taylor clearly explains the Gospel, using many relevant Bible verses. To the former group, he likewise uses the Scriptures to offer comfort to those who know the peace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to give eternal life to those who receive Him as Lord and Savior (Rom. 10:9.)

The book is fairly short – about 37 pages of main text, plus a few sidebars and five appendices – and is written in a nontechnical, easy to read style. The author offers balanced and insightful explanations rooted in the biblical text. Theological questions such as “Where did death come from?”,  and “How did Jesus defeat death?” are discussed, as well as more down to earth topics like planning a funeral, making a will, and counseling the terminally ill. The appendices deal with the common issues of cremation, euthanasia, suicide, and out of body experiences.

The fifth and concluding appendix is a template for planning one’s funeral, providing opportunity for documenting the relevant information for family members or friends who are involved in carrying out the deceased’s wishes, as well as space to record financial information that is germane to paying for the funeral expenses. There is also a journaling section, offering the dying person to record their thoughts as they near the end of their course on this earth. This is a thoughtful and helpful touch that adds practical benefit to the value of the book. In short, I thoroughly recommend this book for all adult believers – and even strangers to the Lord Jesus who desire to know the Bible’s teaching on death and what comes afterwards.

New Year, Same Story

Monday, December 31st, 2012

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From my father I inherited a fascination with cemeteries and obituaries – a morbid, but interesting hobby that leads one to the biographies and of “the dead, small and great” (Rev. 20:12.) Accordingly, I was delighted when some friends took my family on a tour of historic Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia on the final day of 2012. We visited the graves of presidents (for the U.S., James Monroe and John Tyler; and for the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis), soldiers (George Pickett, J.E.B. Stuart, along with twenty other Confederate generals plus thousands of other servicemen from every major conflict of American history), governors (six from Virginia), Senators and Congressmen (too numerous to name), a U.S. Supreme Court Justice (Lewis Powell, Jr.), novelists (like Ellen Glasgow and James Branch Cabell) and scholars (historian Douglas Southall Freeman being one of my favorites.) The recurring thought that struck me throughout the day was that despite all of their varied accomplishments, these men and women all experienced the same inevitable reality: they all died. The first genealogy in the Bible is notable for this repeated refrain “and he died” about all the names recorded in the list – with one notable exception – Enoch, a man noted for his fellowship with the Living God (Gen. 5:21-24.) His experience of supernatural translation from earth to heaven prefigures a greater resurrection to come, which gives hope to all those who know and trust in the Creator God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Life Lessons Learned At Gravesides

On the threshold of a new year it is helpful to remember what Christ said when He came to a cemetery. His magnificent promise was articulated to a beloved friend, who was grieving over her recently deceased brother; He told Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25-26.) This is the best news for 2013 – or any other year!

The Son of God came to make graveyards obsolete. He has transformed their status from long-term storage of mortal remains to temporary holding places of bodies that will one day be reconstituted. For those who received Christ as their Lord and Savior by faith, they experienced spiritual regeneration – a complete transformation of the inner man, also known as being “born again” (see Jn. 3 & Titus 3.) Therefore, their bodies will be raised and transformed into glorious bodies like the resurrected and glorified Christ (1 Thes. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:20-58; 1 Jn. 3:1-3.) But for those who did not believe on the Lord Jesus for salvation, they will be raised for judgment – a horrifying scenario which could have been avoided  (Jn. 5:22-29.) The Lord does not delight in people perishing spiritually; rather “He desires all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9.)

Jesus I Am Resting In The Joy Of Who Thou Art

Complete and sole trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, who died as a sacrifice for sin, rose again in vindication, and ascended to glory in triumph is what distinguishes a saved person who possesses eternal life with the Lord in heaven from a lost person who is eternally separated from their Maker and banished in the outer darkness of the Lake of Fire (Mk. 9:42-48; Rev. 20:11-15.) One must confess that he is a bankrupt sinner with no ability to earn deliverance or merit a rescue. They must turn to God for the gift of salvation offered through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, forsaking their old life as one that is justly condemned (Jn. 5:24; Eph. 2:8-10; 1 Thes. 1:9-10.) They are receiving Christ as if they died on the cross with Him, were subsequently interred with Him, and then rose in power with Him (see Rom. 6-8.)

