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January 15, 2012

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

 

“Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”  Revelation 14:13

One day soon, all of us will be in another world.  The purpose of our series is to learn what we can about it and to prepare ourselves for it.

People die in many ways, through an accident, an illness or old age.  People die at different times.  The timing and the circumstances vary.

These are important but they are not of ultimate importance.

Every person who has ever lived eventually dies in one of two ways:  Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).  Today we’re looking at Revelation 14:13, where we read “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”

When you leave this world, either you will die in your sins, or you will die in the Lord.  As I’ve thought about this, my mind has been overwhelmed by the incalculable difference between the two.

To die in your sins means to carry your sins into death with you.  You go out of this world, through death, and into the presence of God.  Your sins are attached to you.  There you stand in the presence of God “in your sins.”  Nothing could be more tragic, more awful than this.

But there is another way to die: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (14:13).  Christ took our sins into His death, so that if you are in Him, you will not take them into yours.

To die in the Lord, separated from your sins, because He carried them for you—can anything be more glorious?  This is a promise that belongs to every Christian.  But I want you to notice that it is given especially to people who will die the most difficult deaths…

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (14:13).  The great beast has arisen in chapter 13, and the world is following the anti-Christ.  He’s bringing trouble and persecution to Christians (13:7).

Then we read: “If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (13:10).

Here are believers who are paying the ultimate price for following Christ.  Some of them will die horrible deaths and John, who is on the Isle of Patmos, says “I heard a voice from heaven saying… Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”  If that is true for them, how much more so for us?

Why Are We Blessed If We Die In the Lord?

 

blessed because…

  1. They rest from their labors

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor.” Revelation 14:13

  1. Hard work is a distinguishing mark of people who are in Christ

I’ve cut a few boards and banged in a few nails over the years, but if I was to say “I am a carpenter,” those of you who are carpenters would laugh.  A carpenter is someone who gives his life to the good work of carpentry.

A Christian is not a person who says a prayer now and then; a Christian is a person who gives him or herself to following Christ.  Saying you’re a Christian doesn’t make you a Christian, any more than saying “I’m a carpenter” makes me a carpenter.

The evidence that you’re in Christ is that the goal of your life is to serve Him.  Whatever work you do, that’s who you are and what you’re about.

  1. Serving Christ isn’t easy

The word “labor” makes it clear that serving Christ means hard and demanding work, work that will make you sweat.  People who are “in Christ” serve Him on earth, and we will serve Him in heaven.  But there is this difference: If you give your life to serving and following Christ on earth, you will face difficulties, discouragements and disappointments.

But in heaven it will be different… Spurgeon says, “Whatever they do in heaven will yield them refreshment and never cause them weariness.” [1]

“[In heaven] no cold-hearted brethren will damp our [enthusiasm], or accuse us of evil motives; no desponding brethren will warn us that we are rash when our faith is strong, and obstinate when our confidence is firm. 

None will pluck us by the sleeve and hold us back, when we would run the race with all our might… And none will foretell disaster and defeat when we confidently know that God will give us the victory.” [2]

iii. There are works for Christ that can only be done here

“They will rest from their labor” (Revelation 14:13).  There are certain things that those who die in the Lord will no longer be doing.  Pastors will be the first to be out of a job in heaven.  Think of how wonderful this is…

Why would you need a preacher to proclaim the greatness of Christ when you can see His glory directly for yourself?  Why would you need counseling?  Why would you need pastoral care when all your wounds are healed, and Christ has wiped all the tears from your eyes?

The work that you do, may bring you many frustrations.  It will no longer be needed in a new heaven and a new earth.  All of us will be serving Christ with new energy, fulfillment and joy.  This gives great significance to the work you are doing now.  You won’t be doing this in heaven, so your only chance to do it will be here on earth.

The only prayers you will offer are the prayers you offer while you are here.  The only evangelism you will ever do, is the evangelism you are committed to doing right here.  The only victories over sin and temptation you will have are the victories you win in your struggle with sin here.

The only children you will teach are the children you teach here, so invest yourself in it—it has eternal significance.  The only giving you will release is the giving you release here.  The only stand you will ever make for what is true and right is the stand you will make here.

