FAQ-What Happens When We Die?

Good morning and welcome to Journey.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here and it’s a pleasure today to take some time and answer some of your questions that you wrote last week.  And I know there are more questions out there yet to be written – so keep them coming.  And even if we don’t get to all of them from up front we will post answers on our facebook page that we don’t get around to answering.

Last week we started by answering questions about the Bible.  Is it reliable?  Has it been changed by either accidentally by sloppy copyists or  intentionally by the church?  Do we pick and choose verses to follow?  And if you are curious about any of those answers you can go to our website – we actually put the audio of the sermon as well as the manuscript – at least of what I was intending to say – if you’d prefer to read it.

This week we will start by answering a couple of follow up questions about the Old Testament in particular.  And we’ll start with this question:  Why did people in the OT live so long?

In the Old Testament – in particular the first few chapters of Genesis – before the events of Noah’s flood – people are recorded as living extraordinary long times.  The average age of those listed in Genesis chapter 5 is 912 years old.  That’s old!

Now after Noah’s flood – there is a rapid decrease in ages and by the time Moses writes Psalm 90 – he writes that 10 Seventy years are given to us!  Some even live to eighty.

So what we can deduce is that either the world that we know was considerably healthier and different than the world after the flood – or human beings were considerably healthier before the flood than after, or some combination of both, but the bible indicates that something changed.

So as hard as it is to imagine a person living to 900 years old, we can remember that it will be in the future just as hard to realize that we will one day live in a body that will one day be 900 years old.  Both of those realities are hard for us to fathom in the state we are in right now.

Last week you mentioned that Jesus brought us a new covenant which replaced the OT laws.  So, what purpose does the OT serve for us?  What is the point of reading the OT if we don’t follow it anymore?

Thanks – great question.   The Old Testament is still worth reading – and in fact very important that we do so. Why?

First – we read the OT to learn about God and what God is like.  And – we learn so much about us and what WE are like.  And we learn so much about life and what IT is like.

If you dive into the OT – you will emerge knowing God and understanding life.

The Old Testament is where we find the Bibles answer to life’s most important questions.  Like, what is wisdom.  (Book of proverbs)  What is the meaning of life – (Book of Ecclesiastes)  What are we to make of suffering?  Do good people still suffer?  Why?  The book of Job.

Second – We should read the Old Testament because it all points to Jesus.  It will give us a fuller understanding of what happened on the cross.

After all – it was the Old Testament where the sacrificial system was set up.  The system whereby sin was taken care of.  And how was it set up?  Basically – take a lamb to the temple – place your hands on the lamb – ask God to transfer all your sins from you and your family onto the lamb – the lamb dies and you live.

And that went on day after day for generation after generation – until one day John the Baptist looks across the Jordan river and sees Jesus and tells his friends – behold – the Lamb of God- that lamb takes away the sins of the entire world.

Immerse yourself in the OT and you will emerge knowing God and understanding life.  And you will emerge with a clearer understanding of Jesus – and who he was- and what he accomplished on our behalf.

Third – it’s important to read the OT because it’s the beginning of the story of God and Mankind- which is a love story.  The Bible is a love story.  Not a rule book.  Ultimately the Bible is the story of a man – Jesus – who goes on an incredible Journey – leaves heaven comes to earth – in order to rescue his bride – the bible calls the church his bride – from the clutches of an evil dragon.

That’s the story of the Bible.

Now – if you are looking for the rules – then don’t look in the Old Testament.  And for that matter, don’t look in the New Testament either.  Want to know why?  Because rule following never made anybody’s life better.

And this can’t be stated enough – the people who were the very best at keeping all the rules – and I mean ever – were the people who killed Jesus.  Who plotted his murder.   Rule following cannot change you on the inside – at the deepest level.

In fact – if you try to follow all the OT laws – it will crush you.  And if you look at Jesus teaches as rules to live by – then his teaching will crush you too.

Instead we read through the New Testament as a picture – a description of the kind of Human being who has been transformed by God’s grace – simply by trusting Jesus to do what he says.  Becoming the kind of person who lives our life as if Jesus were living your life.

All that to say – read the OT.

What happened to people who died in the Old Testament?  Were they given a chance to believe in Jesus later? 

Great question – because – after all – Jesus says in John 14:6 that He is the way, the truth and the life – and that no one comes to the Father except through him.  And so – naturally the question is – what about people who died before Jesus?  How were people made right with God before Jesus?

Well we know that people were not made right with God by following the laws – because no one could do it.  We can’t even keep the ten big ones.

And – the Bible is clear that no one is made right with God by sacrificing animals on the temple – Hebrews 10 tells us that the blood of an animal could not have taken away the sons of a human being.

