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Death and Dying

Preparation for Death

By Precept, Example and Encouragement

Lesson audio

Preparing for Death-General

It is apparently unusual for a Bible teacher to concern himself with the subject of death. Funerals are indeed a common occurrence in the church, but surprisingly in our society no one wants to talk about death. Perhaps this is because we do are dying in nursing homes and hospitals, under sanitary conditions, which do not oblige us to pay attention. But the subject does deserve our attention, and we should give it our best today.

Teach Us to Number Our Days

One of the oldest Psalms in the Bible is Psalm 90, written by Moses.

Psalms 90:10-12 NASB  As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away.  (11)  Who understands the power of Your anger And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?  (12)  So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

Perhaps you would think that a man as close to God as Moses was would not have any worries on this account. But may I submit that it is just because he is close to God that he finds it necessary to give us such counsel. He had ample reason to. He lived to 120, but because of his sins he did not get the chance to enter the Promised Land. Some of us go through life thinking that God will give us an infinite amount of time to complete what we dream in our heart. It is simply not so.

Indeed, as the book of James tells us, we need to take account of the fact that the Lord could cut us completely off from the living, or completely foil our plans. It is wise, therefore, to submit those plans publicly to the will of God. Here's how James tells us:

James 4:13-16 NASB  Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit."  (14)  Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.  (15)  Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."  (16)  But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

Mankind has grown in power since the time of the apostle James. We can now do many things that were impossible then. But one thing we cannot do: we cannot tell you what the will of God is as it concerns your pet project. So if we look at death reasonably, we have to take account of the fact that God may take us home at any time. We also should take account of the fact that his favor and his blessing still count for something in this world.

The "gentle Jesus" phenomenon has infected most of us. We just can't imagine that Jesus would interfere, not approve of, or prohibit our plans. We sometimes even expect that will get a polite, conniving wink from him. Reality is quite the opposite. We are told not to fear God last of all nor least of all. In fact, Jesus himself tells us this:

Matthew 10:28 NASB  "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

That's a little different from the usual advice you get in church. So I submit to you the first thing to do in preparation for death is to consider the role that God plays in the date and time of your death. May he teaches a number your days; may you submit your plans to God's will – and remember who's in charge in this universe.

Make Appropriate Preparations

It is well said that you cannot die without lawyers. This may be unfortunate, but in modern civilization it is most likely true. Here, from the experience of one who has had to clean up after someone's death is some well thought advice:

·         Make a will. Do not leave the disposition of your property to the state. Who do you think is going to divide your property better: you, or a bunch of government bureaucrats?

·         Leave specific instructions. If your niece is to inherit the necklace you got from your great-grandmother, put it in writing. You will save your executor a great deal of trouble by doing this, and your family a good deal of argument. You might also want to tell them where the valuables are located — especially if you bury them in the backyard.

·         Most important of all, forgive. Make it a point to forgive any and all who have offended you, for your forgiveness depends upon it. When you're dead, it's too late. So do it now.

·         Seek forgiveness. As much as it is possible within you, seek the forgiveness of those to whom you have given offense. You should do this as a normal matter of course, as a Christian. But if you haven't made this a habit, now would be a good time to start.

Live in the Power of the Resurrection

Does it make a difference to you to know that you will live again? It should. Your death is not the end. This fact should influence your every major decision. The truth is that most people are afraid of death, because they think it's the end. Human beings are programmed to stay alive as long as possible. It's this longing for eternal life that is satisfied only in the coming of Christ. Your decisions are actually quite different if you live in the power of the resurrection. If you are not doing this, look around. There are people all around you in your church who are doing just this. Their attitude towards death, and therefore their attitude towards life, is different from yours. They have uncovered the secret. So just how does one live in the power of the resurrection?

John 11:23-27 NASB  Jesus *said to her, "Your brother will rise again."  (24)  Martha *said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."  (25)  Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,  (26)  and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"  (27)  She *said to Him, "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world."

