Fear of Death
February 13, 2000
This past week I ran across a very interesting sight on the World Wide Web. It is called the Death Clock. All you have to do is simply type in your date of birth, mine is March 16, 1961, and it will give you your estimated date of expiration. You will see on the side screen that mine is Sunday, December 26, 2034, and I have got about 1.1 billion seconds remaining. It says that it is the Internet’s friendly reminder that your life is slipping away.
Every time I talk about death, people shift nervously in their seats. We don’t really like to discuss it. We call it anything but death. We say, “Their candle has gone out.” “They flat-lined.” “They kicked the bucket.” “They are pushing daisies.” Anything but death. If you think about it, this fear fuels a lot of the health movement. We pay plastic surgeons large amounts of money for lifts and liposuctions, for tucks and transplants. We gorge ourselves on vitamins and eat organically. We treadmill and triathlon and pump iron. We are trying to beat the clock. We are trying to beat the odds. We are trying to escape this death date, this expiration date.
Death is total and all-encompassing. George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The stats on death are quite impressive. One out of one dies.” I am not going to spend a lot of time trying to convince you about whether or not we die. But did you check out the news this week? The featured stories—the Alaskan Airlines tragedy with computerized, enhanced images of the plane going down killing everyone aboard, the tragic death of the four Prairie View A&M track stars, the passing of Tom Landry, footage of Darlie Routier, the convicted killer of her children. All of those were sandwiched between crimes and fires and wars and calamities. About 75% of the stuff we see on the news is about death. After hearing this and watching this, I expected the news commentator to say, “And that’s the news. We will see you tomorrow evening, if you are lucky to be alive.”
A friend of mine who attends this church is an anchorman for a local station. He told me, “Ed, in our business, if it bleeds, it leads.” We are going to die, and I am not going to spend any more time talking to you about that. We all know it. But I am going to spend time talking to you about what happens the moment after we breathe our last breath here and take in our first breath in the hereafter. What’s on the agenda? What’s on the Palm Pilot of our lives the moment we graduate from this place to eternity?
The Bible describes in detail the meeting that all of us will have. This meeting is going to be huge. The scripture describes the players, what they bring to the table, the goals of the meeting, everything surrounding this event that all of us will face one day. How many of you are in the business world? If you are a businessman or a businesswoman, would you lift your hand. If you are in the marketplace, I am sure you go through a lot of meetings, meetings on top of meetings. And when you have a meeting, especially one that is big, you know what is going to happen. You do your homework. You know what someone brings to the table, the implications and the goal of the meeting. Amazingly, amazingly most of us are unprepared for the most important meeting in the universe, our postmortem meeting with God. And one day our heads are going to be spinning. We are going to be searching for answers. We are going to be on our heels because the Bible told us in explicit detail what to expect and how to prepare for this meeting. But most of us didn’t heed the advice. Most of us didn’t do our homework. Most of us have not applied what the scripture says about this time.
For several years, I served on the Board of Trustees at a university. We would have long, drawn out Board of Trustee meetings every quarter. My attention span is not that long. We would have agendas that were page after page of stuff. I enjoyed meeting the folks on the Board, but after about two hours I was ready to go. And we would never ever skip an item on the agenda. We always followed the agenda.
What’s the agenda? What’s on the Palm Pilot the moment we die? The first thing is the resurrection. Acts 24:15, “There will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” We will be resurrected. When our candle goes out in this life, it will be ignited in the next life, and we will come back as our true selves, a soul resurrection, the essence of who we truly are. And that is going to be something that will happen immediately. There is not going to be a holding tank or a green room or some limbo state. The moment we die—boom—we are in eternity. This shoots holes in the extinction theory. Some think, “Once I die, that’s it. It is over for me.” No, no, no. There will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.
Some think they will be reincarnated. Some think they will kind of stay in a holding tank for awhile and then be recycled back as maybe a wealthier yuppie, or maybe come back as Bill Gates oldest son or something. Man, how great. That’s not going to happen. Our souls will come back, the essence of who we truly are.
Maybe you are saying, “Well, Ed, how do you know, how do you really know, there is life after the grave?” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this stuff out. Look at the cycles of death giving way to life in nature. Take a seed. The seed looks like it is dead. You bury the seed. It seems like it is over, curtains for the seed. But the seed germinates and a plant bursts forth. Think about a caterpillar just kind of crawling around, an ugly little creature. One day it surrounds itself with a cocoon, which in reality is a tomb, and you think its history for the ugly insect. Oh, no, boom a butterfly bursts forth with brilliant color. Look at the cycles of nature, death giving way to life.
