You are going to die. No matter how well you eat, how much you exercise, or how carefully you live in the end you too will end up in a hole in the ground. Can you find any joy in that truth? The Apostle In Phil. 1:19-30, Pastor Mark Driscoll preaches on how only a rebel like can Paul find Joy in facing Death.
19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
You are listening to Philippians, “A Rebel’s Guide to Joy” – a teaching series by Pastor Mark Driscoll. The following is a presentation of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. For more audio and video content, visit marshillchurch.org.
Pastor Mark Driscoll:Well good evening, Mars Hill. My name is Mark. I’m one of the pastors here. I have the great joy of teaching you the Bible. Tonight we’ll be in Philippians Chapter 1 – the second half of verse 18 all the way through to verse 30 – if you’ve got a Bible and want to go there.
Tonight we’re gonna deal with the subject of death as Paul is in prison facing the prospect of his own execution. I’m not gonna lie to you, emotionally, it’s a heavy sermon. I feel like I’ve been running in water up to my neck all day. I’m gonna go ahead and pray, and then we will get to work in God’s Word. And with all sincerity, I appreciate you joining us, and I hope, I trust, I pray, that what we study tonight will be exceedingly beneficial for ya.
Father God, we begin by acknowledging that both by nature and choice, we are sinners, and born, conceived, disconnected from you, spiritually dead and facing the prospect of physical death as well. God, we thank you that though death is real, so it your love and your grace and your mercy through your Son, the Lord Jesus. And so Lord Jesus, as we study this very important subject tonight, it is my prayer that our hope would be in you, that our faith would be in you and that our eternity would be with you, so we ask that you would come and join us tonight, and we ask this in your name. Amen.
I’ll start by saying that when it comes to this subject of death, it is one of the few things that all human beings share in common regardless of race, regardless of income, regardless of intellect, regardless of culture or period of history or accomplishment. We all will die. And the Bible gives us the reason for death – that is that God is the living God. Genesis 1 and 2 tells us that he made us in his image and likeness to live, and that in sinning, we turned our back on God; we separated ourselves from God; we disconnected ourselves from God; and in so doing, have now been severed from a relationship with God who is the source of life. The result is that we are born spiritually dead separated from God not knowing him, and ultimately we as well will face, in addition to that, physical death whereby we die. The Bible says that this is because of sin. And had sin not entered the world, there would be no death.
I’ll give you a few examples. One is in Genesis 2:16 where God told our first parents, “If you sin, you will die.” It was very clear cause and affect. “If you sin, you will die.”
Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.” Paul says that “sin results in death” – that it causes death. And as well in Romans 5:12, Paul says, “Death has spread to all because all have sinned.” So we are all sinners. And as a result of being sinners, we all will die physically. And this is such a real and pressing issue because every hour, more than 6,000 people die. Actually about 6,305 people die every hour. That’s roughly the same number of people who went to Mars Hill Church last week. That would mean that the same number of people who comprise our church die every hour. That means even during the course of this sermon, 6,000 people will die.
What I find curious as well is despite the prevalence of death, we still hate death. We fight death. We oppose death. We long for life. We can not accept death.
Personally I first encountered death with the death of my Grandpa George. I’m asking you if perhaps you can remember the first person whom you really loved that died. As a kid growing up, I never thought about death. I thought about Little League and having fun and hanging out with my friends. I never contemplated death until my Grandpa George died. He was the first person that I deeply loved who died. I’ll share a picture of him with you. He’s the one on the right. That’s my Grandpa George and that’s my Grandma. She died some years later.
My Grandpa George, man, I deeply loved that man. To be honest with you, I miss him to this day. He was a guy who was a great story teller. He was really funny. He was a lot of fun to be with. He had a great woodshop at his house. He taught me how to run a table saw and a bandsaw, and we’d build stuff and paint stuff, and we always did projects together. He had an old brown Buick, and in the glove box, he always had a bag of suckers. So anytime you got to ride with Grandpa George, you got a sucker. We would stay up late and watch wrestling, and we ate a lot of caramel apples. That’s what I remember about Grandpa George.
I loved him. He was very attentive to me; very sweet to me; very affectionate with me. I had so much fun with him. He was a short, stout man. Only wore overalls. He was a real thick guy. He was a diesel mechanic. He earlier in his life worked at a plant where there was a lot of dangerous chemicals, and things were not well tended to. As a result, his body was poisoned and he lived much of his life with great pain – an ongoing struggle with various ailments. He didn’t complain.
I could still remember at about the age of ten, he and I were supposed to go to a late night wrestling match downtown, and my mom decided that I should not go because I had a big test the next day in elementary school, and so – it was the student achievement test, just so you know, where they decide whether or not you go to the next grade, so it counted. And I was supposed to go with my Grandpa, and my mom said, “No, you need to get your sleep because tomorrow you’ve got to take the big test.” So I didn’t go, and under God’s providential kindness, I was not present, because my Grandpa George suffered a massive heart attack. And had I been with him, it would have been just he and I, and I would have seen my grandfather suffer a heart attack in my presence as a ten-year-old boy.
