“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:22-24).
While a student in seminary, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Israel. It was a phenomenal, immersive experience. I visited the Garden Tomb, one of the sites in which Jesus is purported to have been buried. I bent over and ducked beneath the low entrance. As I looked left and right, my convictions were confirmed. The grave was empty. On that account, at least, the site qualified.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood before thousands of people and, empowered by the Holy Spirit, boldly proclaimed that Jesus Christ was alive, victorious over the grave. This liberating message might have been just as pointed and powerful coming from another disciple’s lips. But no disciple would be more delighted than Peter to announce the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Scripture’s record of Peter’s journey toward spiritual maturation highlights his strengths and weaknesses. Although each of the disciples possessed character flaws and personality dents, Peter’s unresolved issues were probably more difficult to mask. He was simply too tempestuous and outspoken, too often running his mouth before running his mind. When Jesus first predicted His coming suffering, Peter responded impulsively, “Never, Lord. . . . This shall never happen to you” (Matt. 16:22). Peter believed Jesus was the Christ, and he could not imagine the Christ being conquered by death. Shocked by the first part of Jesus’ announcement, Peter must have become deaf to the last part: and on the third day be raised to life. Peter so insisted that Jesus not die that at the Transfiguration he offered his services as a handyman to “put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matt. 17:4).
Can you blame him? Peter was privileged to witness unforgettable miracles, signs, and wonders during Jesus’ dynamic teaching, healing, and preaching ministry. Peter served hundreds bread and fish when Jesus fed the 5,000 and 4,000 (Matt. 14:19-21; 15:36-38). Peter walked on water with Jesus (Matt. 14:28, 29). Peter saw Jesus heal his mother-in-law of a fever (Luke 4:38, 39). Peter observed Jesus treat all people with dignity and respect, regardless of age, gender, class, or nationality. Peter’s life was better because of Jesus, and he signified his loyalty to Jesus saying, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will,” and “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Matt. 26:33; Luke 22:33).
Though these claims were admirable, Jesus knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. True to his tendency toward inconsistency, Peter would fail to live up to his declarations of determined devotion. When Jesus could have used the cooperative prayers of intercession, Peter fell asleep (Matt. 26:40). When Jesus could have been encouraged by the loyal presence of a companion, Peter ran away (Mark 14:50). When Jesus could have been represented by a faithful friend, Peter denied knowing Him three times, just as Jesus foretold (Luke 22:34).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is every sinner’s hope of salvation—our only hope; our unique hope; our omnipotent hope.
Realizing the error of his lapse in judgment and feeling the chilly winds of regret, Peter “pressed on in solitude and darkness, he knew not and cared not whither. At last he found himself in Gethsemane. The scene of a few hours before came vividly to his mind. The suffering face of his Lord, stained with bloody sweat and convulsed with anguish, rose before him. . . . It was torture to his bleeding heart to know that he had added the heaviest burden to the Saviour’s humiliation and grief. On the very spot where Jesus had poured out His soul in agony to His Father, Peter fell upon his face, and wished that he might die.”1
The inner pain of personal failure pierced Peter’s heart. It was a pain to which many can relate. Peter is not the only one who has ever felt irredeemable. Today, hundreds of thousands are intimately acquainted with the foreboding sense of guilt and shame that often accompanies poor choices. And it is to Peter and the entire human family that this message is given: there is forgiveness after failure.
Do you have a checkered past? Jesus forgives. Are your hands soiled from drug dealing? Jesus forgives. Is your tongue tainted from lying? Jesus forgives. Was your reputation ruined by infidelity? Jesus forgives. Were you imprisoned for youthful mistakes? Jesus forgives. Are you shackled by secret sin? Jesus forgives. Have you denied Jesus again, and again? Jesus forgives that, too.
On resurrection Sunday, Peter would learn that he was not forgotten. An angel gave Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome these instructions after they found the empty tomb: “‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said, ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you”’” (Mark 16:6, 7). The women were specifically directed to make sure Peter received the news. Jesus was back from the grave. Peter needed to know that all hope was not lost. “Peter . . . got up and ran to the tomb,” desperate to know if Jesus had really risen (Luke 24:12).
