Facing Death, Anticipating Christ

From Pastor Chris

“In this world,” Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1789, “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I cannot help much with taxes, but it is within the purview of my ministry to help God’s people think about death. On Friday I will be part of the fifth funeral in as many months at Groveton Baptist Church. Whether we live to be 30 or 90, death is inevitable, and it does us little good to ignore that reality.

God’s word has more to say about this topic than I can cover in one article, so let me share two excerpts from Paul’s letters. The first is from Philippians 1. By the time Paul wrote this, he had experienced much of the persecution and near-death experiences recorded in the later chapters of Acts–beatings, stoning, shipwreck, imprisonment, and the incitement of more than one riot. There was a high mortality rate for gospel ministers in Paul’s day. He insinuates that his death could simply come through not fighting anymore. But note the way Paul talks about death in verses 21-23:

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”  

For the apostle, death was synonymous with being with Christ. Later in the letter he writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20–21). Paul’s personal “end times,” his death, merged with the end times, the return of Christ. Whether by death or the Lord’s appearing, the end was about being with Christ.

By the time Paul wrote his final letter, death was an imminent inevitability. In 2 Timothy 2:4-5 he penned his famous valedictory–“The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” In these final months of his life, his sights remained set on the coming of his Savior as he anticipated receiving the crown of righteousness “which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). Paul fully embraced his death, yet what he embraced was not death but being in the presence of Jesus. 

Again, the Bible has much more to say about facing our death than this. Death is still our enemy and dying still part of the curse. These truths add texture to how we think of our end. Yet Paul’s words give us hope that we can look toward the end of life with anticipation rather than dread. Like the gasp before the roller coaster plummets straight down, there will doubtless be flashes of uncertainty and fright. But for those of us following Christ’s trajectory, the downward plunge will only bend upwards to incomprehensible heights, into the sublime presence of our resurrected Savior.

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