Recently, I was privileged to the speak at the “Living in Hope, Preparing for Glory” Conference sponsored by the Evangelical Church of Fairport – and hosted by Webster Bible Church. The conference was the brain child of my friend and fellow elder of many years – Ken Beaton. And it was a conference dealing with end-of-life issues from various perspectives: Medical, Ethical, Personal, Spiritual, etc. The roster of speakers was terrific, including: Pastor Jim Luckey, Chaplain Bryan McMullen, Dr. Kate Butler, Dr. Brian Smith and Dr. John Dunlop.
It was a most informative and profitable time for myself, and I believe all who were there in person and watched online. Here is a link to the YouTube video of the entire conference.
My portion begins at about the 5 hour, 38 min. mark. But I thought I would give you the text of my portion below. May the Lord be pleased to bless you all with what each contributed to this solemn, necessary but often confusing subject.
We’ve heard so many useful things today about navigating the complex myriad of end of life issues. I am grateful for each one and all they’ve contributed.
And as we have heard, and know ourselves, there is much that is so uncertain in it all.
So with a different emphasis, yet with absolute necessity, I want to close this section with the end of life issues which have direct, eternal implications. And to bring to bear some absolute certainties, in the light of what is so uncertain as we face these things with our loved ones – and ourselves.
I believe it is a necessary thing to take death out of the haze of the general way we tend to deal with it, look in the mirror and say to ourselves: “I am going to die.” “I, am going to die.” And so will you if Christ tarries. We need to say this to ourselves and live in the light of it. It is not morbid, it is reality.
That said, I’d like to look at just 2 verses in the NT – Hebrews 9:27–28 ESV
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
The Writer here concerns himself with 4 certainties surrounding end of life issues.
And at the risk of sounding prosaic – note first:
1st. Certainty: The Certainty of Death: “it is appointed for man to die once.”
J.I. Packer – God’s Plans for You Dying
“In today’s world death is the great unmentionable, just as physical sex was a hundred years ago. Apart from cynical paradings of a sense of life’s triviality (the Grateful Dead; “he who dies with the most toys wins”) and egoistic expressions of belief in reincarnation (the New Age; Shirley MacLaine), death is not ordinarily spoken of outside of medical circles. To invite discussion of it, even in the church, is felt to be bad form. It has become conventional to think as if we are all going to live in this world forever and to view every case of bereavement as a reason for doubting the goodness of God. We must all know deep down that this is ridiculous, but we do it all the same. And in doing it, we part company with the Bible, with historic Christianity, and with a basic principle of right living, namely, that only when you know how to die can you know how to live.
There is a great contrast here between past and present. In every century until our own, Christians saw this life as preparation for eternity. Medievals, Puritans, and later evangelicals thought and wrote much about the art of dying well, and they urged that all of life should be seen as preparation for leaving it behind. This was not otiose morbidity, but realistic wisdom, since death really is the one certain fact of life. Acting the ostrich with regard to it is folly to the highest degree.”
Should Christ tarry, not only WILL we all die – each of us here – but it is appointed so. Appointed by whom? By God.
Each of us here has an appointment with death, but at God’s direction.
Now there is nothing more common, than, when considering any appointment we may have in life – to prepare for it.
One of my most aggravating pet peeves, is one I regularly encounter at Wegman’s. You get into the checkout line, and the person in front of you finally has all of their items scanned and bagged: And then, as though it suddenly comes as a complete surprise, they must pay. And it isn’t until then that they finally rifle through their purse or reach for their wallet and fumble for payment and remember their stowed coupons. I don’t know what they imagined was going to happen at this moment – but for some odd reason they were entirely unprepared for it.
We seem to have an innate aversion to being prepared for the inevitable, even in the most mundane of circumstances. Let alone in this issue of the very highest importance.
But preparation ought to be a given for most things in life.
Anticipating an IRS audit, a school exam, a driver’s test – you name it. Basic common sense should have us preparing.
But how many of us are actually minded to prepare ourselves for the appointment in our text?