Like the women who bore the good news to him, Peter did not find Jesus at the tomb (John 20:3-7). However, the apostle Paul said, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve” (1 Cor. 15:3-5). Jesus gave Cephas (Peter’s Aramaic name) a personal audience at some point after His resurrection (see Luke 24:34). We do not know the exact details of this conversation or if any words were exchanged at all, but we do know Peter saw the risen Lord with his own eyes.
Perhaps it was this moment that brought everything together for Peter. Beholding Jesus for himself, he was convinced that absolutely nothing could have kept Him in the grave. Ellen White says, “Mountains piled upon mountains over His sepulcher could not have prevented Him from coming forth.”2 This is the truth Peter preached and believed.
And you, dear reader, what about you? Do you believe Jesus lives? I am not speaking primarily of the historicity of His resurrection. Rather, do you believe Jesus lives in and for you? The New Testament says, “But because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:24, 25). Jesus prays for you.
Peter would later write, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:3, 4). Paul said, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. . . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14-17).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is every sinner’s hope of salvation—our only hope; our unique hope; our omnipotent hope. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation of the preacher’s authority. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the bedrock of the believer’s faith. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the constraining compulsion for my sharing hope with you and our sharing with the whole world. Our hope is the great news that Jesus lives. And “because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.”3
Richard D. Martin loves to run: marathons and his mind. He pastors the New Life Adventist Church, in Hampton, Virginia, United States.
In times of loss our pastors are asked to offer hope and comfort to those who are bereaved. We asked four pastors to share how the Bible informs this important aspect of their ministry.—Editors
You’ll never make it out alive!”—words of the brigand who has cornered your heroes in more movies than you can count. With his cliché he means for the spirit of your hero to crumble as he emerges, hands held high, in feeble and humiliating surrender.
Innumerable skeptics employ that bandit’s cliché to describe the destiny of human mortality. For them, our destiny is nothing but a dead-end street called death. For millions of moral others death is a state of torment or trial in which the evil they have done in this life is somehow purified before they return to life promoted to some better and higher state.
But the matter of getting out alive, of escaping the tragedy of death, is not a logical first question. The obvious precedent to the question of how we get out is the question of how we first got in. Before we consider how we escape someone may reasonably inquire, “How did you get trapped?”
The Bible’s escape plan is most reliable because the Bible knows, confronts, and answers the first question exhaustively. Why do we die? We die because of sin: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Sin causes death, and everybody sins (Rom. 3:23). Before sin nobody faced death. Without sin nobody would ever have tasted death. Death became our problem because we became involved with its toxic cause: “The sting of death is sin” (1 Cor. 15:56).
And we are not innocent sufferers: we chose that cause against the best of counsel. Right at the bliss-filled beginning of life our Creator God designed an exquisite garden home for our first parent “and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gen 2:15). He gave him clear instructions as to how to proceed safely in the program called living: “The Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’” (verses 16, 17).
But the man and his wife elected to violate that instruction: first she came to believe that the fruit forbidden “was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen. 3:6). It was a thorough distortion, a remarkable inversion that she came to believe, one that was diametrically contrary to fact and truth. Continuing the perversity, “she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (verse 6). And as Moses states about God—“not human, that he should lie” (Num. 23:19)—so the man and woman found it to be. His warning word was cosmic truth, and death has followed and hounded and blighted humanity and all our earth ever since.
In the book of Job, one man plaintively asks the second question: “If someone dies, will they live again?” (Job 14:14). Otherwise stated: will anybody ever get out?
Multiple world philosophies answer Job and their own soul with a blank stare, or with fantastic and interminable scenarios of going and coming again and again in one form and yet another. But the God of the life gift and of the good counsel defied also gives an answer to the tragedy that followed disregard for His warning. His answer is for the plaintive questioner, for the hopeless philosopher, for Adam and Eve and for all their descendants. Jesus speaks to us all announcing: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).
The season of human life and death on this earth is drawing to its drama-packed close.
Through millennia of joyful and sorrowful human living men and women have found encouragement in God’s promises of life beyond death. Job, our plaintive crier, raised the question we referenced on life after death in context of horrible personal disaster—the sudden loss of his vast properties, the death of his children, the physical affliction and emotional shame of puss—oozing sores all over his body, the brokenness of spirit it all causes for his life companion, the denunciation of his friends (Job 1; 2; 4:12-21; 8:4; 11:6, etc.).
