Death of Death part 6

Death and Destiny…

Please note this is an abridged version of a 30 minute talk!

 We have a deep instinct that this world can be, and should be better.  At every level of our existence is the sense that we could (maybe even should) be able to improve, upgrade and renovate our experience of life.  At our deepest level, we may be a stretching out for the New Creation…

 When the Living God spoke creation into being, it was formless and empty, dark, and chaotic.  Gen.1-2 is in fact the story of God’s bringing light to the darkness, order to the chaos, and fullness to the emptiness.  This redemption is to be the foundational pattern of this creation.  All of history is prefigured in this overture.

 The chaos and darkness creeps back into creation after humanity joins with the ancient dragon and rebels against their Creator.  But the Lord of Life and Light cannot legitimise what His creation has become.  Humanity is exiled from Eden, and all creation is cursed.  But as they turn their back on Life, the promise rings in their ears.  A human will crush the head of the serpent.  In this immense prophecy lies hidden the hope of restoration, and cosmic renovation.  We inevitably minimise the extent of the cross, focussing so much on our own personal future, that we forget it forges the future of all creation (Col.1:19-20).  The realisation of all He achieved in His own death and resurrection will only be implemented at Christ’s return, when all things are brought together under His glorious reign as our eternal Prince of Peace.  The triumph of Christ will be the final driving out of the darkness and chaos, the sin and suffering; the revoking of the curse.

 The hope of the Church is bound up with the inauguration of this full and manifest reign of Christ (Is.11:1-9).  It is focussed on the renewal of all things, every level and aspect and dimension of creation, seen and unseen.  It is the re-uniting of heaven and earth.  Creation will no longer be ravaged by sin and violated by death, groaning under the curse and in bondage to decay.

 The Bible envisages a deeply renewed ecology, that in turn becomes the arena for the full restoration of the relationship between humanity and their Creator.  ‘God’s dwelling place is now among the people’ (Rev.21:3).

 This renewal will involve devastating trauma and intense discontinuity for the very structures of creation (II Pet.3:7; Heb.1:10-12), but like our own resurrected bodies, there is also profound continuity.  There will still be animals such as wolves and lambs, but their physiology and the relationship between them will be radically re-envisaged in a world without the curse (Is.65:25 etc.).  Deserts become incredibly fertile; people live in security and undisturbed peace (Is.32:15-18).  In our world of drought and displacement such a life is barely conceivable.

 Indeed, we have grown so accustomed to surviving in this cursed world that we have lost any sense of its abnormality.   But it is hard to overestimate the impact of the curse, and how unrecognisable our world is compared to the creation God originally declared to be good.  We can barely imagine how satisfying and fulfilling work will be in the New Creation; or how deep our relationships with others will be when words are no longer weapons, but only build others up.  We can hardly conceive what a truly just human society would look like, and yet we will be a part of administering precisely such a society (I Cor.6:1-3; Lk.19:19 etc.).  What service might we be capable of in our powerful new resurrection bodies?  The simple promise that ‘His servants will serve Him’ (Rev.22:3) is enough to bring tears to the eyes of Christians who have spent their whole lives stranded in the brutal ambiguity of a discipleship in this age.  So often our service has been fickle, and desperately compromised, as complacent as it is contaminated.  But in the New Creation, we will serve Him, wholeheartedly and consistently.

 Can we dare to believe that we will not lose what we are, but will discover it more deeply?  Only in the New Creation can we realise our full potential at every level of our being – from the most individual to the most corporate and cultural (Rev.21:23-26).   Only in the New Creation can we finally see the face of our God, and know the fullness of His glorious presence.  And such will be the weight of that glory that we will need our resurrection bodies to simply sustain existence. 

 No matter what we have been through now, no matter how bad, it will not be worth comparing to the wonder and joy of our New Creation life (II Cor.4:17-18; Rom.8:18).   We may think we are too deeply wounded, too broken, too sinful, but as the sun rises on resurrection morning He will be there to make sense of it all, to wipe away every tear, and to heal every wound.  The future will triumph over history.  Then life can truly begin.

Introductory Questions:

How compelling do you find the idea of the New Creation?  Is it worth living for? ...or do you worry that it is a kind of escapism?

Read Col.1:19-20 again. Why do ‘things in heaven’ need to be reconciled to God?  Why does there need to be a ‘new heaven’ as part of the new creation (Rev.21:1)?