Look at physics. Albert Einstein said, “Matter may change states, but it will not be created or destroyed.” Many people have studied the first law of thermodynamics and feel that it is a clue to life after the grave. We will change states, but we will not be created or destroyed. Philosophers, also, agree. Philosophers have studied human beings, and they have seen that all of us have a code of ethics. Emmanuel Kant, a deep thinker, said this, and I quote, “Since justice is not applied fully, it must be applied in the afterlife by a judge who settles all accounts.”
Anthropologists say that almost every culture and tribe and people group they have dissected has a very advanced view of the afterlife. The Bible speaks with more authority and more unction than any other book about eternal matters. If you take the words of Jesus and what He said about eternity and put them up against the other world religious leaders, His words outperform their words two to three times. Also, consider the 8,000,000 near-death experiences. These people have near-death situations going on, and when they come back they are different human beings. My grandfather had one right after he became a Christian. After he had this near-death experience, he was never the same. So all these things point to life after the grave. The first thing on the Palm Pilot: we will be resurrected, the just and the unjust. Our souls will come back.
Now what is the purpose of this meeting, the judgment? That is the next thing on the Palm Pilot: the judgment. We will be judged. We have a standing appointment to be standing before the throne of God. The Bible says in the book of Hebrews, Chapter 9, Verse 27, “Just as man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment….” To face judgment. What’s the deciding factor on this judgment thing? What’s the deciding factor on this cosmic connection that we will all have with God. Right here, ladies and gentlemen, is the biggest point of spiritual confusion in the universe. Most of us miss it right here. The 4-1-1 on the judgment deal is that God is going to lower the bar, He is going to ratchet down His holiness and look at the masses and usher them into their mansions in heaven. The 4-1-1 on the street says that God, being so gracious, will kind of wink at those of us in the middle of the pack, those of us who are basically good people and say, “Come on into heaven. You weren’t perfect, but you tried hard. Welcome to eternity.” And the word on the street goes, “Man, if you are Hussein or Ben Laden, a child molester or a serial killer, watch out. You are in the deep weeds. But if you are a good person, if you keep your nose clean and pay your taxes and throw some money to the Fellowship Church and United Way and coach Little League Soccer, hey a good God would not hurl anybody into hell.”
Jesus said the 4-1-1 on the judgment is wrong. Jesus said the word on the street is wrong. Whether I am a good guy or whether you are a good girl, whether we have paid our taxes, kept our noses clean, whether we have coached Little League Soccer will not even be brought to the table. It can’t even be entered into the agenda. Wow. “I’m Catholic; I was confirmed.” “I was baptized in the Baptist Church.” “I am in a small group.” “I am a greeter.” “My grandfather is Billy Graham.” “My grandmother was Mother Theresa.” That’s great. Good for you. But it will not be entered into this cosmic meeting with God.
Have you ever been unprepared for a business meeting? Have you ever been on your heels with you head spinning, grasping for straws? That’s the way it is going to be for a lot of people because most people are duped into thinking that God grades on the performance plan, that God grades on some national average, some cosmic curve. No. No. God’s standard is simply His holiness. His holiness. And all of us are sin-stained in comparison to the holiness of God. I am and you are. We are in severe trouble.
God, though, is going to look for one thing and one thing only in this meeting. He is going to see if we have done the deal with His Son. He is going to look at your life and mine and see if a cosmic transaction has taken place. He is going to look and see if we have received what His Son did for us on the cross. That’s it. The Bible says we become a Christian by grace through faith, nothing we deserve, nothing we merit. It is by God’s unfathomable love. And the book of Ephesians, Chapter 1, explains the process of how someone makes this transaction and what occurs. “You were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth….” Right now you are hearing the word of truth. God is using my voice box, the voice box of a sinner, to communicate to your life. The same was true 2,000 years ago when Ephesians was penned. The same is true right now in the year 2000.
You are hearing the gospel, the gospel, the Bible says, of your salvation. The listeners discovered it was a personal thing. And it has been my prayer this entire week that you understand that it is a personal thing, that this word rolling off my tongue is your word, a word that you can appropriate into your life. “…having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal….” It goes on to say, “…the promised Holy Spirit.” I love that word “seal” because when we make that defining moment decision to receive Christ, we are stamped with a seal. Transaction has been completed.