Because of Job’s circumstances, his expression of hope strikes the hearer as a dizzying and miraculous inspiration. Out of deep darkness and despair Job looks with faith’s eye and sees an end beyond the end of his life in Uz, an end that is the end of all of the cycles of human birthing and burying on earth. Your ear of faith may bring to you the sound of his astonishing words recorded in Job 19:25-27: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.And after my skin has been destroyed, yetinmy flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
More than 1,500 years after Job, Jesus Himself vindicated Job’s faith when He destroyed the prison gates of death and hell, and demonstrated His authority as Son of God “by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). Because He did we and Job are guaranteed new life beyond the grave. As Jesus put it: “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).
This promise, this Christian hope of flawless eternal living, burns brightly in millions of hearts as we live in the midst of death and disaster, holding still to faith in Jesus’ return to take us to Himself, even if we must first taste death. Those ancient men of faith and women of courage immortalized in the book of Hebrews’ pantheon of spiritual heroes lived long ago looking for a city made by God Himself (Heb. 11:10). The day is coming soon when their faith shall be palpably confirmed as they are gifted physical immortality in the form of bodies no longer subject to corruption of any sort (1 Cor. 15:53, 54).
Meanwhile, as the Bible explains, they sleep. “Sleeping” is the biblical description of death (Job 7:21; Dan. 12:2; John 5:29; 11:11-14; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). The metaphor clarifies the mental and physical condition of the dead as one of total unconsciousness, without any of the pain or glory often claimed: “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return” (Eccl. 3:20), whether they lived lives of selfless blessing to all, or lives of self-centered exploitation and greed. All who die sleep until Jesus returns in fulfilment of His Word: “I will come back and take you to be with me” (John 14:3). He, the Source of life to the universe, guarantees a share in His immortality to “everyone who believes” (John 3:15).
It is history’s unparalleled offer, exchanging the doom of oblivion in the grave at the end of life and time on earth for the glory of endless joy in the company of our sisters and brothers of all races and times, “from east and west and north and south” (Luke 13:29). What a day, and season, and time, and eternity of feasting and celebration and joy in the Lord whose sacrifice makes it possible.
Jesus our Lord laid down His life, took it up again, and steadfastly affirms: “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18).
The season of human life and death on this earth is drawing to its drama-packed close, letting in the day when God makes all things new. In its closing hours the greed of the greedy and the frustrations of the wretched poor combine with unprecedented horrors in the natural world as the whole creation—earth and beast and human—twists and retches, “groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:22).
Paul’s predictions on the outrageousness of human selfishness in the last days are fulfilled with almost exaggerated accuracy (2 Tim. 3:1-5). In the political, economic, literary and entertainment world dramatic events portend: miracle-working “demonic spirits,” unseen but surely felt, some of the very ones who have masqueraded in the past as the conscious, communicating “soul” of some dead person—King Saul or your departed grandma (see 1 Sam. 28:7-19; 1 Chron. 10:13, 14)—now hasten “the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty” (Rev. 16:14). This is the battle of Armageddon—not a conflict of human armies engaged against each other, but the united forces of spiritual deception engaged against the King of righteousness and Lord of glory.
The King and Lord is called Faithful and True (Rev. 19:11) because He is: faithfully obedient unto death on a criminal’s cross (Phil. 2:8), an act of pure love that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) on the simple condition that we acknowledge and surrender our guilt and doom to Him in exchange for life and joy forever (John 3:16, 17). This incomparable exchange is but one more unfathomable aspect of the humanly irrational fairness of divine grace that shows God “to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). “With justice he judges and wages war” (Rev. 19:11): His pervasive justice conquers all in the campaign of light against gloom, joy against fear, good against malice, and life against the oblivion of death.
Seventh-day Adventists have a message of hope for a world in need of hope. Our name is an anchor that inspires a future: by honoring the monument of seventh day rest that He established from the beginning we celebrate our confidence in the God of Genesis Creation. And our confidence that He is our unchangingly dependable and gracious Lord (Mal. 3:6), “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8) gives us unbeatable assurance in His word for tomorrow: “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).
It is our honor to share through our art and social media and music and life the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12 that clearly outline God’s love for humanity and His plan of salvation for men and women today. It is duty and joy to sound heaven’s call to God’s people to come out of Babylon’s confusion into the peace of those who love God’s law so that “nothing can make them stumble” (Ps. 119:165).