What would you say to a child who asks whether their pet will go to heaven?

People sometimes say that they won’t be able to enjoy ‘heaven’ if they know there is a hell.  How would you respond to a statement like that?

Reflecting on session 6

Read Isaiah 65:17-25.  Does this resonate with your own thinking about what life in the New Creation will be like?

Do you think v.17 means that we won’t remember this age or the life we lived in it?

Why do you think a passage about the ‘new heavens and the new earth’ can speak about people dying?

What do make of the fact that there are people of different ages (including children) in this vision of the New Creation?  And do you think Isaiah means when he writes of people bearing children, or having descendants (v.23), when Jesus says there is no marriage in the New Creation (Matt.22:30)?

Some of the same imagery is picked up in Revelation 21:1-5.  In what ways does John’s vision differ from Isaiah’s?

Staying with the Book of Revelation…  another classic (though cryptic) passage on the New Creation is found in Rev.22:1-5. 

 What do you think the connection is between the river in 22:1, and Jesus’ use of similar language in John 4:14?   Likewise, what is the connection between the tree of life in 22:2, and the tree of life in Gen.3:9.  What are we being taught?

What do you think ‘healing of the nations’ means?

Do you think the New Creation is a ‘going back’ to life as it was before the fall?

Further Reading (John 11:1-44):

Why do you think Martha objects to Jesus’ command to ‘Take away the stone’?  Do you think Jesus is rebuking her in v.40?  Do you think that is fair?

In what ways is vv.43-44 similar to what will happen in the resurrection at the end of the age, and in what ways is it different?

You might find it helpful to read Jn.5:28-30

How would Jesus’ prayer in v.41-42 benefit those who heard Him?

What do you think the Chief Priests hope to achieve by killing Lazarus (John 12:9-11)?  How rational is their behaviour?

Homework:  keep studying the Bible to build a clear vision of the New Creation!

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Death of death part 5

The undoing of death…

Please note this is an abridged version of a 30 minute talk!

 Almost 4 centuries before Christ, the pagan Greek philosopher Socrates was teaching his students about the immortality of the soul.  His belief was that the soul existed before it took on this mortal flesh and that it would continue to exist afterwards…  He reasoned that this soul/mind bit of you is the ‘real’ you, and that your psychological (soulish) life is your real life.  This body that we happen to inhabit for a few years isn’t what or who you really are, and once it is discarded you are liberated to fully realise your potential as a human being (Socrates thought you could become divine, so that’s quite a lot of potential really!).  It’s amazing how prevalent his ideas remain even 2,500 years later.

 As Christians though we have to emphatically reject the idea that our bodies aren’t who we really are, and that I become more real if I can just escape this body.  The earliest chapters of the Bible teach us that we are created as body.  This physical part of me isn’t an optional add-on, still less a prison that stops me realising my potential.  This is who I am.  If you take it away, I’m not fully me! 

 That’s why we have been thinking about Paul’s discomfort at the idea of being away from the body – even though that means he will be with Jesus.  He is eager to be with Jesus, but he is aware that while he is ‘away from the body’, he will be incomplete, less than who and what he truly is.  Paul wants to be delivered from this body of death, not so that he can enter into some spiritual, body-less existence, but rather so that he can be clothed again with a resurrection body of righteousness and glory.  He looks forward to being more physical, not less.

 Any such diminishing of our bodies per se should be undercut by our consideration of Jesus, who not only took a human body in His incarnation, but then reclaimed it from death in His resurrection.  His highest plane of existence wasn’t minus His body.   It was His resurrected, human physicality.

 This resurrection future pioneered by Christ has always been the hope of the Church (I Sam.2:6; Is.26:19; Dan.12:2 etc.).  It was a key part of the Apostle’s doctrine (Acts 24:15), and has been confessed by generations of Christians in the most fundamental creeds and as part of their worship.  We were created from Dust, and yes, we return to dust – but we will also be raised from the dust (Dan.12:2).

 Christianity has no problem with human physicality.  It does have a problem with the way our bodies, tied into the structures of this fallen creation, have become polluted with sin and infected by death.  But human bodies redeemed from the curse, imperishable, glorious, powerful and shaped by the life of the Holy Spirit…  that is the great Christian hope!  To know that this body will be resurrected and in that process be utterly transformed is the longing of every Christian.