And so – how were people made right with God before Jesus?

And the Apostle Paul tells us all something rather remarkable.  And that is – since the very beginning of God’s dealing with mankind – all the way back to Abraham – people have been made right with God through faith.  Paul in fact quotes from the book of Genesis, chapter 15 – that records God’s promises to Abraham – and that Abraham believed God.

Romans 4:3 For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” (Quoting Genesis 15)

The point that Paul makes is that Abraham lived hundreds of years before the law was given by Moses.  And yet God declares Abraham right – just as if Abraham had never sinned- how?  Abraham trusted God with his life.

And so – here at Journey we often say – that faith is thinking highly enough of God to trust him with your life.  And that has always been what God asks of us.  Like in any relationship – we want to be trusted.

Now – the deal was that the wages of sin was death – and so there was still a debt they owed that only God could pay – and so we’d say the death of Jesus on the cross went backward as well as it goes forward.  It took care of this thing called sin.  Once for all time – both directions on the timeline.

Salvation has always come to the one who thinks highly enough of God to trust Him with their everything.  It’s always been by grace, through faith.

Now – let’s switch directions – from the Old Testament – and move toward the second half of questions – we had quite a few questions dealing with death – and so…

Next Question:  Why do people have to die?

Well, death was not in the original plans for us.  It was introduced into the story of humanity through the actions of Adam and Eve.  It’s quite interesting really – you know there were two trees mentioned by name in the garden – one was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – that was the tree that Adam and Eve were told to not eat of but they did anyway.

There was also a tree of life – and the Bible says that Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden before they could also eat from the tree of life.  Why?  Because that would have meant we would live forever in these disease plagued bodies.  Forever trapped in this broken world.

And so – in that sense, death is a friend.  It puts guarantees an end to us having to live our lives in jars that are so easily broken and diseased.

That said – the Bible recognizes that death is real and in fact calls Death an enemy of ours.

But here’s a couple of things to remember about death.  For one thing – the Bible tells us that death itself – will also die.  That at some point – death will be no more.  Death is a foe – but Jesus has made death a defeated foe.

And so – I heard one person say this – faith in Jesus makes it possible for us to do the unthinkable.  To stick our tongues out at death.  Pbllllt!  Did you know that?  We get to blow a classic raspberry at death itself?

The Apostle Paul does this in 1 Corinthians 15 – he taunts death.  Where is your sting?  Where’s your victory?  “Death is swallowed up in victory.

55 O death, where is your victory?

    O death, where is your sting?”

Now – Paul is taking a very theological view of the subject.  He is taking an eternal view here.  The reality is – for any of us who have lost a loved one – death stings quite badly.  And we grieve those whom we have lost.  But we grieve differently.  Because we know that death is a blip on our eternal timeline.

Now – two more questions – since we are on the subject of death.

What happens to people who commit suicide?

This is such a difficult topic to talk about.  We preach a gospel of hope and promise.  God is close to us even in our darkest moments.  Never the less, sometimes the struggle of life, and often mental illness, can affect a person’s decision making so much that they will resort to the unimaginable – deciding that death is preferable to life.

The reality is this:  Sometimes people’s hearts get sick and they die.  And sometimes peoples brains get sick too.  And as a result, they do something they would never ever do – had their thinking been unclouded by the state of their mental health.

In the past the Catholic Church and Orthodox churches would not give a Christian burial to someone who committed suicide.  And I think that everyone – including me here – is afraid to be seen as not doing everything in our power to try to convince someone NOT to attempt suicide.  But it would be too far to suggest that somehow it’s an unforgivable sin.

There is no question that suicide is a grievous activity.  It leaves devastation in it’s wake.  Family members and friends are left trying to sort out all kinds of feelings, from sadness to anger.  Suicide leaves a world of hurt in its wake.

Clearly, suicide should never be an option for Christians.  One last thing – will you please make a promise to God and your friends and family right now that if the thought of ending your own life ever enters into your thinking process you will take the time to ask for help?

By the way – your mental health is important to us.  And Journey will subsidize visits to see professional Christian counselors – at Spence – or Cunningham Counseling.  And we are sincere that if you need to talk to someone we will make it as easy as we can.  I think the rate is like $25 a session – with or without insurance – and they bill us the rest and we rejoice every time we pay the bill.

Last Question of the Day.  What happens when I die?

Okay – let’s hammer this one out.  If you were to die today – and I hope you don’t, but if you were – then what should you expect?

So let’s begin.  The fact is, that according to the Bible – your body will die, but the real you will continue to live.  When we die our bodies become lifeless and are no longer the place where we “reside,” but we continue to exist.

