Full text of Bible teacher David Pawson’s teaching on death titled ‘Life After Death: Death (Part 1)’
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
David Pawson – Bible Teacher
I’m going to read from the Old Testament.
Ecclesiastes 11:7-10 (TLB): ‘It is a wonderful thing to be alive! If a person lives to be very old, let him rejoice in every day of his life, but let him also remember that eternity is far longer and that everything down here is futile by comparison.
Young man, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it! Do all you want to; take in everything, but realize that you must account to God for everything you do. So banish grief and pain, but remember that youth, with a whole life before it, can make serious mistakes.’
Ecclesiastes 12: 1-7 (TLB): ‘Don’t let the excitement of being young cause you to forget about your Creator. Honor Him in your youth before the evil years come — when you’ll no longer enjoy living. It will be too late then to try to remember Him when the sun and light and moon and stars are dim to your old eyes, and there is no silver lining left among your clouds. For there will come a time when your limbs will tremble with age, and your strong legs will become weak, and your teeth will be too few to do their work, and there will be blindness too.
Then let your lips be tightly closed while eating when your teeth are gone! And you will waken at dawn with the first note of the birds; but you yourself will be deaf and tuneless, with quavering voice. You will be afraid of heights and of falling — a white-haired withered old man, dragging himself along: without sexual desire, standing at death’s door, and nearing his everlasting home as the mourners go along the streets.
Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young — before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken and the pitcher is broken at the fountain and the wheel is broken at the cistern; and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.’
That’s a very practical passage from the Old Testament which deals with real life and is not afraid to face the facts.
Now on these next six Sunday mornings, I’m going to be speaking about Life After Death, and Christians are the only people who can really face up to this subject. Others must face it with questions, doubts, fears. Christians can face it in the light of Easter and we’re going to look at various subjects and aspects of life after death.
But before we can do so we must look very squarely and very directly at the fact of death itself. It is the biggest fact of life. It’s the one certain thing that we can predict about the future. And so it’s right that we should face death and look it in the face and then see it as a conquered enemy, and this is what we hope to do this morning.
Now to introduce the subject to you, I’ve asked a member of our congregation who is in the medical profession to come and talk with me for ten minutes or so about this subject. I suppose that the medical profession sees more of death than most others perhaps with ministers coming second, or maybe I should put undertakers first and medical profession second and maybe ministers third.
But nevertheless we share this that both of us have had quite a lot to do with death in one way or another and I’m going to ask some questions about this to try and help us to face up to the fact to see it in a Christian light and to understand something of its meaning before I speak to you.
Now as a member of the medical profession you’ve seen quite a lot of death. In fact, you’ve seen more of death than perhaps many members of the congregation. I’d like to ask you if your reaction to death has changed over the years from the very first experience to… now do you become hard or callous, do you treat it as clinical or has it become just something in the daily life or how do you feel? Come and stand a bit further forward.
Medical Practitioner: I think it’s very true to say that over the years one certainly does become hardened to death, it’s rather like one’s first operation where most people seem to faint on the floor. You obviously have to become hardened to it in the sense that you can steal yourself and can cope with it mentally, but nevertheless the shock of death, the suddenness of it sometimes, the unexpected nature of it is something that you can never completely reconcile and continually approach in one’s life it as an enemy. It comes perhaps to defeat what has been an otherwise successful operation or it comes to perhaps take away what has been otherwise a very good cure.
And so as one naturally does become somewhat hardened to suffering and to death it’s inevitable, and one’s constant fear as a Christian doctor particularly is that one might be kept sufficiently sensitive so that one can appreciate this fact and not become hard and callous.
David Pawson: Well now, taking up this point that death is an enemy, the Bible says this too, but to you, your whole calling is a fight against death. You’re seeking to have the victory over again and again but you must know that ultimately you can’t have a complete victory, you can postpone this enemy but you can’t put it off forever.
Which brings me to the question of: is death always a bad thing in your experience? Sometimes we hear this phrase a merciful release. Someone who’s suffering, someone who’s in pain, someone who’s gone through a lot and one feels that death comes as a good thing then. Do you feel that sometimes death is a good thing in this sense?