When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder

When the dead small and great stand before the Lord, who is the righteous judge of the universe, the only credential that will matter is that their name is inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life. One’s name is only found there because they rely on Christ their spotless, sacrificial Lamb “who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29.) Human works, reputation, and worldly attainment will avail for nothing in that day. Only life as found in the Lord Jesus will matter. So I close by asking the question that He posed to Martha on the way to raise her brother, Lazarus, from the dead: “Do you believe this?” If you do, cry out to Christ for salvation. If you already have, then praise God that He who is the resurrection and the life holds your life in His hands. He will keep you safe for eternity.

 

Condolences That Come True

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

At funerals people tend to say all manner of things attempting to express sympathy, comfort, and love for the bereaved. The list of possible phrases ranges from the cliché to the genuinely heartfelt – and sometimes the theologically ridiculous, such as “I bet he is playing golf in heaven right now” and other similar absurdities (as if the ineffable realm of glory where God resides is a country club!) Sometimes it is better to follow the approach of Job’s friends who remained silent for seven days – if only they had stayed that way, they might have preserved their mourning friend from undue stress. Perhaps no more significant words were ever spoken at a funeral, however, than when the Lord Jesus Christ told a grieving widow to stop weeping.

A Seemingly Hopeless Scene

The Lord Jesus met the funeral procession coming out of the city of Nain in Galilee. In keeping with Jewish custom, it was probably led by the deceased young man’s widowed mother. Luke 7:12 succinctly sets the painful scene: “…Behold[1], a dead man was being carried out, the only son[2] of his mother; and she was a widow.” Ryle depicts the pathos of the situation in these words: “All funerals are mournful things, but it is difficult to imagine a funeral more mournful than the one here described. It was the funeral of a young man, and that young man the only son of his mother, and that mother a widow. There is not an item in the whole story, which is not full of misery.”[3] Another historian adds: “The fact that this youth was ‘the only son of his mother and she a widow’ would convey to Jewish notions a deeper sorrow than it even does to ours, for they regarded childlessness as a special calamity, and the loss of offspring as a direct punishment for sin (Jer. 6:26; Zech. 12:10; Amos 8:10).”[4] In addition to the emotional stress, this pitiable woman was economically vulnerable, given that her hope of financial support from her two male relatives was gone. There were few opportunities open to her as a means of making a living. She likely stared the wolf of destitution in the face.[5]

Busting Up A Funeral[6]

No one told the Lord of the needs of the widow. Her plight was evident to His all-searching eyes. As a Bible teacher of a former generation expressed it: “He was not indifferent to that widow’s bereavement. Power He could indeed put forth, the power of resurrection. Ere, however, doing that, He evidenced His tender pity. ‘Weep not,’ were the first words that He uttered.”[7] Dennett adds:

The Lord saw her, estimated as no other could the depth of her need, and thus, moved by His own heart, He went to her relief. We do not sufficiently understand this. All can comprehend that the Lord should listen to the cries of His people, but how many of us live in the power of the blessed remembrance of the fact, that our own griefs and sorrows find an answering response in His heart? ‘In all their affliction He was afflicted.’ (Isa.43: 9.) ‘We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are — without sin’ (sin apart) (Heb. 4:15.) If a parent bends over his suffering child with yearning pity, ‘like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him’ (Psalm 103: 13.) Some who read these lines may be lying on beds of pain and affliction; others, bereaved, may be weeping over their dead; and others again may be mourning over those who are dead in sins. Surely, then, it will be a comfort to all such to remember, that He who, when He saw the widow of Nain following the bier of her only son, had compassion on her, has the same heart for their griefs; that He stands by them with infinite tenderness, waiting both to succour and to console.[8]

