I lost my Mom 3 ½ years ago. The combination of Mother’s Day and Memorial Day makes May a particularly tough month for me. Sadly, the last few months have been full of loss for several of the people I love. Some have lost spouses, others children, as well as parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, and cousins. A few have in quick succession lost combinations of special people from this list.
Grief is strong. It can make us feel like we have been imprisoned within its walls with no window for light and no hope of escape. Regardless of whether you believe in God or not, we all live our lives knowing we and our loved ones will one day die. For those of us who believe in Christ and His promises, we pray our daily prayers in anticipation of death, and we sing songs of joy about how wonderful the moment will be when our faith becomes sight.
Even so, when death comes to our loved ones it rocks our world right down to its very foundations. All those songs of joy and all those prayers offered in hope suddenly mingle with the sting of pain, sorrow, anger, fear, regret, denial, or despair. We’re lonely. Death seems so final.
How do we go on? How do we ever feel happiness again?
Christ speaks of death as “sleep”, something you will wake up from, not an everlasting state. Remember before He raised a young Roman ruler’s daughter from the dead, He told all those who had gathered to grieve the family’s loss, “The girl is not dead but asleep.” (Matthew 9:24)? Again, about Lazarus, he told His apostles, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up” (Jn 11:11).
Christ was about to perform a miracle that not only proved He was sent from the Father (vs 42), but also demonstrated in a physical reality the spiritual lesson that we live beyond death. Four days after Lazarus died, He went to the town where Lazarus and his sisters lived. He then revealed a truth to Lazarus’ sister, Martha, that continues to this day to fill the heart of every Christian with hope. John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” As both a demonstration and a confirmation that He had the power over resurrection and life, “Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’. The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.” Of course, Jesus went on to manifest His ultimate power over death and the ability to give spiritual life when He rose from the dead of His own accord (Matthew 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-14; Luke 24:1-32; John 20:1-18).
Every book of the New Testament has this truth as its cornerstone. Paul in particular expounded more deeply upon this idea of death as “sleep”. In I Corinthians 15:20-22 he wrote, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Again, in I Thessalonians 4:13-18, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Christ as saying that God’s children “are children of the resurrection” and “In the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.” (Luke 20:35-38). We also know the apostles Peter, John, and James saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus during His transfiguration, as again recorded in the three gospels indicated above. Moses and Elijah were not dead, but recognizably alive!
In Romans 14:7-9 Paul beautifully summarizes why we as Christians do not need to be afraid of death, feel sorry for those who have died in the Lord, or as quoted from I Thessalonians above, “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope”. He wrote, “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” Alive or dead, it just doesn’t matter. Despite the fact we humans can’t see beyond death God does. He sees His children both here on earth and those in heaven as the same thing – alive!
I keep these wonderful promises tucked away in my heart. I hope they bring as much comfort and joy through sorrow to you as they do to me.
To the praise of His glory!