Medical Practitioner: Accepting the fact that as you have already said everyone must die, and that sooner or later the human body does become so frail or so diseased, death then is obviously a release and one must accept it as such. Of course it introduces many other problems as to whether you should hasten it along when someone is obviously near the end. These problems of course are very difficult and have been subject to much recent controversy.
David Pawson: Where would you draw the line? Some say that if the patient requests death they should be given death. If the relatives request it, the poor doctor is caught in this dilemma. Where would you draw the line?
Medical Practitioner: Well it seems to me that the whole emphasis of one’s training and one’s upbringing and one’s Hippocratic oath is that one’s job is to preserve life and to frustrate death and that therefore one should not turn oneself into the role of an executioner. And this of course involves other recent legislation that’s gone through Parliament about which many, many doctors are most unhappy. It seems to me that there’s this dichotomy and one’s going to become almost schizophrenic if half the time one is seeking to save life, preserve life, cure people and on the other hand one is taking the power to terminate life.
And I think that one loses the confidence of one’s patients if they’re not sure whether you’re going to come along one day and stop treating them but kill them. And similarly within one’s own mind the conflict is very hard, and I think if people wish to have people to terminate life either in utero or at the end then they should train special people to do it and I think it’s quite impossible to.
David Pawson: Well now there was a doctor on the television this week who said that with someone who was completely helpless and hopeless that if, for example, pneumonia set in he would allow it to take its course rather than try and stop it as something that has come from the other side as it were rather than direct.
Medical Practitioner: This is very true and I think there is a lot of difference between deliberately terminating life and frustrating what one might call the course of nature. If pneumonia develops in someone who’s got severe inoperable disease or has had an operation which has obviously just not gone right and there’s no real hope for a happy life for them, then I think to use the modern resources that we have to just prolong life is wrong.
Similarly if someone is perhaps going through severe pain one will give an injection which will relieve the pain which at the same time one knows may well terminate life. It seems to be quite different to specifically at someone’s conscious request terminating their life.
David Pawson: I think we’d better just explain to the congregation what the Hippocratic oath is. It sounded a little like hypocritical and I don’t think many will realize that your fight against death is not based on a Christian principle but on something else. So would you tell us a bit about Hippocrates?
Medical Practitioner: You didn’t tell me on that one. It’s been a long time since I took the Hippocratic oath and I must admit that I couldn’t recite it to you or give you all the details of it but basically it is that one’s job is to go into the homes of patients and to treat them and to seek to cure them and always to frustrate against any crooked practice or any sense in which one is seeking to terminate life and this is all very much part and parcel of the Hippocratic oath which is I suppose a humanitarian thing which the Christian faith is added to.
David Pawson: Dated when?
Medical Practitioner: About 500 BC.
David Pawson: So that before Christ this oath was prepared for the medical profession.
Now I’d like to ask you about one of the biggest questions that occurs to me and to relatives when somebody is, humanly speaking, incurable. Telling them is a very big issue and a delicate one. What do you feel about telling people that they’re dying?
Medical Practitioner: I think that generally it’s something that one ought to do. There are exceptions to this. Sometimes people do not want to know and they make it quite clear by their attitude and how they speak. Other times they are too ill to be told. Other times, quite honestly, they’re just not perhaps intelligent enough to be able to assimilate the facts that you’re going to give them.
But generally speaking I think that for people to be told that the disease from which they are now suffering is something that they are not likely to recover from, although one may not be able to put specific time to it, I think is a helpful thing. And one of the most tragic things I think is the double bluff which one so often sees played with relatives and patients where relatives think they are protecting the patient and the patient all along knows within his own heart the true facts of the case and he is deceiving the relatives.
David Pawson: I was going to say you and I have both had experience of people who said don’t tell them they don’t know and we’ve discovered very quickly that they did know and that there is an artificial atmosphere around. Who do you think should tell the person who is the best normally?
Medical Practitioner: I certainly working in hospital feel that very often we are not the right people. If it’s going to be anyone in the medical profession I think the practitioner who knows the patient and can perhaps choose the moment in their own home and in their own environment; otherwise ideally I would think probably someone in the family, a relative. But I think this can be very hard and rather depends on the relative, very difficult.
