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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:Christ's death brings comfort as we think of our own death.
Text:LD 16 QA 42 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Preached:2007
Added:2008-01-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 95
Hymn 1A
Psalm 16
Hymn 56
Hymn 58

Reading: Philippians 1
Text: Lord's Day 16, QA 42
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ Jesus,

The broader culture in which we live doesn’t really know what to do with death. You can see this in the way that our culture tries to take the edge off this subject. For instance, Canadians (and we’re included here) don’t really like to say that someone died. To many ears that sounds crass and sharp. So, instead, we say that someone passed away. Though we still see a few funerals, we begin to see more and more memorial services, celebrations of life and the like. In years gone by, cemeteries were located next to churches and never far from sight. By contrast, today we bury our dead in discretely located memorial gardens with pleasant sounding names.

But no matter how hard we try to avoid it or take its edge off, death still confronts us with all its ugliness. Whenever a loved one dies, the pain is there and it’s real. We go to funerals and we mourn because someone we care about is gone. But God also uses funerals to remind us of something important. It’s something that we probably don’t like to think about. But the fact is all of us are someday going to die. Unless the Lord Jesus comes back first, our bodies are going to be put in a grave. Some of us will go sooner than others. But we will all die. How do you feel about that? Does death scare you? Some people, also people who are believers, have a fear of death. They’re afraid that it will hurt. Or they’re afraid because they’re uncertain about what will happen afterwards. What about you?

This is a question each of us needs to consider. Perhaps right now you’re distracted by all kinds of other things going on in your life. You’re too busy living to think about death. But brothers and sisters, we’re speaking here about things that matter for eternity. Perhaps we think that death is something in our distant future. Not to be morbid, but it could be that God has other plans for you. So, you need to think about these important questions today.

A few moments ago we read from the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. As you may know, when Paul wrote this epistle he was in prison. Prisons today can be rough places, but prisons in the Greco-Roman world were much more so. Paul was in chains. The prison didn’t provide food and certainly didn’t have adequate facilities for sanitation. And if all that weren’t bad enough, it looked like he might die very soon. Because of his faith and his apostolic calling, Paul was facing death. Those in positions of authority hated Christians and wanted them dead. But since Paul was a believer, he did not fear death. This was because he knew about the death of Jesus Christ his Saviour. Paul knew that because Christ died for him, he didn’t have to be afraid of death. Christ’s death brought him comfort when he was thinking about his own death.

The Heidelberg Catechism teaches us the very same thing in QA 42. It asks the question, “If Christ died for us, why do we still have to die?” The question assumes the reality of death. The answer teaches us that there is purpose and meaning in our death. The answer shows us that Christ’s death brings comfort as we think of our own death.

Closely following what the Bible says, the Catechism says that Jesus Christ makes our death into a good thing. Because of what Christ did on Golgotha, we do not have to be afraid when we think about dying. Instead, we can have comfort. We can have peace and joy in our hearts because we know that dying will be a good thing for us, for us who belong both in life and in death to our faithful Saviour Christ Jesus.

The first thing the Catechism says in QA 42 is that “our death is not a payment for our sins.” And that’s exactly what the Bible teaches us, isn’t it? We could go into hell and spend an eternity there and we would not even begin to make the payment God demands for our sins. And if that is true, how would the comparatively simple act of a heart stopping be able to pay for our sins and meet that divine demand for justice? Only the death of Jesus Christ our Saviour can do that. Nobody and nothing else can pay this enormous debt each of us owes to a holy God!

Consider what Scripture says in Hebrews 2:9, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Adam had introduced sin and death into this world with his disobedience. But Jesus, the second Adam, came and restored life when he suffered death. He took the penalty of sin, he made payment so that all who believe would not have to!

Hebrews 9:26-28 teaches us the same thing, that “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.” He was on the cross that one day and there made payment for many. And who were those many people? Ephesians 5:25 tells us that Christ “loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Christ made the payment for us! He paid in full. We’re simply called to believe this great truth. And that’s why in his letter to the Philippians, while Paul is in his prison cell, he directs the Philippians’ faith entirely to Christ – for that’s also in whom he has his hope and comfort.

That’s why Paul can write so much about joy in this letter. He’s about to die and he keeps going on and on about joy, over and over again. In one form or another “joy” appears fourteen times in this short epistle. A couple of times he encourages the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord.” He himself did the same. He could have that sort of outlook because he knew Christ as his Saviour. Who wouldn’t want that same outlook when facing death? Having the same faith in the same Saviour, we too can and will have the same comfort and yes, even joy when we consider our own death.

So, loved ones, when we read those words in the Catechism “our death is not a payment for our sins,” let us fix our eyes on Jesus whose death is in fact the payment for our sins. Today, once again God is calling us to freshly lay hold of Christ in faith. Believe the gospel! We have a Saviour who died for us and in so doing took the curse of sin that we deserved. Brothers and sisters, you must not be indifferent to this message of good news. Listen to Hebrews 2:1-3, “We must pay careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” You cannot sit still in the river of indifference, because its current runs in one direction, down to the falls. That’s a place we don’t want to be. So, thus says the Lord: here is your Saviour, believe in him and know for certain that your sins have been paid for in full!

Well then, if our death is not a payment for our sins, then what is it? The Catechism teaches us that death “puts an end to sin and is an entrance into eternal life.” Did you notice what Paul said in verses 21-24 of Philippians 1? He said, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” If it were up to him, Paul wouldn’t know what to do. He is ambivalent about the prospect of death. But one thing he does know and he knows it for certain: going to be with Christ would be the best thing that could happen to him. Paul had no fear of death.

