Sermon: Life Question 5: What Happens When I Die?

Obviously, much confusion exists concerning our departure from this life. In answer to this question the Bible presents five fundamental facts about death that help us to live better.

The Life Question sermon series

  1. Does God Exist? - Acts 17
  2. What is Truth? - John 8, John 18
  3. Who Am I? - Psalm 8, Hebrews 2
  4. Why Am I Here? - Ecclesiastes
  5. What Happens When I Die? - 1 Corinthians 15
  6. Are All Religions Equal? - Acts 17

Free Download: "Life Question" PowerPoint template and images.

Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 15

Introduction

Great news - if you can hold on for another 20 years, you might be able to live forever. According to Ray Kurweil, nanotechnology may change the life expectancy of everyone by extending life indefinitely. He writes

Sounds great! Forgive me for sounding a little skeptical, but those words deny the most document reality of human history - everyone dies.

Today we address one of life's most important questions. While some say we should just avoid such a depressing and morbid topic, few topics teach us as much about how to live.

And we are confronted with this reality every day. If you listen to the news you hear of murder, war, auto accidents, health crises, and diseases. Maybe you had a close call on the highway or a disturbing incident on an airplane.

Several years ago our family had boarded a small commuter plane in Florida to return to Kentucky. After a long wait on the tarmac, I notice out my window that a mechanic was hauling a battery charger toward the engine of our small plane. Needless to say it didn't inspire much confidence. It did, however, elicit some mortal concern! Nothing makes us mindful of our mortality and eternity like a close call with the grim reaper.

So, what happens when you die? A study of every major religion will yield only seven options.

1. Nothing happens. The atheist and agnostics tell us that when we die we will just stay in the dirty. This is the most hopeless option of all.

2. You return. The Hindu, New Agers, Scientologists and other eastern mystic religions believe that a person will return to earth in a different form [reincarnation] depending on the way they lived in the previous life [karma]. If you are a bad butterfly in this life you may come back as a roach in the next!

3. Discover nothingness. Those that embrace reincarnation usually also believe that after countless returns one might discover the state of nirvana, the absence of self and pain. It is not a place like Nirvanaville. It is a state of nothingness. I wonder why anyone would want to go there.

4. Return to space. Our Scientology friends believe that you are a reincarnation of aliens that came to earth millions of years ago. At the end of the process, the Thetan [code word for space alien] will be release back into space.

5. Enter limbo. Our Catholic friends believe that at death we go to an intermediate state called purgatory. Although this doctrine as little to no biblical support, even the Pope himself believes he must make a stop over in purgatory for cleansing. Pope John Paul II was asked if he too would go to purgatory upon his death. He responded, "Yes, but millions of Catholics will pray me right out."

Others believe in a type of "soul slumber" till the resurrection. These hope that upon a Christian's death, the soul sleeps with the body until both are raised at the coming of Christ. As we will see in this study, the Scriptures reject this notion.

6. Arrive in hell. While not all religions believe in hell, three of the top five religions teach the reality of hell [Christianity, Judaism, and Islam].

7. Arrive in heaven. Most religions embrace some form of a heavenly afterlife.

Obviously, much confusion exists concerning our departure from this life. In answer to this question the Bible presents five fundamental facts about death that help us to live better.

I. Our appointment with death - 15:21-22

Billy Graham [Quotes, 161] wrote, "The way we view death, determines, to a great degree, the way we live our lives." Given that truth, we would be wise to understand death better. Remember these three simple biblical truths:

[1] Sin produced death - 1 Cor. 15:56.

[2] Sin and death passed from Adam and Eve to all humanity.

According to Paul in Romans 5:12 "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned."

[3] Everyone has an appointment with death.

Hebrews 9:27states, "It is appointed unto men once to die, after this the judgment." There are four things we cannot do about that day or appointment. We cannot change, delay, hasten or escape it.

This does not mean that God "pre-determines" the time of your death, but that He "foresees" the time of your death. The appointment is based on two factors: [1] The sovereignty of God, and [2] the choices / decisions we make, for good or bad, while we live. While tragedies like suicide may shock and surprise us, God foresaw those events even before they occurred.