   Under the circumstances, the Lord Jesus’ words must have seemed absurd to the point of brutality. Indeed, if anyone else had the temerity to say to the afflicted widow “Stop weeping” (v. 13, NASB mg.) one would reckon them to be foolish at best or sadistic at worst. Happily, Christ is neither cruel nor cunning. He sympathizes with human grief, instead of augmenting it. Of course, He could say this, because He was about to remove the source of this sorrowing woman’s tears. Only Christ can banish weeping in the face of death, for He is the one who vanquishes sin and its effects. While establishing His messianic identity, the miracle in Nain was also a harbinger of a better resurrection to come (1 Cor. 15:20-23.) What is more, it gives one insight into God’s heart. As one writer notes:

In view of such miracles, possibly we dwell too exclusively upon their purpose as authenticating the mission of Jesus, or as demonstrating his divine message. These purposes are real, but we must never forget that such works were also manifestations of the nature of the ministry of Jesus and revelations of the very heart of God. Such recitals dry the tears of mourners and bind up broken hearts and inspire the despondent with eternal hope. Surely Jesus is the Lord of life and he will yet wipe away all tears from the eyes of those that trust him.[9]

Who Can Cheer The Heart Like Jesus?

Christ is the comforter par excellence. Ironside alludes to this with a poignant queston: “Who can dry tears like Jesus? Some day He will wipe away all tears from the eyes of His redeemed (Rev. 21:4), for He is God as well as Man. When He bade the widow dry her tears, He did not merely seek to soothe, but He was about to work a miracle that would fill her heart with unexpected joy.”[10] In the same vein, another writer comments: “The Lord’s words expressed His compassion, but they proved to be far from merely hollow words of encouragement. He would shortly give her reason not to weep but to rejoice.”[11] The Lord told her to stop weeping, knowing that moments later He would restore the dead man to life by His powerful word. A contemporary commentator elucidates the key words in the aftermath of this sign: “Notice the verb: he gave him to her. In that wonderful moment, no conditions were laid down, no promises extracted. The awesome gift of new, unexpected life was apparently an unconditional gift, an action of the unqualified grace of God.”[12]

The Lord Jesus triumphed over death at the cross by dying for sin. By removing the cause of death, He disarmed this feared weapon (Heb. 2:14; 1 Cor. 15:55-57.) A classic hymn poetically puts forth the stunning contrast:

Lord of life to death once subject,

Blesser yet a curse once made.

Of Thy Father’s heart the object,

Yet in depths of anguish laid.[13]

Christ tasted death for everyone, so that those who receive Him by faith could live eternally. It is this certain and unwavering hope that consoles the saints as they travel through the valley of death’s shadow. He draws alongside sickbeds and gravesides and says: “Stop weeping.” There is substance and power behind these words; true comfort that only the Lord Jesus offers.


[1] The word “behold” is emphatic in the original language, as Nolland notes: “An emphatic καὶ ἰδού…” John Nolland, Luke 1:1–9:20. Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 35A. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002, p. 320. Therefore, Luke is drawing the reader’s attention to the pathetic scene of the dead only son and his widowed mother.

[2] F.W. Farrar points out the emotional nuances of the Greek phrase that underlies “the only son of his mother,” saying: “The dative is here expressive of more tender feeling than the ordinary genitive would have been. It is the dative of advantage, and expresses the preciousness of the son to the mother.” F. W. Farrar, The Gospel According to St Luke, Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893), p. 198.

[3] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke, Vol. 1, (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1879), p. 208.

[4] Farrar, pp. 147-148.

