Here in Oklahoma, as of yesterday, 763 people have died of the COVID-19 virus. According to the White House Corona Virus Task Force, our state has the twelfth-highest rate of new cases per capita. One can only speculate as to the reasons for the increase in new cases and deaths. Super spreading events such as the return to university campuses, off-campus parties, and political rallies have been blamed. What will happen when football season gets underway?
At the same time, nationwide, almost 180,000 people have died of the virus. Medical researchers are predicting that the number of deaths will exceed 200,000 by the end of the year.
My wife and I are concerned for college classmates of ours who are hospitalized with the virus. We are praying for their recovery.
This week I heard a university instructor say that for the students of this generation, the current national health emergency will be the psychological equivalent of the Great Depression. This generation of young people will be marked for life by the specter of death.
In a sense, death has always been lurking. During the thirties, for many, it was the threat of starvation. In the forties, it was war. In the fifties the possibility of nuclear destruction threatened civilization. In succeeding decades, if it wasn’t civil unrest, it was terrorism that prompted the fear of death.
Does the Christian message offer any consolation? For every generation, including our own, the New Testament offers words such as these: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:8). Paul lived under a cloud of foreboding and he faced the possibility of martyrdom when he wrote: “Christ will be exalted in my body whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. … I desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:20-21, 23).
When he said, “to live is Christ,” he was declaring his purpose in life. It was Jesus Christ who gave meaning to his life and a mission to fulfill. When he said, “to die is gain,” it was his assurance that he would gain heaven because of the saving grace of God. To depart this life to be with Christ is better by far, Paul stated with confidence.
I have not kept count of the many funeral services I have conducted. In forty-seven years of pastoral ministry I have stood with grieving families at hundreds of gravesides. At committal services it has always been my practice to remind the living that their loved one is not in the casket. For those whose trust is in the Savior, to be absent from the body is to be immediately present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).
The “dead in Christ” (1 Thessalonians 4:16) are not extinguished. They are not annihilated. They are as alive as he is. They are with him in heaven. When the early martyr Stephen was dying, he prayed, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). Jesus stood to welcome him to heaven (Acts 7:56). When the thief on the cross prayed to Jesus, the Lord answered, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
The spirits of those who have been justified through the blood of Jesus are with the angels and with all whose names are written in the Book of Life in heaven. They are there with Jesus the mediator of the new covenant (Hebrews 12:22-24). Promises such as these take the sting out of death.
The other day Connie and I were reading in Revelation about the return of Christ and the final judgment. There is a beautiful scene in Revelation 20:4. The apostle John saw in a vision of heaven, the souls of those who will have given their lives for their faith in Jesus. They are described as having been faithful in their worship of Jesus and rejection of satanic counterfeit religion. They will have taken their stand for the testimony about Jesus and the true word of God.
They will have died on earth. They are seen as alive in heaven. They will fulfill their mission for Christ on earth. Their identity and destiny will be preserved in Christ in heaven.
These days, death is all around us and is on everyone’s mind. Those whose faith is in the Son of God can say, even when life here is uncertain, “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
Pastor Randy Faulkner
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