The problem handled more poorly by more Christians is the problem of death. Most Christians respond to the reality of death with ineffective thoughts and fear-filled miscomprehensions. Very few Christians handle the reality of death with confident trust in the Lord. Christians may sing spiritedly, “This world is not my home!” but too many confront death as though they are forfeiting the certainty of a real home for an unknown oblivion.
Occasionally one will work with the family of a terminally ill Christian who has this attitude: “We are sorrowful for our coming loss, but our loved one is losing nothing. Soon he is going to certain happiness and peace.” Occasionally one will work with a terminally ill Christian who speaks with genuine confidence as he declares that he is not afraid to leave this world and join the Lord. Christians who have understood the promise of the resurrection and place their full confidence in God, the Promise Keeper, certainly do exist.
However, these confident Christians are a minority within the Lord’s church. One much more frequently works with families or persons facing the certainty of death who are fear-filled and desperate. These Christians are unable to cope with the fact of death. The thought of dying creates terror in their hearts. They will do anything physically possible to cling to the last possible moment of life. The terminally ill who are rapidly approaching the end of physical life may plead, “Please don’t let me die! Please do something!” The distraught family may resort to praying for a last-minute, miraculous cure.
It is not uncommon for the bereaved family to feel intense anger toward God. “God is all powerful! He could have kept this from happening! It is His fault! If He loves us so much why has He hurt us by letting this happen?” Because of their anger they have trouble praying, worshiping, and continuing their spiritual commitment.
Christians who confront death personally or within their family are the source of the greatest single spiritual failure and the greatest single tragedy among the Lord’s people.
Clarifying the Issue
Those who suggest that there should be no sorrow when a Christian dies are unrealistic. When Steven, a devout Christian, was buried, other Christians made “great lamentation over him” (Acts 8:2). Even when there is unshakable faith in the resurrection, loved ones still experience great sorrow in their loss.
When death is approaching, it is proper for the Christian to grieve about the coming separation from his earthly loved ones. A husband and father or a wife and mother feels great concern for the continued well-being of those he or she loves. The Christian made a lifelong commitment when he or she established a home. The pleasant prospect of living with the Lord does not destroy the love and feeling invested in his or her earthly commitment.
When death is going to take a loved family member, it is proper for the family members to grieve. Even if they are fully confident of the blessings of the resurrection, there is still reason for genuine sorrow. For a mate, a cherished companionship is ending. The loneliness of single living will be a hard adjustment. His or her life has been completely entwined in the one dying. The dying person is literally a part of him or her. There are also deep bonds which are being broken when a Christian parent, child, or a cherished Christian friend dies. Sorrow for one’s loss is not destroyed by full confidence in the resurrection. Such sorrow is an expression of love and is entirely appropriate.
The inappropriate sorrow at the time of death is the sorrow created by the fear of dying. It is the sorrow produced because the dying person continues to cling to earthly existence. It is the sorrow which results from the Christian’s lack of confidence in the resurrection. He loves physical existence on the earth, and he is terrified to leave it.
An Essential Promise
Confidence in the promise of the resurrection is essential to spiritual existence. There are two foundation promises which are essential to Christian existence. The failure to trust either promise is a critical blow to spiritual endurance and survival. The first is the promise of God’s forgiveness. The second is the promise of the resurrection. These two promises serve as the “bookend promises” of all of God’s assurances to the Christian. The Christian initially responded to God because he was convinced that God could forgive all sin and destroy his guilt. The Christian endures for God because he is confident that God can raise him from the dead. The God who possesses resurrection power forgives; the God who forgives has the power to resurrect.
The stress which Scripture places on the importance of the resurrection cannot be exaggerated. The writer of Hebrews defined the purpose of Jesus’ earthly mission in terms of the resurrection.
Since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same; that through death he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb. 2:14, 15).
Jesus lived as a fleshly man in order to destroy the power of death by dying. The specific objective of His death was to deliver people from the bondage created by the fear of death. The reality of the resurrection makes it unnecessary for a Christian to live in the fear of death.
Jesus comforted the grieving Martha by declaring, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (Jn. 11:25, 26). Jesus being the resurrection and the life was a fact. Jesus’ power to resurrect was a fact. The issue was Martha’s faith in Jesus as the resurrection and the life.
No writer surpassed Paul in documenting the necessity of the resurrection. Paul often illustrated the importance of absolute confidence in the resurrection with his own life. In Philippians 3 he explained why he sacrificed all his spiritual achievements in Judaism (which were considerable by stringent Jewish standards) in order to belong to Christ. He freely acknowledged that he counted all Jewish accomplishments as loss for Christ (v. 7). In comparison to the blessings and the opportunity found in Christ, those past achievements were garbage (v. 8). Paul cited specific reasons for forfeiting all past religious accomplishments to be in Christ. Prominently on that list were his desires (1) to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection, and (2) to personally attain unto the resurrection (vv. 10, 11).
His last letter to Timothy is filled with confidence in the resurrection. As Paul watched his death approach, he reminded Timothy, that “God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). The resurrected Jesus had abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (1:10). He is suffering but is unashamed because “I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day (1:12). His confidence in God’s promise of the resurrection was so absolute that he knew the crown of righteousness was laid up for him and that God would give it to him (4:8).
