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TEXT: I Corinthians 15:55

SUBJECT: A String of Pearls #10

Three months ago we began to study a long Puritan sermon called A String of Pearls or the Best Things Reserved Till Last. The preacher is Thomas Brooks. The topic is what God has for use when they die.

Death is bad and we must never pretend it isn't. But for believers in Christ, it is not only bad. When we die, we don't go to hell or to purgatory or even to sleep. We go to heaven. "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, which is far better".

We've all read these words, but I wonder how many of us believe them? Are we afraid to die? I am. And I suspect you are too. But we shouldn't be. Near the end of his sermon, the old preacher tells us why we must not fear death.

    1. "I beseech you, Christians, tell me, can death dissolve that glorious union that is between you and Christ?"
    2. "Union with Christ" may be the central doctrine of the New Testament. At the Incarnation, God joined us and by faith we join Him. The joining is not a loose partnership, but a merging of identities. Paul often says we are in Christ and that Christ is in us. Galatians 2:20 is the most striking summary:

      "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me and the life that I now live, I live by the faith of Christ who loved me and gave Himself for me".

      Christ and we share a common life-His life! Paul compares the Lord and His people to a loaf of bread. Bread is made up of flour; flour is made up of wheat (let's say); each grain of wheat is separate from the other. But grind the wheat into flour, mix the dough, bake the bread, and what have you got? Millions of grains stuck together? No, you've got one loaf!

      The Lord compares this union to the life shared by vine and branch. Are the vine and the branches the same thing? No. But the life that flows through the vine also runs in the branches. Different parts of the plant, but one life!

      The most startling comparison is in John 17, where the Lord says that our relationship to Him is something like the fellowship of the Trinity! Notice I said, "something like it". It's not identical, but it's close enough to make His point. The Bible teaches there is one God in Three Persons. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father. Yet Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God! In the comparable way, we are not Christ and Christ is not us, but our union with Him is so close that we are one people!

      This is a great mystery, but it is what the Bible teaches and it is true. But I haven't quite made my point yet. It is true that-in life-we are in union with Christ. But what about in death? Death dissolves other unions (marriage, for example), but does it break our union with Christ? Two verses demand our attention. One is I Thessalonians 4:14, the other is two verses later.

      "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so those also who sleep in Jesus God will bring with Him".

      The issue at hand is the Second Coming of Christ (which the Thessalonians thought would be right away). It wasn't, of course, and some of the people at church died. They wondered if their dead friends would share in the Second Coming? Paul said they would because they are not annihilated, but only asleep in Jesus. "Asleep" is a nice way of saying "dead", but look-dead in Jesus! That is, they are still united to the Lord. Death has not broken their fellowship with Christ.

      "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first".

      Here the dead are "dead in Christ"-not dead to Christ (which would be terrible), but dead-and still-in Christ.

      Because the believer's union with Christ is permanent and unbreakable, he has no reason to fear death. Though it takes him away from his friends and family (for a time), it does not take him away from Christ-not even for a second! "This day, you shall be with Me in paradise!"

    3. "Tell me, O Christian, if death can dissolve that marriage knot between Christ and your soul?"
    4. Believers are the bride of Christ and we have a faithful Husband. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us-and He keeps His word. We may be ugly, unpleasant, and hard-to-get along with, but He sticks by us for better or for worse.

      Death ends other marriages-even the happiest couples are parted by death. But not this marriage. In fact, John sees our life on earth as being more like an engagement to Christ with life in the world to come as being the honeymoon! If a good marriage is better than a good engagement, then death does not separate us from our Beloved, but brings us closer to Him!

      If death does not end our marriage to Christ, where is its sting? And where is its victory?

    5. "Can death, O Christian dissolve that glorious covenant which God has taken you into?"
    6. The Covenant is a complicated and disputed doctrine and I don't have time to sort it all out, but let me say this much about it. A Covenant is based on a promise and creates a kind of relationship. In the present case, God has promised to be our God and to make us His people. The Covenant He had with Israel was mostly an earthly thing and had an expiration date-it was until Christ came. But the New Covenant is quite different: it is a heavenly thing and it never ends.