We should remember the words of the wise funeral home director in California. He signs all of his correspondence with, "Eventually Yours." [Holy Humor, Cal and Rose Samra, 1996, 42]

II. Our transition through death - 15:51-52

Death is a transition to the afterlife. Further, the transition occurs simultaneously with death. We do not lay in the grave or another state. While our body will stay in the ground, our spirit goes to be with the Lord immediately. Paul wrote, "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." [2 Corinthians 5:8] This clearly refutes any notion of soul slumber.

King David shared some beautiful and reassuring truths about death in Psalm 23. "And yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil." Notice two key words. The word "walk" indicates that death is like a passage way that we travel. And the word "shadow" indicates that death does not control us. It can touch you, like a shadow, but it cannot hold you.

Nothing hurts quite like the loss of a loved one. When such pain occurs, it can be helpful to remember what happens at airports every day. Kent Crockett observed, "Travelers from all types of backgrounds crowd onto jets, then taxi out to the runway. Frequently you will see remaining family members pressed against the glass as they watch the plane take off. They will watch the aircraft shrink into the sky until it vanishes from sight. At that point, someone generally says, 'Well, he's gone.' Yet the truth is they're gone from our sight . . . not gone. In a distant place that plane will be spotted by a welcoming committee who will likewise be gazing out the window. As they see the jet approach the runway and touch down, someone will invariably say, 'He's here.' Death's pattern is much like a one-way airline ticket." [Kent Crockett, The 911 Handbook, Hendrickson Publishers, 1997, 217- CD]

III. Our transformation in death - 15:51, 53 42-22

Paul writes, "We shall be changed." He indicates that four things will change upon the death of a Christian: [1] Our corruption will be changed to incorruption; [2] Our dishonor will be changed to glory; [3] Our weakness will be changed to power; and [4] Our natural body will be changed to a spiritual body. All of that reminds us that our sinful nature takes a toll on us physically and spiritually. But, according to 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, we will be changed either by the rapture or the resurrection.

If you travelled to Scottsdale, Arizona you will find the Alcor Life Extension Institute, home of 27 dead patients. Ten patients paid $120,000 to have their entire bodies and seventeen paid $50,000 to have just their heads frozen in liquid nitrogen at minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit.

They believe that science will one day be able to thaw them out and grow them new bodies so that they can live forever. [750 Engaging Illustrations, "Cryonics,"139]

I say save your money - there really is a better option - one that will actually transform you into an eternal state. The option is God.

IV. Our destination after death - 15:48-49

Where does someone go after they die? There are only two options.

1. The lost go to eternal judgment in hell.

2. The redeemed go to heaven to be with God.

Although many in our culture either deny or ignore the reality of hell, it is a terrible place that no one needs to experience. Faith in the saving work of Jesus changes the destination of the lost to heaven. When one trusts the Lord to save him he can sing with the church, "When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be; when we all see Jesus, we'll sing and shout the victory."

"A young woman who lay dying sought to console her father who was overcome with grief. 'Dad,' she said, 'don't be so broken up. If I had received an offer of marriage from someone who was all you could desire for me, and whose station in life was far superior to mine, but who wanted to take me to live in a remote part of the world, don't you think you could have borne the separation, knowing all the advantages it would bring to me? But I am now being promoted to a situation incomparably beyond anything that could have happened to me in this world. Then why this reluctance to let me go? Our next meeting will be in far more wonderful circumstances, joyful, and everlasting.' "[Source unknown, CD]

V. Our victory over death - 15:57, 20

We see two important facts in this text. First, death is our enemy. But, thankfully, Jesus is our Victor. By His resurrection, Jesus broke the power of death. And in so doing, He promised that death would not be able to hold those that believe in Him. If our Lord tarries, we will all succumb to death. Death will touch us like a shadow, but it cannot hold us. But death is not the end by far.

Jerry Gifford is senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Franklin, Kentucky. Jerry holds degrees from Western Kentucky University and Liberty Baptist Seminary. He and his wife, Tammie, have two sons, Daniel and David. He is passionate about his family, spiritual renewal, discipleship, preaching, basketball, and water sports.