 There remains the question of why this all matters to me.  At one level it underlines the reality of what it means to be human.  If our future was body-less, then it would call into question our physicality here and now.  We would end up where the pagan philosophers landed, marginalising and even lamenting our physicality as a prison to be escaped from; it would warp our whole thinking of what it means to be a human being.  Our belief in the resurrection future of this body gives great dignity to our physicality.  I will be judged according to what I have done while in the body.  This is the body I will be for everlasting ages.  Our belief in the resurrection prevents us from an inadequate view of discipleship that reduces the complexity of life to a handful of ‘spiritual’ pursuits.  It allows us to confront the fact that everything we done in the body will carry eternal significance, whilst also recognising that in their current state those bodies are deeply flawed. 

 Celebrating our physicality while recognising it is foundationally unsound, enables us to navigate the tension of being a part of this world but in a radically relativized way.  It frees us to take risks, and endure suffering, and to make the hugely sacrificial decisions we need to for the sake of the Gospel, and for our own growth.  The early Church’s realisation that Jesus had vanquished death (and that we would share in that triumph) triggered a revolution.  It may be that our own spiritual powerlessness is linked to our loss of the vision of our resurrection future.   People often mock the Christian hope: ‘so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use’.  We may discover paradoxically that it is only those who are ‘heavenly-minded’ who are any earthly use. 

 Our hope in the resurrection future is incredibly personal, but it isn’t private, or individualistic.  Jesus teaches that the scope of his victory over death is not limited to a few human-sized and human-shaped bits of creation.  The whole of creation needs to be resurrected.  This will be our focus next week.

Introductory Questions:

Read Eccl.7:2-4.  What do you think we are being taught here?   Do you think it wise teaching?  Why / why not?  How could you put this into practise?

Have a look at Matt.27:51-53.  What do you think is happening here, and why?

What is the best argument that you have heard about why Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?  How would you respond to it? 

Reflecting on Session 5:

In what ways does the teaching of pagan philosophers like Socrates continue to shape our culture’s thinking about and engagement with death?  What other common ideas are you aware of?  How important is it that as Christians we are able to repudiate these kinds of ideas? 

What would you say to someone who said they were a Christian, but whose vision of the future was not physical?  How different would our faith be if we didn’t believe in a physical future? 

Do you think resurrection is something they believed in during Old Testament times?

Does a passage like I John 3:2-3 nullify our attempts to understand what the resurrection body is like?  How does our hope motivate us in our discipleship?

Read any of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus (Matt.28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20).  What can we learn about the experience of resurrection from the example of Jesus’ resurrection?  In what ways do you think our resurrection will be like Jesus’, and in what ways will it not be (if any)?

How significant is the doctrine of the resurrection to you?  Would you agree with John Bradford that the prospect of our resurrection is, of all God’s blessings to us, the greatest?  Why / why not?  Can you think of any passages from the Bible that might confirm or deny Bradford’s claim?

What do you make of the Bible’s use of the language of ‘rewards’ with regard to judgement?  Do you think our experience of the New Creation will be different depending on our faithfulness here and now?  How does this fit with the idea of being saved by grace?

Further Reading (John 11:1-44):

(we’ll be coming back to this passage each week throughout the course)

 In what ways do you think our culture is good or bad at grieving?

Is it possible for a Christian to grieve too much? How can we know if our grief is ‘normal’ or if it goes too far?  Is there such a thing as ‘normal’ grief?

How does having hope affect the way Christians grieve (I Thess.4:13)?  How do you think Martha’s belief in the resurrection (v.24) affected her experience of grief?

Do you think Mary and/or Martha are angry with Jesus (see vv.21 & 32)?  Do they blame Him for Lazarus’ death?  What can we learn from Jesus’ response to the sisters?


For personal reflection:  When I stand before Jesus, what do I want Him to say to me?  What changes do I need to make in how I live now to make that possible?  What support do I need to make those changes?

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Death of Death part 4

What happens when I die…

Please note this is an abridged version of a 30 minute talk!

 It can be surprising to realize how many different opinions there are amongst Christians about what happens after we die: Soul sleep? Purgatory? Limbo? Resurrection?  Body-less, spirit existence?  Can we pray to the dead?  …or for them?  Should we try to speak with the dead?  What about ghosts?  As with everything though, the most important question is ‘What does the Bible teach?’ 