Instead of Jesus’ counsel, “Lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28), the adversary-in-chief would have us absorbed by intelligent and artistic depictions of superheroes, products of the genius of fallen human imagination, through which he may tell and retell his first grand lie from Eden to century 21: “You will not certainly die” (Gen 3:4). By this lie, and lesser ones he keeps inventing, he sustains the darkness where the masses hope and grope at straws that can save none, whether him or them from drowning in eternal oblivion.
But Jesus’ warning will keep God’s children safe in the hour of Satan’s supreme misleading effort, “the strong, almost overmastering delusion”* that he is the Christ who has returned to free the world from death’s curse forever by taking God’s children home.
In this issue of
Adventist Review as we address the question of how to deal with the tragedy of death, we say welcome to the answer that Jesus holds out: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). Welcome to His promise of return to raise His sleeping saints, as well as to translate those who are alive at His coming. All of us have been touched by death in one way or another. All of us may revel together in Jesus’ guarantee that death itself is soon to end. Let’s share this good news as Paul intended, and “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18).
*Ellen G. White,
The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 624.
Lael Caesar shares his thrill at the hope of the resurrection—and other God-blessed things—as an associate editor of Adventist Review.
Have you ever had the misfortune of being comforted by someone who really doesn't know what to say? While they mean well, they sometimes lack the words to speak in situations of grief and fear.
Perhaps the greatest example from Scripture is Job’s friends. After losing his children, his livelihood, his health, and his wife’s support (“Curse God and die!” Thanks, honey) his buddies show up and make things worse.
When Job’s friends arrived, Scripture says they didn’t even recognize their friend. “When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:12, 13).
The story would have been much better if they had just stayed that way. But we can take only so much quiet pain, so we must fill the silence; and we often fill it with nonsense.
“Our doctrine of death is the most comprehensive, compassionate, gentle, and comforting of all theologies.”
Facing down death with a loved one (whether theirs or someone they have recently lost) is not easy in a culture that medicates and distracts from every type of imaginable discomfort.
The church, once a place that performed all the necessary steps for preparing someone to die, seems at times to have contracted that out to hospital chaplains, mortuaries, and funeral homes. This isn’t to disparage those wonderful services, but to note that believers—at least those in the West—may not be as familiar with the spiritual nuances of death as we once were. In America some now embrace a Huxleyan “Christianity without tears.”
Out of our discomfort we speak, even though we don’t know what to say. At times we resort to theologizing. Adventists are particularly passionate about the state of humanity in death/the nonimmorality of the soul. People who express their fear of death or grief through theologically suspect statements produce a kind of allergic reaction where we swiftly lead the frightened person to Fundamental Belief 26.
But this potentially ill-timed straightforward approach, despite its propositional truthfulness, may result in the same rebuke God gave: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). Most of the time silence, presence, and prayer are best when ministering by the side of someone’s hospital bed.
Yet Ellen White wrote: “True religion is intensely practical.”
2 If what we believe is true, shouldn’t there be some application? The Bible itself suggests that all its contents are “useful” (see 2 Tim. 3:16, 17). Is there some kind of pastoral approach to the state of the dead that can help those who fear death face it in faith?
One of my colleagues who works in a hospital setting told me, “Our doctrine of death is the most comprehensive, compassionate, gentle, and comforting of all theologies.” So I offer a few possible ways to share this truth in a way that brings life to the dying.
English (along with many other languages) is structured around metaphors that help us frame reality. Throughout the Bible the metaphor of sleep is used for death (see John 11:11-13, etc.). Instead of eternal torment, or a lifetime of watching from heaven as loved ones suffer through their lifetimes, we await our awakening to eternal life with Jesus.
This conditional immortality reflects God’s loving and merciful character. When we die, we rest in the hands of a loving Creator who promises to call us when it is time to wake up. Of course, that could be a short time or a long time. To prevent the nightmares of worry, loneliness, and powerlessness at not being able to help those still alive, the Bible tells us “the dead know nothing” (Eccl. 9:5). Death is a dreamless sleep that will feel like a “twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52). Our movement from death to eternal life will be nearly imperceptible to us. God will watch over earth during the time that passes in between. The negative, fearful, and painful feelings will no longer be a part of our experience—forever.
Finally, those who die first receive new life first. Scripture says at world’s end, “The Lord himself will come down from heaven . . . and the dead in Christ will rise first.After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). Not a bad way to wake up.