It's that simple. You have to trust Christ; you have to have them all through your life. But of course, some of us will ask, "Just how does this work?" Let's listen to Paul explain it:


Romans 6:4-11 NASB  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  (5)  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,  (6)  knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;  (7)  for he who has died is freed from sin.  (8)  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,  (9)  knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.  (10)  For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  (11)  Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

There is the point. It's the way you live, dead to sin and alive to Christ. If your life still consists of chasing after the things of this world, you are not living in the power of the resurrection. But when you set your mind on things above, the things of this world grow dim.

In Causa Mortis

We may now look at some specific instances of death, as given in the Scripture. Perhaps we can learn something.

Suffering of Job

If there is a world record holder on wanting to die and not doing it, Job is the man.

·         He earnestly desired death — but not suicide.[1]

·         He knew that life is fleeting, and that he could die any minute.[2]

·         Job also knew that the ultimate solution to death was to come with his Redeemer:

Job 19:25-27 NASB  "As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.  (26)  "Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God;  (27)  Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me!

It is the earliest known statement of two principles of death. First that the dead shall be raised in bodily form; second that the Redeemer will do this at the end of all days.

I hope you see the point. If anybody had a reason to complain, it's Job. But at a time when he had every reason to believe he was dying a horrible death, after living a painful existence, his hope is in God. He shows this to one and all around him. At the very least, then, you have the privilege when you die of setting an example for those around you. It is probably going to happen such that you'll only get one attempt at this. So make it a good one.

King David's Last Will

Let's review the instructions that David gave to Solomon on his deathbed.

1 Kings 2:1-10 NASB  As David's time to die drew near, he charged Solomon his son, saying,  (2)  "I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man.  (3)  "Keep the charge of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn,  (4)  so that the LORD may carry out His promise which He spoke concerning me, saying, 'If your sons are careful of their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.'  (5)  "Now you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, what he did to the two commanders of the armies of Israel, to Abner the son of Ner, and to Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed; he also shed the blood of war in peace. And he put the blood of war on his belt about his waist, and on his sandals on his feet.  (6)  "So act according to your wisdom, and do not let his gray hair go down to Sheol in peace.  (7)  "But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table; for they assisted me when I fled from Absalom your brother.  (8)  "Behold, there is with you Shimei the son of Gera the Benjamite, of Bahurim; now it was he who cursed me with a violent curse on the day I went to Mahanaim. But when he came down to me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the LORD, saying, 'I will not put you to death with the sword.'  (9)  "Now therefore, do not let him go unpunished, for you are a wise man; and you will know what you ought to do to him, and you will bring his gray hair down to Sheol with blood."  (10)  Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.

So what does David tell him? David prepares for death as a child of God should.

·         First, he admonishes him to keep the law. David has started the franchise, and would like to have the family carry it on.

·         He has some old debts to clear up. These folks are no doubt a danger to the regime, and Solomon is new at this. But David is really attempting to get justice at this point.

·         As there are old debts of justice there are old debts of gratitude. So David instructs Solomon to show kindness to those who have shown some kindness.

This is the first great lesson about dying: if you know it's going to happen soon, you have some time to arrange for old debts to be paid and some last-minute advice to the next generation.

The Martyrdom of Stephen

We will not cover the entire story of Stephen at this point; it is quite lengthy in the book of Acts. We shall look only at his death:

Acts 7:51-60 NASB  "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.  (52)  "Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become;  (53)  you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it."  (54)  Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.  (55)  But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;  (56)  and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."  (57)  But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.  (58)  When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.  (59)  They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!"  (60)  Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Having said this, he fell asleep.

Stephen, too, tries to finish business.

·         He calls those who are listening to him to repentance. Is it really that important? It's not a matter of life and death; it's more important than that.

·         He appeals for their forgiveness — that is to say, that God will forgive them for murdering Stephen.

·         He readily accepts death, knowing that to live is Christ to die is gain.

