The great blessing of every Christian is the ability to see the future with a life-changing hope.
The message of Jesus means that we can be optimistic in every circumstance and view death without fear. What lies on the other side of that curtain is a priceless inheritance worth getting excited about. Its value is not less than here, but so much more that it cannot be counted in comparison. The effect of this hope on the early disciples is unmistakable. They lost any notion that here would satisfy and displayed extraordinary enthusiasm about being there with Jesus. There is no doubt this hope fuelled their boldness in preaching the good news, and their courage in the face of persecution, even to death.
My personal experience in pastoral ministry has brought me to the conclusion that this expectancy is far from common now when it should be a benefit of every Christ follower. We have the equivalent of a billion pounds in the Bank of Hope but live with a pocket-change-sized perspective of the future, and the present is poorer for it.
Many Christians lack understanding about what is in store for them there. The fear of death still runs like an open smartphone app in the back of our minds, and when faced with loss, many suffer doubt in God’s character and existence. The impact of this gap in our understanding can show up in our mental and spiritual health.
It’s time to add to our revelation of the cross, the revelation of the resurrection. It’s time to break free from the ropes of fearfulness, and step into the ‘confident hope’ of eternal life.
If you are reading this book and still on a journey towards faith in Jesus, I pray this will help concrete your decision to trust in Him. Because when we start to grasp what’s in store for us, just like those early followers of Jesus, we’ll be dying to get there.
Our faithless world tells us we have everything to fear and everything to lose. But our hope in Christ reminds us we have absolutely nothing to fear and everything to look forward to.
Dying To Get There
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand.
I once heard a story about a lady who died during a church service.
Now, my wife will tell you that I’ve put a few to sleep during my sermons, but I’m yet to bore anyone to death, as far as we know. What’s memorable about this story is the way in which the lady left here for there.
The first thing you should know is that it seems this lady had a friendship with Jesus spanning decades. This was no religious exercise. She knew Him so closely that she was different. You know the kind of Christian I mean? While elderly, her joy and her faith were infectious. She had found Jesus when she was a young woman and successfully cultivated a friendship with Him, resulting in a pretty full experience of life. Both the young and old loved to be near this lady to catch her faith and feel the love.
Second, the church service was buzzing. Not one of those solemn, quiet services. This was like a rock concert in comparison. After a half hour or so of singing her heart out in the front row of church, she sat down next to her best friend, leaned into her and whispered the words, ‘Isn’t Jesus lovely?’ and beamed. Before her friend could respond, this lady’s eyes had closed, and moments later she had left.
Her body was still on the front row, but she was somewhere else, almost definitely singing.
Many Christians may consider the benefits of death during the announcements slot in a church service, but for this lady, it was not boredom that led to her promotion from one worship service into another. No, she was excited, full of the Holy Spirit, revelling in His presence, assured, peaceful and smiling.
There’s another guy who left here for there with a smile, but it wasn’t in a church service. In fact, quite the opposite. In Acts 7 we read that Stephen was surrounded by a gang of radicals with rocks in their hands and a hatred enflamed by his insistence that they, the religious elite, were unfaithful to God. He was on trial for his faith in Jesus and had used the opportunity to do some fearless truth-telling. Now, he absolutely nailed the message, but the response was vicious, because it’s a historical fact that not everyone wants to hear the message about Jesus – not because the message is boring and irrelevant, but because human beings like being in charge. Jesus will always be great news for the humble and a threat to the proud. This gang were the latter and Stephen’s message threatened the very heart of their power, livelihood and reputation.
In Stephen’s final moments, they began to throw their rocks at him. I find it incredible that he wasn’t visibly overcome with panic or distress. This was not your usual stoning. Like the lady in the story, the record of his last moments shows him being caught up in the glow of a vision of heaven, his heart steady, his eyes fixed on Jesus standing in awesome glory, his heart rising in anticipation of finally meeting his Saviour. The onlookers must have seen this difference in Stephen’s face to record it for us. They must have seen a radiant smile as he looked up, ready for the Lord to receive his spirit, at the very same time as his body was being smashed up by the rocks.
I think both the lady and this famous disciple had something in common. I think they had hope. Not the ‘I hope things are going to be OK’ kind, but a deep, Spirit-birthed certainty that death would not harm them, and that Jesus would carry them through it.
This kind of hope is the game-changer when it comes to dying. It completely rewrites the script. Our faithless world tells us we have everything to fear and everything to lose. But our hope in Christ reminds us we have absolutely nothing to fear and everything to look forward to. This hope was alive in them because they knew Jesus intimately and they walked by faith. These two facts meant that in the moment many of us dread, they soared. Instead of being captivated by the fear of death, they were captivated by His gaze. The worst-case scenario for most of us was the very best thing that happened to them.
Have you ever met anyone with hope like that?
I’d go as far as to say, I’m not sure they really felt death. In their preoccupation with Him, they were super-naturally delivered from the darkness of the experience. Jesus was faithful to His promise that He would never leave them.
Now, were they just uniquely blessed? Could it be true that even we could go out with a smile? Well, I can’t presume to know how we will leave here for there. We may or may not know about it. It may come quickly, or gradually. But I do believe this same hope is available to us in Christ. It is activated by our faith and grows stronger each day in a close friendship with Him, completely releasing us to approach our final moments with a fearless peace. We can know in a life-transforming way that our best-case scenario is always ahead of us because Jesus overcame death, removed its power over us and prepared a life on the other side superseding anything we could experience here.
It’s time to change the script, because there is good news. And the good news is that in that moment, we will not end, we will transcend.
Take it further
- Reflect on the ‘script’ leading your thoughts and feelings about dying. What is it telling you?
- What would it take this week to bring your relationship with Jesus to a place of greater intimacy?
- Start a journal, if you don’t already have one. Write down any relevant thoughts. They might even be in song/poetry form, or drawing.
Take it to Jesus
Jesus, I want to know You in such a way that it changes my script on dying. Like Stephen, I want to see You at Your most beautiful, when life is most dark and difficult. I want to be able to smile because I know You have gone ahead of me and removed the power of death. Let hope come alive in me at this very moment, and let fear be overcome in the presence of Your all-conquering peace. Help me to begin to see all that You have blessed me with in the future, so that it transforms my today.