By Javan Rowe
I found myself at another funeral, one more death in a relatively short span of time. This one left friends and family desperate, confused, and mournful. It was hard enough to deal with the deaths of my grandparents, but the death by suicide of a middle-aged Christian husband and father—how do you deal with that? My cousins’ lives had been forever changed because of it.
Thankfully, we can find answers to many of our questions in the life and sayings of Jesus. His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount shows us proper ways to live. He displayed his power through miracles, showing us his caring nature. But how can Jesus help us deal with the frightening issue of death?
He certainly had much to say about death and the promise of Heaven. I think the greatest hope, though, comes from taking a larger view of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The three aspects must be understood, as they all come together to offer salvation and bring hope to sinful people like us who face death.
God is righteous, perfect in being and character. He is also just, acting in conformity to what is morally upright and good. As a righteous and just God, he rewards goodness and punishes evil.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they were driven from God’s presence and condemned to die. The result of their sin brought death to all humankind. Some might consider it cruel that God would sentence everyone to death. But if he were selective in this decision, he would not be righteous. Righteousness cannot stand alongside unrighteousness. The only way past this penalty is to live a perfect life.
The problem is, we can’t do it. God showed us how to live righteously in his law, but “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law” (Romans 3:20). Righteousness cannot be achieved by human effort.
Enter Jesus. The only one to successfully meet these impossible requirements was God himself, who became flesh. Jesus met the high standards of the law that had been a long-standing stumbling block. Like the Father, he was perfect in being and character.
By imparting his righteousness to us, Christ made it possible for us to approach a holy God without being destroyed by his righteous anger. The life of Jesus, lived in submission to the Father and in fulfillment of the law, was the first step in bringing us eternal life.
Some might wonder why Jesus did not establish his eternal kingdom during his time on earth. Even his disciples seemed to expect it. One thing was missing, though; a final sacrifice for sin needed to be made. The Old Testament law required the Israelites to make atonement for their sins by sacrificing animals. They confessed their sins to a priest, who killed the animals and placed their blood on the altar. The life of the animal was payment for the sins of a guilty person. As the writer of Hebrews explains, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (9:22).
This act was only a temporary payment, though. We needed something more permanent so we would not need to make such sacrifices for all eternity. Jesus fulfilled the requirement by allowing his own blood to be spilled as a permanent atonement. This is why the blood is vital to our salvation. It was on the cross that Christ bled and died—that the innocent laid down his life for the guilty.
Since Jesus led a perfect, blameless life he did not deserve the punishment of death. But he willingly laid down his life for us on the cross. Love came alongside righteousness and justice to purchase our freedom from sin.
Two aspects of our salvation are seen in Jesus’ righteous life and sacrificial death—but one thing more was needed to offer us hope as we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4, New American Standard Bible).
When people think about salvation, their thoughts naturally go to Jesus’ death on the cross. So we must be careful not to let the significance of the resurrection be obscured by the shadow of the cross.
The resurrection demonstrates God’s power over death. Without his power, we have no salvation. Without his power, we are doomed to an afterlife of torment with no hope of parole. With God’s power comes amazing hope for those who believe in Jesus’ name.
The great ceremony of Jesus’ life and death was consummated (completed, accomplished, made perfect) by the resurrection—a final resolution of all previous points of salvation. In short, the power of God was displayed in an amazing way. God showed there was indeed meaning to the salvation process, for we were not left without hope.
Promise of Resurrection
Jesus’ resurrection proves his power over death, affirming that this life is not all there is. When he appeared to witnesses after his resurrection, Jesus gave them hope—hope that they, too, will one day be resurrected.
Death is a part of life. In this world we will lose people we love, and we will feel the pain of such losses. But at the same time, we can draw great comfort from Scripture: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with
Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him”
(1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14, NIV).
We’ll still grieve the loss of loved ones, but we will not grieve as those who are hopeless. If our loved ones are “in Jesus,” then our “Goodbye” is merely “See you later.” We will experience sadness and perhaps some emptiness, but we are not without hope. Thanks to Jesus’ resurrection we have the assurance that a resurrection will come for his followers as well.
Contrary to what some people may think, I trust that my cousin’s suicide was covered by the blood of Jesus. Even an act like suicide is not beyond the scope of Christ’s atonement.
Jesus’ life, sacrifice, and resurrection bring us hope when faced with the sorrows of death. Amid great pain, we can say with the apostle Paul, “Where, O death, is your
victory? Where, O death, is your sting? . . .
thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corin-
thians 15:55, 57).
Javan Rowe is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio.
What Americans Believe About Death
These statistics from Barna Research shed light on the tough terrain Christians face as they discuss death with non-Christians.
• Eight out of 10 Americans believe in
some version of an afterlife.
• “Those least likely to believe in life after death were Hispanics, Busters (ages 20-38), residents of the West, atheists and agnostics, those associated with a faith other than Christianity, and unchurched adults.”
• About 0.5 percent of Americans anticipate that they will go to Hell when they die.
• 64 percent think they will go to Heaven.
• 24 percent have “no idea” what will happen after they die. “Those who felt their eternal future is undefined were most likely to be Hispanics, singles, men, atheists and agnostics, residents of the West, and 18- and 19-year-olds.”
• Education and income have a neg-ative correlation with belief in Heaven and Hell. The more education and money a person has, the less likely he is to believe in an afterlife. The study points out that “the finding reinforces the popular notion—and, indeed, Jesus’ teaching—that people of economic means and those with considerable education struggle to embrace biblical teachings on such matters.”