by J. Christian Andrews
April 25, 2018
It has been said a man is fortunate to have two or three real friends in a life time. Steve Papillon was that to me. So I was humbled and honored to share the Gospel as his family and we said, "See you later."
The Psalmist wrote in the 139th Psalm:
"Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
I hate them with the utmost hatred;
They have become my enemies."
It was in this vein and with this company that I expressed my hate for death and for four short passages of Scripture that speak of death.
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."
"Precious in the sight of the LORD
Is the death of His godly ones."
1 Thessalonians 4:13
"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."
1 Corinthians 15:54-57:
"But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
First, I hate these texts because they remind me that sin brought death. We gathered at 11 am on Friday, April 20, because of death. And death comes in so many ways. Death comes because of war. Death comes because of crime and punishment for crime. Death comes by way of natural disaster and accident. Death come because of disease, and on that day we were so aware of how cancer took Steve's brother-in-law, Bill Lackey, Steve's son, Andrew "Drew", and Steve. And if none of these take us, then age certainly will. The human mortality rate is 100% (even statistically with the exceptions of Enoch and Elijah). And this 100% mortality rate is because of sin, and I hate these texts because they remind me that sin killed a perfect creation and brought death.
I also hate these texts because they remind me of my own sin. That sin brought death to our bodies is almost always separate from any one or any particular sin. Rarely does one die as a direct result of the commission of a particular sin. However, we are all destined to die an eternal death, a death that is actually eternal separation from God, because we are all sinners. We are taught this by Scripture, and specifically by God's Word given to us in the Letter to the Romans. We read in chapter 3 verse 23 that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Because we all sin, not a one of us is worthy to be in God's holy and eternal presence. This is what it means to fall short of His glory. We read in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. Because we sin we actually earn this eternal separation from God. And we read in chapter 5: "just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned..." (12). These texts all remind me of my own sin and my own separation from God, and I hate these texts.
Death is a key word in each of these texts, yet it is not the main idea in any of them. So, while I hate that these texts remind me of sin and death, I also love these texts. Each of them points me to life and God's solution for my sin.
Yes, we will all walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and this walking is painful and full of grief. But we have a promise, and isn't the promise that God Himself in the incarnate Jesus has walked this valley for us? Yes, God is with us as we walk the valley; but even more so He is with us because He walked the valley. He died our death. He experience hell for us. And He proved Himself more powerful than death so that we can indeed confess, "I will fear no evil,/For You are with me."
And, yes, death is real, and we gathered on that Friday morning because of the reality of death. But there is more promise because the death of God's godly ones is precious in His sight. "Godly ones" is the rendering in the NASB. Other translations say, "saints." The godly ones, the saints, are those that have been declared so because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, because of what Jesus proved for us through His resurrection. We are not godly or saints on our own merits. We are godly and saints because when we believe the promise it is so declared of us. It is, thus, precious to God when He them welcomes us home to His eternal presence. Our sin makes us unworthy. God's gift makes us welcome, and it is precious in His sight.
And yes, there is mourning. Death hurts. Death aches. Death is bitter. And we don't minimize the pain when we consider the hope we who are in Christ have. But our mourning, our grief and our grieving, is not like that of those who have no hope. We will all grieve, and we will all journey through grief in our own time and way. And I trust we will all be able to give each other that space and time to be in our own grief. But the grief we have and the grief journey we will take is not at all like the grief of those who do not know Jesus and who have not believed in His promises. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I hate that death is real, but I love that life is more real. I hate the sting of death because it tells me of my sin. But I also know and believe that God has given us victory over sin and death. Jesus bore our guilt. Jesus became our sin. Jesus died our death. Jesus suffered our separation. But sin and death could not hold Jesus. The grave could not keep Him. The powers of hell were not enough, and He indeed did prove the victory for us. So, yes, death is swallowed up in victory; and we have the victory through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
This then is not "good bye," my dear friend. This is only a temporal parting. There won't be any more of those emails you did not like to answer. There won't be any more of the ten pages letters you felt you had to write when you did. Your time on earth is over. It hurts, but it does not hurt like it could or would if indeed we were really saying "good bye." Instead, dear friend, we will see you later.