. THE INTRODUCTION – THOUGHTS NEARING DEATH
I would estimate very few want to face death, but the committed Christians are prepared and happy to because they know the truth of the verses – 2 Corinthians 5:7-8 “for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
Why do you think the millions of martyrs would not renounce their faith to offer sacrifice to Roman gods or bow down to the wickedness and tyranny of the pope? It is because they had a better hope!
I had cause to think more into this just now because a close friend of mine died yesterday at age 91. He was very eminent in Natural Sciences and had the most amazing knowledge of species in a very wide field. He had produced books.
I began to think to myself, “When a person nears death and has been successful in many disciplines, how would that person think in that last little while?” It is like your life has accumulated so much knowledge and varying successes, and you may have produced much, but where does all that stand in those last moments?
Nearing death, the activities of life must take on a lesser role, and as the time of departure comes, then what is done and has been achieved all start to drop away into a worldly emptiness, and we leave this world the way we came into it – with nothing. 1 Timothy 6:6-7 “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment, for we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.” All we have done in the world, good or bad, is of no consequence once we depart.
I wonder how many think, “What will happen to all my writings and photos and family heirlooms and all that I have gathered over my lifetime?” It is the way of the world. The old keep perishing. How many recall a man in a poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelley called:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
. DO NOT NEGLECT OR REJECT THE SALVATION OF GOD!
Buried and entombed in recent history. That is what a life is like. Some might like to build immortality like Ozymandias, but immortality on this earth is very nebulous, and barely a handful achieve it in all the world’s history. The Psalms speak of a man in his grandeur and influence – Psalm 49:16-17 “Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house is increased, for when he dies he will carry nothing away. His glory will not descend after him.”
Nothing will descend after him unless he has the statue of Beethoven, but they are few and far between. I think it is tragic when a man or woman has achieved so much in life, so glorious in his own eyes maybe, and even in the eyes of others, but none of it will pass into eternity. It is so sad, especially when a person has had no time for God and has been a wicked sinner. What prospect is there to look forward to? The atheist curses God, which is strange because he claims there is no God. People pass from this world into the next and make no preparation for the next life. Neglect is utter failure. Dismissal is the day of accounting delayed. All must give an account before the Lord God.
How can we survive if we neglect so great salvation? Have you spoken to a person who is not saved, and you have placed before that person the truth of a Christless eternity? Often, they will turn on you and contradict what you say, or say something like, “You don’t talk about religion or politics.” Why will a person not turn to God? It is because the devil has the person firmly in his clutches.
Blindness and delusion are the enemies of God because blindness operates in darkness, and delusion defies the truth of God. Blindness and delusion is the devil’s counterpart of “I am the Light of the world” and “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”
I am writing this just before Easter, when I prepared an Easter message about Calvary. There we have the account of the repentant thief on the cross, a man who lived in the darkness of sin and who probably operated in the darkness of night. When he came face to face with Jesus on the cross and observed Him suffering there, the Light broke through the blackness, and the man was saved as he called on the Lord. REMEMBER ME is such a powerful statement and can convert a man from the kingdom of blindness to the kingdom of light. Praise the Lord.
The repentant thief left the world with nothing, but the truth is, he left with everything. Having the world’s goods is but a transient thing, an occupation for a short time. Having Jesus as one’s personal Saviour is everything and is eternal – forever. The thief had everything.
It would be very wrong of me if I neglected to ask the question – “Where will you spend eternity?” People don’t like personal questions, and I think it is the devil’s ploy to make people think they must not examine eternity. It is the most important question that can be asked. Your whole eternal fate depends on it. God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. He will not force you. As Jesus Christ went willingly to the cross, so you must willingly come to Him for salvation. Please do not delay. Many Bible students think the Rapture is very close when the Lord returns for all His believers, so please do not miss out.
. SOLOMON ADDRESSES THE VANITY OF LIFE, ESPECIALLY WITHOUT GOD
When Solomon was young, and before he departed from the Lord into idolatry, he was inspired to write these words – Ecclesiastes 12: 6 “Remember Him BEFORE THE SILVER CORD IS BROKEN and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed. 7 Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and THE SPIRIT WILL RETURN TO GOD WHO GAVE IT. 8 ‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘all is vanity!'”
Verse 6 is imagery for death and is quite graphic because, in death, our ties to this world are broken and crushed, and shattered. There is a saying that death ends it all. Is that really true? Yes, it is if what you are thinking about is only of this earth and the earthly existence.