So it’s OK to let go when the time comes. Just as Jesus promised to remember the dying thief on the cross next to Him, He will remember us, too. And the next thing we know will be life in paradise.
Seth Pierce is pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist church in Puyallup, Washington. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in communication.
In the late 1970s my parents were engaged to be married. My father was studying the Bible with my mother’s pastor, Graeme Christian.
Dad loved every minute of it. One day they studied the subject of
what really happens when a person dies.
Dad thought he already knew something about this subject, but he was holding some contradictory ideas in tension. He lived in a “haunted house”: he felt that it was possible for the spirits of the dead to return to either harass or help the living. He also believed that people are reborn into new bodies when they die (reincarnation).
In his Roman Catholic upbringing he had heard that people go straight to heaven, hell, or purgatory at the moment of death. Dad knew that not all these ideas could be true, so he was interested in finding out the truth. What he saw in Scripture was very different from anything he could have thought or even imagined.
“[T]he living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun" (Eccl. 9:5, 6). “As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so he who goes down to the grave does not return. He will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more” (Job 7:9, 10).
Dad learned that Jesus Himself referred to death as being an unconscious “sleep” (John 11:13), from which He intended to wake His people and take them to be with Him “when He comes” (1 Cor. 15:23, cf. John 14:1-3), not as soon as they die (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). He learned that the dead do not return to haunt their houses, and that the “ghosts” in his home were actually evil angels, for “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). He learned that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgement” (Heb. 9:27).
The difference and blessing that the understanding of this truth made in our family while I was growing up is something that I am now only beginning to grasp. Popular media such as books, films, music, and video games are replete with spiritualism and supernatural themes. The subjects of death, ghosts, spirits, demons, and the supernatural are expounded on ad nauseam through TV and computer screens.
The enemy’s purpose is for us to develop unbiblical ideas about the spirit world, and so allow channels through which to deceive us. When we spend 10 to 20 hours a week on screens consuming popular media, and only one hour a week at worship, whose ideas are likely to be victorious in the battle for our minds?
When we children had questions about the afterlife, or ghosts or spirits on TV, my parents always encouraged us not to be afraid, explaining the biblical truth on the subject. What’s more, they always pointed us to turn to Jesus in prayer for protection when we were afraid, and, crucially, encouraged us not to watch or read things filled with untruths and errors.
I remember friends at high school being scared because they watched some horror movie, or because they had experienced some haunting, supernatural manifestation. This is even more common today. I always knew that Jesus, who “is the head over every power and authority” (Col. 2:10), was on my side.
What this teaching means to me can be summed up in these words: “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28). Because of His death and resurrection, I know that I am saved and that I can joyfully anticipate His soon return.
Jesus’ victory over death is complete and eternal. He said, “I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18). His resurrection is a down payment to guarantee that “because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).
One more thing you should know: I was named after the prophet Daniel. For that reason, I hold these words, which Gabriel spoke to the prophet Daniel, close to my heart: “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance” (Dan. 12:13).
I plan to be there when the sleeping saints arise to be with Jesus. Do you?
Daniel Matteo is Tasmanian Conference youth ministry director and pastor of the New Norfolk church. He is married to Katy, and they have two children, Grace and Samuel. This piece is adapted from one that appeared at Record.AdventistChurch.com.
My heart pounded as I prepared to deliver the most difficult eulogy of my ministry. Tears fell as I reflected on the young woman’s life that hundreds had gathered to remember and celebrate. My tears did not fall alone. Sobs, sighs, and sounds of sorrow accented the atmosphere all around.
Her former classmates, coworkers, childhood friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents all wore shades of purple, not because this was my cousin’s favorite color, but rather because her life was prematurely taken—in an incident of domestic violence.
Yes! The sun will shine again, and what a bright day that will be.
Death is a ubiquitous thread in the interconnected web of human experience (see Eccl. 2:16). Families cannot avoid its venomous sting. Schools suffer from its pale shadow. Neighborhoods feel its gusty blow. Churches wrestle with its unsolicited frequency. Regardless of age, gender, language, or nationality, death is an equal opportunity invader. The poor cannot avoid it, and the rich cannot delay it. The tall cannot step over it, and the short cannot sneak under it. The young cannot outrun it, and the old cannot outwit it. Men cannot strong-arm it, and women cannot sweet-talk it. Death is no respecter of persons, unbiased in the relentless pursuit of its next victim.