[5] Hendriksen’s remarks are apposite: “With the death of this only son the woman’s final source of support and protection is gone and the hope of perpetuating the family line has vanished. Is this death, after the earlier death of her husband, also a severe trial for her faith in a God who loves and cares? Though the text does not indicate this, we must at least consider this possibility. Her condition is indeed tragic.”

William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke, New Testament Commentary, Vol. 11. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 384.

[6] “Someone has said that He broke up every funeral He met.” J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary, electronic ed., Lk 7:16 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997).

[7] C.E. Stuart, From Advent To Advent (Luke), (Galaxie Software, 2004), p. 82.

[8] Edward Dennett, “The Three Raisings of the Dead.” Christian Friend, Vol. 7, 1880, p. 260. Electronic ed.: http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/dennett/3deadrai.html  Accessed on 7/10/12.

[9] Charles R. Erdman, The Gospel of Luke: An Exposition. Philadelphia: 1921, p. 75.

[10] H. A. Ironside, Addresses on the Gospel of Luke. (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1947), p. 218.

[11] Thomas Constable, Constable’s Notes: Luke. pdf., p. 85; accessible here: http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes.htm Accessed on 7/11/12.

[12] David W. Gooding, According To Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987, pp. 132-133.

[13] Richard Holden, “Lord of glory, we adore thee”; accessed here: http://www.stempublishing.com/hymns/data/Dv1881_3.htm#134 On 7/11/12.

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The Unparalleled Cross

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

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“And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:8

People sometimes read the account of Jesus’ crucifixion as if it is an ancient event that does not pertain to them. Yet the Scriptures make it plain that everyone – Jews and Gentiles – must reckon with the crucified Christ and what His death on the cross means for them personally. One may not remain neutral in Calvary’s shadow. The Lord Jesus’ death on the cross sets Christianity apart from all other belief systems, and reveals the truth about everyone: ancient or modern; rich or poor; educated or illiterate – as well as every other human demographic.

A Unique Event In The Annals Of Human History

No humanly devised philosophy or religion could invent the Lord Jesus’ unparalleled sacrifice on the cross. Numerous belief systems have martyrs like Socrates or Joseph Smith; others have noted prophets and teachers like Gautama Buddha or Muhammed. Yet only biblical Christianity has the propitiatory offering of Christ, taking place on a despised gibbet of shame. As the classic commentator J.C. Ryle notes:

The cross is the grand peculiarity of the Christian religion. Other religions have laws and moral precepts, forms and ceremonies, rewards and punishments. But other religions cannot tell us of a dying Saviour. They cannot show us the cross. This is the crown and glory of the Gospel. This is that special comfort which belongs to it alone. Miserable indeed is that religious teaching which calls itself Christian, and yet contains nothing of the cross. A man who teaches in this way, might as well profess to explain the solar system, and yet tell his hearers nothing about the sun.[i]

A modern writer agrees in these words:

 

The cross is the focal point of all of Christianity. Everything hangs on the cross—everything. In the cross the Christian church has something no other religion or philosophy has…None but Christianity has a salvation plan so strong, so poignant, or so absurd to human thinking. None but Christianity has a point in time where God, evil, and mankind collided so violently that it abolished the sin that separated man from God and changed man forever. Men and religions have long despised and stumbled over the cross. The Jews of Jesus’ day could not fathom their Messiah coming and dying. After all, messiahs don’t die. The Romans saw a dying god as weak and unworthy of their allegiance—gods aren’t slain by mortals. Islam flatly rejects the cross, saying it is inappropriate that God’s prophet would succumb to such an end.[ii]

The cross uniquely demonstrates God’s perfect righteousness. It shows that He hates sin, and yet justly extends mercy and forgiveness to repentant sinners while justifying them – declaring them righteous in His sight (Rom. 3:25-26.)

Who Knows What Lurks In The Hearts Of Men?