We will have all eternity to rejoice in our victories in Jesus Christ, but only very a short time in which to win them.  That’s the urgency of the Christian life.  That’s the urgency of the Gospel.

 

blessed because…

  1. Their deeds follow them

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord… “Yes,” says the Spirit… “for their deeds follow them.” Revelation 14:13

When Christians enter heaven, their works are behind them, not in front of them.  The Christian does not enter into heaven because of his or her good works, “Their deeds follow them.”

Jesus said, “I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).  Jesus is the pioneer of our faith.  He goes first and opens the door of heaven, and those who follow Him enter and their works follow them!

Good works never lead the way!  Spurgeon says, “They don’t even walk beside you.”  He asks…

“Do they march at our right hand or our left as subjects of cheering contemplation? No, no, we dare not take them as companions to comfort us; they follow us at our heel; they keep behind us out of sight, and we ourselves in our desires after holiness always outmarch them. [3]

Thank God that the good works of Christians do follow, because there will be a great reward.

Here’s something quite staggering…  Our sins, which are many, are erased from the mind and heart of God.  When they are placed under the blood of Christ, God says, “I will remember them no more.”

But our deeds, which are feeble and few, somehow live in the memory of God forever and ever and ever, so that a cup of cold water given in the name of Jesus will not go without its reward.  You will be amazed at what Christ recalls (Matthew 25).  Every tear shed, in repentance and in prayer, is known to God and cherished in His heart forever.

blessed because…

  1. They die in the Lord

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord… Revelation 14:13

Not all of the dead are blessed—some die in their sins.  Nothing could be more tragic.  But heaven declares to every Christian believer: Whenever you die and however it happens, you are blessed if you die in the Lord.  Isn’t that a great assurance to live with?

What does it mean to die in the Lord?

  1. Released

Think of a martyr, a Christian who has suffered greatly for his faith.  He has been imprisoned, he has been tortured and over time his body has been weakened.  He is surrounded by cursing, and hatred and pain.

One day he closes his eyes and he is released from all this.  He awakens in a world of light, love, peace and joy in the presence of Jesus.  “To be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Another Christian is not suffering persecution, but she is enduring the trial of a severe cancer.  The treatments have become hard to bear.  Her energy is sapped; the scope of her life has become terribly limited.

One day she closes her eyes and she awakens in a world of light, love, peace and joy in the presence of Jesus.  “To be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), and the apostle Paul says

that is “better by far” ( Philippians 1:23)—no matter how good your life is.

  1. Carried

Jesus told a story about two men who died: A rich man who died in his sins, and a poor man called Lazarus who died in the Lord.  Listen to Jesus’ description of the deaths of these two men…

“The rich man died and was buried” (Luke 16:22)—that’s all you can say!  “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side” (Luke 16:22)Die in your sins, and you go into death alone.  Die in the Lord, and you are carried by the angels.

If you are in the Lord you can say, “The Lord is my shepherd. Even though I walk though the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me—your rod and staff comfort me.”  He’s going to walk with you and carry you through this valley.  It’s a place He’s already been.

iii. Welcomed

The first Christian martyr was Stephen, a deacon of the church, a layperson who boldly confessed his faith in Jesus.  You can read the story in Acts 7.  Stephen confessed Christ, and those who heard his testimony were furious.  The Bible says “they ground their teeth at him…”

But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7:55-56

After the ascension we usually read about Jesus being seated at the right hand of the Father, speaking of the completion of His work, but Steven saw Him standing.  Why?  Christ is standing, ready to receive him!  And that’s how it will be for you, if you are in the Lord.

What Would You Say To a Loved One Who Is Dying?

Forget what you have done or failed to do for Christ

Satan may bring to mind the weakness of your faith, but the good that you have done should be behind you, not in front of you.  Don’t look at the life you lived for Christ, but at the life He lived for you.

Forget your ministry.  Forget your triumphs.  Forget your failure.  Look to Jesus and to what He accomplished for you on His cross.  You may be with someone who’s disappointed in the life they’ve lived.  You can say to them, “There’s no basis for confidence in what I’ve done for Christ; but every basis for confidence in what Christ has done for me.”