Paul did not possess his assurance of the resurrection because he was an apostle who had made enormous sacrifices for Christ. Paul possessed that confidence because he was a Christian. By affirming his confidence in the resurrection as a Christian, he was declaring the common right of all Christians to place complete confidence in the resurrection. In 2 Timothy 4:8, when Paul affirmed the crown of life was his, he also stated that not only would God give that crown to him, “but also to all them that have loved his appearing.”
The passage which most powerfully affirms the Christian’s right to place unreserved trust in the certainty of resurrection is Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:1-l0. In 4:7-18 Paul described the hardship, harshness, and physical toil that serving Christians then endured for faithfulness to Christ. Acknowledging those realities, he stated “we know” that if the physical body is destroyed that “we have” an eternal heavenly home (v. 1). Because of the physical hardships serving Christians were then suffering for the faith, they groaned as they longed to be unburdened with physical existence and to be clothed with life (v. 4). So certain was the resurrection that they were willing “to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord” (v. 8).
If It Were Not True
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul tied the reality of the promise of the resurrection to the actual existence of Christianity. Some at Corinth affirmed that there was no resurrection from the dead (v. 12). Paul declared that Jesus’ resurrection was a verifiable historical fact; many witnesses who had seen Jesus alive after His resurrection were still alive at that time (vv. 4-8).
He then declared that Christianity’s existence and viability were dependent on Jesus’ resurrection and His promise that Christians would be resurrected. (1) If there was no resurrection, then the apostles’ preaching was vain, and anyone’s faith resulting from that preaching was vain (v. 14). (2) If there was no resurrection, the apostles were false witnesses who had knowingly deceived others (v. 15). (3) If there was no resurrection, the Corinthian Christians (and all other Christians) were still lost in their sins (v. 17). (4) If there was no resurrection, Christians who already had died had perished (v. 18). (5) If there was no resurrection, Christians were the most pitiable people on the earth (v. 19).
Without faith in the reality of Jesus’ historical resurrection and faith in the promise of the Christian’s resurrection, the Christian has no reason to belong to Christ. He has no reason to live the Christian life. Successful spiritual existence is dependent upon firm confidence in the resurrection.
A Matter Of Faith
There is far too little teaching about the reality of resurrection. There is far too little thinking about the resurrection. The failure to found Christians securely in the conviction and confidence of the resurrection is a major failure of the New Testament church of today. Christians must believe, understand, and trust resurrection with the same conviction that they believe, understand and trust baptism for the remission of sins.
The resurrection of Jesus was an essential part of the sermons of Acts. Teaching about the resurrection figured prominently in the message of most of the epistles. The one essential teaching that the first-century Christians were expected to know and to accept was the fact of Jesus’ resurrection which was the assurance of their resurrection. Faith in the resurrection allowed them to make the decision to leave family and friends to belong to Christ. Confidence in the resurrection was the reason that they could suffer severe persecution and still endure in their commitment to Christ. Trust in the resurrection was the reason they were able to suffer lives of hardship and yet live in such hope that they still could bring others to Christ. Without unshakable confidence in the resurrection, the Lord’s church would not have survived the first century. Those Christians who lacked that faith did not spiritually survive.
Faith in the resurrection is no less critical to the church and the Christian now. Christians will stop being materialistic when and only when they trust resurrection more than they trust earthly possessions. Christians will become living sacrifices for God when and only when they believe in resurrection. Christians will suffer necessary hardships for the faith when and only when they have confidence in resurrection. Christians will stop plaguing the church with ideas and teachings designed to rationalize ungodly lifestyles and to justify acts and deeds in clear violation of plain teachings of Scripture when and only when they believe in resurrection.
The common crises of spiritual weakness, of wavering spiritual commitment, and of being afraid to leave wrold1iness for serious commitment to Christ are not a result of the costliness of Christianity. Christianity is costly, but Americans love costly objects and costly commitments. Cost is no object to the American who believes the benefits are worth the price. The common crises of commitment are not the result of the costliness of life in the Lord. Those crises primarily exist because of a lack of faith in the resurrection. The Christian who truly believes in the resurrection and knows the rewards of that promise will pay the price.
Above all other things, the faith of righteousness trusts the promise of the resurrection. It trusts because the God who raised Jesus from the dead has promised He will raise the Christian from the dead. Because the God who cannot lie promised, it shall surely happen.
Chapter Twelve Questions
1. All Christians must cope with the reality of death.
a. How do some cope constructively with death?
b. How do many cope poorly with death?
2. Explain the kind of sorrow that is appropriate and good when a loved one dies. Why will faith in the resurrection not remove this good sorrow?
3. Describe the inappropriate kind of sorrow caused by the death of a loved one.
4. What two fundamental promises serve as the “bookend promises” for all God’s assurances?
a. Why does a person initially respond to God?
b. Why does a Christian endure for God?
5. How does Hebrews 2:14, 15 verify the importance of the resurrection to the Christian?
6. Illustrate the importance of the resurrection by using Paul’s life and his teachings in the following passages:
a. Philippians 3:1-16
b. 2 Timothy I (especially vv. 7, 10, 12)
c. 2 Timothy 4:6-8
7. What does 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 teach about a Christian’s confidence in the resurrection?
8. By using 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, list an the things which would be true if there was no resurrection.
9. Why is faith in the resurrection as critical to the church and Christians of today as it was to the church and Christians of the first century?
Have the class discuss ways in which faith in the resurrection can be increased among Christians.
Table of Contents Chapter Thirteen
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