A brush with death
Have you ever had a brush with death? By that I mean, have you ever had to look death in the face and consider all its implications?
I had such an experience in 1984. I was in hospital recovering from a gall bladder operation. A few days after the op, I was having a bath when I found that I could not get out of it because I was so weak.
I managed to pull the emergency cord and it took three nurses to get me back to bed. At that moment, the surgeon who had done the operation came into the room. He took one look at me and began pumping me with antibiotics. Apparently I had septicemia (blood poisoning). He did not leave me until everything had settled down.
The following day I asked him what happens in septicemia. He told me that the patient is in danger of going into a coma and dying. He said, ‘You nearly went into a coma’.
This shook me and I remembered some words I had read: ‘When it comes your turn to die, be sure that all you have to do is die’. In other words – be ready!
Making a will or planning the funeral is not being ready. If the Bible is right when it says that the wages of sin is death, then the only way to be ready is to get our sin dealt with. And the only one who can deal with it is Jesus.
Lying in the hospital bed, I thanked God that I was a Christian. Jesus was my Saviour and he had dealt with my sin on the cross. The joy and peace this gave me was indescribable. I thanked God for the doctor and nurses, but more than that I praised him for my Saviour.
Has death ever come close to you? The following year we were in Aberystwyth on holiday, when I had pains in the chest. A friend of mine, Brian, took me to the local hospital. They did some tests and said that I had had a heart attack and should stay in hospital.
Brian went off to find Lorna my wife to give her the news. They came to the hospital but had to wait to see me. While they sat in the waiting room, bells began to ring and staff began rushing around. Obviously an emergency was taking place.
Eventually news filtered through to them that someone who had come in that morning with a heart attack had just died. Lorna looked at Brian and he looked at her, but neither of them spoke. They both thought it was me who had died. It was not, but it could have been.
Death had come near again and given me another warning. I realised that one day there would be no warning. Death would call and I would have to go with it, but I would not go alone. In Psalm 23, David says, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me’. All Christians can say the same thing.
After a few days in hospital recovering, I read Eifion Evans’ book on Daniel Rowlands. I read there a hymn by William Williams, Pantycelyn, that I had never seen before. I don’t think that any words, other than Scripture, had ever made such an impression on me.
To see thy face, beloved,
makes my poor soul rejoice,
O’er all I’ve ever tasted,
or ever made my choice;
When they all disappear,
why should I grieve or pine
While to my gaze there opens the
sight that Christ is mine?
He’s greater than his blessings;
he’s greater than his grace,
Far greater than his actions,
whatever you may trace;
I’ll plead for faith, gifts, cleansing;
for these I’ll yearn quite sore,
But on him only, always,
I’ll look and lean far more.
What is even death itself compared to a Christ like this? Thank God that Christianity is not a man-made religion, but a living, personal experience of the Lord Jesus Christ. My heart had another ‘attack’ – this time of praise to God for such a Saviour!
What is death? Is it merely the cessation of life in this mortal body, after which there is no more? Most people believe it is, because it is convenient for them to do so, but the Bible teaches that death is not the end.
Death is a judgement. Man was created to live not die. So why does death exist? Why will we all die?
When we die, a doctor will write on our death certificate the cause of death. He may write heart failure, cancer, or whatever it is, but that will not be the cause of death. That is simply the means by which death has come.
The doctor is giving a physical reason only for death, but God in his Word declares that the reason ultimately is not physical but theological. Death is the wages of sin. We die because we are all sinners.
Loraine Boettner in his book Immortality tells us that the Bible speaks of death in three ways. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. This is the condition all men and women are in because of their sin.
Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. This is what is generally known as death and is also part of the penalty for sin. Then thirdly, eternal death is spiritual death made permanent.
Everyone accepts the reality of physical death, but spiritual and, therefore, eternal death are not so readily accepted. Why is this? One reason is that only physical death is tangible and visible. Once God is rejected, then all that matters is the ‘here and now’ – present happiness and prosperity. Death is then spoken of as just a cessation of life.
Yet most people, even atheists, agnostics and rejecters of God, are still terrified of death. But why is this if death is only the end of physical life? Why is it when people who never attend church die, their relatives still want the vicar to stand over the coffin and bury them ‘in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life’? Is it perhaps that really they know that spiritual and eternal death are not myths after all?
The fact is that death ushers sinners into the presence of the holy God. We all have to stand before the judgement seat of God and give an account for our sin. Heaven and hell await us, and without a Saviour we have no hope. Therefore sinners ought to fear death; they have every reason to fear it.
The reality of death means the reality of hell, and the only answer to that is what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. Salvation was planned in heaven, but had to be accomplished on earth.
Atonement for sin must be made to God by man’s representative. But there was no man qualified to do this, for all men are sinners. So the eternal God became man ‘so that by his death’ (Hebrews 2:14) he might accomplish salvation for his people. God became man so that as the man Jesus he could die for his people and purchase their salvation.
Paul puts it like this in Romans 5:17: ‘For if, by the trespass of the one man [Adam], death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ’.
If we were to ask ‘What is God like?’ the answer the Bible would give is that he is like Jesus Christ – holy, righteous, good, full of compassion and mercy. He loves sinners and stretches out his arms in love and grace to them, calling upon them to come to him.
In the face of that, as C. S. Lewis said, ‘You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool; you can spit at him and kill him for a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to’.
The answer to sin, death and hell is this great salvation God is prepared to give us through Jesus Christ: ‘for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 6:23).