Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me . . . (Psalm 23:4)
Fear of death includes a sense of finality, yet as a Christian, I know that death does not mean extinction. Because I believe in Jesus Christ, I can rest assured in His promise . . .
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1–3)
(As an aside, these verses also help those of us who work at home. Not so long ago, this was considered a demeaning position. As I struggled with that question, “Do you work?” I came up with various smart alec answers, such as, “You bet I do” and “No, I’m a kept woman.” But God showed me from these verses that homemaking is a noble task; after all, Jesus is doing it.)
Christians know that death is a passageway into the presence of God. The journey may seem shadowy and uncertain, but we know who is waiting for us on the other side. Stephen was one of the first Christians to die because of his faith. As his persecutors drew near, “He, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”
They were enraged and “cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him.” But even as they were stoning Stephen, “he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:55–60)
Two things impress me. One that God gave this young man the ability to see beyond the shadow of death. That passageway opened up so that he could see Jesus. This wonderful hope fills me with a deep longing for that first view of the One who died for me and lives for me. So what if death is the way to get there?
The second thing is the calmness in Stephen. He gave himself to the One waiting to receive him, but he also prayed forgiveness for those who sent him into death. They had no idea of the wonders Stephen saw and must have been astonished at his prayer.
John also wrote his vision given to him on the island of Patmos. He wrote it in the last book of the Bible . . .
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1–5)
The passageway may be short or long, but at the end of it, God Himself will wipe away all tears and remove all grief, crying, and pain. Again, my heart is filled with longing. Words like these are God’s promises concerning death. He says, “Be not afraid.”
As for the judgment fear, Christians also glory for our judgment in a sense is already past. It was put on Christ at Calvary. Because He bore it for us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set us free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1–4)
Death is that final enemy, but because of Jesus, it has already been defeated. The good Shepherd has removed the fear and replaces it with anticipation and longing.