WHAT I WANT MY KIDS TO KNOW - ABOUT DEATH
- There are two [John 11:1-14; Revelation 2:11; 20:6,14-15]
- Jesus grieved over both [John 11:33-38; Luke 7:13-15; Hebrews 5:7]
- But defeated both [John 11:43-44; Revelation 5:5; Romans 6:23]
“In the 1960s, an anthropologist exploring a cave in northern Iraq came across the graves of several Neanderthal men, tombs believed to be...among the the oldest human burial sites ever found. Near the remains were discovered pollen grains from grape hyacinth, hollyhocks, and thistles, silent testimony that flowers had once been placed next to the bodies. Thousands of miles away near Moscow, was found another cluster of ancient graves...in which lie the remains of what appears to be a family. Draped around the bones of the man are necklaces strung with hundreds of painstakingly crafted ivory beads, and nearby are tools carved from mammoth bones. The woman’s skull is placed on top of the man’s grave, and next to the man and the woman are the remains of two children. They are buried head to head, and around them are scattered more than ten thousand beads of ivory, several rings, and bracelets, a collection of spears and daggers, and the teeth of a fox.”
“Who knows what happened to cause these deaths so many centuries ago, or what ceremonies accompanied these ancient burials? What we do know is that the flowers, beads, rings, and other artifacts bear witness that from the earliest times human beings have cared tenderly for their dead and approached death with awe. Tom Long in his book Accompany Them with Singing says that, ‘Human death has never been simply a fact; it has always been a mysterious ocean summoning those left standing on the shore to stammer out convictions about life and to wonder what lies over the horizon’” [anecdotes and quote cited from Thomas G. Long,Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral, Westminster John Know Press, 2009, p.3].
This morning in part three of our series What I Want My Kids to Know, we’re taking a closer look at what the Bible says about death or as Adventists call it ‘The State of the Dead.’ Hopefully, you’ll see that there are actually two kinds of death, that Jesus grieved over both but ultimately defeated both as well. One of my favorite stories that helps illustrate these truths can be found in John 11 so turn with me there as we begin with the first 14 verses. John 11:1-14 says, “1A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. 2This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord's feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. 3So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, ‘Lord, your dear friend is very sick.’ 4But when Jesus heard about it he said, ‘Lazarus's sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.’ 5So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, 6he stayed where he was for the next two days. 7Finally, he said to his disciples, ‘Let's go back to Judea.’” Skipping ahead to verse 11, then Jesus said, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.’ 12The disciples said, ‘Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!’ 13They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died. 14So he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’”
The cessation of life for the whole person is what the Bible calls the 1st death. It’s the one that occurs far too frequently because of extreme poverty or lack of clean drinking water. It’s the kind of death that occurred to those girl’s father in our intro video who suddenly died water skiing from multiple brain aneurisms. And its the kind of death that my family will be gathering to grieve next Sabbath in Greeneville, TN after my 94 year old Norwegian grand mother Mabel finally breathed her last breath shortly before Christmas. So that’s where I”ll be next weekend. Maybe I’ll share with my family some of what I’m sharing with my church family this morning about both the first and second death.
But before I do, let’s at least identify the other kind of death the Bible talks about which is creatively called the 2nd death. Revelation 2:11 says, "11Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death." Revelation 20:6, 14-15 add these words. "6Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years...14Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. 15And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire."
So there you have it. Point number one. What I want my kids to know about death is that there are actually two of them! The first one many of us have heard of and undoubtedly been touched by when someone we love dies. Shaylyn knows what I’m talking about. Her dog died a few weeks ago. She told me how hard that was to deal with. Loni knows what I’m talking about as well. Her mom died recently too. But just because the 2nd death isn’t as familiar to us doesn’t mean it’s not Biblical. Or that others throughout the sweep of history haven’t understood or at least hinted at its reality. Daniel 12:2 says, “2Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace.” Here you have one of oldest clues that there will be two deaths because prior to them there are two resurrections. There will be a resurrection of the righteous when Jesus comes again that 1 Thessalonians 4 also describes. And then 1k years later there will be a resurrection of the wicked that Revelation 20 describes culminating in the cremation and total end of all evil as 2 Peter 3 referred to last week. That’s why Jesus said in John 5:28-29, “28Don't be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God's Son, 29 and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.”
Interestingly, to pastors at least, in Jesus’ day the Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection. I’m not sure why. I unsuccessfully tried to find out. But the pharisees did clinging perhaps to the clues embedded in Daniel 12:2 and Job 19:25-26. Remember what Job said? “I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last and after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God!” Some commentators believe Job was the first book Moses wrote in the wilderness of Midian after killing that Egyptian which means it is the oldest of the Old Testament books. This is significant because in this ancient account of Job, inspired by God, there is no description of a disembodied soul that the Greek dualism of Plato introduced after the Old Testament was written but before Jesus shows up in the New Testament. What does Job say? Contrary to Plato, Job says “Yet in my body I will see God!” His proclamation was of a whole body death and decay and cessation of life followed by a whole body resurrection and life seeing Jesus.
