Every few days I find myself in a nearby cemetery where my father is buried. Sometimes I only stay a few moments, at other times I spend a considerable time looking at his grave. His body has been there since the last week of the year 2,000. I often think about the advice I sought from him in the past and sometimes the advice he gave without my needing to ask. Although by worldly standards he was not an educated man, I yet stand amazed at the insight he had of human behavior. Many times, he predicted what certain people would do, even years away. I recall going to him once “down in the dumps” because a brother had engaged in an action that I knew as much as I knew anything that it would bring havoc to the church. I asked, “what am I going to do.” He responded as quick as a flash, “you are not going to do anything. Just wait and he will come to you and straighten things out.” I didn’t believe a word of what he said. Three days later, it happened just as he said. All my fretting was for nothing. Often I sit near his grave and speak aloud—oh, I know he will not say anything—it just helps me to say what I think out loud.
Near by there are the graves of two brethren who were stalwart members of the congregation here. Then next to Dad there is the little spot reserved for my body. Some rows away is the grave of a young man that grew up worshipping with the church, but due to a automobile accident was gone as people say, “long before his time.” In the same area is a former next door neighbor and his wife, the spot where a friend, a former U.S. Congressman’s bones will be placed. In many cases at their last memorial service, people have said, “they are better off.” I try to never say anything like that since thankfully I am not the judge. I often wonder how it will be on the resurrection day when these bodies are raised and then separated forever.
This place is quite lovely especially in the spring with colorful crabapple, pear and other blossoming trees. Flowers are strewn about and the grass is well manicured. Of course, there are monuments, from very large ones to those that are quite small, with various sizes in-between. Some have words upon then that are intended to bring comfort, others have statements of warning or some pithy saying. Were it not for death being the reason for the very existence of the place it would be as joyful as a little park. I recall what Jesus said of the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes in Matthew 23:27, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
Jokes and riddles are make about cemeteries. “Be kind to your gravedigger, as he will be the last one to let you down.” “Why do they put fences around cemeteries?” Answer: “Because people are dying to get in there.” “How many people are dead in that cemetery?” Answer: “All of them.” These may bring a chuckle, but death is a serious matter not to be taken lightly or laughed at. It is a threshold that all of us must pass through.
SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER ABOUT DEATH
The only positive information we have about death is found in the Bible. Some have turned to science, philosophy or the various religions of the world, such as those that are perversions of the Old or the New Testament. Others have embraced those invented by men. All these can only pose questions but cannot supply answers or any information that is valid or valuable for us. Standing at the foot of a grave and looking is all that is left for humanity were it not for the revelation God has given in the Bible. Even atheists who have only scorn for God’s Book upon facing death realize the futility of rejecting the Bible. Without it, there is no hope for the future and no comfort to we who linger in this life. With the Bible in mind, there are some things that I think about the dead. Read along as I share some of these with you.
1. I think about the fact that the dead know nothing. “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” (Eccl. 9:5). This statement is sometimes used in connection with the words of Jesus in Luke the sixteenth chapter. In the Luke account of Jesus words about the rich man who had died and was buried, knew that he was being tormented and that he had five brethren whom were yet alive etc. Comparing this with what is written by Solomon is thought to be a contradiction. However, even the casual reader can see that this statement is comparative language showing the things known regard worldly affairs. Such things are known by the living and those who have died are aware of things about their souls. The dead are aware of the past but have no knowledge of present happenings in the world. Such things taking place are totally out of their control. Solomon continues in the next verse, “Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.” Those calling themselves “mediums” who make gain of people longing for and searching for contact with a dead loved one are spending their money in vain. The dead do not know what is going on back here in the world they have left through death.
