Volume 1, Number 14 – December, 2021
Differing Biblical Perspectives of Death
Benjamin Franklin, in a letter written to Jean-Baptiste Le Roy in 1789, said, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” This idiom of “death and taxes” originates from “The Cobbler of Preston,” written by Christopher Bullock in 1716. The idea is, although many things in this life are uncertain and possibly avoidable, the only things that are absolutely certain and unavoidable are death and taxes. There is much truth to this idea, especially in regards to death. Death is something we all must face. It is unavoidable. Some will be prepared to face their death, while many will be much less prepared. From my own experiences, faithful Christians are often the most prepared to face death, and there is a reason for that. Christians know that there is life after death for the faithful (John 11:25; 5:24; 3:16; Romans 6:23; Revelation 21:4).
Whenever I think about death, I’m reminded of something my grandfather used to say quite often: “I hope I have more time than I have money.” My grandfather knew well the value of life and loved being on this earth; he wanted as much time on this earth as possible and valued life more than any amount of money. Even so, whenever his body began to fail him and he neared the end of his life, I often found him reading the following from Paul, who found himself in a similar situation: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-10). My grandfather, like Paul, knew that death was near, and he was ready to face it because he looked forward to the reward that God promises His faithful children.
Paul’s perspective is one that is not exclusive to himself nor my grandfather. I’m sure you are like me and have known many people who, facing death, might say, “I’m ready to go home.” You may even be a person who says such. If so, how wonderful! This confidence in God’s promise is something all Christians should emulate. That being said, I also know how difficult it can be to face death even if you are faithful because faith and fear are not incompatible. Scripture tells us over and over again to “fear not” because we need to hear it over and over. Fear does not disappear the moment we are baptized. In fact, a fear of death may indicate we have a clearer understanding of the physical reality and implications of death.
To provide an example, let’s consider King Hezekiah, who, sick and near death, was told by the Lord through Isaiah, “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live” (Isaiah 38:1). Hezekiah is described as the best king that Judah ever knew. In fact, the following is said of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:5-7: “He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following Him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered.” Now that would be a pretty awesome thing to have inscribed on your tombstone, to be mentioned as one who held fast to the Lord, who did not depart from following Him, who kept the commands out of love. Hezekiah brought the nation back to worship in the temple (2 Kings 18:1-3; 2 Chronicles 29). He also restored the observance of the Passover (2 Chronicles 30:1-27). This king pursued God’s will. What a legacy. Yet, no matter how faithful he was, Hezekiah was not ready to face death.
When Isaiah hit Hezekiah with the news that he would surely die, we are told that Hezekiah “wept bitterly,” prayed, and pleaded with God (Isaiah 38:2-3). Hezekiah did not want to die. What a stark difference between Hezekiah and Paul! Due to Hezekiah’s faith and obedience, however, God heard his prayers and said this, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will add to your days fifteen years” (Isaiah 38:5). God did not rebuke the king for facing death so ungracefully; He did not strike Hezekiah down for pleading against His will. No, God saw Hezekiah’s struggles and had mercy on him. The story of Hezekiah’s struggle with death teaches us this: God does not expect every person to face death with the same grace as Paul, especially since God’s own son was more like Hezekiah than Paul!
Jesus did not protect Himself from the full range of human emotions when He faced His death. He was not a stoic robot who leaned into the comfort of his divinity when things got scary, uncomfortable, or painful. Rather, His heart was troubled; He wept; He agonized. Matthew’s account describes Jesus wrestling with His death as such: “He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death’” (Matthew 26:37-38). Jesus was so saddened at the thought of dying that He prayed three times for the cup of death to pass from Him (Matthew 26:39-44). Simply put, Jesus did not want to die, not because He feared that God would somehow forget Him, nor because He might lose His divine power and not return to Heaven after the resurrection. No, Christ struggled with death because He faced it as a human. Agony is an appropriate description of the moment; this is not a scene of serenity or the grace we may expect of the Savior of the world. Instead, we see a scene of Christ coming to terms with His death, one that He fully realized would bring Himself immense pain and suffering. I believe there is quite a bit of difference between Paul and Christ’s attitude when facing death, and that’s okay. God does not expect us all to be like Paul.
Very few of us will know how and when we die. Some might die quick and painlessly, while others might go through more excruciating processes. The mystery of it and the inability to prepare can be nerve-wracking. But it is only a moment. Death is viewed as separation from the world. For Christians, it means returning to God. With this knowledge, we should strive to emulate Paul, both in his faith as well as preparation to “go home” as some might say. That said, though we strive to be like Paul in facing death, we also should remind ourselves that it’s okay to feel sadness and uncertainty when confronted by our mortality. However, we can continue to turn to God during these times just as Hezekiah and Jesus did and be reminded of the amazing things that will come for God’s faithful servants – “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed… So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).
