Afraid of Death No More

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Hebrews 2:14-153

INTRODUCTION: I know, it’s a little unusual to be turning to the book of Hebrews for an Easter message, but these verses in Hebrews really set the stage for the Easter topic we want to address this morning, which is the fear of death and how we can overcome our fear of death through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, we are going to look at these verses in Hebrews 2 together, but first I just want to read the Easter story to you from the gospel of Matthew. There’s no need for you to turn there. I just want you to listen as I read. (Read Matthew 28:1-10).

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There are three questions everyone needs to answer in life: 1) Where did I come from? 2) Where am I going? 3) What happens when I get there? We will come back to these questions later in the message, but for right now let me just say that it’s hard to deal with question number three until you’ve already answered questions one and two.

But it’s that third question that really gets to us, doesn’t it, especially when it comes to dying. What happens to us when we die? Death is the great unknown, and so there is a lot of fear relating to death.

The good news of Easter is that you don’t need to be afraid of death. Jesus died and rose again, and Jesus’ death and resurrection free us from the fear of death. We read in Hebrews 2:14-15:

“Jesus shared in our humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Wouldn’t you like that? Wouldn’t you like to be freed from the fear of death? It’s been said that we are not really ready to live until we are ready to die. Part of being ready to die is overcoming your fear of death. And that is only possible through Jesus Christ.

This morning we are going to look at seven fears related to death and how Jesus helps us with each of them. The seven fears are as follows: 1) fear of the process; 2) fear of non-existence; 3) fear of bodily decay; 4) fear of loss; 5) fear of punishment; 6) fear of leaving loved ones behind; and then finally, 7) fear of the unknown. These are the primary fears related to death, and the Bible tells us how Jesus helps us with each one of them.

We all fear death in at least some of these ways. So, as we go through the list, ask yourself, which of these do you struggle with the most? And then receive God’s comfort through his Holy Word as we look at God’s answers to each of these fears. So, let’s get started.

1) Fear of the process: Jesus is with you
   – Psalm 23:4

The first fear that many people experience when it comes to death is fear of the process. Some people fear the process of dying itself. It’s not the “being dead” part they fear so much as the process of getting there. This can include the fear of aging and your body slowly breaking down. It certainly includes the fear of sickness and physical debilitation.

And then it also includes the act of dying. We wonder what it will be like to pass from life to death. Will my life flash before my eyes? Will there be a blinding light? Will I know what is happening? Will it hurt?

These are all legitimate questions and fears that people experience as they contemplate the process of dying. So, how do we deal with these very real fears?

I think the best place to turn is Psalm 23. Psalm 23 is one the best known and most loved psalms in the whole Bible. It is often called the shepherd’s psalm, after the opening words: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

The psalm begins by going through the various aspects of life and living and how God is our shepherd to lead us and guide us and provide for all our needs. But then the psalm suddenly moves from the peaceful, restful pastures to the dark valley of the shadow of death. And this is the verse that gives us such great comfort when we fear the process of dying.

Psalm 23:4 says:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

The valley of the shadow of death refers to any time of darkness or danger in your life, but we especially apply this verse to death and the process of dying. When you are in Christ, you do not need to be afraid in times of danger, because God is with you at all times. And he is especially with you when you are going through the process of dying.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And he is alive to take care of you today. This is why the resurrection is so important. We serve a risen Savior who lives forever and is always watching over you. When you are in Christ, you do not need to be afraid of the process of death. Why? Because Jesus is with you, and he always will be. That’s the first fear related to death: fear of the process.

2) Fear of non-existence: You will be alive and well
   – John 11:25-26

Let’s move on to the second fear. Some people fear death because they fear the thought of non-existence. This is what we call the existential fear of death. It is a feeling of anxiety or dread you experience when you think about no longer existing. You wonder what it will be like to no longer exist, or even worse, not even to know that you no longer exist. Your thoughts get all wrapped up in this, and so you try to avoid thinking about death because it causes you such anxiety.

