The old Christian’s wife of many years had died and the other believers in the church were not slow to express their sympathy. One of them said to him, ‘I am sorry you have lost your wife’.
He replied, ‘I have not lost her; I know exactly where she is and one day I will join her’. That is a good comfort to have in the experience of death but what grounds are there for it?
I have often said, teasingly, to my wife, ‘If you die before I do, I will never speak to you again. I don’t want to be left on my own’.
We have been married for over 50 years and I cannot imagine life without her. I know that may seem selfish, but sooner or later a couple who have lived happily together for many, many years are going to experience a parting through death. How are we to cope when that happens?
There will be tears, deep grief and a sad feeling of loneliness, but alongside that there will be, ‘I know exactly where she is and one day I will join her’. This is not sentimental thinking, but the hope of the gospel.
If Jesus has conquered death and removed its sting, then surely for the Christian that must mean, among other things, that tears of despair are replaced with hope and comfort.
The believer’s death has several certainties which produce this comfort. It is amazing how today’s views of death are a combination of the pagan, superstitious and sentimental. Hence, they are full of wishful thinking and unfounded hopes, and devoid of certainty.
By contrast, the biblical view is full of certainty. As far as the Bible is concerned, life is full of uncertainties. It has been said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Everything about death is certain.
Let me stress here that the assurance of heaven is only true for the Christian. If you are not a Christian, there is another set of certainties you would be wise to consider. But for now our subject is the certainties of death for the believer.
Why will we all die? The Bible gives the answer: ‘The wages of sin is death’; ‘it is appointed unto man once to die and after death the judgement’ (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:27).
The word ‘appointed’ is interesting. We are all familiar with the concept of an appointment with such as the doctor or dentist. Sometimes circumstances make it necessary to cancel an appointment, but we cannot cancel the appointment to die. God made that one and, when he calls, we must go.
So what happens when a Christian dies? This certainty kicks into operation: ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43). This is a promise Jesus made to a man on the point of death. And it is a promise every believer regards as precious.
The process of dying can be difficult for the child of God, but not death itself. That is ‘to be with the Lord’. Vavasor Powell, the Welsh puritan, said, ‘The fear of death is engrafted in the common nature of all men, but faith works it out of Christians’.
All this means that, for the believer, death is not some terrifying unknown. We know more about what will happen to us when we die than we do about what will happen to us next year.
Matthew Henry said, ‘It will be like putting our clothes off to be mended and pressed, ready for the great coronation day’. That’s a certainty. ‘I have not lost her. I know exactly where she is, and one day I will join her’.
It is only God’s grace that can give a man such confidence in the face of death. ‘There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1).
But here is another certainty. God has said that no one that sins in any way shall enter into heaven, so how can anyone get there? Sin keeps us out. So our sin must be dealt with.
That’s what the cross of Christ is about. Our sin, guilt and punishment are taken by Jesus. He dies in our place as our substitute. When we become Christians, God credits to us the righteousness of Jesus. We become acceptable to God, because of the Saviour.
That is salvation. It is what the Bible calls justification and is the exact opposite of condemnation. The Christian is qualified for heaven the moment he or she is justified. So, at death, he does not go floating around in some mythical purgatory, but is welcomed home to heaven.
We shall see him and be like Jesus. What an amazing statement this is about seeing him. After days of suffering in a hospital bed, now face to face with Christ, whatever the previous circumstances of life. That is not a tragic disaster or some terrible experience; it is glory.
Heaven is the eternal dwelling place of all those who have been born again. It is a place where there is no sin, no pain, no suffering, because there the rule of God’s righteousness is complete and unchallenged.
There we shall be free from the corruption of human nature. There we shall see Jesus and be like him, not equal to him but like him. In that place sin will not dominate us.
Everlasting life is everlasting happiness, without the slightest shadow or blemish to it. And, for a being like man who was made in the image of God, made by God and for God, such happiness must consist in knowing God without any hindrance from sin.