Who can measure the heart-wrenching fear and pain at the sudden departure of a loved one? Who but those nearest and dearest can fathom the turmoil of the mind, the heartbreak, the depth of sadness and sorrow? For unbelievers, there is the acutest misery and comfortless despair.
Not so for believers. Of what inestimable value, in the face of such sorrow, is the true comfort only Christ offers them. His death and resurrection has opened the way to eternal life! Having paid for the sins of all those whom the Father had given Him, Christ Jesus said to the murderer on the cross beside Him, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” Today. Not sometime later. Not when I return on the clouds of heaven. Today. For at the 11th hour of his life, this man believed in Christ and it was accounted to him as righteousness.
Commenting on Christ’s promise to the murderer, K Schilder says, “Christ opens Paradise to the man in His communion. Paradise is the name used here for life in blessedness with God, such as awaits those who fear Him, upon their death. Well, the Saviour is absolutely certain that He will enter Paradise; He also takes upon Himself the right of introducing others there. He has faith in God and in Himself.”[i]
Is this not the truly comforting message of Easter we have again celebrated, and continue to celebrate? Is it not the message for which we have so much reason to praise our gracious God daily? It is a message of great comfort, our only comfort in life and death. Christ has conquered death and the grave. Christ’s resurrection is the assurance that those who belong to Christ will live forever. For as Jesus reminded the Sadducees, God spoke to Moses saying, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob”; and Jesus added, “He is not the God of the dead but of the living!”[ii]
In 1 Corinthians 15:26 we read, “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” Commenting on this, the late Rev T Dekker says:
To long for death is unchristian. Death has never been a natural thing to man, not neutral in itself, let alone a friend. It does not become that for a Christian either.
Death is an enemy of Christ and of all who belong to Him. As the last enemy, death will be dethroned. It means that he will be stripped of his power. Until that moment death has power, and we see his work. He strikes on the battlefields and in the homes of the dying; in the middle of young, promising lives; and often – without warning – on the road.
Yet even then we shall be comforted in the faith, also in the hands of this enemy. For no matter how hard it hits, his work is subject to the fact that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Their death is not payment for sin, even though it does have something to do with their sin. Death breaks the bonds with their human relations on earth. That break is a temporary one. But death breaks for their good a bond that resides in their heart – the bond that ties them to sin. Paul calls that a law, a law that compels, that dwells in the members of his body and imprisons him. Consequently the good that he wants to do, he does not do; but the evil he does not want to do, he practices. That is the misery of the child of God in this life.
The bond with sin will at last be broken. Some will be changed in an instant at the coming of the Lord, while for the others death, their dying to sin, will come before the Lord returns.
Then they leave the sorrow because of their sins behind them and begin to delight in the victory. For their death is at the same time a passing through. Eternal life was already theirs, through faith. But the joy was still weak, darkened also by the ongoing working of sin. Now they enter into eternal life. Not yet in the body, for death holds onto that till the appointed time. However, theirs is already the boundless joy, for they are with Christ forever.[iii]
In the face of death we cling to what we confess in Lord’s Day 22, namely that “my soul after this life [shall] immediately be taken up to Christ, my Head” … “I shall after this life possess perfect blessedness, such as no eye has seen, not ear heard, not the heart of man conceived – a blessedness in which to praise God forever.”
The Spirit-inspired apostle Paul sums it up beautifully:
“O Death, where is your sting? O Grave, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
[i] K Schilder, Christ Crucified, Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, Minneapolis, 1978, p. 323.
[ii] Mark 12:26.
[iii] (Taken from The Only Comfort, a devotional readings book in the process of being published.)