Why is it that we don’t look forward to death? Is it because we are afraid? We look at the Apostle Paul like he is nuts when he says “to live is Christ and to die is gain!” For so many of us death is a scary date in our future that we don’t want to think about! We have no reason to be afraid, however. Christ has defeated death, and because of that Christians should wait for death like I waited for the Poison Ivy shot the doctor would give me when I was a kid. I can remember how afraid I was going to the doctor knowing he was going to give me a shot. I don’t think they knew about pills yet. If you had a stomach ache they would give you Pepto through a syringe!
Anyway, I remember going back to that room at the doctor’s office agonizing because I knew what was coming. The nurse came in the room and she could read me like a book, so she would reach down and pull open a bottom drawer in a medicine cabinet. I could hear the Hallelujah Chorus fire up in the background. My doctor kept a drawer full of little toys in the room where he gave the shots, and they were all for his victims…I mean patients.
The nurse would come in and pull open the drawer and tell me that I could look and decide which one I wanted, but I couldn’t have the toy until I was a big boy for the doctor and let him give me a shot without making a fuss. Dr. Bolton was a very smart man. I would dig around in the drawer of toys until the doctor came in and said, “young man did you find something you like?” “Yes sir, I replied.” He said, “Well pull your pants down and lets get this over with and you can have your toy, and if you are real good, I might just let you have two”. I jerked my pants down so fast it would have made your head spin, and as I waited for the sting of the needle my eyes would be glued to that open drawer of toys by the door. I wanted him to give me that shot. I would have even been mad if he decided not to give me a shot. I was excited with joy about getting a shot!
What happened to me? Why did my attitude about the shot change? Was it because the needle wasn’t going to sting? Was it because the medicine wasn’t going to burn like fire as it moved through my hip? Was it because I wasn’t embarrassed to pull my pants down in front of that nurse and doctor? No! No!! and NO!!! It was going to sting. It was going to burn like fire, and I didn’t even want my mother to see me with my pants down. I endured the stinging and burning though. I even endured the embarrassment of pulling my pants down – because of the joy that was set before me in that open drawer. My attitude changed about the shot because my eyes were fixed on the prize to come.
Paul wasn’t crazy. He just had his eyes so fixed on the prize to come that he believed dying was gain. In Philippians 3:14 Paul wrote “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Do you see? The prize that Paul was focused on was Jesus, and Jesus was so beautiful to him that he considered all things in this life nothing but rubbish, (or as the KJV translates “dung!”) so that he might be found in Christ. Compared to the indescribable joy of being in the presence of Jesus, nothing in this world and not even the pain of death itself mattered. Listen to what Paul said in Philippians 3:7-9 “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
This is not the rantings of a deranged old mad man. These are the words of a man who had opened the drawer of this life and seen the prize that awaited him. It was so beautiful that he was willing to lose everything so that he might gain it. He was like the man who found the pearl of great value in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13:45-46. When he found this one huge and amazing pearl he sold everything he had in order to buy it. Paul’s eyes were so fixed on Christ that when he looked at all of the hardships he went through (like being beaten, shipwrecked, and homeless) he replied, “the sufferings of this world are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us through Christ Jesus.”
I know why so many of us are afraid to die. I can tell you why we sing in agreement with Kenny Chesney, “everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go right now.” It is because too many of us have not opened the drawer to behold the most beautiful prize that awaits us. The drawer, of course, is the Word of God (the Bible), and the prize is not some 50-cent plastic toy. It is Christ Jesus himself!! Open up His Word and look at Him, and I promise that the longer you look the more beautiful death becomes. It won’t take long before you see death as gain, and you will look at Christians who are afraid of dying and think “why won’t they just open the book and look at the prize!” If they would do that they would see Him, and they would know that death is only the sable-coated butler that leads us to Him – to the one who has holes in His hands and feet. Death is a beautiful limousine that drives us to the home of the one who loves us more than we love ourselves. WOW!!! I can’t wait. I get excited just thinking about it, and I hope you do too!
Now, if you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, then you really do have a big reason to be afraid, but it’s not death that you should be afraid of – it’s the wrath of God that will be poured out on sinners apart from the grace of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:18). I have good news, however. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). The hope of life in the face of death is only found through a relationship with Jesus Christ through faith. I pray that you know him. I pray that you love him. I pray that you are awestruck by his beauty. I pray that you are joyfully awaiting the moment when we will be in his presence. For those of you who do love Christ, I pray that you will join in with creation and groan for the day when Christ will come and make all things new. Let us cry the words of Revelation 22:20: “Even so now come Lord Jesus!”