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TEXT: I Corinthians 15:55
SUBJECT: A String of Pearls #12
What do you think of mockery? Of laughing at others, taunting them, and daring them to do something about it? Most of us don't like that. I'd be humiliated if my kids gawked at a handicapped person and made a joke at his expense. When adults do it, it is even worse. Mockery is proud and unkind-it's not sensitive to the feelings of other people and unmindful that one day, the mocker himself will be ripe for mockery. No, mockery is a bad thing.
Most of the time.
But some things need to be mocked-laughed at, ridiculed, and not taken seriously. And one of them is.death. This is precisely what Paul is doing in our text. He is scorning death and daring it to do something about it! But, of course, death cannot answer him because Christ has "Abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel".
Do Christians die? Of course we do! But death has no sting for us and the grave has no victory. The empty tomb of Jesus Christ is your empty tomb (if you belong to Him). Unbelievers fear death-and with good reason. It is the curse of God and leads them to The Second Death. But it's not that way for Christians. Now we are dying-even young and healthy believers are dying. But when we die, we start living. No, start is not the right word: in Christ we're already alive. But when we die, we enter a fullness of life we can't even imagine at this time. And it only gets better. World without end.
We fear death partly because we don't remember or believe the promises of God. But we should recall them and trust them with all our hearts. And we can believe them because they're His promises-not mine or yours or the most reliable man on earth's!
This is the topic of our Puritan study. About 350 years ago, Thomas Brooks preached a funeral sermon for his friend, Mary Blake. He called it A String of Pearls or the Best Things Reserved Till Last. Near the end of his long sermon, he gave twenty reasons we should not fear death. Thus far, we've looked at thirteen of them; tonight, with the Lord's blessing, we study the others.
Why shouldn't the believer in Christ fear death?
This is a fine figure of speech-especially if you love gardening or flowers. My favorite flower is the sunflower. One day, I was driving out to Modesto and I noticed sunflowers growing all along the roadside. I don't mean on the farms that line the roads out there-but on the shoulder. They came right out of the gravel! I pulled over, dug one up and took it home to plant in my back yard.
Well, it didn't take. But if it had (if we can attribute human feelings to flowers), don't you think it would rather be loved and taken care of in someone's yard, than to choke on the dust and fumes of a highway?
I think it would. And that's my point. You and I are now living alongside the highway-in rocky soil, with stinking emissions, and reckless drivers running over us all day long. Wouldn't it be wonderful if a wise and loving Gardener would dig us up and transplant us into his lush and manicured garden? I think it would be. That's what going to heaven means! And we go to heaven by way of death. Thus, it holds no terrors. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord-which is far better.
(Oh, and don't worry. Unlike me, the Lord knows how to dig us up gently and make sure we take to the rich soil of heaven).
Hope is a dear thing-but not half as dear as having the thing you hope for! Right now, we believe the promises of God. We are God's Royal Family-kings and queens under His Lordship. But we don't have our crowns yet and we pass though life resembling a tramp more than a prince. But when we die, our rags fall off and our Royal Garments are put on.
That doesn't sound like a bad thing to me! In this world, poverty may be better than riches and power. Blessings often corrupt people who have them. But not when we die. In that world we cannot want wrong things. Thus the Royal Splendor we will have will be good for us-and nothing but good.
The day a king is deposed must be a wretched day for him-going from lord to servant or even prisoner. But going from the dungeon to the palace is a happy day. Think of Joseph. And remember-you've got it better than he did.
We are immortal until God is finished with us. No Christian dies before his time! In His eternal plan, the Lord has something for us to do, when we finish it, we go home. We don't know when quitting time will be, but when it comes, we'll quit-and be happy with the job we've done. Not because our work is perfect, but because God will perfect it.
Have you ever noticed how much a golf course looks like a cemetery? I think the likeness is more than coincidental. Healthy, successful men often retire too early. And, often, they do it to play golf. But how often can you play? And what kind of satisfaction can knocking a little while ball all over a graveyard bring you? As recreation, it's good, but as an occupation, it must a nightmare!
Why do Christians want to live for the Lord, then quit His service and play golf for twenty years? Well, don't worry-you won't do that. For the Lord loves you too much to leave you idle. When He's finished with you, you'll die. And, when you die, it means your work is done. And that's the right time to quit.
Nobody wants to be forgotten when he dies. Some, proud of what they've done, think they won't be, but are, often before their bodies are cold.
But Christians won't be forgotten. And not just famous believers (like Paul or Augustine or Jonathan Edwards), but ordinary saints won't be either. You don't have to be a pioneer missionary to do something for Christ! You don't have to be a martyr, a theologian, or a super-saint! Little things done in love will be remembered.
My grandmother was old when I was born and in a wheelchair. But she was very dear to me and the thing I remember most about her was her patting me to sleep. Her hand never got tired! Just the other night, my son had a bad toothache. He got in bed with me and as I patted him to sleep, I told him about my grandmother. That little thing she did forty years ago (and more) is not forgotten and-I hope-will be passed on to my grandchildren and to theirs and to theirs.
"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. They rest from their labors and their works follow them".
"The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance."
"The memory of the just is blessed".
When the unbeliever dies, his memory perishes with him. Who wants to remember all the hurt he caused? But the Christian, as a carrier of God's love, will be remembered. And so, you don't need to stick around, but you can die without fear.
This point has been made over and over-so I won't labor it much. This life is good, that life is better; the world we live in is full of God's mercy, that world will be bursting with it. Death is a doorway opening to life; it's a gate that admits us to glory; it pains are like that of a birth-real and intense, but the aftermath more than makes up for it. This is why the Wise Man said,
"The day of one's death is better than the day of his birth".
The 84th Psalm says "The Lord will give grace and glory". This is the world for grace, that is the world for glory. Glory is to grace what fruit is to a seed. Its like first shaking hands with the woman you're going to marry! At the time, it didn't seem like much, but-looking back on it-you see it was the start of something big.
The Puritan has never been so wordy-and never has wordiness been so dear! If Jesus Christ left heaven for earth, why should we fear leaving earth for heaven? If He entered death for us, why should we worry about entering life for Him?
Can you fathom what it will be to see Christ? To see Him in glory-and with a smile on His face? Can you imagine what it must be to be welcomed into heaven by such a Man (who is also God)? The hymn says He has "Rich wounds yet visible above". I don't know if that's true or not. But He is the One who died for you and will you recoil from dying for Him?
Brooks has put his finger on the thing that makes us fear death. We know we must die and stand before God in judgment. But we also know that our lives have not been what they should have been. Not only aren't we perfect or sinless, but we haven't even done our best-our motives are always mixed, and we've left so many good things undone. It's scary to stand before a God who knows all this.
Until you remember that it is not you (as you are in yourself) who stands before Him, but you as you are in Christ! I won't be saved in the Judgment because I never did anything wrong, but because Christ never did anything wrong! You won't be justified because you did everything you could do for God, but because Christ did everything He could do for God!
This is the heart of the matter: believers are in Christ and-in Him-we are safe in death-and more than safe, we are blessed.
So there you have it: twenty reasons for not fearing death-if you're a believer. But only if you're a believer. God make you one for Christ's sake. Amen.
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