I didn’t know that he had a heart attack. The next day I was at Cub Scouts after school and my mom and dad came to pick me up early, which was unusual. My mom was weeping bitterly. She was very distraught. I could tell that something had happened, and she informed me that her father, my grandfather, had died. And I remember that moment just being absolutely stunned as a little boy acknowledging the fact that my grandfather was gone and I would never see him again. And his funeral was the first funeral that I ever attended. I still remember it.
Do you remember the first person that you lost? Do you remember the first funeral you attended? And for some of you, do you remember the first body that you encountered?
This is my wife Grace’s Uncle John. I’ll tell you about Uncle John. This was a photo taken not too long before he passed. He was a man who had no children – he and his wife – and as a result, he sort of adopted Grace, my wife, as his daughter or granddaughter. He really loved her. Was very sweet to her. A very enjoyable, pleasant, gracious man. So when I started seeing Grace about 20 years ago at the age of 17, immediately I got to know Uncle John and hung out a lot with him.
The end of his life was rather sad. His wife had Alzheimer’s for a number of years, and she was in a fulltime treatment facility and she had no memory, including no memory of her husband with whom she had spent most of her life. And this man, John, he rented an apartment very close to her care facility. It was right across from the Marriott Hotel down in South Seattle. Every morning he would get up and he would go to the Marriott to have breakfast, because he was a bachelor who couldn’t cook anything. And after he had breakfast at the Marriott, he would go to visit his wife at the care facility. He would spend a few hours faithfully every morning with her, though she had no memory of him whatsoever. And he would sit there and hold her hand and talk to her and say, “Honey, it’s me. I’m John. I’m your husband. Here’s our wedding photos, and we’ve been together for all of these years. And I know you don’t remember me, but I’m here to visit.”
We hadn’t heard from Uncle John for a day or two. He and I were pretty close. The night before Grace and I were married and heading back to school, I stayed at his house. Got some time visiting with him and him just telling me how much he wanted me to look after and care for Grace. We hadn’t seen him in a few days, so we went to check on him. We hadn’t heard from him. He wasn’t answering his phone. We weren’t sure what was going on, so Grace and I went to his apartment. The door was slightly ajar, so I told Grace to remain outside for safety. I went in to investigate and I found Uncle John laying face down in the bathroom. He had died. I checked his pulse and he was gone. Went out and told Grace, “Honey, let’s just call the medics. He’s dead. I don’t want you to see your Uncle John in that state. Remember him as he was.”
That we all face death, and usually in this life, we taste it first through those that we love.
Death came to my home on one occasion. My wife and I have five beautiful children, whom I adore, and we suffered a miscarriage in the middle of these five children. And when my wife became pregnant, I wasn’t anticipating a miscarriage because we had successfully birthed a few children at that point. And when she miscarried, it was devastating for me personally because I love – I really love being a daddy. I love everything about being a daddy.
And there are occasions when sorrow will just come upon me. Yesterday I was outside with Calvin and Zac – two of my three boys. They’re old enough to put a glove on and play catch. And Gideon was taking a nap. We were playing ball and it sort of dawned on me that had that child lived and been a boy, he would be old enough to be out playing catch with me and his brothers yesterday.
I think that my greatest fear of death is that I would die before my wife. If I’m honest, I think in regards to death, that is my greatest fear. I met Grace at 17. I love her. I enjoy her, and I’ve always seen myself as her protector and her defender, and her provider and her encourager, and I began asking God as soon as I got saved at age 19 that I would outlive her – that from meeting me at 17 until her death, that there would not be a day in her life that I wouldn’t be there to care for her and look after her. I have prayed many times asking God that I would be the one to preach her funeral. I intend with everything in me to see my wife through all the days of her life and to preach her funeral. That’s my hope. That’s my prayer.
And this discussion of death has even come to my home in recent months. Grandpa Gib, my father-in-law, my love, he’s a pastor. He has suffered heart attacks, and he’s got some physical ailments that are lingering. And he’s in his 70’s. So my children who love him very dearly have asked, “How long will Grandpa Gib be alive, and what happens to someone when they die?” So we’re having these kinds of conversations at the Driscoll home, even at present.
And at Mars Hill Church, we have a lot of weddings and a lot of births – a few hundred weddings and a few hundred babies a year. Because of the young age of our congregation, we tend not to have a lot of funerals. And this discussion of death is not as prominent as dating and courtship and marriage and children. But there will be a day, and I know that that day is inevitable, whereby a lot of my weekends will be spent preaching funerals, and that many of you that I have seen baptized, I will also see buried.