A Broken and Contrite Heart
In Psalm 51, David (the presumed writer) expresses great sorrow for sins he committed. He repeatedly asked God for mercy and forgiveness. Consider verses 16-17 which say, “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart — These, O God, You will not despise.”
What did David mean when he said God did not require sacrifice? Sacrifices were required under the law of Moses. David was not trying to nullify the Old Law, but instead, he was placing an emphasis on the inward man (note also vs. 6 and 10). Sacrifices were necessary, but God also wanted a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart (note also Is. 1:11-18). David had sinned; he needed to feel guilt for what he had done; he needed a broken and a contrite heart. His heart, or mind, needed to be crushed, or broken, by the guilt of his sins. This would lead to repentance and ultimately to the forgiveness he longed for, and then he could again experience the joy of his salvation (vs. 12).
Today, when we sin, we need to have sorrow and guilt. Note what Paul said in II Corinthians 7:10, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Some people sin and have absolutely no sorrow. This is very dangerous because without sorrow there is no forgiveness of sins. David makes it clear that we need to have the proper sense of remorse and contrition to receive forgiveness.
The Power of Silent Influence
On a recent beautiful warm Saturday morning, a Christian friend and I were having breakfast at a local restaurant. At a nearby table, we noticed a young woman sitting quietly reading her Bible. She was absorbed in the text, occasionally looking up to consider what she had read. She never said a word, but her heart and priorities were visible to everyone in that restaurant. It was a gentle, positive, and silent influence.
She was not ashamed of Christ nor of His New Testament (Heb. 9:11-15). She neither preached a sermon nor sang a song. She was willing to be identified with the Savior, yet she did not need to announce that allegiance.
In our attempts to share the message of Jesus, we must eventually use words, because ultimately words are needed to present the gospel (John 14:23; Acts 2:14; Acts 11:11-14; Acts 16:14; 2 Peter 3:1-2; Jude 1:17). But we can also learn from the example of this woman.
There are times when the quietness of our everyday actions speak louder than our words, revealing our love for the Lord (Philippians 1:21-27). In our desire to share Christ with a sinful world, let’s not ignore the power of our silent influence (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:5-8).
Church is Not Like it Used to Be
Going to church is not like it used to be. Church services have turned into places of entertainment and frolic and high pitched computer generated displays of excitement, energy and temporal feelings of self worth. Auditoriums are filled with choral groups arrayed in splashing displays of sparkling gowns with sound systems that generate twenty-seven million decibels of sound reverberating through the expanse of overflow crowds riveted with spiritual fervor. Bands fill the sanctuary with guitars, drums, brass, string and a host of instruments gauged with the onslaught of entertaining the masses. Power enthusiasm is the order of worship.
Going to church is not like it used to be. Church services have turned into places where you can come as you are. The dress code for worship is whatever makes one comfortable. Bare feet are now acceptable, shorts and tee-shirts and casual apparel as if one is going to the ball park, fishing, or relaxing around the house. Church services are created to be as dressed down as possible.
Going to church is not like it used to be. Church services have turned into places of social fellowship where one can find spaghetti, cake, hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, sweet tea, pies, fruitcakes, and pizza. The incense of coffee wafts through the halls with enticing appeal to doughnuts and sweet rolls. Crowds are appealed to through conversion of the stomach with fork in hand.
Going to church is not like it used to be. Church services have turned into places where preaching the Bible is replaced with preaching the “feel good about yourself” and “no one sins anymore” kind of sophistry lacking conviction and devotion on any level. The grit of scripture is replaced with a veneer of soothing enticements to indulge the peaceful hearts filled to the brim with worldliness and covetousness. In the days of Jeroboam king of Judah, “the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold and said to them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem” (1 Kings 12:28). Jeroboam was afraid the people of the Northern tribes would go to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple, their hearts would turn against him, and the people would rise up and kill him. To keep the people under his rule, he set up two calves of gold in Bethel and Dan for them to worship. It became convenient and more appealing to the people. Who wants to trudge all the way to Jerusalem? This religion of ease was to make the people happy and enjoy worship to God. How convenient they would not have to be bothered by anything as tedious as going all the way to Jerusalem. They wanted to enjoy life and have fun and be entertained.