Surprisingly to some, this is also what Martin Luther in his lectures on Ecclesiastes and other Protestant Reformers like William Tyndale and the Anabaptist Michael Sattler believed as well just over 500 years ago. Listen to Luther from 1526. The dead are “completely asleep” and “do not feel anything at all...they lie there not counting the days or years; but when they are raised it will seem to them that they have only slept a moment.” Even more surprising to some, this is also what a bunch of Catholics believed as well because none of the apostolic church fathers as they’re known like Barnabas, Clement, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp wrote about the conscious state of the dead as disembodied souls. Others like Justin Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Irenaeus, and Polycrates denied it during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD as did well known philosophers and writers after Luther in the 1700s like David Hume, John Locke, John Milton, and Isaac Watts but thanks to Plato, Tertullian, Augustine, and Calvin somewhere after the 2nd century AD, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul crept into Christian thinking about death and dying [see Bryan W. Ball’s recent article in the March 2011 Ministry magazine entitled “The immortality of the Soul: Could Christianity Live Without It?” or Tom Long’s book Accompany Them with Singing [previously cited] pp.25-30 or Uriah Smith’s classic Here and Here After pp.320-332].
So who cares? What’s the point? The point is before Plato, the Bible described death much more simply and wholistically. Death is really creation in reverse. In creation, God used dust and breath to create a living being. So Genesis 2:7 says, “7Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man's nostrils, and the man became a living person.” But when one dies, the body decays returning to dust and the breath of life goes back to God. That’s why our modern NLT version we’re using today correctly translates the word for soul [nephesh] in Genesis 2:7 as “living person” but in the KJV, it says “living soul” because the translators of the KJV by 1611 believed that the soul is immortal. We know this is true because they translated the previous uses of the Hebrew word for soul in Genesis 1:20-21,24, and 30 as “living creatures” instead of “living souls” even though it’s the same word in Hebrew because they were sure animals didn’t have immortal souls but humans did! The translators of the KJV ignored 1 Timothy 6:16 which says God alone is immortal and that the “spirit” that Job 34:14-15 or Psalm 146:3-4 talk about returning to God is simply the life giving breath of God. So widely accepted was this change in thinking that even Luther caved to Calvin’s pressure abandoning his earlier stated position about the non-immortality of the soul [for more on that see Samuele Bacchiocchi’s bookImmortality or Resurrection?, Biblical Perspectives, 1997, pp.125-126].
All of which has had a tremendous negative impact on the second coming and undermines the significance of the 1st and 2nd deaths. Who cares about all that if when you die you go to heaven? Never mind that Acts 2:29 and 34 says King David didn’t ascend to heaven after his death and that Jesus Himself told Mary in John 20:17 after the resurrection that He had not yet ascended into heaven. So if Jesus’ soul hadn’t ascended into heaven yet after his death, you know the thief on the cross didn’t either! Since the commas aren't inspired, maybe Jesus meant "Today I'm telling you, some day you'll be with me in paradise" instead of "I'm telling you, today you'll be with me in paradise." And I haven't even opened pandora's box of implications for spiritualism and the occult. Did you know 27% of Americans believe they can talk to dead people? And that half that 27% are widows sincerely trying to contact their dead spouses? [Ibid.,p.127] But who do you think they're reaching when 1 Samuel 28 says someone "like" Samuel "came up" to talk to King Saul when asked to do so by the witch of Endor? And for that matter, since Samuel was a good guy, why doesn't the Bible say his soul "came down" from heaven instead? Answer? Because that wasn't Samuel! Scripture says we battle not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and power and rulers of darkness of this world [cf. Ephesians 6]. Scripture says when the devil showed up to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, he didn't come with a pitchfork and horns but as an angel of light [cf. Matthew 4:1-11; 2 Corinthians 11:13-14]. People who try to talk to dead people, even "good" dead people, are people to avoid. Revelation 22:15 says they will be outside the New Jerusalem.
Long story short: Martha believed the same thing about Lazarus as Job and Daniel did about the 1st death. We know this is true because she says so in John 11:21-24. Listen to these words. “21Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.‘ 23Jesus told her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ ‘24Yes,’ Martha said, ‘he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.’” But also notice, her correct understanding of the state of the dead didn’t prevent her from significantly grieving. And rightly understood, it shouldn’t prevent us either. Because Jesus himself grieved over both the 1st and 2nd death. This is point number two. John 11:33-35 says, "33When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34'Where have you put him?' he asked them. They told him, 'Lord, come and see.' 35Then Jesus wept.”
