A little over two weeks ago my father died, and as a family we have been resting in the gospel truth that, because Dad was (and is) a disciple of Jesus Christ, though he is absent from the body, he is forever now in the holy and unbroken communion of being in the Lord’s glorious presence. We know this. The Bible tells us so.
I had the privilege of being with my father for the last six days of his life on earth. During those days, I received a text message from a brother in our church, which read, “May God minister to you in the midst of this and give you many memories and life lessons.” Well, I can joyfully report that He did. I have precious memories of watching his devoted wife of 59 years hold his hand and speak to him softly, tenderly and gratefully for his love and care for her and for his family. I have wonderful memories of being with my siblings and sharing our stories of life with Dad. And I learned many lessons that I trust will prove to be life lessons; life lessons about death and the gospel.
One of the most fundamental of the things that I learned at my father’s bedside is the certain, sure and settled confidence that the gospel is true, and that all of its associated promises are true as well. Dad’s death has helped me to appreciate in a more profoundly personal way the confident assertion of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:1: “For we know.”
For several days, as I sat with my father, I often read the glorious passage in 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:11 in which Paul describes the reality of the believer’s death resulting in being “absent from the body” yet “present with the Lord” (5:8). I personally witnessed my dad’s mortality drawing closer to being “swallowed up by life” (5:4). The hospital, and later the hospice, became a glorious classroom to strengthen my faith in God’s Word.
In this passage, Paul speaks of how we believers groan in our earthly bodies as we await the time when we will be clothed with a heavenly, glorious body. According to Psalm 139, we know that our bodies were formed by God. Yet we also know that, because of sin, our bodies become deformed by sin. Watching my father die was a reminder of the horrific consequences of sin entering the world with its pervasive and destructive effects. Sin is neither a light nor laughing matter. Sin is the most destructive thing in the universe. Watching a loved one die is a stark reminder of this and, I trust, it will serve me well in my quest to increasingly hate sin—sin in my own life as well as in the lives of others.
But it is a wonderful thing to know that, because of the gospel, sin and its cankerous decimation of the body will not have the final word. Because of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done by his holy life, sinless death and glorious resurrection, a new body is the spiritual birthright of the Christian. And this is no mere fancy. No, it is what the apostle affirms when, under divine inspiration, he wrote, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (5:1).
Our Lord promised His disciples that He would return for them, but in the meantime He was preparing a place for them. He said that He would receive them to Himself in order that they might be with Him (John 14:1–3). The traditional interpretation is that this is a promise of the Lord’s final coming to earth, what we refer to as His “second coming.” That may be the case. We know that Jesus will one day return to glorify His people and that we will be with Him forever. But there is another interpretation that merits consideration; namely, that our Lord was promising that He would attend the believer upon his or her death and usher His disciple into His glorious presence. And the place being prepared is not some golden mansion, which will make Houghton seem like a ghetto, but rather a glorious body that is indescribably more glorious than that of even Adam and Eve in their pre-fallen condition. It seems that this is Paul’s thought here in 2 Corinthian 5. The language is similar, as is the setting. This biblical teaching enabled me to know then, and to know now, that Jesus had prepared a “building” (a glorious body) for my dad. In that hospice, Jesus was very near to Dad, and on 3 May at 8:50 AM, Jesus received Dad to Himself. One day, Dad will occupy that glorious body.
As my father lay in a coma, with his death imminent, we questioned as a family whether he was suffering. I found comfort in the truth that God never forsakes His own. The Bible tells us so (Hebrews 13:5). Regardless of what my father was experiencing, I know that Jesus was ministering to him in those days. Though his body was decaying, though his mortality was being swallowed up, he was at that very time being prepared for a gloriously unending existence. Life was going to win over death.
We as Christians are to live with an unshakeable confidence that one day our mortality will one day be swallowed up, not by death, but by life. Words fail me to express the joy this truth brought to my soul as I watched my dad’s body wasting away. It occurred to me that, though in one very real sense my dad was dying, in another even more real sense his mortal, subject-to-the-suffering-of-death body was being consumed by life. The eternal life that Jesus promises is abundant (John 10:10), but that abundance will never be fully experienced in this life. Rather, it requires death to really know what this abundance of life is. My dad now knows by sight what he for 55 years knew as a Christian by faith. I now know this in a deeper way because of a strengthened faith; a faith strengthened by trial.
Oh the joy of being able to confidently live undergirded by, “For we know!” Such a claim is not arrogance but rather a testimony to dependence on the Lord and on His promises as revealed through the gospel. Do you know this? If not, then repent and call upon the name of the Lord Jesus and you will know. Christian, meditate upon the gospel. Your eternal perspective will be clearer, your faith will be surer, and your joy will be profounder. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.