When we do have a funeral at this church, because of our relatively young age, it tends to be rather tragic. This last week was the one year anniversary of the last funeral that I preached for a young man. He was in his 20’s, a new Christian, a member of Mars Hill. Loved Jesus. Met a sweet gal who loved Jesus. They were gonna get married, make babies, live happily ever after. Had a little bit of a health issue. Went into the doctor and was told that he had a terminal illness and that he only had a short time to live. Absolutely astonished. He and his fiancé had to postpone their wedding many times because he kept being hospitalized. Finally it was obvious that he was going to die and so they decided to marry in the hospital. So Pastor James went to the hospital, and the nurses and the doctors gathered around with some immediate family, and this man married the love of his life. And then shortly thereafter, he died. They had no wedding or life together as husband and wife outside of that hospital. Their entire married life was very short and it was contained to the hospital while he was constrained to his bed.
I got an email from her this week. I sent an email just to see how she was doing, and she’s doing mission work oversees with street kids and she’s serving Jesus a year later.
In addition, culturally, we tend not to be encouraged to think much about death and our mortality and our humanity and our frailty, because death is something that is no longer in front of us. The nightly news won’t show you dead people. Movies won’t show you dead people. The camera pans away at that moment of death. Furthermore, when people die, we send them to hospitals. We send them to care facilities and retirement facilities, and we medicate them and they don’t tend to exhibit the degree of pain and suffering that is typically accompanied with death. I’m not saying it’s all together a bad thing, but there was a day when you would die at home in your bed in front of your family, without all of the medical accoutrements that enable you to suffer in a way that appears painless and at ease. You would see people struggle and suffer and die. And death was something that was ever before families, unlike it is today.
What I find perhaps most curious in all of this discussion of death is that “death is for us”, as 1 Corinthians 15 declares, “an enemy”. We can’t accept death. We don’t embrace death. We hate death. We fight death. We despise death. And something in us as the image bearers of God longs for life.
Ecclesiastes says that God has set eternity in the hearts of men – that eternity is anchored in the very death of our being, and death seems like an absolute foe and not a friend. The result is that various philosophies and religions rise up to answer the questions of what awaits us on the other side of the grave – the great, great question of human destiny. There is one category that essentially says that we all win. The first option is called universalism, which is a horrendous lie. It says that everyone dies and goes to heaven, regardless of religion – regardless of relationship with Jesus. It’s a horrendous lie, but it’s some lie that we are prone to tell when we don’t know what else to say and someone dies, and so to comfort ourselves, rather than to communicate the truth, we say such things as, “Well they’re in a better place now,” and that’s not true for everyone.
Jesus speaks of hell more than anyone else in the Bible – that not everyone dies and goes to a better place – that death is not in and of itself sufficient to have entrance into heaven. Others teach a doctrine of annihilationism, which is as well a theological error. It says that upon death, either immediately or eventually, we cease to exist and we simply come to an end and our soul is extinguished and we are no more.
Yet Daniel 12:2 says in regards to both of these options that there is eternal life and eternal death – that those who are cursed will live forever and torment, as those who are blessed will live together forever with Jesus. Daniel 12:2 says that we will arise, some to everlasting destruction, others to everlasting joy. The question is not, “Will we live forever?” The question is, “Where?”
The second option essentially says that we all have a second chance so that we can all win. One form of that is reincarnation. It’s a false teaching that Bible knows nothing of – that you die and then you get a second chance, like coming back to pay for your sin. Sort of a variation of that is the doctrine of purgatory, which is you die, you go to a place that is not heaven or hell, but there you suffer, pay God back for your sins. It’s a second chance so that eventually you might experience heaven.
Hebrews 9:28 negates both of those positions. It says we are appointed once for death and then for judgment. We die once. Not karma and reincarnation and then we’re judged. Not purgatory and second chance. There are as well various aberrant teachings like soul sleep, which is an offshoot of Christianity and something called Adventism, which says upon death, the Christian doesn’t go to heaven or hell, into blessing or destruction. They simply go into an unconscious state. Essentially they pass out – go into a permanent soul sleep until the resurrection state. The Bible negates that. It negates that in the text we will look at in a few moments in Philippians 1 where Paul declares that, “To live is Christ and to die is gain”. What he doesn’t say is that “To die is nap”. It’s not what he says.
2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul says, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” He doesn’t say, “To be absent from the body is to be at nap indefinitely.” It’s not what he says.
What I find curious is some say we all win. Some say we all get a chance to win. There is no major religion founded on the other alternative, which is that we all lose and we all die and we all go to hell. I find that all together curious, because that is the one that makes the most sense. We all sin. We all die. We all go to hell. But there is no religion that has got great momentum behind that. I find it curious. I find it hypocritical to be honest with you. Something in us believes, “Well I should go to heaven. And of course none of us should go to hell, except for that guy. But certainly not I.” It’s hypocrisy and it’s self-righteousness and it’s curious.