David Pawson: And there is a crucial moment when they can tell and beyond that it’s too late. Most people die peacefully, is that true or not?
Medical Practitioner: Yes, I would say so. I think there may be much suffering before death sometimes but ultimately in my experience this would be true.
David Pawson: I’ve read in a book by a minister that he had never seen anyone die in any other way other than peacefully no matter what their life had been like. Which raises the question if everybody does die peacefully, what difference have you noticed between Christians dying and non-Christians dying? Have you noticed any?
Medical Practitioner: Yes, I think it’s important to make the point. I think some Christians have the idea that only Christians know how to die. In one sense that may be right but generally speaking, if we get the impression that all non-Christians shake and quiver and car this is quite wrong.
I think the Christian dies so often and this is not always, but often the Christian dies with a sort of quiet, tranquil hope. There’s a peace about it as he realises it’s rather like having an anaesthetic before an operation and something that he’s going to come through and wake up from.
Whereas so often the non-Christian dies with a kind of stoical fortitude, he’s hoping for the best, but if there isn’t anything there, well, it’s blackout and that’s it. I think this is the difference.
David Pawson: How has all this affected your own thinking? You are a Christian, you’ve seen death quite often. Have you thought about your own death? This is a personal question. How has your own attitude been affected by your experience as a Christian doctor?
Medical Practitioner: I think it has. Have I thought about my own death? I think probably no more than probably you or most people in the congregation. It’s like illness, you see so much that you don’t believe that it can happen to you and often doctors are the very worst people. They present far later with their symptoms often the members of the public.
As a Christian has it helped me? Yes, I think it has. To be with someone perhaps with a very vital, alive personality with whom one is conversing and then just suddenly, perhaps through some complication that’s suddenly set in, they go and there’s just a body there. I find it just on the basis of human instinct quite apart from Christian faith impossible to believe that that personality has been snuffed out.
David Pawson: So that your scientific training as a doctor hasn’t in that sense ruled out your belief in life after death. The biologist who dissected a body and said he didn’t find a soul anywhere in it. What is your reaction to that?
Medical Practitioner: I think there are many abstract features to life which you’ll not find by dissection. But there’s no doubt you wouldn’t find the human personality. But on the other hand the human personality is a very real thing. So I think probably that one’s scientific knowledge in a sense is strengthened by one’s faith rather than the other way around.
David Pawson: Well thank you very much indeed for coming along and talking with us this morning.
I’m sure you know the story because it’s so famous now of when the first Christian missionaries came to Northumbria, which is my home territory up in the north of England. And the missionaries arrived at the court of king Edwin and he invited them to a banquet.
I want you to imagine the scene: it was a long low hall with a doorway at this end and a doorway at that end, a rush floor and then lamps around the walls. And the king entertained these missionaries and asked them many questions about their religion which was new to him.
And as he talked, a sparrow flew in one door through the lighted room and out of the other door and king Edwin turned to the missionaries and said, ‘My life is like that: I come out of the unknown, I pass through the lighted room of this world, I go out into the darkness. Can your religion tell me anything about that: where do I go?’
And they were able to tell him, and king Edwin became a Christian, and Northumbria became a Christian territory.
Well now the question that Job asked way back in the Old Testament is still the biggest question: ‘If a man die, shall he live again?’ (Job 14:14)
And what we are interested in is, is not whether I live on in other people’s memories or whether I live on in the work I’ve done, or in my children, or in the influence I’ve been, but whether I live on as a person: if a man die, shall he live again? And that’s the question that we’re going to look at during the next six weeks.
THE FACT OF DEATH
Now let us first of all look at the fact of death and having looked at it very squarely we’ll move on but it’s vital that we should face up to the fact of death.
The poets are unanimously sure of the fact, here are just two.
‘One thing is certain and the rest is lies; The flower that once has blown forever dies.’
Or another poem which I’ve quoted to you before.
‘Death lays its icy hand on kings: Sceptre and crown, must tumble down. And in the dust be equal made, with the poor crooked scythe and spade.’