The cross exposes the human heart by stripping away the façade of human wisdom, culture, religion, and politics. The best and the brightest from Rome and Judea united to put the Son of God to death. An early Christian prayer describes it thus: “       For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27-28; boldface mine.) As Paul further explains it: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:7-8; boldface mine.) Human jurisprudence was found wanting due to human pride, envy, and the desire for personal advancement. The exalted ethical and legal system crafted by the Jews over centuries pronounced God the Son to be a blasphemer (Matt. 26:65.) Additionally, the vaunted Roman justice system executed a patently innocent man, whose perfect righteousness was clearly demonstrated by His many acts of kindness (John 18:38; Acts 10:38.)

Why did religious people like the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees reject their Messiah? The answer lies in Christ’s relationship to their carefully-cultivated religious image. As Stott points out:

Ostensibly Jerusalem rejected Christ on theological grounds, and outwardly the Pharisees condemned Jesus for blasphemy.  But beneath these intellectual and doctrinal objections was a hostile will.  Jesus had exposed their hypocrisy and unmasked their sins.  Their pride was wounded.  They felt humiliated.  They hated him for his holiness.  They were jealous of his influence on the common people.  These things were at the root of their repudiation of Christ.  But it was more respectable to find fault with his theology than to admit their moral embarrassment.  Their doubts were a cloak for their sins.  It has often been so.  I do not say it is always so, because of course many people have genuine theological problems.  But frequently a man’s deepest need is not intellectual but moral, and his supposed inability to believe is really an unwillingness to obey.[iii]

Why did a veteran Roman civil servant knowingly condemn an innocent man to death? The Bible says that what finally swayed Pilate to crucify the Lord Jesus was this jibe: “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar” (John 19:12.) So there it was: career and ambition versus truth and justice; advancement in this world or in the next; Caesar or Christ – all people must take a side on this issue. Either one lives for this world or they live for the one to come. If they love this evil age, they will be condemned with it. But if they love the age to come and lose their life here to gain it there, then the risen, eternal Christ will deliver them unto His kingdom and glory (Gal. 1:4-5; Matt. 16:24-27; Rom. 8:17-18.)

So the dividing lines are drawn. The cross shows man’s wisdom to be foolishness, his religion to be a sham, and his justice a travesty. Jew and Gentile, secular and religious – the crème de la crème of society condemned Jesus to death. Still today people line up for or against the slain Savior. Many invite a fabricated bloodless and cross-less Christianity, vainly pretending to please God by their religious ceremonies and good works. Others – most notably the Muslims – deny that Jesus died at all. Still others think He got what He deserved on the cross. In interpreting the events of the crucifixion thus, they but repeat the folly of their ancient unbelieving predecessors who brutally executed the Lord Jesus. Nevertheless, many willingly come to the cross and say: “Yes. Lord, Your cross reveals how bad I am: a Christ-rejecting, hell-deserving sinner. But Your shed blood also shows that You died for my sins according to the Scriptures and you have risen again to demonstrate Your triumph to give me eternal life as a free gift. Thank you for dying for me and rising again so that I might be raised to sit in the heavenlies with You” (Eph. 2:1-10; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 John 1:7; John 3:16.) Thanks be to God, that the cross uniquely demonstrates the Lord’s perfect righteousness and love. It reveals mankind to be sinful and evil, but also reveals God to be holy, merciful, and good; the two are accurately depicted in the historic events at Calvary.

Oh, how our inmost hearts do move
While gazing on that cross!
The death of the Incarnate Love!
What shame, what grief, what joy we prove,
That He should die for us!
Our hearts were broken by that cry,
“Eli, lama sabachthani?”

Worthy of death, O God, we were;
Thy judgment was our due;
In grace Thy spotless Lamb did bear
Himself our sins and guilt and shame;
Justice our surety slew,
With Him our surety we have died,
With Him we there were crucified.[iv]


[i] J.C. Ryle, “The Cross of Christ,” in Old Paths: Being Plain Statements of Some of the Weightier Matters of Christianity. London: Charles J. Thynne, 1898,  p. 256. [Italics original.]

