The classic tombstone epitaph is R.I.P., or Rest in Peace. Is that how you see death as you approach it? Or as someone you love approaches it? Do you look forward to it with a sense of rest or peace for what’s ahead? Or the opposite, a sense of despair and dread?
Realistically, each one of us is moving toward a physical death, though some of us tend to be much more aware of this reality. Such awareness can be very difficult to speak about, let alone embrace. So, how can our numbered days be peaceful when the brutal enemy of death is always approaching? How do we provide real help and lasting encouragement to those staring into the face of death? It doesn’t make sense to only consider the physical realm when we all agree that death comes to all men. Since we are built for eternity, we must give wise thought to the spiritual implications of death on this earth in order to prepare for the life to come: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature (physical body) is wasting away, our inner nature (spiritual soul) is being renewed day by day” (II Corinthians 4:16).
Knowing the truth definitely changes us, but knowing the truth does not make the process of change easy. Let’s face it, death’s approach can be scary. And, if you think that you are approaching the end of your physical existence all alone or are unsure of what happens when the final bell tolls, death is terrifying.
So, allow me to pose a couple of questions for believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior: is the cognitive knowledge of your Redeemer’s work – past, present and future – translating into heart knowledge? Do you find rest in his promise to never leave nor abandon you no matter what difficult circumstances you undoubtedly face? As we face mortality, there is no doubt that death is very real suffering, being Satan’s last attack on God’s people. But Jesus has already defeated the Evil One by conquering death, changing the nature of death for the believer, or as Paul puts it, taking out the “sting” of death. Rather than being the beginning of eternal condemnation, for the believer death is the first step into a Rest and Peace that we have just barely tasted in these mortal bodies. This is what Paul means when he says of our current suffering, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Have you met the peace that surpasses all understanding? Are you waiting well on the Father and resting securely in Christ who has already approached the final hour on your behalf? If so, are you being compelled towards a willingness to love others as Jesus first loved you?
I like The Eagles who wrote the song “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” but true and lasting peace is much bigger than an easy feeling. Peace is ushered in by the blood of Christ and it’s anything but easy and much more than feeling. Peace as a fruit of God’s Holy Spirit comes from the Hebrew word shalom which means all things made right again, the way they were meant to be. That is what the good news of Jesus Christ does, it makes all things right again. Learning to believe this reality in new and fresh ways encourages believers in Christ to rest well, or dare I say, rest easy. As we all press on towards death, may we do so with peace and hope in our hearts, because Christ Jesus has already made us his own.
My youngest child will soon be eleven. I remember when he used to look at me and say, “Dad, I want to be big like you.” I thought, “Why on earth would this kid want to be big like me when it is so hard the older I get?” But there was a problem with my thinking here: when my young child asked me a question, I only thought in earthly or “horizontal” terms. It wasn’t until the Lord allowed me to take these questions “vertically,” towards the Spiritual realm, that I could begin to consider them well.
After thoughtful wrestling, here is what I have deduced thus far as I’ve begun to think vertically about my age. Once, I longed for the youth of my day. Now, I celebrate grey hair as a mark of wisdom’s development. If you are fearing death or even nearing it, you have probably spent much more time than I considering this. What have you come up with? Do you bask in his glory as he prepares you for another World? Or do you hold on tightly to things that will pass away? Are your hands and fingers holding on to this “dear life?” Or are you singing “It is well with my soul” in celebration of the new and glorious body you are about to receive?
We’ve said quite a bit about Peace. Let’s finish by talking about Rest. As we are preparing to meet our Maker, how can we possibly rest? After all the bad we have done, and all the good we have left undone? We can only do so through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here is how the Gospel works. Quite simply, everything is fulfilled in Jesus. Please do not miss the Word “fulfilled.” The hard, difficult, brutal work of redemption was completed not by us, but by him. Redemption comes through his blood and righteousness – not ours. Everything that was required for our salvation, he accomplished already and offers it to us as a gift. We aim to live well, not to achieve this redemption for ourselves, but because it has already been achieved for us and given to us free of charge.
Please hear: this is not a “feel good” piece. No, this is a battle cry to lay down your sword and drop your weapon of offense and armor of defense, and gently embrace his armors of protection for you. He says, “Lay down your sword, little child, and celebrate my crown of glory as a helmet resting on your head, protecting you from the “sting” of death.” Your surrender cost you nothing – except your pride – because it cost him everything. The only way to Rest in Peace, both now and forever, is in the saving protection and provision of our Redeemer. So press on toward the Final Hour with hope, my friends.