There is one death every second, somewhere. And on the roads in the last 18 years there have been 100,000 deaths, which is a bit shattering. By the way I’d like to offer you something if you care to ask me for it as you leave the church. You’ve probably seen cars with St. Christopher badges on the dashboard.
Well, I don’t commend those to you but I do have some little bronze plaques here which go on your dashboard which have written on them: ‘Lord God, grant me Thy protection and keep me mindful of my responsibilities as I drive this car. In Jesus’ name, Amen.’
If you’d like one of those to put on your dash near the ignition key, ask me for one afterwards. But every time we go on the roads we face death. It comes suddenly, slowly, unexpectedly and expected. It comes to old and it comes to young.
There has never been unemployment or strikes in the undertaking profession. And I think there never will be to the end of history.
Now if a fact is as certain as this, how utterly foolish it is for someone never to prepare for it. Supposing you knew that you were going to Canada in six months time, going to live there permanently. You would be an utter fool if you never thought about it, if you never read about Canada, if you never prepared, if you never asked what you could take and what you would leave behind. If you never made some preparation for the journey, you would be an utter fool.
It would catch you unprepared. You wouldn’t be ready for it. And yet the simple fact is that millions of people knowing absolutely certainly that they’re going to die, don’t want to hear about it, don’t want to think about it, don’t ever try and get ready and never ask the question: what can I take and what must I leave behind?
I wonder if I read you just a few verses again from the Old Testament. Listen to this.
Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 (TLB): ‘The day one dies is better than the day he is born! It is better to spend your time at funerals than at festivals. For you are going to die, and it is a good thing to think about it while there is still time. Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence upon us. A wise man thinks much of death, while the fool thinks only of having a good time now.’
Now that divides the world into the wise people who think about death and the foolish people who put it out of their minds.
Now let somebody think that is Old Testament stuff. Let me remind you that the only man Jesus ever called a fool was the man who never thought about death and who didn’t make provision for it. A man who said ‘I’m going to build up my business, pull down my barns, and build greater.’ (Luke 12:18)
And God said to him, ‘Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.’ (Luke 12:18)
You’re going to have to leave it all behind. And you’ve never thought about this, you’ve never prepared for it.
A man lived not far from where we lived in Buckinghamshire and when he came to the end of the road — he was a man who had a strong faith and they told him. And he wrote to his immediate relatives and he invited them to come and stay and this was what he wrote in the letter: ‘Come and see how a Christian dies.’
That’s an amazing challenge. A man who had been prepared for this for years. A man who had been thinking about it. A man who was ready for it. A man who was journeying on and he was now about to say goodbye.
There is an extreme reluctance in our day to face up to this greatest fact of life. It shows in many ways but over the last twenty years mourning has been frowned upon. It is now considered not the done thing to mourn. You mustn’t let people know you’ve been bereaved, you mustn’t wear black, you mustn’t make the funeral procession go slowly, you must get it all over quickly.
And this has been a striking change over the last twenty years in British society. I recently talked with a sociologist, a man in his fifties, who has spent two years studying the British attitude to death. He’s interviewed thousands of bereaved people, he’s studied our social practice and he’s come to the conclusion that Britain today is on the run from death.
You mustn’t even use the word died about someone, you can use pass away but not died. You must not state the fact, you must dress it up in other language in such a way that people don’t realise. No more do we have novels being widely read with such deathbed scenes as that of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop, that kind of Victorian melodrama is out.
And while there is a preoccupation with violent death in the entertainment world and in novels, the stark fact of death is evaded and people are running away from it, even in church is this true.
About fifty years ago, you would hear preachers regularly mention death, now you rarely hear a sermon on death itself.
Two men were talking, one of whom was a Christian and the other was not, and the one who was not said, ‘Now you’ve faced death?’
And the Christian said ‘Yes!’
‘And you believe you’re going to survive death?’
‘Yes!’ said the Christian.
‘And you believe you’ll go to heaven when you die?’, said the non-believer.
And the Christian said ‘Yes, I do, but don’t let’s talk about anything so morbid.’