Death is a separation of the spirit and the body – but your spirit -the real you – will live on.

Jesus himself, in Matthew 10 (and Luke 12), makes this distinction – 28 “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul.   Jesus makes the distinction – you might lose your body – but your soul continues onward.

Next – when you die – the Bible teaches us that there are only two options for you.  Heaven or Hell.  Heaven for those who want to be with God – and Hell for those who don’t.

What this means is that there is no biblical support for reincarnation.  You will not come back as a butterfly or a tree or anything else.  You find that idea primarily in Hinduism and Buddhism – but it’s not biblical.

There is no biblical support for purgatory, some kind of holding pen until someone prays or pays your way out.

There is no biblical support for universalism – the teaching that all of us get to heaven in the end, God’s love prevails and we are all ultimately saved.  I don’t find any biblical evidence for that.

According to the Bible, there is heaven for those who think highly enough of God to want to trust him with their lives for eternity.  Or – hell for those who don’t.

As uncomfortable as it is, let me talk frankly for just a bit about hell.  And I’d like to start by talking to those people in the room here who might feel like the doctrine of hell is intended to scare people into becoming a reluctant Christian.

Let me put it this ay – if we were worshipping together here and one Sunday we heard the Tornado siren go off – and someone checked their weather app and there was a warning – if you live near the Grenta Middle School – take shelter immediately.

No one is going to say – nice try weather bug!  You’re just trying to scare me into doing something I don’t want to do – I don’t want to go downstairs into those locker rooms – they are gross!

Nice try trying to scare me – no – I think we’d say – perhaps the weather people know something I don’t know.

Jesus, because he is loving, sounds an alarm to tell us, that due to the perfect justice of God, judgment will be rendered upon sinful mankind.  But Jesus also tells us that due to the love of God, the penalty for our sins has been taken care of – personally by God in the flesh – through the work of Jesus on the cross.

So not only does Jesus say – that danger is imminent, he goes on to say – here is the way to safety.  In fact, he says, that He is the way.  He is the gate.  He is the path.  And all who follow him can rest, assured that when the Lord is our shepherd, we lack nothing and fear nothing, certainly not death.

Jesus sounds the alarm about the reality of hell.  And he does so using language that is stark and plain.

What is hell then?  It is God actively giving us up to what we have freely chosen-to go our own way, to be “the captain of our own destiny” – If you have spent your lifetime trying to get away from God’s presence, well, God treats you with enough dignity to give you what you want.

J.I.Packer writes: “Scripture sees hell as self-chosen . . . Hell appears as God’s gesture of respect for human choice. All receive what they actually chose, either to be with God forever, worshipping him, or without God forever.”

 (J.I.Packer, Concise Theology p.262-263.)

Now I know that when we bring up the topic of hell, there are many questions that I have to be honest and say, I don’t know the answer.  And I think it’s important that we hold onto issues of the future, and even heaven and hell, loosely.  We must be careful not to think we know too much.

I’ve decided to leave the judgment up to the most compassionate, most loving, most wise and brilliant man who ever lived, who went to some lengths to explain to us that He came to give us an eternal kind of life starting right now.

Now let’s talk about the heaven side of the equation…

2 Corinthians 5:8  Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.

  1. When you die you will immediately be in the presence of Jesus.

When we die, we will be in the presence of the Lord.  Wait – there’s no pearly gates?  Don’t we stand outside the pearly gates and wait in a long line?

  1. It is far better than here.

Listen to Paul in the book of Philippians –

21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.

  1. Heaven is temporary. Did you know that you are not going to live in Heaven forever?  When Jesus comes back he will create a new heaven and new earth and we will be reunited with a body again!  There is Life after, life after death.  So after death, our spirit is disembodied – but it will not stay like that forever.  It waits to be clothed again in a body – at the resurrection.

We are not created to be disembodied spirits.  We are created to be clothed in a body.  And someday we will have one that is not so easily broken and diseased. No more disease or suffering or pain.  We will live with God as God intended us to live all along.  With him and for him and through him.

Sometimes people wonder – will I ever get bored in Heaven?  Well, I’ll say this.  If you think heaven is a 24 hour a day, never ending worship service, then yes, that will be boring.  But heaven is not going to be that.  Think about this universe for a moment – I read recently that there’s something like 42 trillion stars in the universe, per person on the face of the earth.  There’s so much of God’s creation we haven’t yet seen.  Boredom is not on the docket.

For the Christian – when we close our eyes for the final time on this side – we will open them for the first time on the other side – and we will see things for how they really are.

And someday Jesus will come back and we will live on a new earth in new bodies.  This is what finally awaits us – from Revelation 21.

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 who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

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