 The most important thing is to realize that when a Christian dies, our bodies return to dust, but our spirit continues in conscious existence as we enter the presence of the Lord to know Him, love Him, and enjoy Him in a far deeper way than we’ve ever experienced before (Lk.24:43; Phil.1:21-26; II Cor.5:1-10; I Thess.4:13f)

 The ‘me’ that is this mortal, perishable, weak body is the same ‘me’ who will be given an immortal, imperishable, resurrected body, and is the same ‘me’ when I’m away from the body and at home with the Lord; there’s a vital unbroken connection and continuity.  I never stop being ‘me’, but at the moment of death, when I am finally set free from ‘this lowly body’ (Phil.3:21), I will, as a believer, be made perfect.  Note that Paul (and the Bible) doesn’t have a negative view of our bodies and physicality per se.  Quite the opposite!  But there is a negative view in the Bible of what our bodies have become as a result of our sin.  Heaven is pure and perfect and free from all sin and sickness, and therefore when God takes us home to heaven He makes us fit for the experience of enjoying it - by making us perfect in holiness too.

 It’s important to remember that the purpose of the Bible’s teaching about what God has prepared after death for those who love Him, is not to simply to satisfy our intellectual curiosity (though it does do that), but is to encourage us to live confidently in hope and obedience before our death.  Whatever questions we may be left with, our faith in Jesus as our Saviour guarantees that God has already prepared for us everything we will need in order to enjoy Him in a way we’ve never known before, or even guessed could happen!  And our spiritual bodies will be perfectly adapted to our new environment.

 In a culture where interest in spirituality is being re-discovered, and opinion about the paranormal is growing, it is important that we are thinking about life after death in ways that are informed by the Bible.  In the pages of Scripture there are only two alternatives for life after death…  there is no prospect of passing between them (e.g. after a period in purgatory), or existing outside of them in some limbo state.  While it seems it is possible for the dead to ‘return’ (e.g. John 11:43-44; Mark 5:41; Matt.27:52-53) and for them pass between the seen and unseen worlds (e.g. Matt.17:3, though note that Moses and Elijah only speak with Jesus; I Sam.28:13-15), these seem to be exceptional events, and in fact, attempts to seek to contact the dead are prohibited (e.g. Dt.18:11; Is.8:19).   The Bible makes it very clear that there are both good and evil ‘spirit beings’ active in this world, but these are not humans, but are rather angels and demons.  It also seems to negate the idea that the spirits of deceased human beings can remain on earth and haunt the living.

 Life after death is far more substantial than ethereal ghost stories would suggest.  Words have not yet been invented that could convey what eternity will be like, and the limited capacity of our brains cannot handle the glory and greatness of Heaven.  There are aspects of that life that are too glorious for us to perceive, and as such are still beyond the reach of our knowledge (e.g. I Jn.3:2).  And yet, when we are in heaven, we still haven’t arrived at the fullness of the Christian hope.  In the presence of the resurrected and ascended Christ, we will continue to be looking forward to the resurrection of our own bodies. Disembodied existence, enjoyable as it is promised to be in the presence of Jesus, is not God’s final and greatest purpose for us.  We are intrinsically physical beings, and the pinnacle of God’s future for us is as soul and body in the New Heavens and the New Earth He is preparing us for.  We’ll be looking at this in the last two sessions of our Lent Course.

 God has done far more for us than we can ever appreciate, and will do far more for us than we can ever conceive.  Our home in heaven is a prepared place for a prepared person (John 14:1-6).  We will never feel completely satisfied on this fallen and cursed earth because we were made for more. We will have times of happiness here but nothing compared with what God has planned and prepared for us in our experience of life after death, and most fully in our resurrection.  This mindset is an important one to hold on to.  When life gets tough, when we’re overwhelmed with doubt, or when we wonder if living for Christ is worth the effort, we need to stop and remember that we're not home yet.  At death you won’t leave your home, you’ll go home.

Read - 2 Corinthians 5 vv 1- 10.

1- If you had to explain this section to a new Christian or a non-Christian, how would you condense it down to just three or four simple short sentences?

2- Is there anything in this section which you found particularly difficult to understand or explain?

3- Is there any phrase or verse which especially caught your attention and would like to remember?