BUT look at verse 7. Man was created from the dust (from the dirt of the earth, of the elements, etc.) and will all return to the earth and decay away to nothing. Man was created in the image of God and is body, soul and spirit. The body decays, but the spirit is eternal, and the verse says it returns to God who gave it. This is where the saying “Death ends it all” is absolutely incorrect. The spirits return to God, but I think it is saying that the spirits will reside in the places God has designed for them.
There are two places, in the grave/hell and with the Lord Jesus in heaven. We had the verse earlier that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. That is so true, but only for Christians. None of us deserves that, but the grace of the Lord Jesus substituted righteousness for wickedness.
However, the downside is that those who are not redeemed, whose sins are not cleansed and forgiven, their spirits will reside in hell until the time when death and hell give up all the “residents” to be judged at the great white throne and then end in the lake of fire. You do not want that for you or your family. This is why you must be saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 8 contains a favorite word of Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is the word “vanity.” Vanity of vanities is what this world is about. Where can one find true righteousness and honesty on this earth? “Nowhere” is the answer. It can only be found in God. All that a man produces, all that he has achieved, and all the success he has belongs to the world, and is all vanity WHEN COMPARED with what is eternal.
What shall a man and woman then do? The answer is also found in the book, and here it is – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: FEAR GOD AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS, because this applies to every person, for God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” All the vanity will be swept away. It will melt like snow on a hot stone, and what is left is the reality of what measures up or fails before God. Verse 14 above says EVERY act will be brought into judgment, and that includes the majority that are hidden, for most sin is hidden away from people’s knowledge and is not meant to see the light of day; but God is light, and all sin will be uncovered and brought to judgment.
However, for the Christian, his sin is forgiven and washed away, but he/she does not escape judgment; for all Christians stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and all his/her works since becoming a Christian will be tried with fire. What endures gains the reward. Gone will be the straw and chaff and wood, and what remains will be the precious gems, silver and gold. O, Christian, what are your works producing that will endure for the Lord?
Yes, the world is full of vanity. Way too many people are producing vanity and building up worthlessness. Don’t be one of them. Death is NOT THE END of it all. It is just the beginning. So serious is that message that Paul had to say to the people of Athens on Mars Hill (the Areopagus) – Acts 17:30-31 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
. IT IS FINISHED; MATERIALISM; UNSAVED PERSON, PLEASE LISTEN
When Jesus was at the point of death, he cried out. We look at this serious incident – John 19:29-30 “A jar full of sour wine was standing there so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop, and brought it up to His mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.”
What a challenge this is to us when, at that point of departure or the last hours of the failing of the human body, we can say, It is finished, then the old shall put on the new, and the frail weakness arrives in a flash in the presence of Jesus with eternal strength forever more. Old memories are gone. The works of the flesh are ended. Now there is an eternal communion in sinless perfection with the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. What a day of rejoicing that will be!
So many of us gather to ourselves a lot of materialism because of interests, work, pastimes and family. One day we have to say Goodbye to all that, even though the parting from what was good and stimulating is sad at the time. It is a momentary sorrow, never to be remembered or recalled ever.
Again, I must return to the unsaved. If all you have is only what you have achieved, when you see it all collapsing before death like a pack of cards, then how empty and vain your life proved to be. You have nothing, and you’d be adrift with an emptiness. The true Christian does not have that emptiness, as His spirit is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and he is in the hands of the living God. O, please repent if you have not done so. As the shadows lengthen and the body succumbs, the spirit is enlivened and journeys to the Saviour.
How much do we owe Jesus? We owe Him our lives, but more than that, we owe Him everything, for we were conceived in wickedness and lived in sin. We were lost and astray until the Great Shepherd of the Sheep cast His net around us and drew us to Himself.
I am sad because my great friend left us yesterday. I hope he is with the Lord, even if he claimed Christ in the last days or hours.
. REGRETS, O THE REGRETS, O THOSE REGRETS!
I find that the older I get I think on some of the past things, and that is where regrets come in. When we are moving toward death, or better still, our departure for a supremely better place if we are Christians, our minds scan the events of life, and regrets are often recalled.
(a) Regrets for the things we have not achieved. Tasks that are not finished and promises made but we were unable to keep them; the survey of time wasted on lesser things…. Although these things are not good, they are universal, I suppose, and we all have them.
