Once to die and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27)

PREFACE: Another of a series of posts offering my own perspective on the issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. NOTE: I have edited the post from yesterday, “Some trust in chariots (Psalm 20:6-9)” because some of the wording needed to be changed. rmb

An interesting phenomenon has occurred in the last year and a half. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the threat of sudden, random death onto the screens of people all over the globe. When it first appeared in March of last year, the reports were that COVID only affected the aged and the infirm, but as the pandemic has raged and morphed, the threat of getting a severe case has gradually trickled down the age ranges until now everyone of any age is a potential victim. And death may result, whether you are nineteen or ninety. COVID is no respecter of age. Nor does COVID seem to discriminate on the basis of physical health. There is growing evidence that physical fitness poses no barrier to COVID. And death may result, whether you are a physical specimen or a couch potato.

A few days ago, it was announced that the COVID pandemic is now officially the deadliest pandemic in US history, surpassing the so-called Spanish flu of 1918. To date 676,000 Americans have entered eternity as a result of COVID-19. Yes, there is no question about it: death may result from COVID.

So, how should we, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, respond to these realities? I suggest that we address these realities with the truths of the gospel.

THE TRUTH ABOUT DEATH

COVID has brought to many people an awareness of death, and an awareness of their own possible death, which has previously been absent. Of course, death is not new. Ever since Adam ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, death has been a reality on this planet. Every person who has ever been born either has already experienced death or will experience death. Death hangs over the head of every person living, and death may come at any moment. There is no negotiation. There is never a redo. There is no reversal. Death comes with stunning finality, and we humans are helpless before it. And death is a universal problem.

Human beings are unique among all the animals on earth in two ways related to death: First, humans are the only animals who know they are going to die; and second, humans are the only animals who will be judged by God because of their sin. Hebrews 9:27 puts it well:

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment

It is appointed for men to die. God told Adam, “The day you eat of it (forbidden fruit) you shall surely die.” Thus, death entered the world (Romans 5:12), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). So, it is appointed by God for men to die. There is a day appointed for me and for you when we will die.

But the most terrifying thing about death is not the experience of death itself, but the truth that after death comes judgment. All of us must stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10). All unbelievers will stand before the blazing holiness of God Almighty and will be condemned for their sins (Revelation 20:15). This is why the unbeliever, whether they admit it or not, is frightened of death. They are frightened because, in their soul, they know that God’s judgment awaits.

AWARENESS OF DEATH

I mentioned before that COVID has brought many people to an awareness of the possibility of their own death. So, it is not death itself that is new, but it is the awareness of their own death that is new. Through the COVID pandemic, millions have seen men and women just like them dying of COVID and death has become part of everyday conversation. My awareness of my own possible death from COVID goes way up when I see a friend or a church member or a relative dying of the disease. What does the gospel have to say to those who are afraid of death and afraid of the coming judgment?

JESUS CHRIST HAS CONQUERED DEATH

So COVID threatens us with physical death, but the truth of the gospel declares that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. Jesus has conquered death by His glorious resurrection, and now the follower of Jesus has no need to fear death. Since Jesus Christ has risen from dead, all those who are in Christ will also rise from the dead in the final Resurrection. The Bible declares this over and over again:

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26

Jesus promises resurrection and eternal life to all who believe in Him. COVID cannot threaten me because Jesus has given me His promises.

53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

All believers must put on imperishable immortality. The Christian is promised a resurrection, so death has lost its victory and its sting.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:21

The apostle Paul takes this idea into the most practical of places. Since faith in Jesus Christ has guaranteed a resurrection, the believer can live fully for Christ and then will gain heaven when they die. COVID has nothing to say to a life lived for Christ in that way.

So, the believer in Jesus can respond to the threat of death from COVID by simply declaring, “Because of my faith in Jesus Christ, I have no fear of death. My Savior has conquered the grave and risen from the dead, and in the end, I will also be glorified. So, I have no fear of COVID-19.” This, in my opinion, is the faithful response to the threat of this pandemic.

