My buddy’s dad died a few days ago. He was a wonderful dad, husband, and grandfather. As I gave my friend a ride to the airport, I was reminded yet again of a simple truth that will never get old–when Christians die, it is an upgrade and a blessing to see. Not only do they spend eternity in Heaven, but the believing family that they leave behind can be such an encouragement to the church.
My friend’s father died suddenly in his sleep, and the cause is still unknown. Earlier that day, he had gone to get a physical that was needed for his job–which he passed–and yet, at 69 years old, he died in his sleep that very night. Of course, my friend’s was probably still in shock as I drove him to the airport, but you could already tell that he was going to use this trial for God’s glory. He was thinking very clearly, he was focused on others, and he was already thinking biblically about the situation. There was very little for me to do other than to listen and be encouraged by his incredible attitude and eternal mindedness.
This reminded me about two events back to back that shaped my understanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 where Paul says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.”
I still remember the day the end of this verse finally came alive to me. It was the day I saw someone who had died for the first time.
I was leading a monthly evangelistic outreach at a Los Angeles hospital where we would put on a service for the patients. We would go room to room throughout the hospital to pray with, evangelize, and invite the sick to our service.
One time, I was making my rounds and there was a man who didn’t respond to my knock. So, I knocked a little harder but he kept laying there motionless. As I finished visiting every room I approached the elevators, and there was a lady weeping. So, I asked her if I could help her. She informed me that the man in the hospital room that didn’t respond to my knock was her father and that he had just died. After asking her whether she wanted to come to our service, she asked me to come back to the room later as family members were on their way.
Suddenly as she said those words the elevator doors opened and out came three more ladies, who instantly started weeping as loudly as I’ve ever seen. The tears were shooting out of their eyes and they practically fell on the floor in despair.
About 30 minutes later, I went back to the room. There were over 30 people inside a tiny hospital room. All family members and all crying hysterically. Finally, the lady who invited me asked everyone to be quiet and asked me to pray for their father and grandpa. Obviously, I didn’t pray for him but I prayed for them instead. As I was praying, it seemed as though they were hoping for a miracle; a couple of the men began shaking the dead man, and one even hit his chest. I remembered the ladies crying inconsolably over the death of their family patriarch. I finally understood what it truly meant to be without hope.
Fast forward a couple months. I received a phone call informing me that my grandmother had leukemia. My grandmother had been a missionary in Rome for over 60 years, had written several books, spoke at hundreds of women’s events and conferences, and had shared the Gospel with countless Italians.
As most of her kids and grandkids spent a couple days with her, it was obvious that this was going to be night and day different from what I had witnessed in that hospital room in Los Angeles. As much as we loved our grandma and mother, and we really did–she made it really easy to love her–we had so much hope. She was very excited to finally see Jesus and wanted to make sure she got to Heaven tired. As we sat around the living room that final night, we sang all her favorite hymns, we told stories, and we shared with her about how she impacted each of our lives. There were many tears but they were tears of joy knowing that we would see her very soon.
Death is such a taboo subject. We don’t like talking about it let alone think about it. But time and time again the Lord has used death to bring about His glory and give believers an opportunity to model what it looks like to be someone filled with hope rather than despair. So, Christians must think about death and prepare themselves theologically to respond in the right way when it comes to their family and friends despite how uncomfortable it might feel. How will you respond? How will you be a light to those around you and display the hope you hold in the Gospel?
My Grandma was an incredible example. She wrote some incredible words right before her passing. And hundreds if not thousands of people around the world were encouraged by her faith and hope. Her hope was in Heaven and her desire to see Jesus shaped her thinking.
My friend, in a short drive the other day, shepherded me to remember where our hope lies. And I pray that, as you and I experience sudden tragedy like he did, we would not grieve as those who have no hope but rather live “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” and looking forward to one day when we will behold Him and exalt Him for all eternity.
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