Our faith and our works are like gold mixed with dross—they need to be refined.  But all that Christ accomplished is pure gold.  The devil can have a field day, and often does with dying believers, telling you of all your failures.  But he cannot point to one failure in the cross of Christ.

Don’t look at what you have done or failed to do—look to Christ.  Your entrance into heaven does not rest on what you have done for Christ, but on what He has done for you.  That is the good news of the Gospel.  You will need it in living and you will need it in dying.

Fully embrace what God has done for you in Jesus

This is one of the clearest expressions of the Gospel I have ever seen outside the Bible…

Upon a life I did not live.

Upon a death I did not die.

Another’s life, another’s death,

I stake my whole eternity. [4]

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.

Rest on the unshakable promises of God at death

In the book, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” John Bunyan pictures the main character, Christian, crossing a river.  The water is deep and Christian fears that he may drown, but his friend, Hopeful, says to him, “Be of good cheer. I feel the bottom and it is good.” [5]

God’s promises are that solid foundation you can walk on and be certain of—underneath are the everlasting arms.  You can rest your life, your death and your eternity on the unshakable promises of God.

Count on the grace and presence of Jesus

You may be with someone who is very fearful at death, “I’ve never been this way before, but now I’m scared.”  Corrie Ten Boom tells a story of how as a young girl she had a great fear of dying…

Her father said, “Corrie, when we go to Amsterdam on the train, when do I give you your ticket?”

“Just before we get on the train,” she said.

“Our wise Father in heaven knows when we are going to need things too. When the time comes that some of us have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time.” [6]

When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You are with me, and your grace is sufficient for me.  The key to dying well is to live well.  The whole of our life is a preparation for dying.

The Way to Die In the Lord…

…Is to Live In the Lord

Live with a clear conscience

Ask yourself, “Is there anything in my life now that I would be ashamed of if I were to die and enter the presence of Jesus tonight?”  If there is, be done with it.  Don’t hold on to anything today that you would let go of, if you knew you were to die tonight.

Forgive the people who have hurt you

This is a wonderful thing we can do while we’re living.  It’s exactly what our Lord did, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  Stephen took his cue from Jesus and while he was being stoned said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).

As far as it is possible, live at peace with all men.  Let go of bitterness.  There’s none of it where you are going.  Set your mind on things above, where Christ is seated.

Practice dying every day

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

Living the Christian life involves a kind of daily dying—I have to die to myself in order to live for Christ.  It’s about saying “No” to self and “Yes” to God.  Every day you’re dying to yourself in order to live for Christ…

“No man would find it difficult to die who died every day.  He would have practiced it so often, that he would only have to die but once more; like the singer who has been through the rehearsals, and has but to put forth the notes once for all and have done.” [7]

Anticipate your future home

“Set your mind on things above” (Colossians 3:2), Paul says to Christians, “where Christ is seated…” (3:1).  Place your treasure and your heart there.

When our family moved here from Britain 15 years ago, we committed to buying a house that my wife had never seen.  It’s a high-risk strategy.  I visited alone, a few months before we moved, and took pictures.

The choice was between committing to a house my wife had never seen, or moving into a temporary accommodation and then finding something together.  Karen looked at the pictures, and said, “Go for it.”

Karen loved the house when we arrived.  As soon as she walked in, she felt that it was a place she already knew.  Looking at the photographs, it was strangely familiar—she felt she belonged and knew she was at home.

That’s how it will be for you in heaven, if you’ve been setting your mind on things above and storing up treasures in heaven.  “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13).

 

[1] C. H. Spurgeon from, “A Voice from Heaven,” Sermon #1219

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Horatius Bonar, “Christ For Us,” from the collection “Communion Hymns,” 1881

[5] John Bunyan, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” p. 204, Bridge Logos, 1998

[6] Corrie Ten Boom, “The Hiding Place,” p. 31f, Bantam, 1984

[7] C. H. Spurgeon, “Dying Daily,” Sermon #828

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org



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