Of course, ignoring something doesn’t make it go away. If we truly want to be freed from the fear of death, we need to deal with the fear of non-existence.

The good news of Easter is that because Jesus lives, you will live also. You do not need to fear non-existence, because those who die in Christ are alive and well.

Listen to Jesus’ words in John 11:25-26:

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Do you understand what Jesus is saying here? He is the resurrection and the life. Death had no power over him because he is the Son of God who lived a perfect life. Jesus had the power to lay down his life and take it up again.

If you believe in Jesus, even though you die, you will live. You will never face non-existence, not even for a moment, because you will pass immediately from death into life.

I like what D. L. Moody once said: “Some day you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody, of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now.” Those who believe in Jesus never truly die. You do not need to fear non-existence, because those who die in Christ are alive and well.

3) Fear of bodily decay: You will receive a new body
   – Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54

And then, a third fear related to death is the fear of bodily decay. This is one of the distasteful aspects of death that we experience anytime we encounter a dead animal by the side of the road or even worse in your attic. Death and decay go together, and we fear the decaying of our body.

So, how do you deal with the fear of bodily decay? The good news of Easter is that you will receive a new body!

Philippians 3:21 says that Jesus “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:21) When Jesus rose from the dead, there was something different about him. Sometimes the disciples recognized him; sometimes they didn’t. His new body was able to appear suddenly in locked rooms or ascend into heaven through the skies. It was him. It was his body, his body was no longer in the tomb, and yet it was a new body as well.

And just as Jesus received a new body at his resurrection, you will receive a new body as well. We read these words from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-54)

Your old body is sown perishable; it will be raised imperishable. Your old body is sown in dishonor; it will be raised in glory. Your old body is sown in weakness; it will be raised in power. Your old body is sown a natural body; it will be raised a spiritual body. (2 Corinthians 15:43-44) How do you deal with the fear of bodily decay? The Bible says you will receive a new body.

4) Fear of loss: To live is Christ and to die is gain
   – Philippians 1:21

A fourth fear related to death is the fear of loss. A lot of people fear death because they fear missing out on things in this life. We all have our bucket lists – those lists of things we want to see or do before we “kick the bucket.” We want to spend more time with our loved ones. We want to see our children or grandchildren grow up. We want to experience this beautiful world that God created for yet another day.

So, how do we deal with this very real fear of loss? I like to turn to Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21 where he says:

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

For Paul, the thought of imminent death was not theoretical. He was in prison for his faith and could have been executed at any time. And yet he was not afraid. He wasn’t afraid of losing anything in this life, because he knew that when you are in Christ, then to die is gain.

I remember when Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, was ill and the doctors only gave him a short time to live. He was speaking at a conference, and at one point the other speakers at the conference had him sit in a chair and they gathered around him to pray for his healing. Bill took the microphone and shared how he believed in prayer and God’s power to heal and how he appreciated them praying for him. But he also said he was not afraid of dying, and that he was really looking forward to seeing Jesus. He passed into glory several months later.

Yes, there are real losses that come with death. But for the Christian the gains far outweigh the losses. You will be with Jesus in heaven! And nothing on earth compares with that. Whenever you start fearing the losses connected with death, remember Paul’s words: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

5) Fear of punishment: There is no condemnation for those in Christ
   – Romans 8:1

A fifth fear related to death is the fear of punishment. I wish more people had this fear. Too many people go through life without ever thinking about the judgment to come. They either try to ignore it, or they outright deny it. But the Bible is clear on this matter: “It is appointed to man to die once and after that to face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)

So, I actually wish more people had this fear. But not Christians. As Christians we do not need to fear punishment at all because Jesus has already taken the punishment for us. The Bible says in Romans 8:1:

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Why? Because Jesus already paid the full price for your sins at the cross.