And here is what happens when we make the commitment to Christ. All of our sinfulness, all of our guilt, all of our shame, all of our pain is transferred onto His shoulders. And all of His forgiveness and love and righteousness and grace is transferred to our shoulders. That is the cosmic transaction.
Several weeks ago, a friend of mine explained to me this whole deal on the Internet called e-trade. I have not invested very much but I thought that might be fun, to put in a little money to see if I could make some money. So I bought a few little stocks. The thing that really caught my eye was that when I bought these stocks, the computer screen flashed, “Transaction Complete.” It kind of made me feel good. Transaction complete, and I owned some of that company. Wow.
What does your computer screen have on it? Transaction complete or incomplete? We’re sealed. We’re sealed. This seal also means that God has taken title of our lives. God has purchased us by the precious blood of His Son. We are God’s property. We are His real estate, His commodity. We are His. We are His.
I read on in this text, “…the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession to the praise of His glory.” Now stay with me. We receive Christ and the seal is placed on our lives. The transaction has been completed. God has taken title of our lives. Then on top of that, the Holy Spirit, the person that Christ places inside our lives the moment we receive Him, is our deposit. And in the literal language the word “deposit” means—especially meaningful to those in the real estate business—“earnest money.” Isn’t that incredible? Look it up in the Greek. Earnest money.
When our church purchased this land, we had to put up some earnest money. We couldn’t get it back. It was our down payment to show that we were going to pay for this piece of dirt. When Christ comes into our lives and He places the Holy Spirit inside of us, the Holy Spirit is our earnest money. Do you think that God is not going to pay in full? Do you think that God is going to turn His back? Oh, no. Oh, no. Also the word “deposit” means—and singles you will love this—“an engagement ring.” An engagement ring. I love to see single adults when they are engaged because they run up to others, even to me, ring finger high. Look, look, look. You can tell they had their nails done and everything.
Jesus is the bridegroom. The church is the bride. The moment we bow the knee to Christ, He comes into our lives and gives us the engagement ring, the Holy Spirit of God, who is our earnest money and our engagement ring. One day the marriage will occur. One day the marriage will be consummated in heaven. This meeting will only be about one thing: has the transaction been completed in your life or not? At this point you can’t take a mulligan. At this point there will be no do-overs. At this point you can’t hire a dream team of attorneys. The seconds on your death clock are ticking away, and you have had many, many opportunities to make this call. Did you respond, or not? It is nothing you have done. It is something that you have to receive. The resurrection. The judgment.
Let’s talk about the third thing on our Palm Pilot: the separation. The Bible describes how Jesus will separate all of us into one of two camps. “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them from one another as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Jesus will separate us in the post-mortem meeting. We either face post-mortem eternal bliss in heaven or post-mortem eternal punishment in hell.
Let’s talk about heaven. Heaven is going to be a place that we cannot even fathom, it is so awesome. For example, take the closest you have ever felt to God. I mean the closest. It could have been in one of the church services here. It could have been in a small group situation. It could have been in a Bible Study. It could have been walking on a beach or in the woods. Just take that and multiply that exponentially, and that falls miserably short of the glory and the connection we will have with God in heaven. Now, take the best you have ever felt relationally, the best, the closest you have ever felt with another human being. Multiply that exponentially, and that falls miserably short of what heaven is going to be like. Now, take into consideration your skill set. Think about the time you were really on a roll using your abilities, and it falls exponentially, miserably short of how you are going to use your skill set in heaven. Heaven is also going to be a place, the Bible says, where we have a body transformation, and some of us are looking forward to that.
All this stuff you see in the movies and on television about the little angels flying around with little wings and little trumpets, that is not heaven. That is not it. It is going to be a place like no other place, a place of unencumbered worship, unencumbered relationships, unencumbered skill development. No racism, no backbiting, no wars, no rumor of wars. Heaven. And some of us will go to heaven. Others of us, I don’t like saying this but I have to, will go to a place called hell.
US News & World Report in their January 31, 2000, edition did a survey on hell, and they asked this question: “Do you think there is a hell?” 64% said “yes,” 25% said “no,” and 9% said they don’t know. More people believe in hell today than they did in the 1950s or than they did ten years ago.
