WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DIE?

AND IS GOD A GOD OF JUSTICE?

I have conducted many a funeral in my time as church leader. Every one is different. Some are times of praise and celebration for someone who, we know, has been “promoted to Glory” (they’ve gone straight to heaven). Some are times of great sadness and fear – the loss of a loved one, the uncertainty of their eternal future. But the one that I shall remember more than any other is that of a man who rode with the “bikers” and died suddenly and without any warning in a house just a few doors away from the church that I was at that time leading. As we waited, at the crematorium, for the funeral procession to arrive, the roar of many motorcycles was heard getting closer and closer and maybe 100 leather-clad bikers escorted the hearse into the grounds. Men (and women) sporting long beards and pot-bellies, shining studs on their black jackets, pictures of skulls and “Hells Angels” lodges on their backs, respectfully took their places in the chapel…until the last song was played that accompanied the lowering of the coffin. Suddenly the loud strains of “Down, down, deeper and down!” by Status Quo were played over the loudspeakers and the aisles and the front of the room were immediately thronged with dancing “rockers” who one-by-one made their way to the front of the building to touch the coffin as it disappeared from view. Hardened men shook my hands with tears flowing, thanking me for a “beautiful send off”.

Is there joy at a funeral? For some there is – as they think of the “better place” where there is “no more crying or pain” for their loved one. For me, there’s not really joy. I’m sad to have lost a loved one. I’m going to miss them. Life is not going to be the same without them.

But “what happens when they die, and where do they go?” is one of the toughest questions of all of life.

In fact, it could be argued that death is the most important question of life! What is the point of your life if you have not prepared for your death? The Bible rightly points out that we are all appointed to die – whether it be too soon, or later. “Three score and ten years” (70 if you’re not sure what this means!) is the stated norm that, with better medicine and lifestyle has been much increased of late.

But, however long you live, you will most assuredly die. Sorry!

Are you prepared?

And your preparation must inevitably be based upon what you believe. If you believe that death is the absolute end – that you simply return to the dust of the earth that you came from – that there is nothing after it – no eternity, no re-incarnation (as man or beast – also called metempsychosis) no heaven or hell – then have you prepared yourself for letting go of everything? But if you believe that the soul lives on after death – then have you prepared yourself for eternity? And what does this preparation look like? Is it that everyone goes to a “better place”? Or is it that you have to live a “good life”? Or do you have to follow a “religion”? Will performing certain rites and rituals – such as bowing 5 times a day towards Meccah – gain you eternal life? Or is it all about having a personal relationship with God in Heaven? And who decides in any case? How can the “soul” be eternal if there is no Spirit to whom the soul returns? It’s at this point that your “head explodes” I think!

JESUS TEACHES ABOUT DEATH AND JUSTICE

In Luke 16: 19-31 Jesus tells a parable (a story with a meaning) that is commonly known as “The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus”. Here it is in full –

19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 ‘The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”

25 ‘But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”

27 ‘He answered, “Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”

29 ‘Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.”

30 ‘“No, father Abraham,” he said, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”

31 ‘He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”’

WHAT DOES THIS TEACH US ABOUT “WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DIE?”

  • Jesus clearly teaches that death is NOT the end! Heaven is not “pie in the sky when you die”. The afterlife – eternity – is a REAL state of existence. When you close your eyes on this life, you shall open them up…where? At the so-called “Judgement Seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5: 10)
  • We have this lovely picture of angels carrying us, who believe, to Heaven. Some speak of “soul sleep” where we all rise together, at the same time. Not one of us can understand what it means to live outside of the bounds of time. But whatever is the correct understanding of what happens when we die, the reality for us is that we shall immediately be with Him – if we believe in Him. This is the message that Jesus gave again, to the thief on the cross next to His, when He promised:

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23: 43)

  • Jesus portrays two opposite destinations after we die.

Lazarus is received into Heaven, where he is “comforted”. The clear picture here is that he is in a better place than he was on earth; Paradise; the place described by John in Revelation 21: 3-4, 6-7 –

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

What a glorious place this is! A place beyond description! A place beyond imagination!

But the Rich Man’s destination is called here “Hades”. We know it as “Hell”. Some see it as a place of total destruction. Others a place of continual suffering. Whatever the truth – and this is something none of us want to find out for ourselves – Jesus here describes it as a place of “torment”, where the Rich Man is “in agony in this fire”. What an awful place this is! A place beyond description! A place beyond imagination!

