The certain hope that Christians have at death is that they will not be alone. Christ by his Spirit will be with them. But what hope do we have after death? What do we have to look forward to after we die? Death is gain for believers in at least two respects.
First, death puts to death everything bad in a Christian’s life. Death kills all misery and suffering. Thomas Brooks observed that even the best man in the world is too often like Noah’s dove that found no rest. You may experience the best this world has to offer and suffer the least, but you will still be restless and suffer to one degree or another. You will lack “some external or internal mercy.” Death, however, brings all misery to an end. It is, therefore, “another Moses: it delivers believers out of bondage, and from making brick in Egypt.” Thomas Watson rightly said that death is the funeral of all of our sorrows.
Death also kills that which is mortal and corrupt. God has promised us eternal glory in Christ. But in order to experience the fullness of that eternal glory, we have to put off the mortal and the incorruptible. Thomas Manton described our present body as “a mass of flesh dressed up to be a dish for the worms.” We can’t live forever with a body like that. We need to put it off and death is the way we do it. This is why Thomas Case wrote, “Death serves the saints now for no use, but to kill mortality, and to extinguish corruption.”
Still further, death puts sin to death. The battle against sin and temptation is one that the Christian engages throughout his life. The struggle, as every true Christian knows, is real and relentless because sin never gives us. Death, however, brings our war with the world, the flesh and the devil to an end. When we close our eyes for the last time, the final bell rings. The fight is over.
In a sermon entitled "Death’s Advantage," Edward Reynolds highlighted five ways that death frees us from the evil and toilsome labors that we were subjected to by the curse of sin. Believers find rest in death from 1) the toilsome captivity and tyranny of sin, 2) the buffets and temptations of Satan, 3) the cares, sorrows, snares, toils, temptations of the world, 4) the difficulties of duty itself, 5) the evils to come.
Similarly, Thomas Boston said that death brings a perfect freedom from sin. More specifically, we are freed from all commission of sin, from the very inbeing of sin, and from the possibility of sinning. Although sin no longer has dominion over a believer in this life, it “still abides as a troublesome guest; but at death it is plucked up by the roots.” God, therefore, turns the tables and uses the wages of sin to destroy sin.
Second, death is gain for the believer because he immediately goes to be with Christ, which is far better. The Bible doesn’t tell us everything we might want to know about life after death, but it does tell us what we need to know. And it tells us that when we die, our body returns to dust, and our soul or inner person lives on and goes to be with Christ in heaven. Jesus told the converted thief on the cross that he would be with him in paradise that very day. Paul says that to be away from the body means that you are at home with the Lord, and that to depart this life is to be with Christ. The day we die is the day we go to be with Christ. Indeed, the very moment we die is the very moment we are with our Lord. Thomas Case says, “it is but winking, and he is at home; as soon as the eye of the body is closed here, the eye of the soul is open there.” This is why my predecessor at Nashua OPC, Steven F. Miller, told his congregation that he wasn’t going to die. He was going to go from life to life. A believer doesn’t cease to exist at death. He doesn’t enter into judgment or condemnation. He goes to be with Christ in heaven. Life to life.
Since Jesus is in heaven, that is where we go. Heaven is God’s special dwelling place. It is where Jesus in his glorified body is right now. We can’t see it or take a rocket to get to it. It is not like it is on the other side of the moon or by the planet Mars. Nonetheless, it is a created place where humans are able to go and live, and it is where the souls of departed Christians go.
The apostle Paul says that to be with Christ in heaven is far better than life on earth. That might be hard for us to understand or imagine because life on earth is all we know. We might be willing to put up with the miseries of this life as long as we can continue to enjoy the delights of this world. But the best this world has to offer doesn’t compare to life with Christ in glory. And we know that to be true because God has told us that it is better, and not just better, but far better.
This is why Thomas Brooks entitled his funeral sermon, "A Saint’s Last Day Is His Best Day." The last day is the believer’s “coronation-day” and “marriage-day.” It is the day he exchanges earth for heaven, a wilderness for a Canaan, an Egypt for a land of Goshen, and a dunghill for a palace. It is the day he enters into “Abraham’s bosom, into paradise, into the ‘New Jerusalem,’ into the joy of his Lord.”
Although death is the chariot that takes us to heaven, it is still not a pleasant ride. Death, after all, is our enemy and part of the wages of sin. As Brooks put it, death is the “dark, dirty lane” that we need to take to the glorious city above. But it is a road that believers will be more than willing to take because it will take them home. Brooks wrote, “Every man is willing to go to his home, though the way that leads to it be never so dark, dirty, or dangerous; and shall believers be unwilling to go to their homes, because they are to go through a dark entry to those glorious, lightsome, and eternal mansions that Christ hath prepared for them? surely no.”
Christians have great hope not only at death but also after death. The moment they die, they find rest from all evil and sin and they go to be with Christ in heaven. They go from life to life. Indeed, they go from life to a far better life.
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