Here’s what the scriptures have to say about what awaits us on the other side of death. First the Bible teaches that we are two parts. I know that there are debates among dichotomists and trichotomists, and I can argue with you theologically all day. It doesn’t matter. Here’s the bottom line – your two parts. Material and immaterial. We’ll call it body and soul. Some will use the word “spirit”. There’s long arguments and debates over the words. For simplicity sake, we will say there is a material aspect to our being and a immaterial aspect to our being, that we have a physical body and we have a immaterial soul, and that upon death, they are separated – that upon death, the body goes into the grave and the soul continues to live. The question then which begs to be answered is this, “Where does the soul reside once we experience physical death and the soul is separated from the body? Where then does the soul reside?”
Jesus explains this in Luke 16. He explains a holding place that has two sections with a chasm between the two so that there can be no movement of souls between these two holding places. One is called paradise. The other is called Hades. I’ll deal with paradise first. Those Saints who were waiting the coming of the Lord Jesus, who was God, to die in their place, paying their penalty for their sins and securing their salvation, they died in faith waiting for Jesus. We will call them Christians. These would include the Old Testament’s Saints like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Noah and Moses and David and Joshua and Nehemiah. In addition to them, there were Godly women like Sarah and Rahab and Ruth and Esther. And they died waiting for Jesus. And upon death, their body went into the grave and their soul went to this place called paradise. It was a place of blessing. It was a place of joy. And it was a place of holding until Jesus died, rose and ascended, and heaven was opened up after sin had been atoned for. Jesus then comes. He is God. He lives the life without sin. He goes to the cross. He substitutes himself in our place for our sins, and Jesus pays the penalty of death for our sin and he tells us on the cross that he is going to paradise. He says that to a thief who is crucified at his side, he says, “The fact is that because you are dying in faith, today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus then dies. His body goes into a grave. His soul goes into paradise, just like he told us. He is there for three days. I’m sure there was – this is speculation on my behalf. I’m sure that there was rejoicing. The people who were waiting for Jesus, he came. They saw that he had died for sin. And then Jesus left and he resurrected, and his soul reentered his body and he was physically raised to life.Jesus’ resurrection is the pattern of our resurrection – that though our soul and our body are disconnected at death, they are reconnected at resurrection. Jesus rises because he was not a sinner. Death could not hold him. Again, the wage for sin is death. But where there is no sin, death has no rule. Jesus was sinless and so death could not constrain him.
Jesus then, according to 1 Corinthians 15, walked around for 40 days so that everyone would have ample evidence that would affirm his bodily resurrection, and then he ascended back into heaven where he had come from as God.
In Ephesians 4:8 and 9, quoting one of the Psalms – there was a messianic prediction about Jesus – said that “when he ascended on high, he took captives with him in his train” – meaning once Jesus had died and risen to take away sin, he ascended back into heaven, thereby opening heaven to sinners by paying the penalty of death for their sin. And so then with him, all those who were in paradise went to be with Jesus in heaven.
So today, there is no one in that holding place of paradise. And if you today to die as a Christian – Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “To be absent from the body” – your body goes into the grave – “is to be present with the Lord” – that your soul goes to heaven to be with Jesus. And for those who die in faith apart from Jesus, their soul goes to be in that holding place called Hades, which is still occupied to this day and will be until hell is finally opened up. Hades is occupied by people as we speak – that in this very moment, there are souls of people who have died that are in conscious eternal torment in Hades.
The picture that Jesus gives in Luke 16 is emphatic on this point – burning and discomfort. The language of scripture as well uses words like wailing and grinding or gnashing of teeth in pain, and torment and suffering and justice for unrepented sinners under the hand of a Holy, righteous, just and good God. And that if you are not a Christian and Jesus has not died for your sins because you have not given him your sins and received his forgiveness, then were you to die, you would find your soul in Hades – in conscious, unbroken, unyielding, unending eternal torment. Additionally, you would see on the Day of Judgment, none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Revelation 20:13 and 14, talk about the day when your body and soul would be rejoined – that you would rise and resurrect to stand before Jesus Christ, King of Kings, Lord of Lords – that there would be no second chance for you, rather just a final judgment and the meeting out of perfect punishment for you. It says that on that day, “Death and Hades” – that holding place – “will be cast into the lake of fire” – that is Hell – “and that will be your eternal fate.” And I know in the midst of this life, it can seem long and hard. I’m telling you that this life is very short and eternity is at stake. And I know in our post modern mood of immediacy, it is not popular to speak of eternal things. But I am telling you that they are exceedingly important, because life is short and eternity is what awaits us all.