4- Since we were made to last forever, how should the fact that life on earth is just a temporary stage in our lives change the way we are living right now?

from Mere Christianity by C S Lewis:

 If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

 Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.

 If that is so, I must take care on the one hand never to despise or be unthankful for these earthly blessings, and on the other hand never to mistake them for something else of which they are only a copy, an echo or mirage.

 If I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall never find till after death, I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.

In your opinion, what point is C.S. Lewis making, and does it have any connections with what the Bible says?

You may want to start by comparing it with: Phil.3 vv 7- 21 & Col. 3 vv 1- 4.

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Death of Death part 3

Living with death in view…

Please note this is an abridged version of a 30 minute talk!

 The Psalmist writes, ‘Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom’ (90:12).  Confronting our mortality is a spiritual discipline that underpins all other spiritual disciplines.  How many of our struggles are rooted here, for if we don’t think right about our death, can we think right about our life?

 So much of our fear around our own death is fear of the unknown.  But death is not out of control, and it cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom.8:39).  We see in the ministry of Jesus that death relinquishes its hold at the mere word of His command.  But beyond that, He controls death and appoints the time we live and die (Job 14:5).  Death cannot take us at a time, or in a manner other than the Lord wills.  We can face our experience of death confident that it comes to us – like all of life – from the wise and good hand of our God.  But as well as facing the reality of our own death, we need to face the reality of our life after death. 

We make huge effort to prepare for a handful of years before death.  We accept sacrifice in earlier years of life, so that we can enjoy our retirement.  But what about a handful of years after death…  or a hundred, or a thousand years after death.  Am I as well prepared for the years after the end of life as I am for the years before?

We are after all, ‘aliens and strangers on earth’ (Heb.11:13).  Our whole mentality should be one of passing through, travelling as light as possible in this age and investing as heavily as possible in the age to come.  Jesus speaks of this so often, reminding us that ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.  Some of this at least is about our actual money (see Matt.19:21)!  But it is more than mere money.  It is about our whole life being oriented towards, and our investing in the age to come.  The greater our investment in that age, the greater the pull on our heart, and our longing to arrive there.

Death – stripped of its curse in the death of Christ – ushers us into that age, and into the enjoyment of all that we have invested there.  As we will see next week, there is a ‘mid-step’ to the New Creation, but death remains a necessary part of the journey.  A few thoughts about what awaits us might help us see the extent to which we are investing in the age to come.   

 The Church will be perfected.  We so deeply value the Church and long for her integrity, and for the growth of her members.  So much of our time, energy and money goes into supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ, both locally and throughout the nations of the world where so often their experience is of persecution.  So much of ourselves is invested in the Church that we love the prospect of seeing her reach her potential and goal.  Because it matters to me that others make progress in their being conformed to the image of Jesus, the prospect of the ‘righteous made perfect’ (Heb.12:23) fills us with joy.

 We will understand what God did and why.  We will be able to ‘look back’ and see God’s hand at work throughout the circumstances of my life, tracing why He did what He did.   How often do we ask, ‘Where is God in this?’; ‘Why is God allowing this to happen?’; ‘Why aren’t my prayers being answered?’.  These questions lie just below the surface for many of us.  They will be answered when we are with Christ.

 We will be with Christ.  We are so frustrated by living a contradiction.  We long to know Christ so deeply, and yet He feels so distant, and so much of our life seems to fall so short of what we long for as disciple of Jesus of Nazareth.  To know that I will be finally free of the sin that so critically undermines all I long to be…  to know that I will finally be with my Lord.  As one old preacher reflected on his own deathbed: ‘Should we fear to go to Love Himself?’ 

 As we invest in such things now, our heart is weaned off this passing age, and gravitates to the everlasting age to come. The deep question is whether the prospect of these things will help mitigate our fear of dying and allay our anxieties as we face our last great enemy?  Only to the extent that they shape my priorities here and now.  If Christ doesn’t consume our interest now, then the prospect of our relationship with Him being realised has no particular appeal.  If our eyes are fixed on this world, and all we dream about and aspire to is rooted here, then death will be loss, separating us from all we have lived for.  Only if I live for Christ will death be gain, separating me from all that hinders what I live for; and the prospect of meeting Him will cause my spirit to rise in anticipation, and help me to face, if not desire, death as a means to that end…

Introductory Questions:

What do you think the Apostle John means when he talks about the second death (Rev.2:11; 20:6; 20:14)?

