“I am the resurrection and the life,” replied Jesus. “Anyone who believes in me will live, even if they die. And anyone who lives and believes in me will never, ever die.” [John 11: 25-26 (NTE)]
Courtesy of technology, we recently attended an Illinois church service while sitting at our computers in Florida. The choir, accompanied by pipe organ and trumpet, began with Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and ended with Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee. The trumpet’s bright piercing sound and the organ’s lilting accompaniment in the first song and the uplifting words in the final one makes them popular choices for joyful occasions like weddings, Christmas, and Easter. Although we were rejoicing, we weren’t celebrating nuptials, Christ’s birth, or His resurrection. Instead, we were rejoicing in a life well lived and celebrating the life of a friend who recently went home to God.
During the service, several people spoke of this Christian man’s faith, character, modesty, generosity, humility, compassion, honesty, reliability, thoughtfulness, wisdom, and curiosity. A leader both in his community and church, he built consensus rather than caused discord, bore the fruit of the Spirit, and truly lived his life as a follower of Christ. Although he played the trumpet in college, he never blew his own horn or called attention to himself. Nevertheless, he was a shining light in a world filled with darkness. Our lives were blessed by his presence and he will be deeply missed by all who knew him.
As much as his family and friends mourn his absence, the service was one of unparalleled joy because, while here on earth, he followed Jesus with his heart, soul, body, and mind. We could be joyful because we know death is not the end of our lives—just of our lives in these perishable bodies. As Christians, we have hope of something greater that goes far beyond life and death.
In contrast, I can’t feel joy at any funeral or memorial service for a non-believer. While songs may be sung, they’re more likely to be My Way or Over the Rainbow than Abide with Me or It is Well with My Soul. After sharing memories and listing accomplishments, the person giving the eulogy will say reassuring things about the deceased being in a better place, with the angels, or watching over us—none of which are based in reality. Unbelievers are not going home or into the arms of God, they won’t be “looking down” at their loved ones, and there won’t be a happy reunion in heaven with friends and family. The only way an unbeliever lives on is in photographs and people’s memories; sadly, even those will fade and be lost over time. There is little comfort in the passing of a non-believer.
While there are different opinions in Christ’s church about what happens immediately after death, there is unanimity in His church about what eventually happens—we will come face to face with God and our entire lives will be examined. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection mean that His followers aren’t afraid of God’s judgment on the day. Regardless of our failures and sins, we are recipients of God’s grace and forgiven for our wrongs. Because of God’s mercy and grace, all of His adopted children have a confirmed reservation waiting for them in heaven.
Because the only way to heaven is faith in Jesus and there is no return from the depths of hell, there is no comfort or joy in the passing of a non-believer. On the other hand, in spite of our sorrow, we can rejoice when Christ’s followers depart this world because we know their destination, that our separation is only temporary, and that we will meet again in God’s good time. That’s why, at their passing, we can raise our voices and joyfully sing, “Joyful, joyful, we adore You, God of glory, Lord of love; Hearts unfold like flowers before You, Opening to the sun above.”
Morality may keep you out of jail, but it takes the blood of Jesus Christ to keep you out of hell. [Charles Spurgeon]