Is there a consoling message that can reach the aching heart of the wife who weeps into her late husband’s pillow? Where does the young child turn after his mother succumbs to the relentless aggression of cancer? How does the couple cope with the pastel colors of a nursery empty because of miscarriage? How does the pastor remind the church, reeling from the loss of yet another disciple, that the sun will shine again?
As a pastor I serve the broken, offering a ministry of presence, listening empathetically, and sincerely interceding during seasons of grief. I highlight God’s character of love by presenting God as a comforter (John 14:16, 18).God does not delight in death. He hates death. When we lose a loved one, God does not deny, discredit, or demean our feelings. He does not demand a quick sojourn around the grief cycle, hastily transitioning from shock and denial to stability and acceptance. God comforts. His comfort embraces the fullness of our grappling with the aftermath of death. He sympathizes with every question, comment, and concern. He feels what we feel, for God has not excused Himself from the personal sting of death. Remember, He sent His one and only Son to live and to die (see John 3:16).
Consider Scripture’s testimony on the God who has comforted many a sufferer in times past. Listen to the words of one of those sufferers: “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (Ps. 94:19, ESV).1 For You, O God are “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1, KJV). And in words directed to others for their encouragement, the psalmist could also testify, “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into His ears” (Ps. 18:6, KJV).
Paul’s words are both relevant and opportune: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Cor. 1:3, 4, KJV).
Moreover, God’s love is revealed not only in His present comfort but also in the future fulfillment of His promised return. The second coming of Jesus Christ is perhaps the greatest expression of God’s comfort, and the ultimate resolution to the death problem. Such was the conviction that led Paul to encourage the saints of ancient Thessalonica: “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13, KJV). Jesus is coming back to get us all, awake or asleep in Him: “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (verses 16-18, KJV).
“The last enemy thtat shall be destroyed is death,” Paul assures (1 Cor. 15:26, KJV). That will be the day! The day “when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality” and “death is swallowed up in victory” (verse 54, KJV). God is faithful and will fulfill His promise, burying death eternally.
Once, while visiting a member whose husband had died unexpectedly, I noticed hundreds of puzzle pieces scattered across her kitchen table. In a way, they mirrored the pieces of her broken heart. She sat on the other end of the table, a few feet away from the very spot where she had found her husband of 28 years collapsed on the kitchen floor. Countless questions raced around her mind. One or two escaped her lips.
My elder and I listened to her reflections while our wives undertook the unfinished puzzle. Piece by piece they covered more and more of the table. Their progress alternated between stints of rapid placement and stretches of slow discovery. They proceeded patiently. They finished two nights later, using a picture of the completed puzzle as their guide. The best way to complete a puzzle is to consult the finished picture.
Death often leaves our lives broken up into a million pieces. But God knows what to do with every one of those broken, tear-stained pieces. It often takes time. But in the end God will restore, as He disclosed to His beloved John, who heard “a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. . . . He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Rev. 21:3-5).
Although the dark clouds of grief sometimes gather, blocking rays of hope and casting shadows of despair, the sun will shine again. Though our hearts ache from the piercing sting of separation, the sun will shine again. "We have this hope that burns within our hearts, hope in the coming of the Lord."2 One day God’s radiant glory will melt death’s icy grip. One day the mist of mourning will be permanently dispelled. One day the shadow of the grave will cast its gloomy hue no more. One day the clouds will roll back, the trumpet will blast, the voice of the archangel will sound, and the dead in Christ will rise. The Comforter will welcome the redeemed to their long-anticipated home. Yes! The sun will shine again, and what a bright day that will be.
Richard Martin pastors the New Life Adventist congregation in Hampton, Virginia.
The first family loss to which I ever ministred was for a couple whose child had suddenly died in the womb one month before the due date.
The family was devastated. This little girl would have been their firstborn. Her room was already decorated, two baby showers had taken place, thank you cards for the gifts had been mailed, and the outfit she was going to wear home was waiting for her.
On that fateful day, her parents screamed at God and cried and cried and cried. They had more questions than there were answers. They experienced a depth of sorrow they had previously only heard others talk about.
As their chaplain I asked God to minister through me. I had no words, no encouragement, no comfort that I could offer that would ease their broken hearts. I felt as empty as they did.
