Some people like to make fun of or laugh at things that make them uncomfortable. One of my dear professors and friends in college told a story one time…she was getting prepared to fly from Portland to Tennessee in order to attend this important conference. She had purchased her tickets and made her preparations and then as she was nearing her departure date, she told one of our classes – “he (the instructor) had the audacity to die.” Of course we all laughed at her statement, but as I said, this is what we do. When we get together for a funeral or memorial service, so many times, what is it that takes place? Laughter. We like good memories and good stories by which we can remember our loved ones. In fact, this is an important part of the grieving and healing process. Still, death is a serious matter. We lost a good friend recently and know of others who have lost loved ones. It is a difficult time when someone leaves here and departs for the hereafter. For all of the gruesome and distorted views that this world has regarding death, the Bible truly paints a different picture. For believers, death is not a curse, it is a blessing…as we go from one form of eternal existence to another…from imperfect, incomplete and incomprehensible to perfect, complete and comprehended. For those under the old covenant, this certainly applies as well, as we see as we come back to the story of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 23).
Sarah has been a good wife to Abraham and good mother to Isaac. She has had her faults, as we all do, and yet, God calls her a princess (17:5) and lists her with the heroes and heroines of the faith. Peter (1 Peter 3:1ff) and Paul (Galatians 4:21ff) also name her as a good example for believers. Abraham has loved his wife dearly, and now her death is a painful experience for him. Once again, as is our common human experience, he expresses his love and grief through tears. Sarah feared the Lord her whole life, so Abraham knows that she is in the Lord’s care (Psalms 73:24). Abraham buys the cave of Machpelah from Ephron, the burial place recorded for Sarah (and for him, ultimately, as well). He shows respect for her by giving her a proper burial…a pattern for God’s people throughout the Scriptures. When Abraham purchases the cave of Machpelah for a tomb, he makes a statement of faith for all who are there. He does not take Sarah back to their former home in Ur, but buries her in the land God has given him and his descendents.
As we come to the New Testament, the picture becomes clearer for us -- there is a future for the body. Burial bears witness to our faith in the return of Christ and the resurrection of the body. God promises those who are believers a new body…and makes the connection clear in 1 Corinthians 15. We will be raised imperishable with an eternal, spiritual body. Because Jesus victoriously conquered death, we do not need to fear death or the grave. Praise the Lord!
A preacher tells this story -- “I had performed a funeral. The service was over, and three of the deceased man's relatives were standing by the coffin comforting one another when suddenly we heard a strange beeping sound....coming from the coffin. The women stopped talking, and I began to look around when we all realized that the alarm on the watch of the deceased individual was going off! The relatives laughed nervously, and began to discuss what it might mean. One thing it definitely meant is this: the man missed his appointment. When the man set his alarm, I am sure there was no doubt in his mind that he would keep that appointment....but he didn't. The same is true for you and me. For most of us, death will find us with full calendars, busy agendas, and schedules crowded with coming events. But when it's time to go, we will go anyway, jam-packed day-planners not withstanding. Plan your appointments this week with an eye to the one appointment you will definitely keep--an appointment with your maker.”
Let us not be like the man whom Jesus talks about in Luke 12:13ff, who in the midst of meticulous preparation of all of his earthly things, did not take into account the spiritual concerns that he needed to tend to. And so Jesus says – “this night your soul shall be required of you…and now who will own what you have prepared?” We cannot be a people who lay up treasure for ourselves, and not be rich toward God…and yet, this is the way that many people live. I have heard some believers say from time to time…”I’m not sure if I am going to go to heaven” and they tag onto it…”I am not sure if I have done enough.” Well…this is a bit of a complicated statement. For one thing…we are not ever going to do enough or get enough things done in order to warrant going to heaven, because it is not a place that can be obtained or earned. One the other side of the coin, it is our relationship with Jesus, not religion, that is going to make the difference as to whether we see those pearly gates or not. The Word is quite clear that if we are “faithful until death, we will receive a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Note -- this is for the faith-full…not the faith-sometimes or the faith-less. John tells us that we can and should know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13)… if we are living for the Lord, blessed assurance should be a living reality not a distinct possibility. What are you doing to prepare your soul for eternity? If you are living a righteous, blameless life, then the answer is yours…and you know it. If not, then some soul-searching is in order. Tomorrow may or may not come…we have no promise of this. We do have the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ.