Thursday, September 3, 2020

Death and the Hereafter

footpath in surrounded by trees                                                                                                                                                                                  photo by Alessio Lin


A baby is tucked into a perfect world in his mother's womb. It is warm, comfortable... all needs are met.  His mother's heartbeat is a soothing rhythmic sound,  and his mother's voice becomes familiar. .  No desire or thought of another world to come, enters the baby's mind.. 
But IF the baby in the womb could see and understand the life to come outside the womb, would he be content to stay IN the womb?  Or would he struggle to be born before he was physically ready? 

We are like the baby in the womb.   This earth is our 'womb' and it is difficult to  visualize anything else. We love this earth and the life it offers and so we put off even thinking of a world to come.   Maybe that is a safeguard God built into our DNA so that we would be focused on fulfilling the purpose of our earthly sojourn rather than focusing on where we would rather be !!  The will to live is the strongest instinct God gave us, because this earthly life is important in relationship to the life to come. 

We will all live until we 'die'...Everyone's days are numbered.
Before we were born, our days were already numbered by God.  Our life is in His hand and we can trust God to sustain our life until the 'day' that He calls us home. ( see .. Psalm 139:16 ,  Job 14:5, Psalm 39:4)   

We don't like to talk about death.  And even what comes after is a subject rarely discussed. 
But it is a reality we will all one day face ...
 So ... I have attempted to share  here in this lesson,  some of the  understanding I have gleaned from my study of scripture, and hope that you will be left excited for what is to come for all of us ! 

Avoid the Uncomfortable 
The world has tried to dilute the fear of death and dying by finding new ways to refer to it.  How often I have heard .. "Oh, he is in a better place !" or "He is now playing golf"  Ior instead of referring to someone's death, the common word used today is 'passed' .. 

Even believers have tried to make it less distressing ....   We use terms like 'celebration of life'  or 'memorial' instead of funeral and we have eliminated the coffin from our services.    
While using more uplifting terms may lessen the impact ... it really is only a temporary reprieve in our feelings.   

My husband chuckles when he tells the story of a young girl in his childhood neighbourhood who one day came  running down the road as fast as she could .. shouting as she ran .. "Good news, Good news, my uncle died !!"   We smile because of course no one would call it 'good news' ...  and yet maybe she had it more right than wrong ??? 

We avoid talking about dying because it makes us uncomfortable.  
It makes us uncomfortable because we don't want to leave this earth and our loved ones...  but I think another reason it makes us uncomfortable is because intuitively we know 'dying' is contrary to life.. .  We want to live forever.and do everything we can to preserve our life. 

 I think there are 4 misconceptions that affect how we think and feel about death and the hereafter. 

1. DEATH   Something to fear ?  
There is an interesting verse found in Hebrews 2:14,15  that explains that Jesus' death for us freed us from the fear of death !  
As believers we need have no fear of it !  Why ?  Because we will never die !  
Oh yes, our bodies will be cast off one day -- as one moves out of an old house into a new one, or as one casts off an old garment and puts on a new..  (see II Peter 1:14, II Cor. 5:14)

The PERSON  that you are will never die !!  Never !  Death is  not something we will CONSCIENTIOUSLY experience! 

We are so attached to our bodies that we strongly identify our PERSON with our body.  
No matter how much we would like a 'body-reno' as we get older, we cling to our bodies as though letting go of our body is letting go of life. And we always refer to someone who 'died' in third person -- HE died, SHE died .... It would be more correct to say ..  His body died, or Her body died, because the Person is very much alive. 

Look at Acts 7 that tells the story of the first martyr.  When Stephen was being stoned ...  he looked up and saw Jesus standing in heaven.  I'm sure for Stephen, time was totally seamless ...  He was in a body that was being stoned - then he simply stepped out of it and was immediately standing with Jesus in glory !   No death ... just 'absent from the body, present with the Lord' .. II Cor. 5:8
And note that it is the SAME person who is absenting from the body to be present with the Lord!  No process, no inbetween experience we call 'death'. 

So 'death' for you and me is not something to fear.  Death only involves the physical body.... and even that is temporary because when Jesus comes back and there is the resurrection,  our bodies will themselves be changed and we will wear them again !  Millenia before our time,   Job already understood this ... He believed he would die and his body decay but it would be resurrected again . (see Job 19:-26)

In the meantime - until the resurrection -  we will not be unclothed ... ( II Cor. 5:4)..... ..  but will have a 'spiritual'  body that will feel solid and comfortable and look like us -  'recognizable' to others who knew us. .   Moses and Elijah when they appeared on the Mt. of Transfiguration were instantly recognized for who they were.(Luke 9:28-36).  When Samual appeared to Saul and the witch of Endor, he was immediately recognized. (I Sam. 28:11,12) The rich man recognized Abraham and Lazarus. (see Luke 16:23)
And the martyrs in Rev. 6:10 identify one with another as a group and also are aware of what is happening on earth.  

When Jesus' rose from the dead in His resurrected body it was exactly like our 'forever' bodies will be. He is our example ...  as He was resurrected so also shall we be !   Our resurrected bodies will be physical flesh and bone. ( of course our bodies will be 'new and improved' with   super-natural abilities like being able to walk through walls , and travel  as fast as thought)   

Jesus conquered all negative aspects of death and we have nothing to fear when we hear the word !     see Heb. 2:15, Matt. 16:21, John 2:18-22, Luke 24:6, I Cor. 15:3-7

NOTE - I know grief is real and we deeply mourn the loss of  our loved ones.   Their gain IS our loss and we feel it ... yet .. we can take comfort knowing that we will join them one day soon.. The parting, though painful, is temporary. And death has lost all power over those who belong to Jesus. ( I Thess. 4:13) 

We all use the word 'heaven' to describe where we will go when we step out of our 'tent'.(body) And I'm not saying we need to change that.  But the words we use do colour what we ultimately believe. 
How often have you heard someone say, "Yes, I want to go to heaven but not yet."   And if it was for a reason like the one stated by Paul ( Phillipians 1:23)  that would be commendable but I think if we are honest we have all had a list of what we wanted to experience before we went to heaven -- like get married, have kids, travel, be successful in our career...see our grandchildren... etc.  

So why,  if heaven is as perfect as we say it is, do we put off wanting to go?  I have been with several people before they passed and except for one person, the others - even though they were believers -  were afraid of death and had no idea what to expect after. 

I think there is a very valid reason why we want to put off living in heaven.  

Do you know that not one verse in scripture says that we go to heaven when we die?  
Why?  because we were not created for 'heaven' .  Heaven is where God lives, His throne room.    God created His angels to live in heaven as His servants ... but He created man to live on earth.  
(don't run away -- stay with me ... let me explain) 😊

Last week my husband and I watched a documentary - ( link found here. )  This is the most incredible photography of the undersea world.   It is beauty beyond astonishing... the creatures are unbelievably unique, the plant life stunning .. the colours and total effect is mind blowing!  Words cannot describe the creation of God deep under the ocean. It is like He pulled out all the stops on His creative mind and magnified in detail and design what we could never imagine!  

 And as fascinated as I was,   watching the wonders of the deep sea displayed on our TV screens , as much as I was in awe at its incredible beauty ... as much as my heart lifted in praise and worship to the God who created such wonders....  Would 
I want to live there?  COULD I live there? 
 No, because I was not created to live underground  -- I am not suited for life there.

When God created Adam and Eve, He could have created them in heaven - His Throne-room-  but no , He created an earth that He designed for them. . An environment that they could relate to and be comfortable in. Instead of man 'living' in heaven,  God came down to them ... (Gen. 3:8) 

When God revealed Himself in His glory on Mt Zion, the people were terrified and begged not to have to 'live' in that glory. They could not bear it. 
When Isaiah  -- in vision --saw the throne of God he cried out that he 'was undone'.  (Isaiah 6:1-4)  It was too overwhelming for him. 
I think we instinctively know that we are not 'suited'  to live in 'heaven' which is God's throne-room. 
With an oxygen tank we can for a time go down to the bottom of the sea but we cannot stay there.  I believe it is the same in God's throne room. 

So then where do we go when we die?   
Look at what Jesus said to His disciples in John 14:1-4 -- "I go to prepare a place for you!" 
Surely He did not mean that He had to renovate a corner of God's-heaven. 
"A place for you" ---  a place that was suited to us.  
And what did He say to the thief on the cross?  "You will be in paradise, with me..." Luke 23:43
 Jesus speaks about Paradise waiting for those who overcome..  REv. 2:7, 
 Paul says that he was caught up into Paradise ....  II Cor. 12:4 )

Paradise -- a perfect place prepared for us .. where we will live until the New Earth is created. 

Will we be with Jesus?  Oh yes, of course !!   And we will see God on His throne.  Distance and time are not a hindrance outside of our universe. 

I Cor. 2:9 says that we could not even imagine the wonderful things God has planned for us.  That verse is quoted by Paul from the Old Testament and speaks primarily to the wonders of the New Covenant that Jesus' death made possible for us to partake of,  but it also shows what God is like.  What awaits us when we step out of our physical body will astound, delight, thrill us beyond anything we have ever experienced here on this earth.  
AND it will be 'suited'  to us.   When our bodies die, the PERSON we are does not change at all!  We are who we are -- our mind, our emotions, our personality and character. We will not 'change'. 
We will know as we are known .. I Cor. 13:12.  The veil of our physical body will be gone and we will see and experience all the things that we are 'blinded' to here.  

I find that most people have only a vague idea of what our 'eternity' will be like. 
A lady (Christian , church goer ,all her life) recently commented that we will be ghosts floating around. . 
And yes, I agree, the Bible does not give us too many details of what it will be like.  I think that is because if God DID  give us too many details, we would just give up on this life and do whatever we could to leave this earthly life as quickly as possible !!  

The end of God's Book tells us enough so that we can understand what God has planned for us. 
When He destroys this earth ( II Peter 3:10-13)  He will create a new one.  
What will it be like?   It will be perfect -- I believe it will be like the Garden of Eden that God placed Adam and Eve in... only bigger!  and if possible even better.  
The New Earth will be a 'physical' place  - for lack of a better word -- and by physical I mean that it will be as real as this earth is. We have it backwards.  It is THIS earth that is the mirage and the New Earth the real and solid. ( see II Cor. 4:18)  
God created man to live on the earth that He designed for him !   I get so excited when I think of what it will be like living on the New Earth --  I believe it will be far more 'normal' than we expect!!  And I know we will be busy !!  With what?  I'm not sure but I know it will be fulfilling !   
God will be there with us -- He says He will come down to be with us -- just as He did with Adam and Eve...  
It will be perfect  -- beyond any perfection we might  imagine !  
We all have gifts, talents, passions .. .things we enjoy. That will not change so I believe our New Earth work will also take into consideration our gifts and talents and personality,  in a way that will be totally fulfilling to us! 
Relationships will continue and be important .. God created man to be in families, in friendships, and in fellowship with Him . None of that will change. While there will be no 'marriage' , spouses will be known and loved as they are here. 
Can you imagine the joy we will experience being with the people we have loved on earth, and knowing we will never have to part again?   I'm sure we will also make new friends .. and I am sooooo looking forward to meeting and talking with all the Bible characters. 

And ... this is only my idea ... but I believe that all the books that were written about all God did on this earth will be in a 'library' that we can go and read.... or better still we can watch the heaven-tube videos.   Won't that be so fun?   To be able to watch and see our earth events from God's perspective ?  How He manipulated and intervened and wove together lives and circumstance and details we thought were co-incidental?!  (one of my fav. verses John 21:25) 

Do we just fumble through this life  as best we can ... hoping that somehow we have done something that God will be pleased with? 
While learning to know God is key ... I think this life is more important than we realize in how it prepares us for an eternity with God. 

I believe that is something we do not consider often enough in terms of who we will be in eternity. 
I remember, as a teen,  trying to envision what I would be like when I was 40.  It was such a foreight concept to me, I thought I would be almost 'another person'  then, someone I could not relate to. 
And then I found to my surprise that I was still that 'teen' person, even when I was 40. 

I think it will be the same for us when we spend that first day in glory!  The biggest surprise will be how 'normal'  we are. And how easily we relate to the things around us. 

God never created us to struggle through life in a sin-destroyed earth.  God created man because He desired beings that would freely worship Hm in relationship with Him and each other in a 'perfect' world. 
But .. in the same way that we cannot achieve any goals in this life without education and maturity, so also we need to 'prepare' ourselves to live forever in perfect communion with God. 
We 'practice' here to learn what we will need to know to live fully in the life to come.  

When I was a child, I believed that when I died I would go sit on a cloud with my harp, praising God, whom I could not see .. nor could I see anyone else because of the cloudy mist around me ...  Where I got that Idea, I do not know, but how totally wrong I was.
Why do we think life will be so very 'different' in eternity ?  In many ways of course it will be - but not in ways that keep us from relating or understanding it. 
 It will be exciting .... And every one will personally be given to do what they are 'suited' to do.  
I know that we are going to be FAR too busy to ever be bored !   The gifting you have will finally be used in its ultimate purpose ....  what you love to do will be your delight !   I don't know exactly how we are going to be occupied but we will be busy !   

Isaiah 65:17 says "For behold I create new heavens and a new earth and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create....."  
"Be remembered or come to mind"  does not mean that it is 'wiped' from our memories, it means that we will never long for it or miss some aspect of it that we would like to experience again.   The new earth will be so incredible, that we will 'forget' this earth like we forget an old worn out garment that we have discarded. 

This life is like the school-years we all experienced.   We were fully engaged in everything that school entailed -- the studying, the exams, the friends,  the teachers, the holidays, the productions, the team sports ... etc.   As much as it was our LIFE .. we looked forward to graduating and entering the 'real world'.   
So also this life -- it is our 'schooling'  for when we step into the 'real world' that we were created for.   II Cor. 4:16-18

We have all packed to go on vacation.  The joke is that some pack everything but the kitchen sink.  The wise packer packs only what they will need at their vacation spot.  The song in our worship today .. "This world is not my home- I'm just a;passing thru".....  If we believe that, what are we packing?  Are we packing only what will be of benefit to us in eternity?  Only those things that have eternal value in God's Kingdom?   Heb. 12:1
And do we hold loosely the things that we need here on this earth only?  
May God give us discerning hearts and eyes that are fixed on things above.  

When we say 'The Best is yet to come !"  it is so very true !!   Nothing in this life can match what we will have in Paradise and on the New Earth .. forever and forever ...  ,  no more sorrow, no grief, no pain, no tears . -  joy unending and  face to face with Jesus !!   

""And I saw a new heaven and a new earth ...... and I heard a voice saying .. 'Behold the tabernacle of God is with men and He will dwell with them and they shall be His people and God Himself will be with them and be their God'."   Rev. 21 1-7