But though I had no words, God did. Questions spun round and round in those young parents’ heads: Why? How could a loving God allow such a tragedy to take place? Was the child's death a sign that they were being punished by God? What happens when you die? For every loved one I help memorialize, the same questions come up.
When God created this world, he never intended for us to die or experience sorrow and sadness. But when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, thus bringing sin into this world, they saw the truth of God’s warning word: “You will certainly die” (Gen. 2:17). And today it’s as true as then in the Garden, that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). What is also true is that because of God’s grace “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
Though I had no words, I knew that God did.
This earth and time of human failure with its dreadful consequence of death will not rage on forever. The psalmist testifies: “you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high” (Ps. 3:3). God is the only one who can provide us with peace, bring real hope in the midst of heartache and pain, disrupting the harsh inevitability of sinful act or state and tragic mortal consequence. The death of our loved ones is not the punishment of a spiteful God. Indeed, He Himself promises to be with us through it all (see Matt. 28:20). We may let him wipe our tears, fill the holes in our hearts, and satisfy our loneliness with His precious, sacred company. While suffering and death are natural results of sin, we can take comfort in knowing that death is not the end.
When death stages armed invasions into our homes to rob us of our loved ones, we may be assured that those we lose, even those who may have lived selfish, ungodly lives, have passed to quiet, undisturbed rest in the moment of their death. They are not condemned to constant and restless roving over the earth as sometimes taught: “Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun” (Eccl. 9:6).
Death is nothing but quiet, oblivious, total rest. The deceased are not walking around grieving for our losses or thrilling at our gains. Nor can they communicate with us. The spirits that impersonate them to intrigue, deceive, and enslave people “are demonic spirits that perform signs” (Rev. 16:14).
In His wisdom, God permits the dead to lie in peaceful unconsciousness, waiting for resurrection: first comes the resurrection unto life eternal (see 1 Thess. 4:16; John 5:29); then follows the resurrection to judgment for the rest: “those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:29; see also Rev. 20:6). Only God knows the true state of each individual heart. So that each one’s final verdict for eternity depends upon our compassionate and empathetic God who does not desire “anyone to perish, but that everyone” should be able to share with Him in His glorious eternity (2 Peter 3:9).
Death is unkind and pungent. It hurts and it stinks. The stench is smelt for days, for years, for lifetimes, even for generations; and for generations of those robbed by crime or accident of some considerable ancestral legacy. The narratives survive and haunt and grieve.
But death will not have the final say. Soon God will allow us to inhale the fragrance of victory over death, sorrow, and the grave, for death is an enemy destined for death: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26; see also Rev. 20:14). At the end, and for the saints who endure to the end of it all, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). There will only be the victory of endless life in Jesus to celebrate forever!
God, the source of life across the universe, has promised humanity that those who die in Christ will live again. He Himself “will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). For all who die with this faith, He is coming back to break their grave and casket open, awaken them, and bless them with the gift of immortal bodies.
Then those believers who are still alive will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17).
These words give hope and peace. They say that after death comes life. In that sense, those who now live in Christ are barely experiencing our wonderful first installment on everlasting living. We shall collect the full amount when He comes again, as He has promised: “Do not let your hearts be troubled . . . . I will come back and take you to be with me” (John 14:1, 3); “My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Rev. 22:12).
Life is a promise, fulfill it. Life is a sorrow, overcome it. Life is a song, sing it. Life is a struggle, accept it. Life is a tragedy, confront it. Life is an adventure, dare it. Life is precious, do not destroy it. Life is life, fight for it! “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).
While we remember our loved ones, keep on living. Live with integrity, live with joy, live with compassion, live with faith; enjoy the sunrise, walk barefoot more, laugh today, and cause someone else to smile tomorrow. Live in Christ. Live the life He blesses you to live in the midst of pain. He uses our lives in Him to testify to others how wonderful life can be.
We live today to live again for eternity.
Lieutenant Commander Adrienne Benton serves as a chaplain in the United States Navy. In 2008 she became the first Seventh-day Adventist woman to be commissioned as a Navy chaplain.
For the past 11 years, the Emmanuel-Brinklow Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ashton, Maryland, has hosted The Living Legends Awards for Service to Humanity.
In February the Living Legends Foundation honored Calvin B. Rock, a former president of Oakwood University and former vice president of the General Conference; the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to correcting the incarceration of innocent people; and Van Brooks, founder of Safe Alternative Foundation for Education (SAFE), an after-school program in Baltimore that provides education and health activities for at-risk youth.