Some of you as well will wonder how hell is connected to the Lord Jesus. I’ll say a few things. Jesus speaks of hell more than anyone else in the scriptures. One of the ways that he refers to it is in terms of Gehenna. That term is used 12 times in The New Testament. Eleven times it proceeds from the lips of Jesus. Gehenna was a place that was used in an illustrative way of hell. Gehenna was a place outside of Jerusalem where people had performed human sacrifices to the degree that some also sacrifice their own children to demonic false Gods at Gehenna. It has become to God’s people such a deplorable and disgusting and despicable place that they would not go there and would not have anything to do with it. In fact, they chose to continue to dishonor it by turning it into the town dump. Garbage and refuse, as well as human bodies, would be thrown there, and the fire of Gehenna continually burned the garbage that was thrown there from Jerusalem. The smoke rose continuously. The fire burned continuously, and the worms feasted continuously. And Jesus takes this same language and he says that, “Hell is an ever burning fire. The flame does not go out. The smoke does not cease burning, and the worms do not cease feasting upon the flesh of the unrepentant.”
Some of you may ask, “How could Jesus speak of such things?” Not only does Jesus speak of such things, he rules over them. One horrific myth that has gotten out is that somehow Satan rules over hell and Jesus rules over heaven, and that is not true. Jesus Christ is King Lord. He is Savior. He rules over heaven and earth and hell. He rules over all.
In Revelation 14, we hear of those who are tormented in conscious eternal punishment – that they are tormented forever in the presence of the lamb, Jesus Christ, and his Holy angels – that Jesus Christ perfectly hands out punishment for unrepentant, non-Christians in hell – that Satan will not rule. He will be tormented and punished. Demons do not rule. They will be tormented and punished. Likewise, unrepentant sinners do not rule in hell. They will be tormented and punished forever in accordance perfectly with what justice requires in accordance with the measure of sin they committed during their life on the earth.
All of that to tell you this truth – if you are a Christian, this life is as close to hell as you will ever experience. And if you are a non-Christian, this life is as close to heaven as you will ever experience. That for the Christian, this life is as bad as it can possibly be. And for the non-Christian, this life is as good as it could possibly get.
Now I give all of that to you so that you will theologically be ready to hear the words of the Apostle Paul. Here is a man who would agree with what I have told you. In fact, much of what I have told you is simply quoting his own words. He’s an Old Testament scholar, familiar with sections such as Daniel 12 and Isaiah 66. Furthermore, he is fully aware of the teachings of Jesus. And he himself knows that because Jesus died and rose, that he has faith in Jesus, and subsequently he too though he shall die, he will rise. He will be with Jesus forever. And so he dies as a man with great faith. At many points they had, up until the writing of this book, sought to kill him. He had faced death perennially, continually. At the moment of writing this book, he is in prison. He is facing a death sentence. He believes that his life is very short. Even if he should be exonerated, he knows that upon release, he may still be murdered. And in the end, it isn’t many years after the penning of this book that Paul in fact is murdered. Yet in facing death and writing to his friends at the Church of Philippi, which was some ways away, and he had not been there for four years, he has the most incredible insights to death.
Here’s what he says, beginning in Chapter 1, verse 18. “Yes, and I will rejoice.” Paul had no fear of hell because he has full faith in Jesus. I would say to you that if you do not have full faith in Jesus, then you should not rejoice in the prospect of your death. If your hope is in karma or purgatory or annihilationism or universalism, you are trusting in vain. Your faith may be sincere, but its object is not meritorious. The only way to rejoice in the face of death is to know that Jesus’ death was your death, and that Jesus’ life is your assurance of eternal life. Therefore, Paul can say, “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, this will turn out for my deliverance,” – I’ll get out of prison or I’ll die and go to heaven either way – either way, God will deliver me – “as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”
This next verse is in every way our theme – “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which shall I choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and to be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me, you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
I love verse 29. Paul says to be a Christian is not to just believe in Jesus and go to heaven. To be a Christian is to believe in Jesus, suffer for his sake, and then go to heaven – that suffering is as much a normative part of the Christian life, as believing in Jesus in a normative part of the Christian life. You and I should not be shocked or surprised when we suffer. We should know that the definition of a true Christian is one who believes in Jesus and suffers for his sake.
We’ll now share with you a personal testimony. At this point, my effort has been to theologically inform you so that you will have a robust biblical understanding of death and what happens on the other side of the grave to those who do and do not believe in Jesus. I now want you to personally experience and to understand how important this is for your own life and your own death. I give this to you as a pastor who deeply loves this church and the people who call it home, as someone who must stand before God and give an account for all of you and the teaching that I afford you. I do this with all sobriety and love.
I’m going to introduce you to a family. Their last name is Clem. They’re actually friends. Bill is a pastor here at Mars Hill. Their four children attend Mars Hill. They are a family who has faithfully served Jesus for a great number of years. This is a husband and wife who love one another, love their kids, love Jesus, and we would say are an exemplary, though imperfect, family. As we are all imperfect, but they are exemplary.