The spirit of Jeroboam abounds today in modern religion. Everyone wants to have things convenient for them. Power enthusiasm, come- as-you-are dress codes, food in abundance, and feel good religion has turned the Bible into nothing more than a dusty library of sixty-six books out of date and out of time with modern man.
Leaving the Bible, modern religion worships at the altars of Bethel and Dan. We need prophets like Ahijah who will declare the pure message of God (1 Kings 14). “Anything less is rebellion. But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of My people Israel” (Jeremiah 7:12). “Not everyone who says to Me, Lord! Lord! shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Volume 1, Number 15 – December, 2021
It has been said that members of the church cannot get together without eating. We love to eat. We eat when we are happy and celebrating (birthdays, camp, anniversaries) and we eat when we are sad (deaths, sickness, hospital stays, or even breakups). Eating can bring comfort, allow for fellowship, and may even serve as a distraction.
Eating is a major part of our culture. We define our day around meals or what we are eating. And rare is the parent who has not heard hundreds of times: “What are we eating for dinner?” It is no surprise then that many pulpits remain silent on fasting – after all who wants to upset the applecart (unless those spilled apples could be put into a pie)? Preachers will readily joke about their stomachs being “chicken graveyards,” but how many will touch on the Biblical topic of fasting?
I have a weakness for food. I love to eat good food. In fact, about the only thing I just won’t eat is liver. Aside from that, I’m game to try just about anything. You know firsthand that I normally keep a stash of ice cream in the freezer, and it’s not hard to talk me into stopping by a restaurant on the weekends. So understand what I’m about to share with you goes against my nature, and is something I have to work hard on.
The Bible records over twenty times this experience known as fasting (e.g., Jeremiah 36:6; Daniel 6:18; Daniel 9:3; Joel 2:12). Probably the most prominent example and most familiar passages come from Jesus. In Matthew 4 we find Jesus fasting when he is tempted by Satan. Just a few chapters later Jesus instructs: “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Matthew 6:16).
In Matthew 9 Jesus is questioned about his disciples and their fasting: “Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast’” (Matthew 9:14-15).
So here is what we know. Jesus fasted. Jesus instructed us how to fast. And Jesus’ disciples fasted. There are many more passages we could examine, but this is ample evidence that we should also be fasting. Why? What is the purpose of fasting? Fasting is to make us more focused and more aware of our need for God. It is a temporary measure that reminds us that life is not about earthly pleasure, but rather there is a day coming when we will no longer need to fast! Fasting helps us to grow spiritually as we deny ourselves something in order to glorify and grow closer to God.
While Jesus does give some instruction in Matthew 6 on fasting, He does not indicate things like how often or specifics on how. Many individuals try to jump in and do day-long (or even week-long) fasts having never fasted before.
These individuals are setting themselves up for failure. Let me recommend you start out purposefully fasting through a single meal. Then increase it to that same meal two or three days in a row. After that try fasting for an entire day. Many scholars recommend continuing to drink water (so you don’t become dehydrated) and others recommend doing a juice fast – which would cut out solid foods, but would still give you some nutrients and sugars to give you enough strength to continue on throughout the day. My recommendation is you start out small and increase from there. Be very conscientious of how your fasting causes you to treat others (in other words, it does no good to fast to get closer to God if you are grumpy all day with your siblings and parents!). And plan ahead!
How will you deal with those times when you get really hungry? Will you use this time to read your Bible, take a walk outside, pray, etc.? Lastly, what are some other things we need to fast from in order to focus on serving God better. You might be surprised how lengthy a list that could be!
What is Sin?
If someone ever asked you the question “What is sin?” how might you respond? Many thoughts about and many examples of sin may immediately spring to our minds, but how might we define it? Well, let’s look to the Word and find our answer in defining sin.
According to 1 John 4:17, the apostle writes “all unrighteousness is sin.” Similarly, in 1 John 3:4, sin is defined as “lawlessness” (NKJV). What then is “lawlessness?” The Oxford Dictionary defines lawlessness as “not governed by or obedient to laws.” Thus, disobeying God’s laws and commands renders us unrighteous and lawless in His sight.
Paul states in Ephesians 5:5 that no “unclean” person has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God. More specifically, he explains in 1 Corinthians 6:9 that the “unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.” In other words, those who are unclean, i.e those who sin (remember our definition – unrighteous and lawless), will not enter into Heaven.
