I’d suspected this call was coming for some time now once her health began to decline. I’d tried to prepare myself for the inevitable reality. But, try though I did, I couldn’t get myself ready for the wave of emotion that hit on that October 2010 day when my family called me through tears and uttered these words:
“Grandma is gone.”
The woman who’d been the biggest spiritual influence in my life would no longer be there to encourage me in Jesus and tell me how proud of me she was. She wouldn’t be among the happy family members watching my college graduation. She wouldn’t get to watch my wedding or hear the story of my proposal. She was gone.
I knew she loved Jesus, and yet I started crying the second I hung up the phone. Even with the intellectual knowledge that our friends, family, and loved ones have trusted Jesus and are now with Him, death stings. It leaves an emptiness that can feel insurmountable at times. We wonder how we can possibly survive this earthly life without the one that meant so much to us.
Why does it have to be this way? Why does death have to be so prevalent? What hope can we cling to in the moments when we get news that we won’t see someone we love walk this earth again, or when memories of their departure flood our minds?
Sin: Bringer Of Death
We can trace the sting of death back to one moment in time; namely, Adam and Eve’s rebellion in Eden. As Romans 5 makes clear, the second they chose to sin, death came into the world. As we’ve discussed earlier, when God’s holiness meets our sin, something has to die. In Eden, it was the animals God slew to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve. It could have just as easily been them if not for His mercy.
But, God wasn’t caught off guard by their sin (or ours). In fact, He had a plan to defeat sin long before it ever occurred.
Jesus: Defeater Of Death
It’s easy to think that God’s plan to save humanity started in Bethlehem. After all, the Trinity is a doctrine that can make your head explode, and it’s not always easy to comprehend Jesus existing before the manger.
However, when we look at Scripture, we see God at work before the manger. Or His parting of the Red Sea. Or the Garden of Eden. In fact, before anything was even created:
“And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”- Revelation 13:8 (KJV)
“Slain from the foundation of the world.” This means that the One who would save His people from death was marked for it before the beginning of His life. Jesus knew that every second He lived brought Him closer to a cruel cross. And yet He chose to die in our place anyway!
But He didn’t stay dead. And that makes all the difference. Paul goes into this at length in 1 Corinthians 15, but without Jesus rising, Christians live a pointless, vain existence:
“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”- 1 Corinthians 15:16-22 (ESV)
Because Jesus is alive, there’s hope! Those who trust in Him can rest assured that the curse of Adam has been broken for them (and, if they are in Christ, the ones they love).
Jesus: Present in Pain
Even knowing our loved ones are with Jesus doesn’t stop the pain of their departure. But, in moments of missing those nearest to us, we can cling to a Savior who felt our pain.
The shortest verse in the Bible comes in the midst of the death of Lazarus. John 11:35 simply reads: “Jesus wept.” Although the verse isn’t large in character count, it contains abundant relevance for us. Even with the knowledge that He was about to revive Lazarus, Jesus isn’t immune from the deep emotion of missing his dear friend. In full humanity, Jesus felt the impact of the death of someone close to him. Jesus truly is a High Priest able to sympathize with our weakness.
The Bible never tells us to never feel pain or try to subdue it. But, Scripture is clear that our grief is different from the lost world in one critical way:
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (ESV)
If your loved one died in Jesus, you will see them again some day. And, although they may be far away, your Savior is near. And one day you will see them both face-to-face and never feel the sting of death again. All because Jesus defeated it.