[ii] Timothy L. Sanford, “Cross Purposes: Calvary Reveals The Passionate Heart of God.” in Discipleship Journal, Issue 110 (March/April 1999). NavPress.

[iii] John R.W. Stott, Fundamentalism and Evangelism. London: Crusade Booklets, 1956, p. 29.

[iv] James G. Deck, “Oh, solemn hour, that hour alone” in Spiritual Songs, hymn #215, found here: http://www.stempublishing.com/hymns/ss/215 Accessed on 5/18/11.

Death: The Obsolete Relic Of A Fallen World

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” 2 Timothy 1:8-10[i]

Recently the Japanese conceptual artist known as Arakawa died. What makes this stand out on the obituary page is that his wife Madeline Gins and he were determined not to die. Through extreme avant-garde architecture they planned and sometimes constructed houses that were supposed to enable the occupant to live forever. As one reviewer describes their style: “They build buildings with no doors inside. They place rooms far apart. They put windows near the ceiling or near the floor. Between rooms are sloping, bumpy moonscape-like floors designed to throw occupants off balance. These features, they argue, stimulate the body and mind, thus prolonging life. ‘You become like a baby,’ says Mr. Arakawa.”[ii] Another adds:

Their most recent work, a house on Long Island, had a steeply sloped floor that threatened to send visitors hurtling into its kitchen. Called Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa), it featured more than three dozen paint colors; level changes meant to induce the sensation of being in two places at once; windows that seemed too high or too low; oddly angled light switches and outlets; and an absence of doors that would have permitted occupants even a modicum of privacy. All of it was meant, the couple explained, to lead its users into a perpetually ‘tentative’ relationship with their surroundings, and thereby keep them young. ‘It has to do with the idea that you’re only as old as you think you are,’ Steven Holl, the Manhattan architect, said of the couple’s work, which he said was deeply rooted in Japanese philosophy.[iii]

Gins herself described the intended effect of this strange domicile: “Comfort is rife with anxiety. Elation comes when you erase that. In Bioscleave House, you are practicing not to die.”[iv] Obviously Arakawa’s death at the age of 73 is a setback to their ideas. His wife noted this fact in one of his obituaries: “Madeline Gins subsequently promised to continue her campaign to prove that ‘ageing can be outlawed’ but resignedly admitted that ‘this mortality thing is bad news’.”[v]

Death Seems To Be Alive And Well

The grim reality of death’s ongoing presence in the world frustrates human science, philosophy, and religion. With all of the innovation in the modern era, no one has been able to render death extinct. What man cannot do, however, the Lord Jesus has already accomplished. As the text at the beginning of this article says: “…who [i.e. Christ] has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10.) In this verse, “abolished” means “‘to make completely inoperative’ or ‘to put out of use.’”[vi] Another comments: “[katargeo means] ‘to reduce to inactivity’…In this and similar words not loss of being is implied, but loss of well being.”[vii] One might then counter, “But death seems to be active in the world!” In order to understand the Lord Jesus’ triumphant work, the term “death” – as it is used in God’s Word – must be fully understood.

Romans 6:23 famously avers that “…the wages of sin is death…” James 1:15 agrees, saying: “…sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” Its ubiquitous presence on earth stems from the fall of man, when he sinned against God, who is the source of life (Gen 3; Rom. 5:12; Jn. 1:3-4) Sin is choosing one’s own way over the Creator’s way. Its essence is self-deification: affirming that humans can be their own gods. The Bible affirms that all people are afflicted by sin and death, because all descend from Adam, and themselves have in turn sinned over and over again (Rom. 5.) But what is death exactly?

Know Thy Enemy

Death in the Bible refers to separation, and has implications for three main areas:

1. Physical Death – The most common way that contemporary people use the word; it is the separation of soul and spirit from the body. The Scriptures refer to it hundreds of times (e.g. Gen. 5:5.)