No person is impervious to sin. Consider the prophet Isaiah’s words “All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Likewise, Paul informs us “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Thankfully, although all have sinned, we all also can be “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24) through faith, confession, and repentance. God, through his grace and mercy, knows the battle we forge against sin and is willing to forgive. He provides us an opportunity to have our uncleanness and unrighteous removed – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
So, what is sin? Based on our readings, we can safely and confidently say the following:
- Sin is unrighteousness and lawlessness.
- Sin prevents us from entering into Heaven.
- All succumb to sin.
- God will forgive us of our sins if we truly and earnestly repent.
Admonitions for Parents
- Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go; Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
- Ephesians 6:4 – “Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”
- Deuteronomy 6:6-7 – “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
- Psalm 127:3 – “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.”
Lessons from 1 Corinthians 10
In 1 Corinthians 10, we find several Old Testament examples of what happens when we stop following God and, instead, follow our own desires. Paul, addressing the Church at Corinth, sets the stage in the first verse of the chapter by admonishing his readers to always keep in mind the events of the Old Testament through an allusion to the Israelites of the Exodus. He asserts, “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1). In other words, the Church at Corinth was not to be ignorant of the events which occurred under the Old Law, and neither should we. More specifically, however, Paul’s statement, through direct references to Deuteronomy 1:33 and Exodus 14, helps us realize that although a person might be in good standing with God, he or she can, in fact, lose that position through sin and disobedience.
For example, God was with Israel when they traveled from Egypt because they were led at night by “fire” and in the day by a “cloud” by the Lord (Deuteronomy 1:33). Similarly, God also aided the Israelites “through the sea” in Exodus 14 by raising the walls of the Red Sea so they could pass through in order to escape the Egyptian army who chased after them. Those same sea walls that were raised by God in aiding the Israelites were also used to defeat the Egyptians through God collapsing the walls of the Red Sea upon them, killing the soldiers trying to enslave God’s people. Although God aided His people in both of these situations, as well as in countless other circumstances, the Israelites ultimately turned their back on God numerous times through disobedience. Christians should consider and be aware of the Israelites’ example, just as Paul encouraged us to be, in order to help strengthen our faith and service to our creator because we, much like the Israelites, can fall out of favor with God. Although we are not “baptized into Moses” today as the Israelites were (I Corinthians 10:2), we do “drink from the same spiritual Rock that followed them” because that Rock is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). That is why, as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 10:11, the events of the Old Testament occurred as “examples, and they were written for our learning.”
As we see throughout the Bible, God is longsuffering and merciful. Time and time again in the Old Testament we find examples of the Israelites turning away from God, yet He remained patient with them. For example, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10:7, describes the Israelites’ fall into idolatry and exploration of their carnal desires. Paul, continuing in verse 8, also speaks of the Israelites sins of sexual immorality. It is important to note, however, that God not only exhibited incredible patience with the Israelites, but also never tempted His people into sinning. All temptations that the Israelites faced are “common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13), which is to say that people encounter similar temptations even today. Thankfully, God is “faithful” and will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to withstand (1 Corinthians 10:13). This sentiment is supported by the Israelites constant murmuring against God when they wandered in the wilderness after Moses led them out of bondage. Consider Exodus 16 when the Israelites complained about a lack of food. God blessed His people with manna for nourishment. Also consider Exodus 15-17 when the Israelites grumbled about a lack of water on two occasions. God, in both situations, provided water for His people. God never tempted the Israelites into sinning to fulfill their needs, and neither does he tempt us today in any regard.
Though God does not tempt us, He still understands how sinful the world is and how easily we can fall to temptation. Due to His great mercy and the fact that all, like sheep, go astray and sin against God (1 Peter 2:25), He has provided us with a “way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13). That escape is forgiveness and redemption of sins through Christ’s sacrifice. Temptation is all around us, but we have a hope and an avenue of escape through “that spiritual Rock” which the Old Testament examples desired.
Just as God displayed his mercy and patience with the Israelites by providing them with manna and water in the wilderness even though they constantly murmured against and turned their backs on Him, He exhibited the same mercy and patience for us by sacrificing his son so that when we fall to temptation and turn our backs on Him, we can return unto him.
Four Things the Rich Man Learned Too Late
- There is Life Beyond the Grave – “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (v.23).
- Riches Can’t Benefit the Soul – “Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented’” (v.25).
- Torment – the “Wages of Sin” – is Real – “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame’” (v.24).
- His Lost State Was Hopelessly Fixed – “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.” (v.26).
We are the brothers that the rich man left behind. We have the message of salvation in the scriptures, but if we reject it, nothing else can save us (Luke 16:27-31). Let us strive for Lazarus’s reward – rest in Abraham’s bosom.