What does Paul mean in Ephesians 2:1 when he talks of those who are ‘dead in their transgressions and sins’? 

What does ‘death’ mean in the Bible in its fullest sense?  How is this different from the way the word ‘death’ is used in the way we usually use the term?

What then do you think would be ‘life …to the full’ (John 10:10)?

Reflecting on Session 3:

How can we cultivate a sense of being ‘aliens and strangers’ in this age?  …and of the sense of being a ‘mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes’ (Jas.4:14).

How can we invest more heavily in the age to come (‘store up treasure in heaven’) so that we look forward to that age more than we do? 

How can we cultivate a deeper love for the Church? …and a deeper concern for each other’s spiritual growth and development?  Are there changes that we could make in our HomeGroups / the way we do Church that would help us promote this agenda?

Baxter highlighted four things that stimulated his desire for heaven, and so enabled him to face death differently (Presence of Christ; seeing the Church triumphant; understanding the Lord’s providence; anticipating his own experience of being fully conformed to the will of God).  Can you think of any others?  What are you looking forward to so much about heaven and the New Creation that it eclipses your fear of death?

What would you say to someone who thought of themselves as a Christian, but who said there was nothing they were particularly looking forward to about heaven or the New Creation?  Would you see this as a problem?  What could the problem be?

Further Reading (John 11:1-44):

(we’ll be coming back to this passage each week throughout the course)

 In v.22, do you think that Martha already suspects that Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead?

v.24: what is the difference between Lazarus’ experience of rising again on the last day, and his experience of what Jesus does in vv.43-44?

In v.25 Jesus acknowledges that his disciples will die, and in v.26 He says they will never die.  How can Jesus say such contradictory things in the same sentence?

How does believing that Jesus is the resurrection and the life (vv.25-27) change the way we view life and death?  What difference would you expect to see in someone who started to believe this?  How would it affect our view of death? 


Write a letter to be read out at your funeral.

You might also be interested in: Gravetalk

It’s not easy to think about your own funeral. Talking about death, dying and funerals raises big questions that we need to face at some point, but it’s hard to talk to family and friends.  Come and think about these questions in a café space.

Thursday 14 September, 7.00 – 8.15pm Whitton Parish Hall, Ipswich. Phone:  01473 298510 to book, or visit

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Death of Death part 2

The Last Battle: Preparing for a godly death

Please note this is an abridged version of a 30 minute talk!

Death is our last battle of faith.  We aim for a triumphant, faith-filled, Christ-honouring death.  But our flesh will shrink back in fear; Satan will assault us and cripple us with doubt; and the world will eclipse our vision…  If we are to die a death in which (at least as far as we have control over the circumstances) we conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ (Phil.1:27), then we will need to spend a lifetime preparing.  Preparation for a victorious death begins long before we approach it.

 When we look at the Bible, and over the generations of the Church, we see that our ambivalence, perhaps even reluctance to die is out of step with our spiritual forbears.  Christians while happy enough to live if that was God’s will, have tended to prefer the prospect of death!  Death removes the veil of flesh, and ushers us in to deeper communion and enjoyment of Christ.  As one old saint put it: ‘Most men might need patience to die, but a saint, who truly understands what death would introduce him to, would need patience to live!’

 But how can we be prepared to die in such a manner?  Here are some suggestions from the pages of Scriptures, and forged in the reality of Christian experience. 

 First we must, of course, be Christians if we are to die a Christian’s death.  Only those who truly live can approach death with confidence (John 5:24).  We will need a deeply authentic faith that has shaped life if it is going to stand the test of confronting death.  What am I living for?  How am I spending my time and energy and money?  If my treasure (and so my heart) are rooted inextricably in this age, death will always be a threat (Matt.6:21).  Only if we have lived for Christ will we long to meet Him in death (Ps.23:4; Ps.31:5).