2. Spiritual Death – The current separation of human beings from their Maker. God forewarned man that sin would result in instant spiritual death (Gen. 2:17; compare 3:7-10.) Ephesians 2:1 states that we are “Dead in trespasses and sins.” Sin alienates people from the holy God who made them to have a relationship with Himself (Eph. 4:18; Col. 1:21.)

3. Relational Death – The Second Death (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8.) This is the future eternal separation of the lost, who are physically banished from God’s presence in the lake of fire. The spiritual death spoken of under point #2 is permanently confirmed for eternity.

Christ’s work addresses all three areas of death:

1. His death and resurrection shows that He is more powerful than physical death and the grave cannot withstand Him (Acts 2:24; Jn. 11:25.) He will one day demonstrate His defeat of death by raising “the dead in Christ” and having them live eternally thereafter (1 Thes. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:20-23.)

2. Ephesians 2:4-5 teaches that Christ makes alive those who receive Him by faith. By faith believers are brought into a living relationship with their Creator (Jn. 1:12-13; 17:3.)

3. The overcomer in Christ – that is, one who is born of God by believing that Jesus is the Son of God – is promised deliverance from experiencing the second death (1 Jn. 5:4-5; Rev. 2:11.)

Thus, one can see that He has rendered death ineffective – it is mortally wounded and is destined for extinction.[viii] As W.E. Vine explained it: “For the believer physical death is but the entrance upon a condition in which the spirit enjoys an activity far superior to that experienced here, a life entirely free from all effects of sin. This will be extended to his whole being, when the Lord comes to the air to receive the saints to Himself, death in all its forms having been robbed of its power by Him when He accomplished that for which He became incarnate.”[ix]

The new heavens and new earth will be free of this fearsome and cruel scourge. What is more, His gospel manifests life and immortality. Life is really about knowing God personally and enjoying Him. Therefore, eternal life can begin in this life, and cannot be interrupted even if the Christian dies physically (2 Cor. 5:1-8.) Life in Christ is death-proof, for it is stronger than death and has already debilitated it. Pointing out some of the other uses of “abolish” in the New Testament, John Stott remarks: “It is surely significant that this same verb katargeō is used in the New Testament with reference to the devil and to our fallen nature as well as to death (Heb. 2:14; Rom. 6:6). Neither the devil, nor our fallen nature, nor death has been annihilated. But by the power of Christ the tyranny of each has been broken, so that if we are in Christ we can be set free. Faith in Christ is the answer to man’s quest to avoid death, as well as his struggle to vanquish the Devil and indwelling sin.


[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture verses are cited from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. The boldfaced emphasis in the quotation is mine.

[ii] Amir Efrati,Couple’s Dreams of Immortality at Death’s Door, Thanks to Madoff.” Wall Street Journal, 3/24/09: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123785033607519075.html Accessed on 6/3/10.

[iii] Fred A. Bernstein, The New York Times, 5/20/10, Obituary for “Arakawa”: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/20/arts/design/20arakawa.html?pagewanted=print; accessed on 6/3/10.

[iv] London Telegraph, 5/23/10, Obituary for Arakawa: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/art-obituaries/7756801/Arakawa.html Accessed on 6/3/10.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Gerhard Delling, “Katargeo” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Logos), 453 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-).

[vii] W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, vol. 2, electronic ed. (Logos) , 3 (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1996).

[viii]John R. W. Stott, Guard the Gospel: The Message of 2 Timothy, (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1973, electronic ed. [Logos]), pp. 37-38. Emphasis mine.

[ix] W.E. Vine, comment on 2 Tim. 1:10, Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: 2 Timothy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997; electronic ed. [Logos]).

