Death is certain. It is all around us. Whether we find ourselves reading the obituaries or watching the evening news, there always seems to be something to remind us about death. We are all born with a terminal disease that eventually finds us. Some people die early in life; some later. Some die quick and painless; others of long, painful diseases. No matter how it comes our way, it will come our way.
As a pastor, I often get the opportunity to come alongside those that are going through the pain of losing a loved one to death. Most of the time, the people I am shepherding through this time overwhelmingly profess their loved one who died was a Christian. They almost always believe they are now in the better place of heaven.
Now, it is true that Christianity is not only about what happens after you die. Jesus did come to give us joy and life more abundantly. But at the root of our Christian faith is the belief that when the life of the one who has come to Jesus with a penitent faith comes to an end here on earth, they pass on to live with Jesus forever in eternity. We speak in terms of “going home” or “passing on to the next life.” But whenever I hear these cliché’s, I become more and more concerned that what is meant has less and less to do with being reunited with Jesus Christ.
I have a growing uneasiness at what I hear at many “Christian” funerals these days. With increasing frequency, I hear people saying how glad they are their loved one is reunited with their spouse. I hear people talk about how they cannot wait to see their friends again in heaven. I overwhelmingly hear of people’s love for other people. But what I hardly ever hear is how great it is that their loved one is reunited with Jesus. I almost never hear a person on their deathbed confess their excitement to depart to be with Christ.
It is almost as if Jesus has become an afterthought.
This is not the attitude of the Christian as I read the New Testament. The death for the Christian is about being reunited with their Savior. I do not doubt there will be a reunion with loved ones, but it is a secondary reunion. The first desire for the person who has come to know Jesus is about being reunited with Jesus.
The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that when the Christian is separated from their body at death, they are then at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6–8). The Christians in Thessalonica were distraught because their friends had died before Jesus returned for them. Paul’s word of encouragement was that they did not miss being reunited with Christ. In fact, their bodies would be resurrected when Jesus returned and they would “always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:13–18). Even Paul’s testimony was that he could not wait to depart from this earth in order to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23).
So then why is there a disparity between what the first generation Christians looked forward to in death and what is commonly thought of by today’s Christians? The only explanation I can think of is that Jesus is a secondary thought in death because He has been a secondary thought in life. That which we love and pursue in this life is what we will look forward to in our death. If you find yourself not looking forward to being with Jesus in death, it might be a glaring indicator that Jesus is not that important in your life today.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37).