And revealed straight away that even as a Christian, as a churchgoer, they felt the talk of death and heaven was morbid. I ask you when our forefathers rejoiced that death was conquered and looked forward to heaven and talked about it constantly, the phobia, and it is a phobia, that has gripped society is creeping right into the church.
I’ll give you another illustration.
Take all the hymn books produced this century and you will notice, numerically, statistically, there are fewer and fewer hymns about heaven and life after death in every new hymn book. We’ve only got a handful in this book which was produced, what was it, seven years ago, and the number of hymns about heaven is going down and down and down. So that we’re on the run from this phase. Why?
WHY DO PEOPLE NOT LIKE THE SUBJECT? Why do we want to shut it out of our minds?
Well, there are a number of reasons. One is we’re getting too comfortable here. Life is too good here to think of leaving it. We’re getting so settled here that the thought of death says to us, ‘you’re going to leave all this and we have so much here to leave now’ that we’re more reluctant to leave it.
A church member was going round house to house visiting and came to someone’s door and said, ‘We’re coming round to invite you to come to our church and our vicar is going to preach a special series of sermons on heaven and we’d like you to come and listen to him.’
And one household are looking round a lovely house with fitted carpets and everything money could buy and swimming pool in the garden and a couple of cars in the garage said, ‘Tell your vicar this is heaven.’
And this would be a very honest reaction. Life is too good for us to think of leaving it. We have far more than our grandparents had. For them they didn’t have to leave so much. We have to leave so much more that we don’t want to be reminded that we’re not here forever.
A very wealthy man put most of his money into pictures, and he had his large home hung with these pictures each with a light over and all arrayed for visitors to see. And one night his butler saw him going round and saw him with tears in his eyes, and he was looking at his pictures and he was muttering to himself this, ‘You make it so hard to die.’ You make it so hard to die.
This is why Jesus said two thousand years ago, invest in heaven. Don’t lay up treasure for yourselves on earth because where you treasure is your heart will be locked up too. Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven if your heart’s locked up there. Then it won’t be a break when it comes.
A second reason is of course that people no longer believe in any world other than the world that you can touch and see and hear and taste and smell. In other words, there is a widespread disbelief in any other world besides this one. A material tangible world that we know.
A journalist recently said, ‘Forty years ago, the British people stopped believing in hell. Twenty years ago, the British people stopped believing in heaven.’ I think he’s probably largely right.
Though according to an independent television Gallup poll, only 65% of the British people no longer believe in anything, any other world, any life after death. The other 35% apparently still do.
A third reason is that WE DON’T LIKE ANY DISTURBING IDEAS.
And death is only one of many ideas that does disturbance. A scene comes on the television showing the children of Biafra starving. So there’s a little switch you can switch over to the other channel and put this disturbing thought out of your mind. And we live in a day in which there is such a desire to enjoy the present that anything at all that disturbs the present can be switched off. And it may well be that that is why we are on the run from death.
A fourth reason and a deep reason that is always applied is that NONE OF US LIKES TO END A RELATIONSHIP. And when we have formed a relationship we don’t like to end it. And it’s very interesting to notice that people adjust themselves to ending a relationship by death in exactly the same ways in which people adjust themselves to ending a holiday with a crowd they know they will never be with again.
It’s very interesting. One way is to take a whole lot of photographs or exchange souvenirs. There are all kinds of ways of ending relationships. But after you’ve spent a fortnight with a party, we’ll say on an overseas holiday, you’ve gone to the continent, you’ve joined a party, the first day on the bus you didn’t know each other. Halfway through the holiday you were on Christian named terms, by the end of the holiday you were exchanging addresses and I don’t know what else.
But the relationships are going to end and it’s interesting that you will end the relationships of a holiday in the same way as you will tend to end them when death comes. You will either say, well I’ll just wash my hands of this whole party and just not think about them again, I’ll just recall the memories and not even try to keep the relationship, or you’ll try and treasure some photograph of the party, some memento, but the same relationships will be kept up in the same way.
In other words, none of us likes to end relationships, but deep down I would say that the reason — the reason why we are on the run from death is that most of us fear it.
Now let’s look at this fear a little more closely.
