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TEXT: Philippians 1:21
SUBJECT: Watson on Death and the Last Day #2
Tonight, with the Lord's blessing, we'll move on in our study of Thomas Watson's little book on Death and the Last Day. If the title makes you feel funny, then welcome to the human race! We all feel that way about death. It is The Last Enemy-Paul says-and has to make you a little nervous.
But, for the believer, there's more than fear; there's also hope. Paul says "To die is gain"-not loss. For the Christian death leads to Something Better. Better in the short-run; and, in the long-run, even better.
In the second chapter of his book, Watson tells us what happens to the believer's soul at death-and also what happens to his body.
Let's start with the body. What happens to the Christian's body when he dies? If it's buried, it slowly decomposes and goes back to the earth from which it came. It's creepy to think about it, but it's true: In every step you take, you're walking on dead bodies. Billions have died in the past and their ashes are mixed in with our lawns and gardens and potted plants.
If the body is cremated or buried at sea, the process changes a little bit, but the end result is the same. Adam was made from the dust of the earth, and when he sinned, he started heading back to where he came from. And we're going there too.
That's what happens to the believer's body when he dies. But it's only half the story. Watson fills in the other half,
"The bodies of believers are [still] united to
Christ in the grave and shall rest there till
The resurrection. They are said to sleep in
Jesus. The dust of believers is part of Christ's
Mystic Body. The grave is a dormitory or place
Of rest to the saints, where their bodies quietly
Sleep in Christ, till they are awakened out of
Their sleep by the trumpet of the Archangel".
This is something many Christians don't know-or have never thought of. When a person is saved, he comes into union with Christ. This union with Christ involves the whole person-and not just his soul. That's why Paul can say,
"You are bought with a price; therefore,
glorify God with your bodies and your
spirits which are God's".
We speak of saving the soul-and that's true. But the Lord not only saves the soul; He saves the body as well. And His saving work-for the body-doesn't end in death!
The Christian body is still united to Christ-even in the grave. The text Watson uses to prove it does just that, I Thessalonians 4:14,
"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again,
even so will God bring with Him those who
sleep in Jesus".
Underline the words, "sleep in Jesus". The soul is not sleeping-it's never been more awake! It is the body that sleeps in the grave-and it sleeps still connected to the Lord Jesus Christ.
That's what happens to the believer's body when he dies. It goes into the grave-still united to Christ.
The soul or spirit (or immaterial part of the believer) is also saved in death. About this part of our hope, Watson has a good deal to say. Here's some of it. When the believer dies, his soul
"Is freed from sin. Sin weighs us down, it hinders
us from doing good. A Christian is like a bird-
he would be flying, but a string is tied to his leg
to hinder it. Sin hinders him--`The good that I
would, I do not do. Sin also debilitates us,
it disarms us of our strength".
We all have a hundred pound weight on our backs. It's been there so long that we've sort of gotten used to it. We have no idea of how light-footed we would be if the weight would ever drop off! But it won't drop off-not in this life, at least.
Thus, we sin-not only when we're in a black mood-but even when we're at our best! Even then, we do what we don't want to do! On the other side, we also don't do what we know we ought to do-and even try hard to do. The term for this 100 pound weight is remaining sin.
The holiest man in the world is weighed down by his sin. But the pack comes off when the believer dies. He's no longer tempted to sin and he's now able to serve the Lord fully and forever. Hebrews 12:23 describes dead saints as
"The spirits of just men made perfect".
Freedom from sin; that's the first blessing that comes to the soul at death. The second is almost as good,
"At death the saints shall be freed from all
the troubles to which this life is subject, such
as care, fear, labor, suffering, temptation,
When the believer dies, his worries die with him. You'll never have another bill to pay! Fear is also banished-no regrets to haunt you, no dangers to threaten you. Labor will be no more-not that you'll be lazy, of course, but the curse of labor will be removed-no more bent nails, no more sore backs, no more computer crashes! Suffering will be a thing of the past-no more sickness, no more death. Temptation will be wiped out. And "God shall wipe away every tear".
When Gregory the Great died, it was said, he laughed all the way to heaven! And why shouldn't he-if he's now freed from sin and suffering and any possibility of falling back into them.
"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord".
If the believer's death puts an end to sin and suffering, then
"To die is gain".
But this is only the negative side of the story-what we won't have in the afterlife. Watson goes on to tell us what we will have when we die.