Bill was sent out through our Acts 29 Network to plant a church in West Seattle some years ago. His wife Jeannie had been battling cancer. Her battle with cancer is now seven years long. In planting that church, he received a large building that needed a lot of work. Had to gather a core, raise money. His wife’s health became very complicated. In and out of chemotherapy and treatment. Her being bedridden for upwards of 20 hours a day. The man emotionally was very tired for obvious reasons. He was still doing a good job serving Jesus in ministry. But the constant emotional difficulty in his marriage because of his wife’s suffering and his deep love for her, combined with the needs of his church plant, were overwhelming. So we met and talked and agreed that it would be good for his church to be absorbed in Mars Hill. It is now our West Seattle campus. We gave him six months sabbatical to enjoy his wife and heal up emotionally and rest. He is serving faithfully on staff of this church. We praise God for him. We love him. We love his dear wife.
At this point, there is nothing that can be done. And apart from the miraculous hand of God, she will die. And our prayers are that she will at least be able to celebrate Christmas. She has a feeding tube in her stomach. There is no more chemotherapy or medical treatment or medicinal support that can be given to her.
I asked her son, John, who’s on our video crew, to interview his mother and to ask her if Paul’s words are true. And if as she faces her own death, reading Paul’s word as he faced his own death, if they were in fact also helpful.
If you are married, my request to you would be this – hold hands while you watch the clip.
Jeannie Clem: Well we met at Trail Creek Bible Camp where we were both working on staff. And I guess the first summer we were there, we just were friends and we knew each other. He went back to school. That was in the spring. And then that summer, we were both working at this camp again, and so we dated on our time off that summer. And then he was going to go back to Wheaton College in the fall, and he had a football scholarship, and then that kind of fell through because of an injury. So he ended up coming back to Portland, and so then instead of being away, we were together then that fall. And so then he asked me to marry him that November, so we had known each other for probably two years.
I think I pretty much never thought anything bad was ever going to happen to me. My life had gone and I grew up without really a lot of trouble as a kid growing up and married a really great guy and had four kids. And I can remember I had had just some pains that I just – it was easy to dismiss. It was just, I don’t know, normal pains. Nothing that was that bad. One day I remember feeling like I had this really sharp pain, and it was about 15 minutes and it went away. But at that point I thought, “Well, maybe I should go get a physical,” because I hadn’t had one for several years, but I never thought cancer. It never crossed my mind that it was cancer. The doctor called and he said that this CA-125, which now we know that test number really well, but at that time it was like some unfamiliar thing to us, was elevated. And I can remember at that point just I hung up the phone and Bill and I just – we just wrapped in each other’s arms because we were just like, “Oh my gosh, I have cancer. They think I have cancer.” And it’s so scary and it was such a – I just can’t even remember that really well.
I have really wrestled with a lot in the last few weeks of what I want to live for, because I don’t want to be here for – I want to be here for all those little grandchildren that are gonna be born, and there’s so much of life that I love and I want to live it. I have a hard time. I really struggled with, honestly, why God would – I don’t know – why God would say, “I don’t have anything else that you need to be here for. I’m taking you.” And I think I’m starting to realize that a lot of my desires are really selfish. They’re about me. They’re not about what God wants. And I gave my life to God, and so he is allowed to do what he wants with it. And if this is what he knows is gonna be best for me and best for my kids, even though I just don’t see it, then I have to accept that that’s what he knows is best.
And what’s really kind of amazing to me is that I’ve been pretty peaceful. Obviously I have days when I cry. I have moments. Both Bill and I have moments where we just start sobbing. And thinking of the separation is horrible, but I think God has really done what he said, and that he says he’ll be with you, no matter what you go through. And he’s with us and he’s said he’ll give us peace – that pass is all understanding – and it’s beyond my understanding how I can sit and have conversations with people, and I can read a book and we can enjoy a movie together. And how can you be at peace knowing that your death is very imminent? And so to me, that’s just kind of an amazing thing.
What I’ve been trying to memorize lately was out of Corinthians where it says, “We do not lose heart, because even though hourly we’re wasting away, inwardly we’re being renewed day by day.” And it says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a greater glory that far outweighs them all.” And the scripture after that talks about how we don’t look at what is seen, but what is unseen. And we don’t see all of what God is doing through the suffering and the hard times that we go through. We only – it’s hard to look beyond yourself. And I tell God every day, “I don’t want this.” And I hope that’s okay that I’m honest with him. It’s not what I want, but I’m willing to accept it.
Jesus was agonizing in the garden before he went to the cross and how he asked God to take that away from him. And but if not, he said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” And I thought, “Wow, I can really understand,” and that I felt the same way. I felt like, “God, I don’t want to die. I don’t want to go through this.” But Jesus, when he was there, he didn’t want to do it either, but he surrendered his will to you. And I just felt like that’s really cool. I understand that better than I ever would have if I hadn’t gone through this. I understand a little bit more about Jesus and what he was feeling.
I’ve been clinging too much to this life I think, and so part of I think being able to settle into the reality that I need to accept this, has been really – I’m starting to think – like the Bible says, “Set your mind on things about non-earthly things,” and I think that Jesus is really helping me more to think about heaven and to think that God has a good place. God’s prepared a place for you there. He has good things in store for you. There’s nothing on this earth that you needed to do that you’re gonna feel like you’re not gonna get to heaven and wished that you’d lived another 10 to 20 years, because God’s gonna be pleased with the fact that you’re there now. So I don’t know.