But I think there is still more that we can do with the threat of COVID.

AN OPPORTUNITY TO OFFER THE GOSPEL

As more and more become aware of their mortality and of the proximity of their own death, and as perhaps some we know or encounter even draw near to that awesome moment when life gives way to eternity, I am convinced that believers must warn the perishing of their peril and urge them to come to Christ before it is too late.

Is it possible that the Lord is using the deaths of this pandemic and the increased awareness of our own inevitable death to open a door for those who will tell the lost about the reality of the final Judgment so they will turn to Christ? In Ezekiel 33:1-10 we read the story of the watchman. The LORD tells the prophet that a watchman was appointed to send the alarm if he saw the sword of destruction coming upon the city so the city would be warned and get to safety. Then the LORD says, “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand” (Ezekiel 33:6). The LORD is saying that, because the watchman did not warn about the coming sword, he is responsible for the deaths in the city.

How does this apply to the believer during the COVID pandemic? We are the watchmen who have been appointed to warn of the coming Judgment. We are the ones who know that there is a sword coming, ultimately the double-edged sword coming out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus when He returns to judge the earth (Revelation 19:11-16). We have been appointed as the witnesses of the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:8), and if we do not warn about the coming judgment, the people will still perish in their sins, but we also will have to give an account for why we were silent. The point is that COVID-19 has made people, all people, much more aware about the possibility of death. That is an opportunity for us, for we know Him who has conquered death. We know Him who has removed our fear of death. “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). We know that the Judgment will be terrifying, and we know how those who are now under judgment can be set free. Let’s be vocal and bold in proclaiming Jesus to the lost.

Living in the present – The Loss of Eden (Romans 5:12)

Several of my posts lately have been on the theme of living fully in the present. Because God is always in the present (He is the great “I AM”), one of the goals of our sanctification and our discipleship is progressively to spend more and more of our time fully engaged in the present. In this article, I wanted to explore what happened to disrupt our ability to dwell peacefully in the present.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lived fully in the present because their initial environment was ideal. They lived fully in the present because there was no other option. For them, there was obviously no past to regret and so there were no past sins to incite guilt, because sin had not yet entered the world. And there was no future to fear, because the Garden provided everything Adam and Eve needed, and because the LORD God was there in person, and because there was no death to fear, for death had not entered the world. Thus, Adam and Eve lived fully in the present moment, enjoying the LORD, and enjoying His perfect creation, and enjoying each other.

THE LOSS OF EDEN

But all of that was ruined when sin entered the world, and that has affected us down to the present moment. Now unlike Adam and Eve, we have lost Eden and we live in a hostile environment, with monsters from our past and threats in our future. After man’s disobedience admitted sin into the world, the past now holds memories of guilt and shame and loss, the future now holds the promise of our fearful death, and the present is a constant, existential reminder that we are weak, vulnerable creatures in a hostile world that operates outside of our control.

This is our present reality. It is a reality common to every person on earth. Sin has entered the world and thus paradise has been lost and this creation has been ruined. Whether we grasp this or not, sin has entered the world and, as a consequence we all have a past stained with guilt and shame, and we all have a future dominated by our impending death. Sounds bleak, doesn’t it?

EDEN RESTORED BY THE SECOND ADAM

But there is good news that shatters all the losses of our sin-wrought existence, for now the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, has been sent into the world to restore what the first Adam lost. Because Jesus died on the cross on our behalf and has removed the guilt and shame of our sin, we who believe in Jesus are no longer enslaved to our past. And because Jesus has conquered death by rising victoriously from the grave, we who believe in Jesus need no longer dread the future, for through Jesus, eternity in heaven is guaranteed.

Because of Jesus, I have no guilt in my past and I have no death to fear in my future, so I can live fully in the present, experiencing God’s loving presence with me. Because of Jesus, I can live fully in the present, striving to live joyfully and obediently so that God is glorified by my life. Because of Jesus, I can truly live in this fallen world where Eden has been lost, anticipating when I will be in heaven with the Lord forever.

SDG                 rmb                 10/9/2020