By Rev. Lance Filio
According to the wisdom from King Solomon: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” (Eccel 7:2) Which is why, as Christians, we should be mindful of people around us experiencing the death of a relative or a loved one because it benefits the soul compared to attending birthdays, weddings celebrations and etc. Nothing is more potent and cleansing in our thoughts than being reminded of our own mortality whenever we attend the wake of the dead. For whoever was dead in every wake we attended, we know that his or her fate will be our fate. As the preacher of the book of Hebrews had written: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27), it reminds us the sobering reality that all of us will one day die. All of us will soon face the destructive sting of death. It may be the farthest thought in our mind but whenever we come close to someone we know who just died, it becomes a potent reminder to all of us that we too will die as well. Everyone will all soon die.
Which is why we need the wisdom of God’s word on the matter of death. We need to hear again and again the reminders of Holy Scripture over this subject so that we will find comfort in times of death. So what is death? Why does this happen and What was remedy given God over this matter?
Three Aspects of Death
The most obvious aspect of Death is the physicality of it. We will die physically. This body that we’re born with, which we’re living with, growing with since birth will soon decay and one day will be destroyed. Our internal organs will soon fail and everything that we’ve done with this body will soon that its toll and finally stop working. It was in the book of James which explained to us this reality when he used this as a comparison of faith and work: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). Man, unlike an angel, was created with a dual nature, an immaterial aspect and material aspect. This we learn from the teaching of Jesus himself as recorded infallibly by his disciples when he said: “And fear not them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Physical death means the dissolution of the bond between the body (material aspect/what everyone sees and from where we perceive/sense everything) and the soul (immaterial aspect/where our person lies/who we are).
At this level, all men ancient or modern recognize and understand this as the only aspect of death while men of science only see the material aspect or the physically seen aspect of death as Christian we know that Scripture goes beyond this. We have been taught that while destructive effects of death come to use with the physical reality of it, we know in truth that it has a spiritual aspect. Death, in relation to God, happened to all us since the time our ancient parents, Adam and Eve sinned and was banished from the garden, away from God as part of man’s punishment for choosing evil over good, for siding with the devil instead of obeying God, for believing the lie instead of executing the devil and triumphing with truth. “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). And as surely as they sinned against their Creator God, they indeed received the curse of physical death, a divine appointment that we will all face, as his descendants. But the reality of the physical death comes with the new state of death, spiritual death, alienated from God, away from the source of his life. We are all spiritually dead, not just sick to our soul or even partly dead but wholly dead. Our sin, imputed in the fall of Adam and Eve, rendered us dead before God. Apostle Paul referred to this as being “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
Which leads us to the last aspect of death, the eternal state of death. As a result of being dead to God spiritually, this state will find its the ultimate expression of reality when we all face the judgment of our sins. As fallen men, this is all that we deserve. The permanent state of being tortured to death in hell will be the destiny of all men without the gospel of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. For it was Jesus himself who reminded all men to fear him who does not only have the power to render our physical death but more so the eternal death of hell. “And fear not them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul, but rather fear Him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
The Penalty of Death
But why do we die? We are all familiar with the effects of death but we have to ask ourselves, what caused it? The witness of Scripture is quite clear on this point that while the ancient and modern philosophy of the world may disagree, Death as an effect has Sin as its cause. Sin is the reason for death in all of its aspects (physical, spiritual and eternal). From the Old Testament prophets, Ezekiel declared that: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die,” (Ezekiel 18:4) and in the New Testament, connected with the fall in Adam: “As through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned,” (Romans 5:12); “In Adam all die,” (I Corinthians 15:22) and again, “The wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23).
Human death is not a natural occurrence or even part of God’s good creation but a result of Adam’s pledge of allegiance with the Devil from which since then held the power of death. And that while, we as descendants of Adam, were not present during that time he sinned, as part of his loins, his guilt was imputed to us all. It was the cost we all have to pay. As surely as we were born, we were set to die because of sin. Because of man’s low view of sin, we simply dismiss the fact that whenever we see or witness death, we accept it as the natural law of our existence and since we cannot do anything about it, we should embrace it as part of our humanity. But nothing is natural about death. With sin as its only cause, death, as witnessed in human history, silenced all men in their grave without any hope. Others dismissed it and others embrace it but both does not receive the judgment of scripture over it that all have sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)
The Death of Death in Christ
The law of death schools us to seek help outside of ourselves. If we simply look upon ourselves and truthfully examine the reality upon which sin prevailed over our human existence, this will only lead to grief and despair. Which is why we preach the gospel unto all men who seek salvation from sin and death. For death reminds us of our destiny and nothing we can do to escape this reality. We need a savior who can pay the penalty of sins and deliver us from death and grant us eternal life instead of eternal death.
As a reformed church, we have a teaching booklet which we consider part of our confession as a church, we teach and learn from this every Lord’s day. We call it the Heidelberg Catechism and it was written by Zacharias Ursinus. The third part of this catechism deals with deliverance from sin and death, he gave us this instruction:
Lord’s Day 5 Q & A 12
Q. According to God’s righteous judgment we deserve punishment both now and in eternity: how then can we escape this punishment and return to God’s favor?
A. God requires that his justice be satisfied.1 Therefore the claims of this justice must be paid in full, either by ourselves or by another.
Q. Can we make this payment ourselves?
A. Certainly not. Actually, we increase our debt every day.
What a simple answer to a most difficult question and yet most of the time, man answer yes to the question and tried everything in his power to deliver himself from against himself, knowing fully well that sin lives in him and he is powerless to get himself out from his own predicament.
Which leads us to the center of the gospel itself, the kind of savior or mediator that we should seek aside from ourselves:
Q#15 What kind of mediator and deliverer should we look for then?
A. One who is a true and righteous human, yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true God.
Q#16 Why must the mediator be a true and righteous human?
A. God’s justice demands that human nature, which has sinned, must pay for sin; but a sinful human could never pay for others.
Q#17 Why must the mediator also be true God?
A. So that the mediator, by the power of his divinity, might bear the weight of God’s wrath in his humanity and earn for us and restore to us righteousness and life.
Q#18 Then who is this mediator— true God and at the same time a true and righteous human?
A. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was given to us to completely deliver us and make us right with God.
The God-man, who is the Son God, the second person of the Trinity, sent by His Father to become a man, suffered, died, buried and in three days resurrected from the dead, ascended unto his Father, now in glory and soon will return to judge the living and the dead.
Death found its death in the death of our perfect Saviour and Mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ. Through his finished work of dying at the cross and fulfilling the all the requirement of the law through his perfect obedience to his Father, He rendered unto us salvation which none us was able to accomplish and even escape from. This is the atoning work of Christ for his people which can only be received by faith since we all are sinners and unable to own work to God’s satisfaction.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)
This is the message of the gospel we preach over death. The gospel of comfort and rest to those who believe. Let us carefully consider and receive the message with faith. May the LORD continue to bless his people through the preaching of his Holy Gospel of Christ and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Amen.