It is as though no such thing exists. As though death will simply take us by surprise, and maybe, if we don’t think about it at all – we can just avoid it all together.
But we must reckon with the fact that this is appointed for us by God.
It was appointed in judgment by reason of the Fall and our common sinfulness in Adam. So Rom. 5:12 “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—”
And, it was appointed in mercy, lest we live perpetually in these bodies and in this world groaning from the effects of sin.
But the bottom line here at first is simply this: It is appointed for each one of us, and for all of those we know – to die. And that, just once.
Death comes many ways, old age, illness, accident, violence, etc.
The means may be uncertain – but the fact of it is absolutely so.
2nd Certainty: The 2nd certainty in the text and what gives rise to the place where our preparation is most important: Is that while it is appointed for us all to die, so also it is appointed that immediately upon that death – “comes the judgment.”
Now by that I do not mean the final disposition of our souls. Jesus spoke to that in John 5:24-29 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
What Jesus means here is connected to Jesus’ words in Luke 16 upon the account of the deaths of two men – one Lazarus and another unnamed. And in that portrayal, Jesus indicates each knew immediately upon death what their final disposition would be, and had begun to taste of it even then.
So the Apostle Paul can say that for the Christian, to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord, even though it is an incomplete thing as we await our resurrected bodies, never to die again. (2 Cor. 5; Philip 1)
Now here is where I need to ask you, are you prepared for this judgment?
If not, despite everything else, you are not prepared to die either.
Are you prepared to stand before the living God and give an account of every thought, every deed, every word spoken? Every motive.
Beloved, this is the most urgent thing of all. This is a certainty, as certain and as appointed by God as death itself – and it is of the highest importance that it be prepared for.
And let me state unequivocally that the Scripture knows of only 2 ways this can go.
Either you have put your trust in Jesus Christ as God incarnate – having died by God’s appointment on Calvary’s tree, as dying the death of God’s just wrath upon sin in your place – and receiving His righteousness by faith, or you will stand nakedly by yourself, when Scripture declares that by the works of the Law – by doing good things – NO ONE IS JUSTIFIED or declared right with God.
So we read in Romans 3:23-26 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Her name was Pat.
I was asked by a loving relative to visit her in hospice.
Just shy of 50, her time was short.
She was delightful. Smart. Attractive. And deeply religious. Moral. Upright. Just a lovely individual.
For nearly 30 years, she had gone to Mass every single day.
I asked how she felt about her impending death. And she told me she had fear. Especially about her acceptance with God.
I asked her if she knew the Gospel? She said no. She was just hoping she had been good enough.
So I asked if I might explain it to her, and she said yes.
As tears rolled down her cheeks, she found the Gospel almost too good to believe. That salvation didn’t depend upon her righteousness, but on the imputed righteousness of Christ who died as our substitute on the Cross. That sin was completely met in Him.
Philippians 3:4–9 (ESV): If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”
We prayed together, and I have true hope that I will get to see her again one day at the resurrection.
Understand, Pat knew that the time of her appointment with death was at hand. But she was not prepared for it. She was not “eagerly waiting for him.” She was filled with fear and trepidation.
She instinctively knew that 30 years of daily Mass-going and her very moral life was not sufficient to gain unworried acceptance with God.
She had reached the end of the checkout line, and was furiously ransacking her soul’s purse, only to find she had no cash, no check, no credit card – nothing. She hadn’t prepared.
Although in God’s providence, He had – in using a loved one to see that she at least heard the Gospel before her final hour.
Just as your death and mine is a certainty, so is this judgment.
I plead with you today – prepare for it now. If you haven’t already, cry out to God for His mercy to redeem you today, and purge you from your guilt and sin by the blood of Jesus Christ.
3rd Certainty. But the passage is not done yet. There is a 3rd certainty mentioned here, and it is that “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin.”
I need not linger long here, because of what I’ve already mentioned. But note that this return of Jesus is also appointed and certain.
And it is certain that His appearing the 2nd time will not be a second chance for any. He will not come to deal with sin like He did the first time.