"The first and most sublime part of the glory of heaven
is the full and sweet enjoyment of God. We are apt
to think the happiness of heaven is in being free
from pain and misery; but the very essence of
happiness is the enjoyment of God. God is an
infinite, inexhaustible fountain of joy; and to
have Him is to have all".
Before we get to his main idea, let me ask you a question: it may tell you something about yourself-something worth knowing. When do you most often long for heaven? When things are going well or when they're going badly?
I usually think of heaven when things are rotten with me. But in doing that, I've turned heaven into an exit door rather than into a door in to glory. But though, it would be nice to be free of problems, the real glory of heaven is God!
"In Your presence is the fullness of joy;
at Your right hand are pleasures forever
The Lord can be enjoyed even now. But not fully because we're not up to it yet and because we have that nagging sense of sin that makes us want to get away from Him.
But in heaven, we will be fitted to enjoy Him. And there won't be any guilt or fear to mix in with the great joy that He is.
I wish you would read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. The Christ-figure in the books is a Lion named Aslan. He combines majesty and tenderness. At the same time, he makes you tremble and invites you to jump on his back for a ride!
This is an weak, watered-down version of God. To be in His Presence-I suspect-will make you laugh and cry at the same time. There's a fullness in God that will satisfy your every need and want.
That's what the believer gets when he dies-the Presence of God, a God who's smiling at you!
"The second thing comprehended in glory is
the good society there. There are the angels
and the company of the saints".
Heaven is not a prison cell filled with yummy things to eat or new gadgets to play with. No, it is a society, a community. And everyone there-human or angel-will increase your enjoyment of it. Many of us are somewhat socially awkward-I am, at least. I don't like crowds; I'm usually uncomfortable with new people, and so on.
But in heaven these weaknesses will be taken away. Everyone there will be like your best friend on earth-only way, way better. I've spent time with friends where I laughed so hard that I couldn't catch my breath. Heaven will be something like that-only more so.
Watson has to answer the question everyone wants to know:
"Will the saints in glory know each other?
Certainly, the shall; for our knowledge in
Heaven shall not be diminished, but increased.
We shall not only know our friends and godly
Relatives, but the saints we had never met before.
It must be so, for society without acquaintance
Is not comfortable, but we shall be infinitely
Delighted with each other's company".
Believers have to know each other in heaven because-to be in a room full of strangers is uncomfortable. And heaven won't be!
Let me pick up on the last thing he said: "We will be infinitely delighted in each other's company".
Let's face it: There are some people whose company we don't like. And some of them are believers who will be in heaven with us. Why will their company greatly delight us?
It's very simple: The things in them you don't like won't be there anymore. And the things in you which make you dislike their company won't be either. In short, nobody will be boring in heaven; and nobody will be impatient either!
Take away sin and weakness and what have you got left? Perfect company. Forever.
These are some blessings of heaven. They'll be ours.when? The final blessings of heaven await the resurrection, but the ones mentioned here are ours the moment we die.
"When do believers enter into possession
of glory? Immediately after death".
In other words, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord-right then. The resurrection may not come for a million years. But the believer will enter great joy the second his spirit leaves this world for the next.
Watson closes the chapter with three uses or appliations:
"See what little cause believers have to fear
death, when it brings such glorious benefits".
For the unbeliever, death is an appalling prospect. It means he is damned forever. There is no room for repentance after death. But for the Christian, death is not that bad. Thus, although we don't have to look forward to it, we also don't have to
"Grieve as those who have no hope".
The believer has hope in death. Because Jesus Christ conquered it for him.
You're going to die-we all are if the Lord doesn't return first. But don't let it keep you awake at night. You're in good hands.
"Spend much time thinking about the benefits
which you shall have by Christ in death".
Thinking about heaven works on more than one level: First of all, it's puts things in perspective right now. If you don't have friends in this world, don't worry about it-you'll have millions in the world to come. If your sick now, with no hope of getting better, no biggie-you'll be well forever. If someone is making your life a living hell, don't worry, you'll soon be in heaven.
Thinking about heaven also makes you more heavenly right now. John says "Whoever has this hope in him purifies himself even as He is pure". Thinking about Christ and holiness and godly fellowship will make you better now.
Thinking about heaven will make you praise God! That has to be good.
"This may comfort the saints".
Of course it does. It sets the limits of suffering and it promises a splendid world just around the corner. And unlike other promises, this one's true!
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