Death: Friend or Foe?
Rev. Tony Cooke

Whenever death occurs, there is naturally an element of sorrow and grief which is present.

Even when a person has faith, and this family does, there is still a sadness that exists because someone we love is no longer with us – we are no longer able to enjoy their company, their friendship, and their fellowship.

We see within the pages of the Bible a compassionate God who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities.

We see Jesus’ teaching at the Sermon on the Mount where he said:

"Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4)

Jesus himself faced great heartache when his own cousin, John the Baptist, was taken from this earth in the prime of his life.  What was Jesus response to this tragic news?

"When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place."  (Matthew 14:13 – NIV)

I believe that Jesus was deeply saddened by this news, and he desired some solitude in which I’m sure he was drawing comfort from his Heavenly Father.

When Stephen, the first martyr of the church, was killed, the Bible says, "…and godly men buried Stephen, and mourned deeply for him." (Acts 8:2 – NIV)

So we see that grieving and mourning is normal and natural in the face of loss.  But I do want to point out something very important.  The Bible says we are not to grieve as others which have no hope.

There is a difference in the way we grieve when we know Jesus.

There is sorrow, but it is infused with hope.

There is loss, but we have a promise.

There is a separation, but we anticipate a reunion.

We still feel the natural sense of loss and disappointment, but God is with us, and he gives us a comfort and a strength that no one else can.

Even with God’s help and presence, when someone we love dies, when someone who has had a significant impact in our life dies, it can have a very disorienting effect on our lives.

I feel certain that every person here today has asked many questions within themselves, and has probably done some serious self-evaluating in the midst of this situation.

For many people, death is a great mystery, shrouded in mystery, and evoking fear and a sense of avoidance. 

Many dislike funerals, not only because it means someone we love has died, but because it reminds us of our own frailty and mortality.  It reminds us of just how fragile life can be.

Very often, we really struggle with all of this.

We try to come to grips with death.

We endeavor to establish some kind of understanding

We seek to attach some kind of meaning to such an impacting event.

I am reminded of a soldier on the night shift.  He has been charged with the duty of keeping the camp safe.  And like a good soldier, he is alert and awake, when off in the darkness he hears a noise.

His adrenaline level shoots up, he tightens his grip on his weapon, and he looks out into the darkness trying to "see" what made the noise.

He wants to assume it’s nothing, perhaps just a squirrel or some other small animal, and even though he wants to assume the best, he knows he needs to be on guard just in case…

As his heart races, and as he continues to gaze out into the darkness, he calls out those familiar words:  "Halt, who goes there?"

Hearing no response, he calls out again, "Halt, who goes there, friend or foe?"

That’s how we are about things we don’t understand.  We want to know if it’s friendly or unfriendly.

Is this unknown thing going to hurt us or do us good.

I want to share with you for just a few minutes today on the subject of "Death: Friend or Foe?"

The answer seems obvious enough.  Death is not our friend.  Death is certainly an enemy.

I Corinthians 15:25-26

25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.

26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

The very reason Jesus came had to do with giving us victory over the power of death.

Hebrews 2:14-15

14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;

15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

Many years after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to the Apostle John and said:

Revelation 1:17-18

17 …Fear not; I am the first and the last:

18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

As valuable and precious as these insights are, we really wouldn’t need the Bible to know that death is an enemy.

Anything that robs a person of their son, their brother, their friend (Note from TC: or whatever relations existed)… certainly is not considered welcome in our lives.

We know it’s an enemy because of the sorrow and the disappointment and the heartache it brings to the heart of people.

Death:  Friend or Foe?

It’s obviously an enemy.  We know this biblically and we know this experientially.

But what about the other perspective?

I’m not ready to call death a "friend," but is there another side to the issue?

Is there another perspective?  Is there another vantage point?

I believe there is!

While I cannot and will not say in an unqualified way that death is a friend, I am saying that there is another perspective that goes beyond our five physical senses.

Psalm 116:15

15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

God never sees His children die; He simply sees them coming home.

When you can look at death from the heavenly perspective, you can see it also from an entirely different perspective.

You see that death is not a termination, but a transition.

You begin to understand why Paul called our bodies a tent, a temporary dwelling.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8

6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:

7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)

8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.

You can understand that while believers still have emotions or sorrow, and are going to miss their loved one, we are not morbid and fatalistic about the death of our loved ones.

Consider some of the following stories of God’s people:

  • About the year 125 A.D., a Greek by the name of Aristeides was writing to one of his friends about the new religion, Christianity.  He was trying to explain the reasons for its extraordinary success.  Here is a sentence from one of his letters: "If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they escort his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby."
  • There are Christians from a certain tribe in Africa who never say of their dead "who die in the Lord" that "they have departed."  Instead, speaking as it were from the vantage point of the gloryworld, they triumphantly and joyously say, "they have arrived."
  • When Benjamin Franklin was about to die, he asked that a picture of Christ on the Cross be placed in his bedroom so that he could look, as he said, "upon the form of the Silent Sufferer."

            He wrote in advance the epitaph to be on his gravestone:

"The body of Benjamin Franklin, printer, like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and gilding, lies here… Yet the work itself shall not be lost; for it will, as he believed, appear once more in a new and more beautiful edition, corrected and amended by the Author."

  • When the great Christian and scientist, Sir Michael Faraday, was dying, some journalists questioned him as to his speculations about life after death.

"Speculations!" he said, "I know nothing about speculations.  I’m resting on certainties.  ‘I know that my redeemer liveth, and because He lives, I shall live also.’"

Consider the following death-bed statements:

  • Martin Luther said:  "Our God is the God from whom cometh salvation:  God is the Lord by whom we escape death."
  • John Knox said:  Live in Christ, live in Christ, and the flesh need not fear death.
  • John Wesley said:  "The best of all is, God is with us.  Farewell!  Farewell!
  • Charles Wesley said:  "I shall be satisfied with thy likeness — satisfied, satisfied!"
  • Adoniram Judson said:  "I am not tired of my work, neither am I tired of the world; yet when Christ calls me home, I shall go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school."
  • John Pawson said:  "I know I am dying, but my deathbed is a bed of roses.  I have no thorns planted upon my dying pillow.  Heaven is already begun!"
  • Realizing that he would soon be gone from this world, Dwight L. Moody said to a friend:

"Someday you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of Northfield is dead.  Don’t you believe a word of it.  At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now.  I shall have gone higher, that is all – out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal, a body that sin cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned into His glorious body.  I was born in the flesh in 1837; I was born of the Sprit in 1856.  That which is born of the flesh may die; that which is born of the Spirit will live forever."

A few hours before entering the ‘homeland, ‘ Moody caught a glimpse of the glory awaiting him.  Awakening from sleep, he said:  "Earth recedes.  Heaven opens before.  If this is death, it is sweet!  There is no valley here.  God is calling me, and I must go."

His son, who was standing by his bed, said:  "No father, you are dreaming."

Moody responded:  "No, I am not dreaming.  I have been within the gates.  I have seen the children’s faces. 

A short time later, right before his passing, Moody spoke once more and said:  This is my triumph; this is my coronation day!  It is glorious!