2. I recall that the eternal destiny of the dead cannot be altered. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that which he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (II Cor. 5:10). Jesus explained that the Rich man of Luke 16, was receiving according to the works he had done in his body here on the earth (verses 23-26). Furthermore, that state was unalterable or changeless. We choose our destiny while we are living by the way we conduct ourselves. The Roman Catholic Church makes use of this passage to give comfort to the wicked by allowing their loved ones yet alive to purge them from Purgatory, altering the state of the dead. The Mormon Church has a doctrine based upon a false interpretation of I Corinthians 15:29 that grants a false hope to loved ones of the dead. Paul wrote, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” The Apostle is assuring his readers that there indeed will be a resurrection from the dead. Then makes the point, that many Christians were suffering in extreme measures, literally immersed (baptized) in suffering and afflictions, which mean nothing if we do not have the hope of being raised from the dead. Because there will be a resurrection for the dead, Christians were willing to “stand in jeopardy every hour” (Verse 30). Each person should realize that death is the common lot of all men and we too shall pass through it. For that reason, we need to prepare for the inevitable. The wise prepares for that which cannot be prevented. After we are dead, it will be too late to make preparation to meet the Lord in judgment. When the death bell tolls the opportunity to be saved from the consequence of our sins will be forever gone when the Lord comes as a thief in the night.
3. I recognize a similitude between our feelings in this “city of the dead” and our feelings for the “cities of the living.” Within the confines of this cemetery there are those that I love very much, in fact I would gladly have given my life in death if they could have lived. Then there are others that I do not have any feelings for, so much so, that I have not even walked to the spot where their body lies to read their name, dates of birth and death or the small inscription about their life. Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Mt. 28:19). I am very concerned about the people in my family, my other kinsmen, my work fellows, my immediate neighbors, my spiritual brethren’s family, etc. But, to those in far flung places, who speak a different language, live in a different culture, of another color than my own I think about very little. Yes, when I hear a moving sermon, read an article or converse with someone about those in their lost condition, I find myself wanting to do something to get the Gospel to them. But, usually the thoughts die quickly and are just as gone as those in the cemetery. Perhaps the commission of Jesus is in need of a present day resurrection in all of us.
4. I cannot help but wonder what all those, in their individual tombs had previously thought of death. Were they ever present when a sermon was presented on the subject moving them toward repentance and kindling a desire to obey the Gospel? Did they think, “I need to be saved and serve the Lord in His church, but, I have a few things to attend to first?” Maybe some of them thought, “I will get right with the Lord, the very next time I have the opportunity.” Alas, they left the world outside of Christ, outside the canopy of the Gospel, outside the church—God’s family. Looking at the many tombstones and grave markers is a testimony to the folly of putting eternal things off. “Go to now, ye that say, To day or to marrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boasting: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (Js. 4:13-17). Like the rich man in Luke chapter sixteen, the dead might wish for another opportunity to better their own fate or that of their brethren. As the song declares, “Too late, too late, sad your fate, too late, too late. Too late.
5. I sometimes think of those living among us that are graveyard dead spiritually. Actually, these fall into two categories.
It includes all who are in sin and disobedient to God having never entered Christ. To those in the church at Ephesus, Paul recounts their condition prior to being added to the company of believers. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” (Eph. 2:1-2). The brethren who had changed the course of their affairs were now in the church and were saved by Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:23-28). However, in a time gone by, (times past), they found themselves transgressing the will of God, and coming short of obedience to the Gospel of Christ. That meant they were DEAD spiritually. Most of the world lies in the same predicament. It therefore, behooves Christians that we present to them the means by which they can arise from their spiritual tombs to be forgiven of their trespasses and sins to live in Christ Jesus. Recalling the language of Paul to the Romans, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death. Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-4). When one believes in Christ as the only one who can save from sin, and by the goodness extended by the Father through Him repents of his sins, and confesses Christ as the Son of God, he is a fit subject to be baptized into the benefits of the Savior’s death. Upon being baptized one is dead to sin and has a new life. DEATH is gone.
Those who have regressed from their faithfulness to again submit to the power of the Devil. Some individuals are among these. “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.” “Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.” “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” (I Tim. 5:6, II Tim. 2:17-18, 4:10). These are a few examples found in scripture that show the folly of thinking one does not have to alter his manner of living when becoming a Christian. One can, as these did, fall from the good grace of God and so sin as to be eternally lost. They were made alive in Christ but now were DEAD.
The same is true of congregations—they can die. After all, congregations are made up of individuals. “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” (Rev. 3:1). People spoke of this congregation as being alive, but in the eyes of He who will judge every congregation, it was DEAD. Is anyone so foolish as to think such congregations do not exist now?
STOP AT A CEMENTARY
It may prove to be educational to visit the dead. The tomb is full of dead men’s bones, but they speak loudly if we will only listen.
Barney Owens 1406
God sent the first text