Cliff Richard was recently asked, ‘Do you fear death?’ And he said an amazing thing, and a very penetrating thing which I think many of us would echo as Christians, and he is a Christian. He said, ‘I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of dying.’
Now that was a very honest reply. He was not afraid of death, the fear of death had been conquered for him by Christ, but he was afraid of dying.
Now why should people be afraid of dying who are not afraid of death?
Well, one reason is the weakness that can precede it and lead up to it, whether physical or mental. I confess to you quite freely that after I have visited some elderly people who in extreme physical and often mental weakness have to be cared for like little children, I find myself echoing the Reverend John Wesley’s prayer when he said, ‘Lord, let me not live to be useless.’
I think most of us would say that. Not all of us will have that privilege. It’s wonderful to die in the harness, but I think many of us are afraid of dying because of the weakness that comes before it, and linked with that because of the suffering that can come before it, and I think most of us have that apprehension of prolonged suffering. But that’s not in a sense dying, that’s what goes before it.
Why should we be apprehensive of dying itself? And many people are. One is of course that it’s a new experience which we’ve never had before, and I think most of us are nervous of something we’ve never been through before. That’s when nerves come. Those of you who’ve been baptized, I’m sure you were nervous before you were baptized. Now knowing what is involved, I’m sure you wouldn’t be nervous again.
And in a sense you probably wish you could be baptized again without your nervousness because it wasn’t necessary. But you were nervous because it was a new experience. You had not been baptized before.
And in the same way, death or dying is a new experience which we haven’t had before. It’s also a lonely experience at a human level in that it’s an experience that we must pass through alone by ourselves. Or this is where we need Jesus Christ. Because your relatives can’t go with you, but Jesus can and does.
And I have had so much evidence of this in my visitation, I’ve noticed that a Christian dying does not die in a lonely experience. Because Jesus Christ can go right through it with them.
It is a final experience, and this is perhaps where the fear begins to come in. And we must face it very squarely. It is a reminder that your life is over. That the time of decision is gone. That the time of sowing is now behind you.
And I don’t think there is anyone in this church could face the end of life and say, ‘I can face it without any regrets. Without any twinges of conscience that if I could live my life over again, I would have done this differently and made that decision in another way.’
Every one of us, when we come to the end of the life, will have regrets about how we’ve lived it. The time of sowing is over. The time of decision is over. Our life has been lived and we can’t have it again. And we fear the challenge of being faced with a completed life.
But the other side of it is this. Just supposing that now the time of sowing is over, there is a time of reaping. Just supposing that now I’ve played the fool, there is a bill to be paid. Just supposing that the Bible is right, and that deep down the instinct of the human heart, that in the next world justice does apply, if it doesn’t in this, then I think we begin to touch the deepest spring of the fear of death.
In other words, the real question is this. If there is nothing after death, then people could face it without fear. They might dislike it, they might postpone it as long as possible, but when it came they could face it.
And I have noticed this, that people who do not believe there is anything after death are not afraid of death. It is the possibility of something lying beyond that brings the fear.
John Wesley was in a cart going to Hyde Park Corner, Tyburn as it was then, with a man about to be hung. And the man who was going to be hung was trembling, and John Wesley said, ‘Are you afraid?’
He said, ‘Yes, I’m afraid.’
‘What are you afraid of? Are you afraid to die?’
‘No, I’m not afraid to die. I’ve faced death a hundred times.’ He’d been a highwayman.
John Wesley said, ‘What are you afraid of then?’
And he replied, ‘I’m afraid of what lies beyond.’
The fear of death was the fear of facing up to his life. The fear that he was going to be called to account. And therefore we’re going to face the future, life after death, on these Sunday mornings.
There are almost as many ideas about life after death as there are people. And some of those ideas are terribly mistaken. And I want now to give you six that I’ve come across.
Terribly Mistaken IDEA 1: ‘DEATH IS NOT REAL’
First of all, there is the idea around that death is not real. That it doesn’t actually happen. That it’s only something in the mind. That’s an unusual idea. Not many people hold it. I’m going to be talking about Christian Science on Thursday evening. Because this is one of the ideas that is related to their basic philosophy and outlook that death is unreal; it doesn’t really happen. It’s only in your mind.
