I know of a religious sect that mourns the birth of a child and celebrates the death of a member with feasting and great joy. As Christians, we could learn something from this small sect. Instead, our paradigm of death is one of grief and sorrow; believe me, I’ve had my share. As painful as it may be, the truth is that our grief is all about us, it’s selfish. When we grieve, we are mourning our loss, our attention is focused on what has been taken from us, not what our loved one has gained and attained, if they are a true believer.
“Believer” is a key word in this scenario. When Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany, died, Jesus wept. We can imagine first that he was grieved by his own loss of a dear friend, but scripture indicates to me that he wept in sympathy, feeling the depth of Mary and Martha’s grief. In my mind I can picture the scene where Martha runs to greet him as he approaches the village. She runs to him with tears streaming down her cheeks, falling into his arms, sobbing at the sight of him, accusing him in her anger, then begging him in her desperate need for solace. Then Jesus takes her tear-stained face in his hands, looks deeply into the windows of her soul and utters the powerful words we have all heard before, but, perhaps, not understood; “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn. 11:25)
Do you? Do you believe this? I mean do you truly believe? In Mark 9:24, a man, the father of a child possessed by evil spirits, says to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
Perhaps we all believe with a reserve of doubt, a shadow of “unbelief,” that prevents us from experiencing the full power of Jesus’ promise to us when he said to the repentant thief, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Our assurance lies in Jesus’ words found in Mat. 24:35, where, in giving his disciples the parable of the fig tree, he says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”
This prophesy contains a powerful promise to us, but what did Jesus mean by, “my words will by no means pass away.” On the face of it, he means that nothing in time or creation can alter or negate the promises he has made to us, but our assurance of this lies in the underlying principle of the law of the Medes and the Persians found in the book of Daniel. In chapter six of Daniel lies the story of how King Darius’ advisors tricked him into condemning Daniel to the lions den. When King Darius realizes their deception, they inform him that it is too late for him to save Daniel, by reminding the king of “the law of the Medes and the Persians,” found in Daniel 6:15, “Then these men approached the king, and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is the law of the Medes and Persians that no decree or statute which the king establishes may be altered.””
Thus it is for God also, The King of Kings, that what is decreed cannot be altered, or withdrawn. It is a principle that is as true for the promise as it is for the curse. It is the reason that Jesus died on the cross in order to satisfy the requirement of the law, that sin deserves death. He died there for all sin, for all time, for all people, because the law can never be altered or withdrawn. (Ref. Mat. 5:18) What is true for the curse is also true for the promise and though we cannot find the proof of it in his promise to the thief, we can be assured of it in his own resurrection, that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. In John 10:18, Jesus assures us that, “No man takes (my life) from me, but I lay (my life) down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”
What is spoken cannot be altered, or withdrawn. We are assured, not only by the promise, but by the principle, by the law of the Medes and the Persians. Take heart, brothers and sisters in Christ. Celebrate, find joy in your loss, that the one you love is in the arms of God, that they have not died, but have at last found life; that Christ Jesus holds their face in his hands and looking deep into the windows of their soul, has said, “I Am the way, the truth and the life.” Welcome home.