My Dear Shepherds,
On the afternoon of May 2, 1990, I heard holy things. Larry was a husband and father in his 30s and he was near death from cancer. I had gone to serve him Communion because he was too weak to come to church. “Even if I have a short time to live,” Larry said, “God’s given me a great hope. Sometimes life throws us some tremendous curves but death has lost its sting.”
We started talking about his funeral which, as it turned out, would be exactly one month later. He told me he wanted lots of singing. Larry loved to sing! He said, “The only thing I want people to think on that day is … JOY! Is . . .” and he raised his hands over his head slowly and grandly and then clapped once.
He said, “When I pass into his kingdom I envision this spectacular light, this spectacular feeling of being able to let go. I’ve felt a lot of grief for my children, my wife, my family, myself, but I’ve had to get over that. But once you get past that, you know that God is there—that spirit of joyfulness.”
“It’s going to be a happy day for me,” Larry said, grace thick in the room. “No grief for me. God chose me this time!” [i]
Seven beatitudes (“Blessed are/is/was …) are tucked away throughout Revelation. The first is in 1:3. The second comes in the context of sweeping proclamations by three angels, culminating in a warning of the horrible consequences for those who worship the beast.
This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Rev. 14:12-13)
While these words bolster the endurance of saints enduring the diabolical furies of the end times, this blessing is certainly true for all who die in the Lord. The promises abound: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.” “Today you will be with me in paradise.” “The dead in Christ will rise first.” “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”
To die in the Lord is really not to die at all. Not even a fleeting glimpse of the gaping darkness, the merest twinge of death’s sting, nor the faraway groan of the grave’s defeat. To die in the Lord is to gasp one last time here only to inhale celestial life in the next.
The Spirit adds his own blessing, “they will rest from their labor ….” We will not need to rest because we’re weary, for in the instant after our death all weariness and weakness will be gone. We are destined for a glorious, everlasting Sabbath, the endlessly rejuvenating atmosphere of the new and improved Eden where worship and work are one in the same, and where all of us love one another perfectly with the servant nature of Christ himself.
“[F]or their deeds will follow them.” In a Roman Triumph, a conquering general entered Rome with all the trophies of his victory paraded behind him. A better Triumph by far awaits persevering saints whose oft-unseen deeds of obedience and faithfulness to Jesus will on that day parade behind them.
Like Larry said before he died in the Lord, “It’s going to be a happy day for me,”
Be ye glad!
[i] Lee Eclov, Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls (Moody Publishers), pp. 157-158.