 Secondly, throughout life we must discipline ourselves to meditate on the impending reality of our death (Eccl.7:2-4; Ps.39:4-5).  Far from pessimism, this is faith-based (albeit counter-intuitive) realism!    As the old BCP would have us pray: ‘…teach us who survive in this and other like daily spectacles of our mortality to see how frail and uncertain our own condition is, and so to number our days that we may seriously apply our hearts to that holy and heavenly wisdom whilst we live here…’

 Thirdly, we can weaken the power of death over us.  ‘The sting of death is sin’ (I Cor.15:56), and so by our pursuit of Christ-likeness, and by learning to resist sin throughout life we lessen death’s power to harm us.  A righteous death follows a righteous life.  If we have let sin reign unopposed we shall struggle to face death with confidence.  This lies behind a strong tradition of Christians calling for their pastors to guide them through a deathbed confession of sin that should have been dealt with many years previous.  Nothing more undermines our ability to die triumphantly, than when our conscience condemns us.  Additionally, a lifetime spent learning to resist temptation will equip us to face the greatest temptation to doubt, fear and despair as we peer into the grave.

Fourthly, we learn to die well in the dress-rehearsals for death that we have throughout life.  Our daily sufferings and sicknesses and the losses they entail, prepare us for the great suffering of death; and the self-discipline of submitting to God’s providential love throughout life, prepares us to trust Him in the approach of death.  All our ‘little’ deaths, teach us how to bear the greatest death we are exposed to – which is of course, not the greatest death!  As we grow older these grow more prevalent:  loss of usefulness; loss of friends and loved ones; loss of youth / energy/ potential; loss of independence; loss of faculties. All these can serve to prepare us for death, weaning us off this earthly life and awakening in us the hope of our resurrection bodies!

 Fifthly, entrust all you leave behind to the care of God.  In the olden days ‘Last Will and Testaments’ tended to start by leaving family and churches to the care and love of the Lord!  This conscious focus and deliberate decision to reflect on the trustworthiness of God gave people greater freedom to leave behind those they had shared life with.

 Sixthly is our considered and doctrinally informed understanding of what death means for a Christian.  This guards us against what used to be called an ‘immoderate fear’, by teaching us to look beyond the experience of dying to all that lies beyond.    Fear of the unknown is a real problem, and the focus of the second half of this course is to replace it with a faith that comes from the known…

Introductory Questions:

Do you think it matter how we die?  Is there a particularly ‘Christian’ way to throw off this ‘mortal coil’, as opposed to an un-Christian way? 

Are there any other strategies you use or can think of that would help you as you prepare to die as a Christian?

How has your thinking about dying changed as you have grown older?


Read Philippians 1:20-26

What would you say to a Christian who didn’t share Paul’s concern that Christ would be exalted … whether by life of by death? 

What do you think it looks like for Christ to be exalted in our bodies … by life?  And by death?  Why does Paul feel the need for courage in order to ensure this happens?  Why would failure in this lead to Paul feeling ashamed?

What does Paul mean when he says, ‘to live is Christ’? 

Why do you think Paul says it is ‘gain’ to die?  Do you agree with him? 

Do you think you could say ‘to die is gain’, if you couldn’t also say ‘to live is Christ’?  What is the connection between the two parts of Paul’s declaration?

When do you think it would be wrong as a Christian to desire to die?

If it’s better to be with Christ in heaven, is it wrong to seek medical treatment for serious illnesses? Why/why not?

How would you answer an advocate of euthanasia who appealed to Paul’s “death is better” perspective (v.23)?

What does this passage tell us about how Paul views the Church?  Do you share his view point? 

Further Reading (John 11:1-44)

(we’ll be coming back to this passage several times in the next few weeks)

 Is Jesus saying that it was a good thing that Lazarus died (see e.g. 11:14-15)?  How do you feel about the fact that Jesus is willing to let someone die in order to help His disciples believe? 

Are there other situations where the Lord might decide it is best for someone to die (see e.g. Isaiah 57:1-2)?

What does Jesus mean when He says that people can live even though they die?  Is the converse also true: can people die even though they live?  What would that look like?


If it is appropriate, write your own funeral service.  Mark would, of course, be available to discuss this with you if that would be helpful.  You might also find it helpful to visit:

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Death of Death part 1

The Death of Death

Please note this is an abridged version of a 30 minute talk!

 Over the duration of this course I have one simple aim: to change the way you think about death, and your own death in particular…   As we listen to the teaching of the Scriptures (and so strip away the fear of the unknown), my hope is that we can begin to confront the reality of our own mortality, prepare for our own dying, and perhaps even in an appropriate way to anticipate death…   dare I say, look forward to it.  And beyond all this, to know how to die well, and in a way that honours Christ, shaped by our hope in Him.  We often reflect on how to live a godly life, but how often do we reflect on what it means to die a godly death?

