By Mike Willis
Although I have been preaching for eleven years, I have personally conducted only two funerals and participated in about two others. Hence, I have not been around death nearly so much as many my own age. Recently, I witnessed the burial of a close friend of mine, a deacon in one of the churches in Indianapolis. Since this man’s death, I have reflected on death and what the Bible has to say about death on more than one occasion.
The wise man said, “There is a time to give birth, and a time to die” (Eccl. 3:2). Man, at sometime in his life, has got to come to grips with the fact that death is just as much a part of life as is birth. We must come to accept death as a part of life. Again, the wise man wrote, “No man has . . . authority over the day of death” (Eccl. 8:8). Regardless of how many skilled neurologists or heart specialists one may have hired, when the day of death comes, none of them can prevent it. Death is certain for all men; “it is appointed unto man once to die” (Heb. 9:27). Because all of us are going to die, perhaps all of us need to spend a few minutes reflecting about death.You Do Not Know When You Are Going To Die
Whenever a man walks through a graveyard, he notices that death strikes people in all age groups. Graves come in various sizes. I remember one occasion when my cousin gave birth to a baby which died soon thereafter. They came to our house one afternoon with the small casket in the backseat of their car and asked my family to go with them to bury it. We proceeded to dig the grave, lay the casket containing the infant’s body in it, and to cover it with dirt. This small, family funeral should always make men conscious that death is no respecter of persons; it strikes old, middle-aged and young persons alike! Certainly we should be reminded of how temporary our earthly life really is. Peter said, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls off . . .” (1:24). We shall not live on this earth forever.
Another thing that we should be reminded of is how unexpectedly death comes. Very seldom do people get a warning that death is going to come. When I was just a kid, a neighbor came knocking on our door at four o’clock one morning to call my mother to the phone. Since we lived in a rural neighborhood and were somewhat poor, we did not have a phone. As a matter of fact only one neighbor in the whole area had a phone. Therefore, everyone gave this neighbor’s phone number to their relatives in order that they could be reached quickly in cases of emergency. That morning, my mother went to the phone to be told that my cousin had just been run over by a train and killed. How quickly death had taken his life!
The unexpected demise of a loved one has caused untold grief to survivors. I have seen a husband bend over and kiss the lifeless corpse of his mate as if to say, “I’m sorry that I did not do this more often while you were living.” At the funeral home one night, I heard the daughter of the man who had died tell what had happened the day before her daddy’s death. The daughter and her family had eaten lunch with her daddy the day before he died. During the afternoon, the two-year old granddaughter’s shoe string broke. Grandpaw looked all over the house and finally found a red shoestring which matched his granddaughter’s dress perfectly. On the way home, the granddaughter told her mother, “Mommy, Papaw sure is a nice man.” She had intended to tell her daddy about this incident the next day. He died before she got around to it.
Since death comes so unexpectedly, we should live each day expressing our love to those whom we love lest they die without us having the opportunity to express our love and they having had the opportunity to know how loved they were. One poet expressed this thought, this way,
“We never know at the dawn of day
Greeting the rising sun,
Whether the reaper shall call away,
Ere the day’s work is done.
“Tomorrow may mean good-by,
We never know when nor why,
God calls us away, when life seems so gay,
Our bodies in dust to lie;
Tomorrow our souls may sigh,
For beauties we’ve let slip by,
O soul then prepare, sweet heaven to share,
Tomorrow may mean good-by.”
There are other thoughts about death which we need to consider, so let us move on; this aspect of death could consume our thoughts for weeks.
People Die Regardless Of . . .
1. How much money they have. As one walks through the old graveyard, he is impressed with the differences in the grave markers. A man will see one marker which obviously costs a lot of money erected beside a simple cross which was the very minimum amount that the family could respectfully spend on their departed loved one. This should remind us that all men die, rich and poor; money cannot keep a man from dying. The psalmist said, “Why should I fear in days of adversity, when the iniquity of my foes surrounds me, even those who trust in their wealth, and boast in the abundance of their riches? No man can by any means redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him — for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever-that he should live on eternally; that he should not see the pit” (Psa. 49:5-9). The riches of no man can prevent him from dying!
2. How famous they are. There are some new techniques in burying people which remind me of how insignificant we are. By burying several members of a family on top of each other, one graveyard boasts that it can bury 17,000 in just about two city clocks. Yet, try to identify the names of those who are there. When I wander through a graveyard, I see names of persons who have already crossed the river of death; those names mean absolutely nothing to me. My friends, regardless of how famous you might be now, you are going to die and become a nobody.
If you think that this world is going to remember you, you should consider the nature of mankind. Would you be able to tell me who discovered penicillin? I doubt that you can, although your own life has probably been saved by his discovery. Alexander Fleming has died and become a nobody. I doubt that you can remember the first and last names of your own great-grandmother. Think about that for a minute; in just a few years, your own name will be forgotten by your own descendants!
Death and the Christian
Although death is going to strike all men just alike, the Christian will be effected somewhat differently by death than the non-Christian will. When men die, they must answer to God. After death comes the judgment (Heb. 9:27). At death, men are separated into two groups, the righteous and the wicked, on the basis of whether or not they obeyed God while in this body on this earth (2 Cor. 5:10; Lk. 16:19-31). The Christian has hope in his death (Prov. 14:32); he expects to live forever in a place of eternal happiness with God Himself.
To the Christian, death is only a birth-canal to heaven. Paul said that death to him was gain (Phil. 1:23). In death, the Christian lays down his tired, worn-out body with the earnest expectation of clothing himself with an immortal body prepared by God (2 Cor. 5:14). Hence, a Christian’s death is a victory celebration; he has overcome every snare and trap which Satan has used to entrap him. I heard about one funeral in which the congregation sang the “Hallelujah Chorus” at the funeral of one of its faithful ones. Certainly the ones who participated in this had caught a glimpse of the fact that death is the Christian’s victory march; he celebrates his victory over Satan.
The death of a faithful saint is precious to the Lord for this very reason; hence, the Psalmist said, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones” (116:15). Though God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11), God is pleased to see another saint go through this life and die with the hope of eternal happiness.
Sometimes when preachers talk about death, someone says, “Preacher, all this talk about death doesn’t scare me.” You are a nut if it does not scare you! I know of some children who are not afraid of snakes, spiders, cliffs, ledges, etc. They have them behind bars in a mental hospital or else their family has to keep very careful watch over them lest they be found playing with their toys in the middle of an interstate highway; they are retarded in some sense. And, my friend, if death does not scare you, something is wrong with you.
Death is just as certain to face you as the next breath that you breathe is certain to be vital to your well being. The words which someone wrote on his tombstone need to be embedded in your mind; he wrote,
“Dear Friend, remember as you pass by,
As you are now so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be,
Prepare for death and follow me.”
Only a fool makes no preparation for the inevitable. And, yes, death is inevitable for everyone of us. The only solution to the death problem is the life which is offered to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Truth Magazine XXI: 19, pp. 291-293
May 12, 1977