      This means God is our God forever. And we are His people forever. The Covenant is good until the Lord goes back on His Word! Which He cannot do and will not.

      The promise made to Abraham way back when-that the Lord would be his God and that his people would be the Lord's people-is fulfilled in the New Jerusalem:

      "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God".

      The Agreement isn't broken! We needn't fear death for the promises of God don't die.

    7. "Tell me, O Christian, can death dissolve that love that is between the Lord and your soul?"
    8. Of the Puritan's twenty points, this one needs the least teaching and the most meditation. Does God's love for us come to an end when we die? Romans 8:38-39 says it does not.

      "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angel nor principality nor power, nor things present nor things to come, not height nor depth, nor any creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord".

      If the Lord loves us as much when we die as when we live, why should death scare us? His love for us doesn't get old and sick and then die-it remains young and fresh and green forever! If death killed God's love for us, we could not face it with hope or dignity. But it doesn't harm His love for us in the least. And therefore, we can die without fear.

    9. "Can death, O believing soul, dissolve those gracious grants that the Lord has vouchsafed to you?"
    10. On this point, Brooks has slipped into Puritanian. Thankfully, I have read enough of it to translate it for my English-speaking friends! What he's saying is: The Lord does not take back His gifts when we die.

      What has the Lord given us in this life? He has given us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly place in Christ or All things which pertain to life and godliness. Among these gifts are forgiveness, renewal, the Holy Spirit, and hope. And-unlike money-you can take it with you!

      You'll be as forgiven in heaven as you are now! You won't lose the Holy Spirit when you die. Your love for Christ won't vanish when you wake up in the next world. You'll still be, oh let's say: justified, born again, sanctified, adopted, redeemed, ransomed, and all the rest. The gifts of God are without repentance. Unless the Lord is an Indian Giver, we'll have them forever. I may be dead, but I'm also pardoned; I may be buried, but I'm still in God's family! The worms may have eaten my body, but I'm still saved. As long as we have His gifts, death cannot be feared.

    11. "Tell me Christians, did not Christ come to deliver you from the fear of death?"
    12. Ernest Hemingway was one our greatest novelists. He preferred action to dialogue. He once told a young writer, "Don't tell them, show them!" This is what the Lord did to break our fear of death. He didn't give us sweet comforting words: He showed us an empty tomb! He showed us that death has no power over Him--or over us!

      Of course we die, but we don't only die. We also rise and enter into the fullness of that life we saw in Christ. We are begotten again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    13. "Death will perfectly cure you of all physical and spiritual disease at once".

We're all afraid of getting sick, but I've never heard of anyone afraid of getting well! Have you ever said, "I've got a splitting headache, and I fear it can only get better!" Or a doctor coming to you with the bad news, "I'm sorry but the lump on your neck is not a cancer, but a pimple!" Nobody fears healing!

And that's what death is for the believer! A complete healing of body and soul! No sickness, no fear, no death, no temptation, no sin, no nothing bad or scary or dangerous. In death, the former things are passed away.

This pulls the stinger out of death.

CLOSE

Unless the Lord comes soon, you're going to die, I am, we all are. Death for the unbeliever as bad as a thing can be. In this life, the worst sinner enjoys many of God's favors. But when he dies, all God's favor will die with Him. Dante's words are true: Abandon hope all ye who enter here! For the unbeliever, death keeps its sting and its victory is final.

But not for the Christian! Death is still our enemy-and we mustn't pretend it isn't. But its power is greatly weakened and its terror is no more. It is not we who are dying, but death. When we die once, we cannot die again, and then, when the Lord comes, death will be destroyed and will never rise again.

We should respect death, but we must not fear it. When you do, think about the Man who used to be dead, but now is alive, and you with Him.

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