Pastor Mark Driscoll:Meditate on Paul’s words with me. “To live is Christ. To die is gain.” “To live is Christ. To die is gain.” Paul says it is far better. When he says that “to live is Christ”, what he means is that in this life, we can have a relationship with the living God, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That we can have a life with Jesus. We can have a life like Jesus. We can have a life for Jesus. We can have a life by Jesus. We can have a life through Jesus. We can have a life that ends with Jesus.
What Paul is there saying, and what my sister is illustrating, is that as long as we are alive, God still has appointed for us good works to be accomplished. There are people to love. There are scriptures to be read. There are sins to be repented of. There are truths to be learned. There are prayers to be prayed. There are ties to be given. There are others to be forgiven. There are opportunities for lost people to meet Jesus. There are opportunities for suffering people to be encouraged, and for hungry people to be fed, and for lonely people to be consoled. To live is Christ. That because of Jesus Christ, every breath we have is valuable. It’s meaningful and it’s purposeful. That would include our suffering. And to die is gain. That though there is a separation of our soul and our body upon death, there is not a separation between our soul and our Savior upon our death. That the relationship that we have with Jesus in this life is perfected on the other side of death, because that is ultimately where our Savior has gone through his own death, his own burial, his own resurrection, his own ascension, to prepare a place for his people.
And so the relationship with Jesus continues in life and in death. So to live is Christ and to die is gain. Perhaps the one person outside of scripture in the history of our faith who has come to the most deepened and profound understandings of Paul’s words is a man names Richard Baxter. He was a 17th century Puritan preacher and pastor and author. Though he as young, roughly 30 years of age, he was afflicted with a horrendous series of ailments. He was certain that death was imminent and that his life was very short. He records in his journal that on one particular day alone, he lost a full gallon of his own blood. This is a man who suffered continually, and he anticipated in every way that he was to die shortly. And rather than wasting his days, he grabbed a concordance in a Bible and he began sketching out his own funeral sermon going through the Bible and prayerfully meditating on all of the scriptures which pertained to death for the children of God.
In that day, the Puritans would manuscript out their sermon, and he knew that if he manuscripted out his sermon, that at his funeral, one of his pastoral friends could read that manuscript, and he would have the opportunity to ensure that the gospel of Jesus Christ was preached at his own funeral. This is a man after my own heart. I too want to preach my own funeral. To be honest with you, it’s one of the reasons I love video. I assure you of this, I will preach my own funeral.
And in that, he began writing and God extended his life. And he lived five months in constant pain, bedridden, at home, with minimal medical attention. What started off as a sermon ended up being a very lengthy book that has now been edited down to a shorter book called The Saints’ Everlasting Rest. You can read it for yourself. If you are suffering and dying, I would commend it to you as great literature. And in it he says that through meditating on scripture on his death bed, God ultimately did spare his life and he lived a long and fruitful life. But that anticipating his own death, as Paul did, he said that what came to him was an understanding through scripture that heaven is a place of perfection and rest and happiness. And as you read his work, those three themes are woven continually throughout. First he meditates on the fact that to die is gain, because we gain perfection. Nothing in this world, and no one in this world, is perfect.
Ecclesiastes says that “all that God has made straight has become crooked through sin.” And we can not straighten out the world despite our elections and our religions and our spending and our wars, because we are crooked and the world is crooked and all is cursed, and there is no hope beyond God straightening us and this world out. And God’s Kingdom is gained, because it is to gain that place of perfection. Perfect health. Perfect unceasing intimacy with the living God. Perfect reconciled relationships with fellow believers. Perfect understanding so that we know in full. Perfect harmony and peace. A perfect world that is free of disaster and chaos and sin and war and injustice and tyranny and atrocity and sickness and death. Perfection.
Secondly, in meditating, he says that, “We gain upon death if we have faith in the Lord Jesus.” Rest – he takes that theme from Hebrews where it is a continual theme about eternity for God’s people.
In this world, it is difficult to rest for me being a father of five children and a husband to my wife and the pastor of this church, and conflict and criticism and controversy, and needs and hurting people and suffering people and dying people, and campuses to open and churches to plant, and books to write and people to pray for, and those who are suffering and hurting and dying, and money to raise, and resources to steward. It is very difficult to have rest – emotional rest, physical rest, spiritual rest – rest.
Heaven is described as that place of perfect rest. There is no sin. There is no curse. There is no death. Work is no longer toil and there is rest.
