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TEXT: I Thessalonians 4:13, Philippians 3:17, Philippians 1:23, Psalm 116:15, II Thessalonians 2:1
SUBJECT: What To Do When a Saint Dies
On January 18, 1857, Charles Spurgeon came to the pulpit in London and preached A Sermon with Seven Texts. It was a masterpiece of eloquence and pastoral theology, and I'm not going to match it this morning! But I've got almost as many texts, and from these five verses I'll try to answer the question we've all been thinking of the last few days, and that is-
What do we do when a saint dies.
The 'saint' I have in mind, of course, is my father, a man we all love and will miss dearly. But, though it is his death that prompts this sermon, the verses apply equally to anyone who dies in Christ while leaving us behind.
The first thing we do is Sorrow, I Thessalonians 4:13-
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.
Some have taken this verse to mean we shouldn't sorrow at all, that grieving over the dead in Christ implies we don't believe in heaven, or don't believe he's gone there!
I try to be an open-minded man, but there's nothing I hate more than a funeral pretending to be a celebration of life. It isn't that! Birthdays celebrate life, anniversaries do, baptisms, and other festive occasions. But funerals are not festive occasions! King Solomon had been to a party or two in his life, and knew there was a difference between-
The house of mourning and
The house of mirth.
Of course, there's a difference, and we shouldn't say there isn't!
Stephen was the first Christian martyr, and when his soul went to heaven, his friends picked up his broken body-
And devout men carried Stephen to his burial and made great lamentation over him.
Were they wrong to do this? Did the first church deny his place in Heaven or think their brother was lost to them and Christ forever? They didn't. But the tore their clothes, sat in ashes, and bewailed his death for a very long time.
Why? Because they loved him. Just as we love my dad. Therefore, you ought to sorrow over his death. Sorrow as deeply and as long as you need to.
But don't let your sorrow become despair. This is the message of the verse. Sorrow? Yes, but-
Not as others who have no hope.
I don't know how unbelieving people face the death of their loved ones. They think they're gone in the same way a dog or a cat is when it dies. Or, they hope they're in Heaven if they survive death and if there's a heaven and if, if, if.
The Christian life does not end in death. It ends in-
The Resurrection of the body,
And the Life Everlasting.
My dad has survived death, but this is not his final state. One day the body that once was so strong will be immortal and invested with glory.
Dad was part of 'the greatest generation', and we won't see his kind again. Cry over him if you want to, and cry in 'the sure hope of the Resurrection'.
The second thing we do is Learn, Philippians 3:17-
Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.
Paul was not big on originality. He thought there was a particular way to live, and if you saw someone living that way, you ought to go and do likewise. While this applies to all parts of life, it is doubly important of the last part of life, the way we die.
My dad died without fear or regret. You might think he died this way because he was such a fine man. He was a fine man, but nobody's that fine. Nobody can die in peace on his own merits. But he can die on the merits of Jesus Christ. Which my dad did, and the practical consequence was, he died in peace-not the peace of morphine (though he took that), but the peace of Christ who-
Washed him from his sin in His own blood.
We all know dad was a tough guy, but dying in peace is not for heroes! It's for everybody who knows Christ.
The Medieval Church had a saying that ought to be recovered-
Life is the art of learning to die.
Dad couldn't draw a stick figure, but when it comes to the art of dying, he was a master. And not because of something in him, but because of something in Christ! Think about how he died; think of seeing him in the hospital or in my home, and-
Learn his ways and
Find rest for your souls.
WE REMEMBER WHAT HIS DEATH MEANS FOR HIM.
The third thing we do is remember what his death means for him, Philippians 1:23-
For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ which is far better.
Do you think the dead in Christ would come back if they could? Do you think they prefer a world of death, sorrow, crying, and pain to the world without them-a world of unimaginable holiness and joy? Would they rather see your face than God's? Of course not!
Though death itself is an evil thing-the last enemy Paul says-what's on the other side of death is-
The Friend who sticks closer than a brother.
My dad was an old man, a weak man, a sick man, and a man who didn't want to be where he was. Now, he's just where he wants to be, and not old, weak, sick, or subject to death any more.
That doesn't sound like a bad thing to me. And we ought to humble ourselves for the conceit of thinking the dead in Christ have lost something. We've lost something, but they've gained.everything.
WE REMEMBER WHAT THEIR DEATH MEANS TO GOD
The fourth thing we remember is What their death means to God, Psalm 116:15-
Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of His saints.
The believer's death is not only good for him; it's also good for God. How? I don't know the whole answer to this one, but here's part of it.
The Lord does not enjoy our suffering. It is necessary for our salvation and witness, and to promote His glory in the world, but He takes no pleasure in it. But when the believer dies, his sufferings dies with him. And, unlike his body, they will not be recovered. The sufferings of this life give way to-
The glory that shall be revealed in us.
And the two are not comparable. It is not as though our happiness will match our suffering. Not at all! Our happiness will be infinitely bigger and better and longer lasting than the pains of this life. Few men suffered more than Paul, but, in comparison to the glory he looked for, he said-
But this light affliction, which is but for a moment,
Is working in us an eternal weight of glory.
God wants to see us happy and holy and glorified, and since death ushers in all of the above, the deaths that grieve us don't grieve Him.
WE REMEMBER THAT WE ARE STILL IN FELLOWSHIP WITH THEM AND THAT THE FELLOWSHIP IS PERMANENT.
The fifth thing to do when a loved one in Christ dies is to Remember we are still in fellowship and that our fellowship is permanent, II Thessalonians 2:1-
Now brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus and our gathering together to Him.
The stupidest quote of the Twentieth Century has got to be Jean Paul Sartre's-
Hell is other people.
Hell is not other people; it's no other people. Eternal damnation fits the sin for which it is imposed. If people want to live without God and Christ and the Holy Spirit and the Church, and if they want to live for themselves, they'll get just what they want!
Though many are there, Hell is empty; it is Heaven that's full, full of people loved by God and redeemed by His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
This means our loved ones are not lost to God or to us. We shall see them again, but this time, not in a hospital or a sick bed or a coffin. We'll see them in Glory, bursting with the Life of God.
As a boy, I used to wonder if we'd know each other in Heaven. I asked my pastor, and I'll never forget his answer-
Do you think we'll be dumber in Heaven than we are on earth?
No. The saints we know on earth we will also know in Heaven, and also the ones we don't know here. Fellowship with Christ means fellowship with each other. Now we have it in part, but then we'll have it in full.
In closing, I want to thank you for loving my dad, loving him when he was well, loving him when he was sick, and loving him now that he's dead. Or, rather, now that he's asleep in Jesus. Soon to be wakened. And us with Him.
Surely I come quickly;
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
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