The following remarks were made at the conclusion of the evening’s presentations. —Editors
As I was growing up, the sanctuary choir sang a song that many of us are familiar with. I will not sing the lyrics, coming after all that has been sung tonight. But with as much eloquence as I can, I will recite them. They’re not difficult.
If You can use anything, Lord,
You can use me.
If You can use anything, Lord,
You can use me.
Take my hands, Lord, and my feet.
Touch my heart, Lord, speak through me.
If You can use anything, Lord,
You can use me.
What does it mean to live a life of usefulness? We have been privileged with seeing and hearing three examples. But a little look to your left, to your right, before you and behind, reveals more lives to be used among us.
Perhaps, hearing about these three, and seeing all they have done, we don’t feel that we have anything to offer. What little do I have to offer in the presence of so much that has already been given? While we collectively thank those whose lives and usefulness and legacies have been honored tonight, how sad it would be to hear about what can be done and still remain on the sidelines.
At some point, information must translate to transformation. Then transformation translates to participation. We all are now tasked and charged with presenting our lives to be used. Where? We don’t know. How? We are not sure. In what way? It’s yet to be seen. But all of us have lives that can be used.
Allow me to paint a picture about how a life can be well-lived and well-used.
Cast your gaze into the azure-blue skies. See the aged clouds as they shift from east to west. You can feel and hear the circuitous winds. The grassy-green fields appeal to the eyes. The flowing of the river’s waters is nice to the ears. But look a little lower. Don’t stop at the sky and the clouds, for we all would like to live up there. Come a little lower, beneath the wind, beneath the grass. Stop right at the riverbed. There you will see not 10, not 20, not 50, not 70, but hundreds of stones: stones that all look the same. Stones that do nothing more than keep each other company. They’re just stones.
We don’t know how the stones arrived where they did. Some of them may have been thrown there by a lad walking along the path. But these stones all share certain commonalities. They’ve all been walked on. They’ve all been passed over. They’ve all experienced erosion. No one cares about the stone’s story. No one bothers to ask the stones how they arrived there. And if we know anything about the stone, the stone thinks, Well, I guess my life will be used just to take up space by the riverbed. I’m only going to erode for the rest of my life.
I see before me stones scattered by the riverbed. Perhaps you, too, have been walked on, passed by, and in your mind you think, My only life’s purpose is just to take up space by the riverbed. People come to fish in the river. People look at the birds flying through the sky. But no one will ever pay attention to me. I’m only going to erode for the rest of my life.
But one of these riverbed stones had a destiny. And everything it had been through—walked on and eroded—served to prepare it for its future destiny. Some stones get hit and lie paralyzed on the ground. Other stones spend years in prison. Others receive the cruelties of prejudice and discrimination. I don’t know your stone’s story. But every stone has a story. And every stone is being prepared for a future destiny.
What this stone didn’t know was that a shepherd boy was practicing with a pebble; someone was developing a skill. And one day that shepherd’s skill would meet the stone.
But the stone would not be collected by itself; four other stones were being prepared. Stones are always prepared in community. This is why no stone is an island unto himself or herself. The jagged edges of communal stones smooth us out. We need the stones on our right and the stones on our left. And the stones on our left and our right need us. For how will we be smoothed out without one another?
David picks up stone one, stone two, stone three, stone four, and stone five. Now they’re in his pouch, all keeping each other company. And that one stone that thought its life’s purpose was just to take up space did not know that all the erosion and all the feet were simply making it smooth. Because leather slings only use smooth stones.
Sometimes we have to have the rough edges smoothed over through trials we don’t deserve. It’s all preparing us for a future use. The stone would be used only once, not day after day, not for years. It had one purpose: to sit there until it was smooth enough to take flight.
So now the stone has been smoothed. Now it sits in the skillful hands of one who knows where to send it. And that stone that didn’t think it was worth anything, I see it cut through the wind; its destination is in sight. Now that stone knows: This is why I was made. I wasn’t made to sit and take up space by a riverbed; I was made to bring down giants.
My fellow stones, how long will the giants in our land stand? One day when we’re smooth enough, a skillful hand will pick us up and send us flying through the sky. What a day that will be when the giants of our time begin to fall!
Richard Martin is an associate pastor at Emmanuel-Brinklow Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ashton, Maryland.