“The Truth About Death”
John 11:25-26, “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”
This morning, there are many things that people fear, and death is one of the top contenders. Over the years, I have heard that people fear public speaking more than death – as a general rule. As one that has to speak publicly quite a bit as a minister, I find it remarkable that people would generally rather die than have to do what I do. Regardless, death is greatly feared. There are few subjects that have been philosophized about as much as death. Men of learning and some measure of knowledge have wondered and tried to figure out what happens at death, after death, and all the connection points between this fragile thing we call life and the great unknown beyond it. Job of old (probably the oldest book of the Bible) even asked the question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14a) At my secular employment, I get asked questions surrounding it on a regular basis. Yet, it seems to my observation that more energy has been put into trying to figure out what God has already plainly declared. After all, Job answered his own question when he said, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” (Job 14:14b)
The scene surrounding our study verses is focused on Jesus’ interaction with a family of Bethany that had lost a family member due to death. Mary and Martha recently lost their brother Lazarus, and when Jesus arrives with His disciples, He converses with both sisters before heading to the tomb to raise Lazarus back to life. Our study verses are in the midst of His conversation with Martha. In these thoughts we see what might seem at first blush to be a contradiction of thought. However, when placing these verses next to other passages of the Bible, they harmonize quite well with what the Bible plainly declares about life, death, and everything that follows. Notice the seeming clash of thought: 1. If someone believeth in Him, they will live though they have died, 2. If someone believeth in Him, they will never die. In side by side notation, they appear at odds with each other. But, as we have tried to stress many times over the years, problematic situations in Scripture comes from our problematic minds not the text itself. Our minds are frail and faulty, whereas the word is pristine and sublime.
To answer the critic’s charges while also probing one of the most discussed and philosophized concepts in history, we will see the great power of God’s deliverance while also strengthening our grip on fervent and assured service in the here and now. Man is composed of 3 parts: body, soul, and spirit, and two of these parts are unseen while the body is the portion that is visible to the naked eye. This writing, nor any other writing of man, can delineate what exactly the division of the soul and spirit is. Only Jesus can do such a thing (Hebrews 4:12), but Scripture affirms that man is composed of these 3 parts. (I Thessalonians 5:23) So, when Jesus makes a statement about never dying and also says that death shall be followed by the resurrection, we can clearly see the answer to the critic’s problem with the portion of man’s composition under consideration.
Scripture teaches that the internal, unseen parts of man do not die. The spirit goes back to God that gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7b), and the soul departs at the moment of death. (Genesis 35:18) The body, on the other hand, does lay down in death and go back to corruption. (Ecclesiastes 12:7a) So, from these places – among others – Jesus’ statement about never dying refers to the unseen parts of man, while the resurrection happens for the body that we see. One of the problems that man has in his postulating and philosophizing about death and things beyond it is the fact that he is thinking only in terms of things that we can see. To the natural sight, death is a reality with finality to it. We cannot see beyond that separation by natural ability, and to truly appreciate and cling to the things beyond this life, the sight of faith’s eye is required.
One of the things that I did not realize growing up is how different my perspective on death and the things surrounding it was from most of my peers. Most of my peers were unfamiliar with funerals, and they did not think about death much due to their youth. As a minister’s son, I went to many funerals and saw all the associated things with it such as grief, mourning, and comfort. Only after I was grown and began to understand how different my perspective was did I come to appreciate how treasured the situation of joyful hope and strong trust and belief in these things really is. Jesus strongly makes the point that there is a high premium on belief in these situations. Now, to be clear, belief is not what makes these things so. Belief never changes reality. Belief is simply an admission of what is reality. If I believe the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, my belief does not make it so. My belief is simply an admission of what is reality based on the evidence at hand. The reason death, things surrounding it, and the situation beyond it is so hard to grasp is because man does not see tangible evidence at hand to rely upon.
Friends, one of the things I prize about my growing up time is that I was surrounded at those funerals and times of natural sorrow by people that knew the truth about death and freely talked about it during those seasons. Churchgoers react to death and funerals very differently from those in the world. Even Martha in her interaction with Christ was able to cling to the idea of the resurrection while mourning the loss of her brother Lazarus. Paul encourages us in I Thessalonians 4 not to sorrow as others “which have no hope.” There are people in this world that literally have no hope or expectation of anything beyond this life. Such a mindset makes us of all men most miserable. (I Corinthians 15:19) These surroundings for me in my formative years staved off many of the fears and doubts I may have enjoined about death had I not had such grounded people around me all the time. It is my intent with my young children now that they have a similar situation. When they are full grown and facing the world themselves, my desire is that they have a good grasp about death without living in fear of it.
To the believer, there is an assuredness when the loss of death occurs that this is not the end. Job of old knew it was not the end, and I rejoice today in knowing that all of my friends and loved ones that we have buried over the years will be raised back to life one day. As I approach death in the future, I can do so with the joy and expectation that this body that is about to lay down with a final gasp will one day be raised in power and fashioned like unto His glorious body. (Philippians 3:21) This belief and trust allows us to have joy in the midst of sorrow and hope in the midst of suffering. Jesus’ words should still ring and strike chords today that there is something beyond this vale that is glorious and majestic.
Taking it a step further, the believer today can rejoice in knowing that though the dead body of a loved one is being laid beneath the sod of this earth, the conscious aspect of them in soul and spirit is at that moment basking in the glorious presence of the Almighty. (II Corinthians 5:6-8) As soon as the eyes of the body close in death, the soul and spirit arrive in glory to rejoice and shout at the Saviour’s feet until the moment of reunion with their glorified body. When I think of those that have gone before me through that portal, I sometimes get a little envious. They are free of all the shackles that weigh us down daily. Oftentimes when I meet people at work in the morning, I will say, “How are you doing?” getting the response, “It’s another good day, because I’m above ground and this side of dirt.” While I understand the natural sentiment, the better day for our situation comes when the body is ready to go to the other side of the dirt. When that situation comes, we will see Him whom our soul loves and rejoice in glory surrounded by majesty.
From time to time, I ask a question in preaching, “What would you give for what you are blessed know about Jesus and all that He has done? How much is it worth?” Belief and trust in the Master is priceless, and the subject of death is a prime example of it. Though we mourn the loss of fellowship when others pass from this life, the knowledge that we have gives relief that nothing else can. I cannot imagine trying to live life without the steadfast belief in the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul. This should be so prized by us that we heed Paul’s concluding exhortation about this knowledge to be steadfast, unmovable, and always abounding the work of the Lord. (I Corinthians 15:58) Jesus would go on from these statements to raise Lazarus back to life showing His power over death. One day, He is going to raise all of the sleeping dust of men’s bodies and actually kill death itself by doing so. Death will have no more dominion. But, Lazarus still had 4 good days in soul and spirit basking in the beauty of heaven. Our trust and belief cannot rest in things we see but in the things that we cannot see. If we cling to these things, we can face our own death and of those we love with the resolution that we have not ended the story but just been parted for a while. The story continues. There is much more to come and left to see beyond this life, and if we believe these things, let us rejoice in life knowing these things. Jesus asked Martha if she believed. Do we? If we do, then let us show that in our love and devotion to Him who has so delivered us from the power of death.