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God Humbles Death

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I must say that I am sick of death. During the past two weeks, a prominent Northern Irish Bible teacher whom I know of succumbed to cancer. Another brother I know personally departed this life suddenly last week, shocking his friends by his sudden exit from this world. This past Sunday a sister in the Lord lost her father to a recently diagnosed illness. Meanwhile, a dear brother in our home church is gravely ill with multiple maladies that could take his life at any moment. Serious diseases plague more than one personal friend, as well as a close family member. All of this leads me to strongly reiterate: I am sick of death. Thankfully in light of the work of Christ, death is a temporary phenomenon.
“Nothin’ Certain But Death”
Dr. Edwin Shneidman, a psychologist & authority on suicide once said: “Dying is the one thing — perhaps the only thing — in life that you don’t have to do…Stick around long enough and it will be done for you.”i Death is the terrible consequence of sin in this world. The gravity of the situation is famously described in the New Testament: “The wages of sin is death…” and “…sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (Rom. 6:23; Jms. 1:15.) Sin’s ugliness is seen in the havoc it produces in men’s lives – the perverted hearts, wrecked marriages, and ravaged bodies and minds which it leaves in its wake. Its heinousness is demonstrated on a thousand battlefields and its pervasiveness is seen on the sick beds of the rich and poor alike. Loathed and feared by humans of all walks of life, Death reveals the seriousness and harmfulness of sin.
It is well that it is so terrible, for sin is independence of the one true God, the Creator of heaven and earth. In its essence it is rebellion against the Almighty. Its true face is seen by the first temptation in human history: humans can be divine (Gen. 3:5.) When one turns away from Him, one leaves the source of light and life (Jn. 1:3-4.) What is more, if someone dies in their sin they are eternally cut off from these things – a tragic state called “the second death” (Rev. 20:6, 14.) This spiritual alienation afflicts all people who have not been born again by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and will endure for eternity unless they repent (Eph. 2:1; 2 Thes. 1:7-9; Jude 13.) In order to be transferred “from death to life” one must have his sins removed by the work of the Christ (Jn. 5:24.)
An Obituary For Death
The exhilarating truth of death’s demise is seen in the effects of Christ’s victorious death. The seventeenth century metaphysical poet, John Donne’s oft-quoted words sum this up well:
“DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so, For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow, Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.”
He finishes his meditation exulting: “…death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.”ii
In fact, death has already been mortally wounded. It is on borrowed time, and is a vanquished relic of the fallen earth’s past. By His death on the cross, the Lord Jesus paid for sin entirely, suffering the penalty and satisfying the righteous requirement of God. He tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9.) Three days later He rose from the dead, proving that His sacrifice was accepted, vindicating His claims, and demonstrating His victory over the grave, death, and hell (Acts 2:22-33; Rom. 1:4.) When Christ returns, His people who have died will rise to meet Him in the air. Those who are still physically alive at that time will also be caught to be with Him forever (1 Thes. 4:13-18.) The Christian’s triumph is best summarized in these taunting lyrics: “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55.)
HIS be the Victor’s name Who fought the fight alone; Triumphant saints no honour claim, His conquest was their own. By weakness and defeat, He won the meed and crown; Trod all our foes beneath His feet By being trodden down. He Satan’s power laid low; Made sin, He sin o’erthrew; Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so, And death by dying slew. Bless, bless the Conqueror slain, Slain in His victory; Who lived, who died, who lives again — For thee, His church, for thee!iii
i “Edwin Shneidman, Authority on Suicide, Dies at 91”on nytimes.com May 21, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/us/21shneidman.html?partner=rss&emc=rss Accessed on 3/16/10.
ii John Donne, “Divine Sonnet X: Death be not proud”; the differences in spelling are original with Donne. Accessed on 3/16/10 at http://www.bartleby.com/105/72.html .
iii S. Whitlock Gandy, “His Be The Victor’s Name,” Spiritual Songs, Hymn #24: http://www.stempublishing.com/hymns/ss/24 Accessed on 3/16/10. Emphasis mine.

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