He will come for the final reckoning I already cited in John 5:26–29 ESV
For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
It is necessary to be reminded of this because we are so prone to invent constructs that please us more than what the Scripture actually says. And so it is many imagine that there will be some chance after this present life – if they are not in right relationship with God now through Christ – that there is some sort or mythical second chance – or that when He comes again, they’ll have some opportunity to plead their case.
But as the context of this entire passage notes, Jesus died just once to deal with sin. He will not provide any other means of cleansing and forgiveness than what He has already done on the Cross. The sin issue is settled – and if we will not yield to His provision in it now by forsaking our sin, repenting now and turning to Him as savior and Lord – there will be no other opportunity at His return.
This, dear one is certain. It is appointed by God. We cannot change it. We cannot wish it to be different. As certain as it is that we are to die once and then comes the judgment, so certain it is that Christ WILL return to judge the whole world, and will not provide another opportunity to repent and believe the Gospel.
Oh, but there is such good news that is certain here too. And I would be most remiss if I neglected to point you to the 4th certainty in the passage.
4th Certainty: Just as it is appointed for all to die once, and after that the judgment, so too is it appointed that the Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear the second time, not to deal with sin. But what is it certain He will appear for? “To save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.”
Christian – hear me! This is absolutely certain too. All those who have set their eternal, everlasting hope on Christ Jesus – eagerly waiting for Him – will suffer no disappointment. He will come! He will ultimately and fully redeem you and bring you to His own glory. Your faith is not in vain!
J.I. Packer – God’s Plans for You (Dying)
“For Christians, death’s sting is withdrawn. Grace has intervened, and now their death day becomes an appointment with their Savior, who will be there to take them to the rest prepared for them. Though they will be temporarily bodiless, which is not really good, they will be closer to Christ than ever before, “which is better by far” (Phil. 1:23).3. Since believers do not know when Christ will come for them, readiness to leave this world at any time is vital Christian wisdom. Each day should find us like children looking forward to their holidays, who get packed up and ready to go a long time in advance…Dying well is one of the good works to which Christians are called, and Christ will enable us who serve him to die well, however gruesome the physical process itself. And dying thus, in Christ, through Christ, and with Christ, will be a spiritual blossoming. As being born into this temporal world was our initial birthday, and as being born into God’s spiritual kingdom was our second birthday, being born through physical death into the eternal world will be our third birthday. Dag Hammarskjöld was thinking Christianly when he wrote that no philosophy that cannot make sense of death can make sense of life either. No one’s living will be right until these truths about death are anchored in his or her heart.”
As Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17 that all who were His would be kept by the Father. And to what end? John 17:24 ESV
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
Believer, you will at last have the true hope of Heaven – Jesus Himself in all of His transcendent glory!
As John Flavel once wrote: “In giving [Christ] [God] gave the richest jewel in his cabinet; a mercy of the greatest worth, and most inestimable value, Heaven itself is not so valuable and precious as Christ is: He is the better half of heaven…Ten thousand thousand worlds…as many worlds as angels can number, and then as a new world of angels can multiply, would not all be the bulk of a balance, to weigh Christ’s excellency, love, and sweetness. O what a fair One! what an only One! what an excellent, lovely, ravishing One, is Christ! Put the beauty of ten thousand paradises, like the garden of Eden, into one; put all trees, all flowers, all smells, all colours, all tastes, all joys, all sweetness, all loveliness in one; O what a fair and excellent thing would that be? And yet it should be less to that fair and dearest well-beloved Christ, than one drop of rain to the whole seas, rivers, lakes, and fountains of ten thousand earths. Christ is heaven’s wonder, and earth’s wonder.”
This is the ultimate certainty we prepare for in trusting Jesus Christ as our sin-bearer.
The ultimate end-of-life issue, set in absolute certainty.
How I pray today, that everyone in the reach of my voice, will grapple with these certainties, and, with a fifth one not in this text, but no less certain because they are the words of Jesus: John 6:37-40 “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.””