April 6, 2017

How can death be precious?

The older I get, the more I think about the shortness of life. Death can happen any time, but now it seems closer.  Even though I look forward to seeing Jesus face to face, and to the bliss of eternal life without sin and sorrow, I’m not excited about dying. However, God has another attitude . . .

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15)

This verse can refer to two kinds of death. The obvious one is the physical death of Christians, those true believers that the Bible calls saints*. While many fear dying, the death of a Christian is more like moving from one home to another . . .

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:1–10)

The psalmist is not saying this precious death is for everyone. Fortner uses plain language: “To die without Christ is a terrible thing. For the unbeliever death is the wages of sin, the execution of justice, the beginning of sorrow, the end of all hope, the end of all mercy and the end of all opportunity. To die without Christ is to enter into the torments of infinite, inflexible, insatiable wrath.”

A believer’s death is precious to God because we are precious to Him. Being absent from this body is nothing compared to spending eternity with Christ in a new body — where there is no more pain, sorrow or tears.

Even though the psalmist is probably speaking of physical death, his words remind me of another death that is also precious to God. It is a separation, not from this present body but from our appetite for sin and self-glory. The New Testament speaks often of how our union with Christ makes us ‘dead’ to sin and alive to God . . .

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:3–11)

Another verse says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Jesus, You said that new life cannot come until a death happens, comparing it to a seed that must die in the ground before the new plant shoots up from it. This is a vivid analogy of what happens to Your people. It also explains another reason why ‘death’ is precious in Your sight . . . because that new life that comes forth is the precious gift of Your life, the very life that can never die!
(* Note, the biblical term ‘saint’ is not for ‘special’ believers, but for all who are reborn and trust Christ alone for their salvation. See 1 Corinthians 1:2)

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