The Bible uses several phrases to describe this place. The first phrase we will take about right quick is “outer darkness.” I talk to people now and then who say, “You know, I don’t know if I want to go to heaven with all those Christian. I want to go to hell so I can raise hell with my friends. We can party in hell.” Even if your friends are in hell, you will not know it. Solitary confinement. Complete isolation. Hell is a place where you can do anything and everything you have always wanted to do…alone.
The Bible also calls hell a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, a place of utter remorse and regret. It will be a place where you could say, “Oh, I had the chance to commit to Christ. I knew the spirit was tugging on me. I knew He was pulling on me through this relationship, through this group, through this church, but I did the pushback.
Another phrase the Bible used concerning hell is “where the worm never dies”—no, that is not Dennis Rodman—“and the fire is never quenched.” Fourth century theologian Jerome said, “Hell is a place of sensory torment.” It is the forever painful feeling of isolation and separation from God. I have been praying this week that no one at Fellowship Church would spend eternity in hell. “But, Ed, how could this good God send good people to hell? How can God slam-dunk this nice family member in my life into eternal damnation? I just don’t get it. My God, Ed, would never do such a thing.” Hey, God doesn’t slam-dunk anybody into hell. We make that choice. We are made in the image of God. We have a freedom to decide.
Here is what God will do at the end of our existence. He will simply give us in eternity a greater measure of what we desired on this planet. If we bowed the knee to Christ, if we followed Him, at the end of our life and we have this meeting with God, God will say, “You know what, the transaction was complete and I will give you in greater measure what you went after on this planet. Heaven is for you.”
Conversely, those who did the pushback, and I’m talking about the good guys and the good girls, those who turned their backs on God’s leadings, on God’s church, on the Bible, on Christian people inviting them to Fellowship and talking to them about Christ, God will have another statement. “You never did the transaction. I loved you. I sought you. I bought you. I went after you but you dissed Me. You did the pushback. You kept your distance from Me on earth, you will have a greater measure of this in eternity.” We make the choice.
In the book of Romans, Chapter 1, it says it is obvious. God has littered the universe with clues that He is alive. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there is a God behind all of this. Look at a mountain range, or a lake, or a child, or the flowers that we will see in a couple of months. There must be a God. Yet some people say that this is just an accident of some ingredients in a biotic soup coming together. This is just some evolutionary explosion. We are just here. Everything is by chance. To quote the book of Romans, many people are “exchanging the truth for a lie.” The book of Romans also says that God reveals Himself to us through many different avenues, not only nature but He tugs at our hearts. He elbows us. He whispers in our ear. So many of these good people, these good relatives have just done the pushback, the pushback, and the pushback.
We cannot come to Christ anytime we want to. The Holy Spirit must convict. And one of the most chilling texts in all of the Bible is when Christ says, one day the head of the household, being God, will turn away from the door and those who want to know Him will knock on the door and say, “Open up. Open up. Open up.” It will be locked. How long are you going to test the patience of God? How long? I don’t know when God gets tired. He doesn’t tell us when He turns and leaves the door. It is our call.
Now don’t read into this message this line of thinking. “Well that’s cool, man. All I have got to do is bow the knee and say Jesus Christ come into my life. Boom. I’ve got a ticket to heaven. Yeah. And I’m all right.” You are going to miss it. Jesus said, “Many will say to me on the last day,”—not a few—“many will say, ‘Lord, I did this. Lord, I did that. Lord, I was in the church. Lord. Lord.’” But He will say, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”
We become a Christian by grace through faith. Period. A lot of people just say the words but they don’t mean it. Do you know what Jesus said? “I will know my followers by the fruit they produce.” Am I asking you to doubt whether or not you are a Christ follower? No. But I am asking you to take inventory. It is not a deal where you say, “Oh, I’ve got a ticket to heaven. I’ve prayed the prayer. I can just get wasted all the time, have sex with this person and that person. It doesn’t matter because God and I are tight. I prayed the prayer a long time ago.” If there has been no life change, if there has been no discipleship, if there has been no growth, I am not the judge, God is. It causes one to think. You are not ready to live until you are ready, really ready, to die.
What does your screen say? Transaction completed? Look back at the web site. I have already burned up 1,500 seconds. I hope that this message has been a friendly reminder that your life is slipping away. Has the deal been done? Have you made the call? Because, remember, you are not ready to live until you are ready to die. Are you ready to die?