Secondly, the idea I’ve mentioned already that The Way You Live On Is In Your Children, In Your Memory, In The Work You’ve Done. There is a Chinese proverb that there are only four things worth doing in life: Planting a tree, writing a book, building a house or having a son. The reason being that these are the only four things that live on after you’ve gone and will cause people to remember you. That is a false idea that that is how you live on.
Terribly Mistaken IDEA 3: ‘DEATH IS THE END; NOTHING MORE’
Thirdly, there is the idea I’ve already mentioned that when death comes that is the end; nothing more for you. That’s curtains. That’s lights. That’s oblivion. Nothing at all. Just nothing. Now that is utterly mistaken according to the Bible.
By the way, those who believe this tend to go on to say that heaven and hell are what you make of your life here. And that in fact people live in heaven or hell here That again is an utterly false idea. Nobody in this world is living in heaven or hell. You can’t make your own heaven or hell.
Fourthly, there is the idea of reincarnation. That after I’ve died I will come back as someone else.
Now I lived in Dix for a time with two dear ladies who were quite convinced that I was what they called an old soul. I didn’t understand this term technically for some time. But I later came to realize what they meant that I had a previous existence. The only difficulty with this idea was that I had no recollection of it whatsoever. And therefore it was no use to me.
But this idea of reincarnation is a very widespread idea. More in the east than the west but people in the west are beginning to believe it now. Even Christian ministers are toying with the idea in some cases.
Now that idea, you know, be kind to your four-footed friends, a duck may be somebody’s mother, is an idea that you’ll find nowhere in the Bible. That by the way is the extreme of reincarnation that if you’ve misbehaved you’ll come back as an animal and not as a human being.
A fifth idea is that when you die you’re finished with your body forever and your soul goes floating on into some lovely existence. And that’s the total truth about the future. That is not true either. Your body is not finished with, as we’ll see.
Then there is the idea which we call universalism which believes that everybody when they die goes to a better place. Somebody walked around a cemetery once and read all the gravestones and then commented to one of the men working in the cemetery, ‘Where do you bury all the sinners in this place?’ Because he saw nothing but everybody’s good, everybody’s gone to the right place, everybody’s happy and so on.
Well that’s not a biblical idea. Sometimes when I’ve seen the phrase ‘rest in peace’, unknown something of the name or the person whose name is above those words, I have wondered if that phrase isn’t a very long way from the truth.
How are we to know? Some people say you can’t know. There’s no way of knowing, your guess is as good as mine and we’re all in the dark, so if you like to believe this that’s fine, I like to believe that, leave me alone.
Well science can’t tell us because science can only deal with this world. Sentiment can’t tell us but it’s the most dangerous guide in the matter of life after death. Sentiment begins its creed by saying I like to feel that… and then adds whatever is enjoyed in feeling. I like to feel that he’s doing this or she’s doing that.
No, the real source of our knowledge must not be science or sentiment, it must be Scripture. If we believe that this book is not just a book written by human beings but a book of God giving the mind of God, then the one person in the universe who knows what happens when I die is God.
Let me in summary, in the last few moments this morning, give you certain statements which I’m going to enlarge on during subsequent Sunday mornings that give you in summary form what the Bible says about death.
Here they are, first, DEATH IS REAL. The Bible takes the idea of death utterly seriously. It is not afraid to use the word died and the word death frequently. And if you go through and underline these words in your Bible you’ll be astonished. Death is real, it is faced squarely. And the cross is the heart of our faith and therefore the Christian faith is built upon a faith that has looked death in its most violent form in the face. Death in its most horrible aspect of a young man of 33 murdered, and we have looked at death squarely at the heart of our faith and come through it. So that the first thing about the biblical attitude to death is this, death is real.
Secondly, according to my Bible, DEATH IS AN ENEMY. It is an alien, it is a hostile intrusion into the world. It is therefore to be fought in the name of God. It is therefore something that belongs not to God’s order but to Satan’s order. It is something that need never have happened to men and women. It is something that is tied up with evil.
So those who say death is a good thing are saying the opposite of the Bible. The Bible always says death is real and it is a bad thing, it is an evil thing, it is an enemy, it is a robber and it is something we must fight.