Now Paul doesn’t go into a lot of detail here as to why he thinks this way. But we can look in other places in the New Testament to figure that out. For instance, in Romans 7. In verse 24 of that chapter, Paul says, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Here Paul is working through the fact that he is a sinner. This was his state as long as he lived. He was a redeemed sinner, a justified sinner, but a sinner just the same. We’re the same way. As long as our heart is beating, sin is there in our lives. But after we take our last breath, sin is gone. When our bodies are dead, sin will no longer have any control over us. Through the power of Jesus Christ, we will be totally free from sin. We’ll be done with it forever! Brothers and sisters, this is good news! This is something to look forward to with eager longing. This is not something to be afraid of. This is something to hope for and long for. Who among us doesn’t get tired of the effects of sin in our lives and the battle with the old nature? We should look forward to the day that God calls us home to himself. The prospect is there, the prospect of being totally free from sin – that’s a thought that can give you comfort and hope for the future.

There is one other reason why God speaks through Paul and tells us that dying would be a good thing. It’s the fact that death is a doorway to eternal life. He says that death is gain. What would he gain? What would we gain? Well, Paul tells us in verse 23 that his departure would mean being with Christ. Already in this life we get a foretaste of eternal life, but with death we enter into it. Through death we come into a life that has nothing to do with death! After we take our last breath, we will never have anything to do with death ever again. And so for Christians, our death is not an end, but really a beginning. It’s the beginning of something more beautiful than you can imagine. As we read in 1 Cor. 2:9, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

So, death for believers does not have the final say. In one sense, it really is not death. That’s why Paul calls death “falling asleep” in 1 Thessalonians 4. Believers do not die as unbelievers do, rather they fall asleep in the Lord. Their bodies appear dead, but their souls are alive with the Lord Jesus in heaven. They have eternal life! For Christians, death is not an empty and meaningless, nor is it hopeless. It serves a grand purpose: bringing us into the presence of God.

Let’s consider for a few moments some of things that come with that eternal life, things that we can look forward to after our death. Let’s do that to stir up our hearts in anticipation of what God has in store for us. Considering these things, the Spirit will kindle in us a deeper understanding and passion for what really matters now in this life.

First of all, when we live on this earth, we do not really have a spiritual home that we dwell in. Scripture says in 1 Peter 1 that we are strangers in the world. We are pilgrims and exiles, we don’t really belong here. In Philippians 3:20, we read that our citizenship is in heaven. So, when we take our last breath, we will finally arrive at our permanent dwelling. Finally, we’ll be in the presence of our God and we will live with him forever. So, a permanent dwelling place.

Second, we can look forward to joy unmixed with suffering. When we believe in the Lord Jesus on this earth, we have joy but it is mixed with suffering and sadness. We face hurts and disappointments in this life. When we are called into eternal life, our joy will be complete. There will be no more frustration, no more sadness, no more hurt. Don’t you look forward to that? Believing in the Lord of life you can and will have it. Rev. 21:4, “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 way.” Rev. 22:3, “No longer will there be any curse.” That’s God’s promise to you and he will keep it! So, joy unmixed with suffering.

Third, on this earth we face suffering for a little while, but after death we will have joy forever. Psalm 16:11, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” David suffered in this life time and again, but he looked forward to eternal joy in God’s presence. If he did that merely with faith in what was promised, how much more shouldn’t we able to do that with faith in the Christ who came in fulfillment of the promise!? Our suffering here is but for a little while. The glorious joy which waits for us will be forever.

Next, we long for being at home with the Lord Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 we read, “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” We should never get too comfortable in this life. While we are here, we are away from the Lord in a real and meaningful sense. There is something incomplete in our present relationship with him. So, we long for the time when we will be at home with the Lord, when he will be with us forever as both our King and friend.

Fifth, while we live here we face a fight. The Christian life on this earth is characterized in Scripture as warfare – just think of Ephesians 6. We have to fight against sin, the devil, the world, and what’s usually the hardest fight of all, our own flesh. Now we have a fight and it wears on us. But the promise of Scripture is that the fight will give way to a feast in eternal life. Think of what it says in Revelation 19, God’s promises for the wedding feast of the Lamb. Eternal life will speed us on to that great and peaceful event in the age to come.

Finally, we can look forward to complete deliverance from sin and perfect, absolute holiness. While we live in this life, we still have to contend with sin in our hearts and lives. There was a reason why the Lord Jesus taught his disciples to continually pray for the forgiveness of their sins. As long as they lived and we live on this earth, sin is there and it drives us repeatedly to seek forgiveness in the precious blood of our Saviour. But in the hereafter, such a prayer will no longer be relevant. The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer will be obsolete after we take our last breath. Instead, we will be completely pure and holy in every sense, even as our Saviour is. We have a great salvation now already, but there is more to come.

All of these things are ours when we believe Christ died for us! We can have the comfort of knowing that Jesus Christ has a special place waiting for us in heaven. When we consider that and chew it over in our hearts and minds, then there’s no reason to be afraid of death. If we are truly at peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ, we can have comfort and peace when we reflect on death. Like the apostle Paul and numerous other saints after him, you can know for sure that dying in Jesus Christ can only be a good thing.
Let us pray:
Our heavenly Father,
Your promises are so precious to us. As we hear your Word, our hearts are stirred with love for you. You give us so much in Christ our Lord. In him, we have eternal life and all the benefits that go with that. We thank you that because of his payment, our death simply puts an end to sin and brings us into eternal life. Thank you, dear Father, for the gospel. Help us all to believe it again today and each day time and again. We pray that you would strengthen faith in all of us with your Word and Spirit. We pray that each one of us would have the grace of your Holy Spirit so that we would not fear death. Help us all, every single one, to look forward to the marriage feast of the Lamb and live in an appropriate way today and every day. Lord God, have mercy upon us now and always. We pray in Christ who conquered sin and death for us, AMEN.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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