It’s just when finality is close that they may be more highlighted in our thoughts.
(b) Regrets for the foolish things we have done BUT cannot be undone, even for sinful matters where we failed the Lord. What must we do? I am confident Peter did not brood over his failure in the denial of his Lord. We confess and move on. Here is part of one of my poems:
You cannot change the past, my friend,
Or change those things you now regret.
But there can be a different end,
So with the past, you must not fret.
You must not rest on “grovel ground,”
Recalling all your past mistakes.
So leave those failures in God’s pound;
It’s trust, your misery then breaks.
(c) Regrets prompted by the recall of times when we hurt others and maybe quite badly. We offended others and really let them down. We only wish we could go back and behave differently, to put it right. In other words, we smeared our testimony. Thank the Lord that in heaven all these failures will never be remembered. We have perfect fellowship with our Lord Jesus and with each other.
. DEATH FOR THE UNSAVED AND DEATH FOR THE SAVED
Near the completion of this message, I had a desire to search for deathbed comments. I want to share only a few. We begin with two from men who never knew God:
(a). Winston Churchill: the man whose vision and battle cry was “never give up,” said on his deathbed, “I am convinced that there is no hope.”
(b). Voltaire: “I am abandoned by God and man! I shall go to hell! O Christ, O Jesus Christ!”
Contrast those with the following:
(a). [[John Janeway, a young minister of England, died one of the must triumphant Christian deaths on record. Not a word dropped from his lips that did not breathe of Christ and heaven. His Saviour was with him in the dark valley; the arms of Christ supported him; the love and smiles of Christ cheered his departing soul and made death itself sweet to him.
O, my dear friends, we little think what Christ is worth upon a deathbed! I would not for a world, no, for millions of worlds, be now without Christ and pardon.” To those around him, he said, “O that glory, the unspeakable glory that I behold. My heart is full! My heart is full! Christ smiles, and I cannot but smile. The arms of my blessed Saviour are open to embrace me; the angels stand ready to carry my soul into his bosom.
A few hours before his death, he said, “And now, dear Lord, my work is done. I have finished my course, I have fought the good fight; and henceforth there remains for me a crown of righteousness. Now come, dear Lord Jesus, come quickly.” At length, his course was completed, and this lovely servant of the Lord fell asleep in Jesus.]]
(b). [[Augustus Toplady closed a long and eminently holy life, by a very triumphant death. He said, “O how this soul of mine longs to be gone: like an imprisoned bird, it longs to take its flight. O, that I had the wings of a dove, I would flee away to the realms of bliss, and be at rest forever! I long to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord.” At another time, he said, “O what a day of sunshine has this been to me! I have no words to express it; it is unutterable! O, my friend, how good our God is! Almost without interruption, his presence has been with me.” Being near his end, he said, “O what delights! Who can fathom the joys of the third heaven!” And just before he expired, he said, “The sky is clear; there is no cloud; come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”]] (Wrote “Rock of Ages”)
. THE CONCLUSION FOR THIS MESSAGE
Some Australian eucalypt trees shed their outside bark yearly, sometimes with a lot of bark peeling from the tree. It begins with a section, then another, and another until the whole tree emerges with a beautiful new bark all over the trunk. That is so much like a Christian approaching death in the last weeks, days, and hours of the earthly life. The external things of this world start shedding piece by piece as the outside bark of the life finally departs. All the interests and occupation of this life fall away until the new life appears in heaven more beautiful than the most pristine bark on any tree on earth could ever be.
I am closing with another of my poems, this one relating to this subject, written for this message.
I’M JUST CHANGING MY RESIDENCE
Only what’s done for Christ will last;
Only what’s Christ’s will He hold fast.
Only what’s His – that will endure,
Held in His hand and kept secure.
What’s expended has no return,
And what’s not of Christ, it will burn.
Whatever remains – silver, gold,
Is the true substance that we’ll hold.
When life slips away, it’s too late
To reckon the cost at death’s gate.
Only what’s done for Christ will last;
The worthless and bad, all then past.
In those last days before we leave
It falls away, to what we cleave.
A lifetime of effort and care
Evaporates – mist in the air.
‘Tis glorious what is in store;
What God has deemed for evermore.
I’ll part this world in confidence:
I’m just changing my residence.
Poem = 2 April 2023 R E Ferguson 8-8-8-8