Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)When our youngest was about fifteen years old, he said to me, “Mom, I don’t know why people are so afraid of death. I’m actually looking forward to it.” This was not morbid thinking but how testimony of believing in Jesus overcomes the fear of death.
Not that Christians are eager to die. I want to live a long life, and because Christians pray for healing when they are sick and safely when they travel, others feel the same way. However, we also long to be with Jesus. Even though He is always with us in the Spirit, we cannot see Him face to face until we die.
We ought not be afraid to die because Jesus took hold of death and ruined its power. He became one of us and “partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14–15)
I’ve known people whose fear of death kept them from truly living. That is bondage. Even though Jesus died and rose again, believing in this for ourselves can be challenging. Often people become silent and will not talk about it when the topic comes up. For them, death is still an enemy. Yet Jesus proved His power over it even before He died and was resurrected . . .
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:17–26)
The key questions is this one that Jesus asked Martha, “Everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Notice that this questions has two parts. One is “everyone who lives” which means this must be settled before dying. Some will say, “I will wait and see what happens . . .” or “I’ll let God decide whether I can get into heaven...” but waiting until death is too late. Believing in Jesus Christ and participating in this promise is for those who are living.
The second part is the promise. It is short and sweet. Those who believe in Jesus will never die. He is not talking about physical death, but eternal separation from God after the final judgment. Some people face physical death without fear, even defy it, but the thought of judgment is not so easily bypassed. We know our lives are not perfect. Many hope they are “good enough” but being good enough is not the entrance requirement for eternity with God. Jesus said it is for “whoever believes in Me.”
While I have believed in Jesus for many years, there are times when dying scares me. I don’t want to get old, be sick and suffering, or not able to think clearly or function normally. It isn’t death I dread so much as the process and the losses that go with it. Yet I know that my Shepherd will lead me though this valley as all other difficult places. He even calls it the “shadow of death” rather than something with substance, like walking under the shade of a tree instead of slamming into the tree itself.
The Bible tells Christians to be informed and encouraged about those who die. It says they are “asleep” and we don’t need to grieve as others who are without hope. “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again” we also believe that “through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” That is, when Jesus returns, “we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18)
Those who fear death need to hope in Christ and be encouraged by these words!