The shortest verse in the Bible says the most about Jesus’ theology of death and dying. Death grieves Him. It hurts His heart. In John 6:35 He says, “I am the bread of life” not death! John 10:10 says He came to give us life and life abundantly. 1 John 5:12 says, “I write these things to you so you may know you have eternal life.” But when the Creator and Sustainer of life confronts death, He grieves giving us permission to do likewise. Sometimes, I think preachers are guilty of making death too holy. As if its a good thing. And I suppose if the person who died knew Jesus and is no longer in pain, it can be. But even then, they’re no longer with us. And that hurts. Grieving when you lose someone you love is the normal thing to do. So much so that John 11:36 says “The people who were standing nearby watching Jesus said, “See how much he loved him!”
Luke 7:13-15 illustrates Jesus grieving the first death. There was a funeral procession in a little town called Nain and a large crowd followed. The young man who had died was a widow’s only son "13When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. 'Don't cry!' he said. 14Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. 'Young man,' he said, 'I tell you, get up.' 15Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother." Luke 8 shares a similar story. In that account, verse 41 says a man named Jairus came and fell at the feet of Jesus pleading with Him to come home with him because his only daughter who was about twelve years old was dying. So Jesus went with him and Luke 8:51 says when he arrived at his house, the house was filled with weeping and wailing. But Jesus said, “Stop the weeping! She isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.” But the crowd laughed at him because they all knew she had died. Then Jesus took her by the hand, breaking all the rules about touching dead bodies, and said in a loud voice, “My child, get up!” And at that moment, Luke 8:55 says her life returned and she immediately stood up! Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. And her parents and everyone else in that town were overwhelmed.
Yes, there is a first death. And Jesus is grieved by it. When any of his sons or daughters die, whether they’re young or old, for whatever the reason, Jesus grieves. But there is also a second death. And I think when Jesus saw the tomb and the stone rolled in front of it as John 11:38 describes, He was reminded that it would be from a similar tomb and stone that Jesus would be raised having defeated both the 1st and 2nd death. This part of the story suggests to me that the 2nd death is just as offensive to Jesus as the first because it’s not what He wants for any of us! 1 Timothy 2:4 says God “Wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” 2 Peter 3:9 adds, “He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.”
But while He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before He would be crucified, Hebrews 5:7 says, "7While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death.” Common sense says nobody would want to die on a cross. It was the cruelest form of capital punishment then known to man. But most commentators recognize there’s more in Jesus’ loud cries and tears than simply fear of crucifixion taking place. They think this is true because three times in the context of Matthew 26 [cf. verses 39, 42, 44], Jesus asks His Father, “If it is possible, to take this cup from Me.” A “cup” was a common Old Testament symbol for suffering or punishment [cf. Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 49:12; Lamentations 4:21; Psalm 11:6; 16:5]. Previously the disciples bragged about their willingness and ability to drink that cup in Matthew 20:22. But now, when the time has come, Jesus’ prediction that they wouldn’t and honestly couldn’t rings true. Why? Because this is a cup that the only God’s begotten Son can drink!
Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. But what I think it means there is not just the premature earthly death by cessation of breathing and thinking, but the 2nd death in the lake of fire because ultimately, that’s what happens to death and dying and evil right? Revelation 20:14-15 says it is cast into the lake of fire along with the wicked raised in the 2nd resurrection. So Jesus’ death on the cross literally saves us from the 2nd death that the wages of our sin deserve and instead, we receive the riches of His grace! Which is what some say the acronym G.R.A.C.E stands for—God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. So when Jesus sees Lazarus’ tomb and stone, he remembers all that. He knows He will soon be paying the penalty for the 2nd death of the entire world’s sin on the cross. So three times Jesus asks the Father for some other way. Luke 22:43 says after the first plea, an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened Jesus. Still, two more times Luke’s account says Jesus asked the Father to let this cup pass from Me and the rest of Hebrews 5:7 says God heard Jesus’ prayers. But apparently, the answer to those all those prayers was no. There was no other way to ultimately defeat death. The taunting crowd at the cross in Matthew 27:42 was right. “He saved others. He cannot save Himself!”
But the good news that I want my kids to know is that at the cross, He did save others! Jesus defeated both the 1st and 2nd deaths! And this is point number three. We don’t have to be eternally lost and cremated in the lake of fire. In this broken world full of extreme poverty and sickness, like Lazarus, though we may die the 1st death we will not die the 2nd because Jesus already did. To prove it, the Bible says in John 11:43-44 that Jesus shouted to Lazarus, “‘43Lazarus, come out!' 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, 'Unwrap him and let him go!'"
Yes, as Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death”, but praise the Lord friends “The free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." So let me close by telling you the same thing one of the elders in heaven told John in vision from Revelation 5:5, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David's throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Revelation 12:10-11 adds, “For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth—the one who accuses them before our God day and night. And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb.” If this is true, and Jesus lives and can be trusted with taking care of death, my hope is that you before then you die, you will trust Him with your life. Will you?