It is not for our discussion here to look at Heaven and Hell in detail (we shall study this in a later session). But…I know where I want to be after I die! And I know where I do not want to be!

  • Oh…and one VERY important final thought on this: there is no second chance when you die. There remains a belief amongst many that as well as a Heaven and a Hell there is also a place called “Purgatory” – a place where you can pay the penalties of your wrongly-lived life and so (after a period of time) work your way out and over to Heaven. Do not be deceived. There is no “purgatory”. Jesus clearly says here (in Luke 16: 26):

“a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us”.

In this life our loving Father will give us 2nd chance after 2nd chance to turn from our selfish ways and back to Him. Death is the final door through which we go to judgement. There is a growing trend today to believe that a God of Love would never allow anyone to actually die and go to hell. This is often known as “Love Wins”. It is un-Biblical. It is wrong. God is our loving Father, but God is also the righteous Judge. Let us not blame Him for the choices in life that we make. We choose and we take the consequences.

WHAT DOES THIS TEACH US ABOUT “IS GOD A GOD OF JUSTICE?”

  • Again, we need to ask ourselves what this parable would have meant to the hearers of that time as well as the hearers today. What Jesus said would have “blown their minds”! The assumption was that if you were rich and if you were healthy then you were blessed by God – and so you must be doing right and good. But if you were poor and sick then you must have been doing something wrong and were suffering the curse of God. Jesus, as we now see, flipped this idea on its head (so obvious to us now – but not to them then).
  • Why did the Rich Man go to hell (Hades)? Was it because he was rich? Is this a crime? Does wealth disqualify a person from Paradise?

Jesus calls us to show that we are His “sheep” by caring for the sick and the poor, the hungry and the naked (Matthew 25: 31-46). The Rich Man clearly did not. So, he showed no evidence of being a follower of Jesus. The implication is this: that this man was not a disciple – he had not chosen to live the Christian life, he had not repented of his past ways, he had not sought forgiveness for his wrong-doings (his “sin”). He was selfish – living for himself – delighting in living in luxury. He was not a Christian.

On his death, he stood before the Judgement throne of God, and the God of Justice judged him for his crimes of selfishness and lack of belief. Justice was done. The price had to be paid. He was sent to Hades.

It is natural for us, temporal beings, to seek for Justice from God NOW – here in this life: “This man killed, raped, stole, deceived, made-me-suffer. Judge him NOW Lord!” This parable shows us that “It is appointed for man once to die – and after this is the judgement” (Hebrews 9: 27 – my paraphrase). Yes – God IS a God of Justice.

  • But Lazarus, a man who suffered so much during life, was carried up to Paradise. Why was this? Is it because he lived a good life? Is it that he did so many good deeds? There is absolutely no evidence for this in this parable. In fact, the parable would suggest that he was both too poor and too sick to do much in the way of good deeds. No – it must be that he was carried to Paradise because he was in relationship with his Father in Heaven.

Now we HAVE to get a clear hold on this. You don’t get to Heaven by being good. Here’s what the Bible so clearly states:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast (Paul speaking to the Ephesians in chapter 2 verses 8 to 9)

Now, you are going to say that you know this – that you are very-well aware of this. But it’s one of those truths that are easier said that believed. How often, in recent days, have I heard it said by Christians “Oh, he was such a good man – I am sure he will go straight to Heaven!” This is going to be hard – there are a lot of people who do good things – but the Bible clearly says:

“No one is good—no one in all the world is innocent.” (Romans 3: 10 TLB)

So, the “bottom line” is that if none of us is good – because you would have to be good all the time – then we’re not going to get to Heaven through our good deeds. It is ONLY through God’s Grace (which is His giving us what we don’t deserve) – and we receive His grace through putting our faith (that is our hope and our trust) in Him – following Him, living for Him, loving Him.

THE CONCLUSION AND THE CHALLENGE

What happens when you die?

Your mortal, physical body ends. From the dust you were made and to the dust you shall return. But your soul, your spirit, lives on – for eternity.

When you die you shall stand before God – the Judge of all of the universe. If your name is written in the “Lamb’s Book of life” (Revelation 21: 27) then you shall enter into Paradise forever. And your name will be written in this book if you:

“Declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10: 9-10)

But, if your name is not written in this Book, then the judgement of God shall be this:

“I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7: 23)

“Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25: 41)

Yes! It IS important to ask, “What happens when I die?”. But…

THE BIG QUESTION IS…HOW DO I ENSURE THAT I GO TO HEAVEN WHEN I DIE?