Thirdly, the Bible states that DEATH IS NEVER THE END OF A SINGLE PERSON. Never the end. It may be the separation of the body and the spirit but it is neither the end of the spirit nor of the body. It is never the end.
To take only one saying of Jesus to prove this, Jesus said, ‘All that are in the grave shall come forth.’ (John 5:28) All. No qualification at all. Death is never the end for a single person.
Fourthly, the Bible states that beyond death there lies not one destiny but two, and only two. And there is unequivocal teaching in the Bible about this. We are not all going to the same place, we are going to one of two places.
Fifthly, this life is decisive for which of those two destinies is ours. That what we do here before death is absolutely decisive for what we shall be doing after death.
Sixthly, and therefore, DEATH IS ALWAYS FOLLOWED, not immediately, but IS ALWAYS FOLLOWED BY JUDGMENT. And by that I mean the day of reckoning, the day of accounting.
The New Testament states it as simply as this: It is appointed to a man once to die — that’s all, once — and after that the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)
Seventhly, following from that, the sting of death is sin. (1 Corinthians 15:56) Now what do we mean by that? The thing that makes death so horrible is the fact that we have not lived as we should before we died. That is the real thing that makes it difficult to face. That is the real problem that confronts us when we confront the fact that after death we shall be in a condition that has been decided before death. It is sin, it is wrongdoing that makes it so difficult.
Behind all our other fears of a lonely experience, a new experience, pain, weakness, suffering. Behind all those fears is deep down in the human heart the fear that after death I pay for what I did before death.
And last this morning, death in the Bible is a CONQUERED ENEMY. Why? Because sin has been conquered. When Christ died, sin was conquered and the sting taken out of death. And when Christ rose again, death itself was conquered.
And it is for this reason that Jesus did use a euphemism for death. He used to use the phrase, so and so has fallen asleep. And this is a lovely phrase, passed away is not a Christian phrase to use, because in the Bible passed away means utterly finished. The world passeth away, prophecy passes away, meaning it is utterly finished. So don’t say passed away, that means utterly finished.
Say fallen asleep, because if you say fallen asleep you mean that person is in a condition they can be aroused and woken up. And so when Jairus’ daughter was reported dead, you remember that Jesus said, she is not dead, she is asleep. Meaning, I’m going to wake her up, and He did.
When Lazarus died, Jesus told His disciples, Lazarus is sleeping. And they thought, well that’s alright, he’s just in healthy sleep after his fever.
But Jesus said, no I didn’t mean that, to you Lazarus is dead. To Me he’s asleep, I’m going to wake him up.
Catherine Marshall, the wife of Peter Marshall, the United States Senate Chaplain. In that lovely book, A Man Called Peter, the story of her husband describes how he was taken away desperately from the home one morning, quite young. And how she said goodbye to him, and she felt in her heart she wouldn’t see him again and she didn’t.
And his last words to her were these: ‘I’ll see you in the morning, I’ll see you in the morning.’
Christians speak of those who have fallen asleep in Christ Jesus. Sin has been conquered, death has been conquered and therefore we can say they’re only asleep. They haven’t passed away, they’re asleep and they will be woken up.
I’ll come on to more of that next Sunday morning when we talk together about the condition of those who have died and who await with us the resurrection morning. What happens between death and resurrection, what does the Bible tell us? But let us rejoice this morning that of all people in the universe, Christians can look death squarely in the face, without fear, and know that it’s an enemy, but a conquered enemy.
Remember the words of Winston Churchill about the late King George VI, who was so certainly a Christian. Winston Churchill said about the late King: “During the last few months the King has walked with death, as if it were a companion, an acquaintance whom he recognized and did not fear. During the last few months the King has been sustained, not only by his natural buoyancy spirit, but by the sincerity of his Christian faith.”
May God grant us all the same.
For Further Reading:
The Death and Resurrection of Christ: Billy Graham (Transcript)
The New Creation (Part 1): Derek Prince Sermon (Transcript)
What The Bible Teaches Us About Our Body? God’s Plan For Your Body: Derek Prince Sermon (Transcript)