I believe this is the fear that is especially highlighted in the verse we opened with today from Hebrews 2. Hebrews 2 tells us that Jesus destroyed the devil who held the power of death and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. What was this fear? The fear of judgment and punishment for our sins. How do you deal with the fear of punishment after death? Accept Jesus as your Savior. Because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

6) Fear of leaving loved ones behind: We will be together
   – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

And then a sixth fear related to death is the fear of leaving our loved ones behind. The gift of family and friends is one of the most precious gifts God gives us in this lifetime. God created us to be in relationship with others. When a person is dying, the family gathers. When the person dies, family and friends grieve and mourn their passing. When we are dying, we fear leaving our loved ones behind.

But the good news of Easter is that because Jesus rose from the dead, we will be together with Christ and our loved ones. We read in 1 Thessalonians 4:

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

When you are in Christ, you will see your loved ones in Christ again. This is one of the great hopes that faith in Christ holds out to each one of us. I like what one Christian said after experiencing a heart attack: “If I die, I get to see my parents again. If I live, I get to see my children grow older. In Christ, I win either way.”

As a Christian you do not need to fear death. Trust God to take care of those you leave behind. He loves them even more than you do! Leave them a rich legacy of prayers that will carry them through their lives until you are reunited in heaven. How do you deal with the fear of leaving loved ones behind? Remember, we will be together in the Lord.

7) Fear of the unknown: Heaven will be perfect in every way
   – 1 Corinthians 2:9; Revelation 21:1-4

And then a final fear relating to death simply has to do with fear of the unknown. We have never died before, we have never spoken with anyone who has died before, and so we really don’t know exactly what death will be like.

But God has given us some wonderful words of assurance in his word concerning what happens after we die. A lot of it is still unknown, but the Bible tells us that even the parts we don’t know about will be better than we can imagine. 1 Corinthians 2:9 tells us:

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

And besides, even though we don’t know everything about heaven, what we do know is wonderful. Listen to this description of heaven from Revelation 21:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

How do you deal with the fear of the unknown? Know this: Heaven will be perfect in every way. What we do know of heaven is beautiful. And what you don’t know will be even better than you can imagine!

CONCLUSION: Do you remember those three questions we started our message with this morning? 1) Where did I come from? 2) Where am I going? 3) What happens when I get there? Let’s see if we can answer them now.

1) Where did I come from? The answer for all of us is the same. You came from God. He is your Creator. He is the source of all life and love and happiness. Everything you have comes from him. Without him, not only would you not exist – nothing would exist! Where did you come from? You came from God.

2) Where am I going? The answer for all of us here is the same, too. We are all going to the next life. Unless Christ returns first, we are all going to the grave in this life, and even if Christ does return before you die, we are all still headed to the next life. We sometimes think this life is all there is because it is all we know, but this life is short compared to eternity. We are all going to the next life.

And then finally, question number three:

3) What happens when I get there? Here the answer is no longer the same for all of us. It begins the same, because the first thing that happens when we all get there is judgment. But what happens after that judgment depends on your relationship to God through Jesus in this life. Those who do not know Christ will face the full punishment for their sins, while those who do know Christ will find the full payment for their sins was already paid for them at the cross.

So, should you be afraid of death? If you do not know Christ as Savior, then yes, you should be afraid. Hebrews 10 says: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Hebrews 10:26-27)

But if you do know Christ, then you need no longer be afraid. Why? Because 1) Jesus is with you. 2) You will be alive and well. 3) You will receive a new body. 4) To live is Christ and to die is gain. 5) There is no condemnation for those in Christ. 6) We will be together with our loved ones in the Lord. And 7) Heaven will be perfect in every way.

So, as the angels told the women who came to Jesus’ tomb that first Easter morning: “Do not be afraid.… He has risen just as he said!” (Matthew 28:5) Death has been conquered. Eternal life awaits you. As believers in Jesus, we can all hold this motto high: “Afraid of death no more!”

Prayer: “Dear Lord, for faith that teaches us that death is not the end but is simply a doorway that leads from this life into the next, we give you thanks. Amen.”

© Ray Fowler

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