It is not likely that any of us will meet this kind of death. But just in case you do, you have an example of how to do it. Notice, again, that Stephen dies forgiving those who are executing them, bringing glory to God, knowing that he's going to be with Christ.

Comfort Those Left Behind

Of course, most of our interaction with death is not at our own, but the deaths of others. You can be the center of one funeral after going to hundreds.

Comfort from Christ

You know instinctively that comfort comes from those who understand what you're going through. I've used this before, but permit me a quote from a devotional I wrote which explains this point most clearly:

Have you ever been down to the point where the government had to get someone else to carry your load?  A welfare case?  Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Him.  He knows how you feel.

Have you ever been down to the point where those around you can think of nothing more to say than, "Buddy, I'll buy you a drink?"  They offered Jesus drugged wine.  He knows how you feel.

Have you ever been to the point where the world takes away even your clothes?  Have you had to watch total strangers pick through what used to be your clothes?  Bankruptcy and the last garage sale, perhaps?  They gambled for His clothes.  He knows how you feel.
Have you ever been in trouble with the law?  To the point where the criminals around you gave you a hard time about it?  They crucified him between two thieves, and even they insulted Him.  He knows how you feel.
Have you ever been the victim of the insults of the mob?  Just those looking on, laughing at you and calling you names?  "Come down from the cross," they called to Him.  He knows how you feel.
Have you ever had the "righteous" people insult you, calling you names and letting the world know just how rotten they think you are?  Even the religious leaders insulted Him on the cross.  He knows how you feel.
He knows how you feel, for it all happened to Him.  Even Though He had lived the sinless life, deserving none of this, that's how they treated Him.  So when you feel the world coming down on top of you, whether you deserve it or not, remember:  He knows how you feel.
Take your troubles to Him.  Go to Him in prayer and tell Him how it is within the depths of your soul.  There is nothing you can say that He does not understand, for He is human just like us.  There is nothing He cannot comprehend, for He is God.  There is nothing He cannot forgive, for He went to the cross for you, that you might be forgiven.  There is no hurt too deep for the Christ, by whose wounds you are healed.  Love, in its purest form, awaits you.  He knows how you feel.

If I might add something to this, he knows what it is to die. His comfort is available to you in the present; you need not wait. Indeed, his comfort is also for the future:

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NASB  (13)  But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.  (14)  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.  (15)  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  (16)  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  (17)  Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.  (18)  Therefore comfort one another with these words.

Does this seem unusual to you? It makes all the difference in the world to a Christian. To stand at your loved one's coffin and know that you are powerless to do anything about death, shakes the human soul. But the Christian need not fear this, for the Christian knows that the Lord will return and with him the dead in Christ.

Comfort for Others in Affliction

Not only is Christ our comfort, he is our example. He is the great comforter to us, and we in imitation of him should comfort others.

This explains a great deal of the affliction given to Christians in this life. Some of us look at affliction in any form — including the death of loved ones — as being unfair or and unjust punishment. But if you think of it as training, then perhaps it makes more sense. My daughter had brain surgery at the age of five months. The experience was such that we were able to counsel and comfort more than two dozen other couples over the years whose child had the same problem. Your afflictions are probably not as rare as this. But common or rare, you can use the experience to comfort others.

The Day Will Come

In our current attempt to dumb down the gospel of Jesus Christ so that everyone can understand it, and nothing in it will be objectionable, we have quietly dropped any statement concerning the seven last things. But there are three which are promised in Scripture and are of most importance to the Christian:

·         The day will come when we rise from the dead. You read that correctly; just to be specific we will rise in bodily form.

·         Zombies need not apply; we shall know each other and meet again. We shall recognize each other.

·         This is also the time of the great judgment. The reason you need to behave like a Christian on this earth is foremost that you will be judged at his return. That judgment is for reward as well as punishment. It behooves us therefore to take thought for the morrow and how we shall live.

[1] Job 6:8-11

[2] Job 14:1-2

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