And thirdly he says that it is “a place of perfect happiness”, to use Paul’s words, which are the theme of Philippians – a place of unending, unceasing, unparalleled, unequivocable joy. Joy. With no sin, no sickness, no death, no curse, no suffering, no torment, no toil, no shame, no tears and no atrocity. It’s a place of happiness and joy. And deep down, we each long for that place. We’re each perennially frustrated, because no matter how many wars are waged, how many dollars are spent, how many tears are shed, or how many efforts are attempted, things are not perfect. We are not at rest and happiness alludes us all. And so to live as Christ and to work towards that Kingdom and to die is gain in that Kingdom, to gain Jesus Christ and the totality of his finished work.
Do you know Jesus Christ? Do you love Jesus Christ? Do you belong to Jesus Christ? Do you rejoice in Jesus Christ? Is your life hidden in Jesus Christ? Is your death anticipating Jesus Christ?
There are two absolutely incontrovertible and unavoidable facts which bind us all together. One, every one of you will die. Two, every one of you will stand before Jesus. You will die and you will stand before Jesus. He is God. He is alive and well, and he awaits you on the other side of death. The only man who has ever conquered death. The only man who has any right to speak about what awaits us on the other side of death, because he is the only man who has gone there in victory over sin and returned. You will die and you will stand before Jesus. You will stand before him as friend or foe. You will stand before him for blessing or cursing. You will stand before him for salvation or condemnation. You will stand before him to spend eternity laughing in joy or weeping in torment. You will stand before him to have every tear wiped from your eyes, or to spend every moment of your existence weeping bitterly. You will die and you will stand before Jesus.
And some of you would protest, “That is unfair that God would allow us to die, to suffer and to sentence us to that kind of torment.” And I would say two things. First, God is holy, righteous and good. And because of that, he must deal with sin and sinners justly. He must. You and I can not look at this world and be gladdened by a God who is not disturbed by who we are and what we have done. Furthermore, not only is God holy, righteous, just and good, he’s also loving, patient, merciful and kind. God himself comes to this earth to suffer. God himself comes to this earth to die. God himself comes to this earth to suffer torment where the father turns his back on God the Son. And Jesus did that in our place for our sins so that we may not suffer as consequence a punishment from an angry God, but rather the affects of sin on the earth until we are finally liberated. That we need not die in such a way as we die without hope and we die without gain. We die in faith and we die for gain. And we will never suffer through faith in Jesus Christ. Torment and hell.
Like Paul, we can say, “I rejoice in the day of my death. And whenever God should feel that my work on this earth has come to its end, I rejoice because I have lived with Christ and now I gain nothing less than the gift of God himself forever with me and for me, and his death is my life and his resurrection is my eternal state.” Therefore rather than arguing with God, you should receive him. Rather than judging him, you should thank him. Rather than facing him as a foe, you should run to him as a friend. That is my urgent plea for each of you.
Lastly, we will share with you a biography of a man named Horacio Spafford. He is a man who knew much of suffering and death and Jesus Christ. In the midst of the most horrendous occurrence that any man could experience, that being the death of his own children, he wrote a great hymn called “It is Well”. We’ll share his story with you. And then the campus pastors at the various locations will call you to personal response that will include not only faith in Jesus, but a commitment to suffer for his sake – rejoicing that to live is Christ and to die is gain, as we sing the words of this, dear brother.
Male: Horacio Spafford was a man familiar with death and tragedy. The Spafford’s were grieving over the death of their first son to Scarlett Fever when the great Chicago fire decimated the city. Horacio, a successful lawyer and real estate investor, lost everything.
After the fire, Horacio and his wife, Anna, were attempting to pick up the pieces when a good friend, the great Evangelist preacher, D.L. Moody, encouraged him to take a much needed vacation. Moody was doing a preaching stint in England and invited the Spafford family to join him there.
Horacio had some business to attend to so he decided to send his wife and daughters ahead, planning to meet up with them shortly. In route, the Spafford’s ship collided with an iron sailing vessel, and all four daughters drowned. Anna was one of only a handful of survivors.
Horacio immediately departed for England to join his devastated wife. When the ship’s captain told him that they were passing over the scene of the accident, he retired to his cabin. Overcome with sorrow, he wrote, “When sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say ‘It is well with my soul’.”
These words were eventually set to music and became the great hymn of the same name – “It is Well with My Soul”.
However, the story did not stop there. A few years later, Horacio and Anna had two more children – a son and a daughter – but this son also contracted Scarlett Fever and died at just four years old.
Horacio’s life was marked by persistent tragedy and death. In the course of his life, he lost business and real estate and saw the death of six of his eight children. However, he did not surrender himself to anger, sorrow and despair. Though he wrestled with these things to be sure, instead he defiantly declared his hope and trust in his sovereign Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Echoing the words of Paul, he learned to be content in any situation, even death and loss. Ultimately, the Spafford’s turned their grief into mercy ministry, founding a small community of believers in Jerusalem working to aid the poor and needy in the early days of World War I.
Horacio’s great song challenges us to fight for joy in the midst of tragedy and death – to defiantly declare that in Jesus, whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, “It is well. It is well with my soul.”
Male:Please stand and respond with us.