 By contrast, past generations saw living as a Christian as the prelude to dying as a Christian.  All our struggle with temptation throughout the long years of our earthly pilgrimage was to prepare us for the last great battle for faith as we confronted death.  Throughout the history of the Church, our death is understood as the most important moment of our life…

 It is perhaps strange that given its commonality and inevitability, we so rarely think or talk about death, and still less about our own death.   Indeed we tend to avoid the topic as often as possible, and when we do have to broach the subject, we do so with euphemisms and images that minimise its significance.  We must beg to differ.  Death is not insignificant.  It in fact an enemy (I Cor.15:26).  ‘Death is the separation of the spirit from the body … a violent sundering of the two elements which are … interwoven into a living being … [it is] bound to be a harsh and unnatural experience’ (Augustine, 5th century Bishop).  

 Only God has life in Himself.  Our life was always dependent on His gracious providence, and generous provision.  As such we were created with the capacity for death should we violate the Lord’s glorious vision for His creation (Gen.2:17).  Our mortality is thus only realised after we have been alienated from Him.  In our falleness, death unleashed, and with it the torrent of grief, suffering, sorrow and horror that we have come to accept as normal life (Gen.3:19, see also Rom.5:12; Eph.2:1).  Death was never part of the creation that God declared to be good.  Its birth is in human sin, the result of God’s curse on a sinful world.

The cross, where our sin is destroyed, is the death of death (II Tim.1:10).  Those elements of death forged in the Lord’s condemnation of sin are done away with, borne by Christ, and our experience of death is radically revolutionised.  Even our dying is redeemed, becoming part of the ‘all things’ that God works in for our good (Rom.8:28).  Death is ours, swallowed up in victory (I Cor.3:22 & 15:55-57)

 For Christians death is no longer about judgement, and the curse and condemnation.  Without sin, death bears us into life.  It remains our enemy, but defeated, it does the bidding of Christ who is Lord over both life and death.

 While we still die, death’s meaning and significance is transformed through our union with Christ.  It no longer holds any threat of the second death, and so is ‘only’ the separation of spirit from body for a short while (until resurrection). We might fear the experience of dying, but cannot fear death.   Death itself has become a means of blessing, ushering us into the presence of Christ and the fulfilment of all we have lived for!

 This rather cavalier attitude is rooted in Christ’s dismissing of death as nothing more than falling asleep (see John 11:11-12; Mark 5:39 & I Thess.4:13).  Historically the Church has celebrated this, seeing every bedtime as an opportunity for a dress-rehearsal of our lying down into the sleep of death.  As one prayer from a previous generation has it: ‘May my frequent lying down make me familiar with death, the bed I approach remind me of the grave, the eyes I now close a picture to me their final closing...  Keep me always ready, awaiting for admittance to thy presence… I retire this night in full assurance of one day awaking with Thee … and permit me to commit myself to Thee, awake or asleep’.  Of course, every morning also hints at the dawn of the glorious Day of resurrection!

 We need to think carefully: death in itself remains a curse, but our experience of dying is transformed through the Cross, so that in Christ it becomes our servant.  This isn’t straightforward.  Our instinctive fear of death in its original form as a penalty holds a deep grip.  As we read the Bible, we find we have good reason to (joyfully?) anticipate death, and yet we may struggle to emotionally reconcile ourselves to that anticipation.  Fear of the process of dying, assault on our faith, prolonged sickness or suffering, loss of dignity, anxiety for those we leave behind all conspire to complicate our response to death, even as Christians.  But many of these we will confront in the next few weeks.


What do you think is a healthy mindset with which to approach death?

What is the best thing you have heard said at a funeral?  Why was it so significant?

Read Heb.2:14-15

Why do you think the devil is described as holding the power of death?  What does it mean to hold the power of death?

How does Jesus’ death destroy the devil? 

Do you think it is right to speak of people as having a ‘fear of death’?  

Do you think people are afraid to die?  Why / why not?

What do you think that means to be ‘held in slavery by their fear of death’?   How does the death of Jesus free people from their fear of death?  What should we feel about death, if not fear?

What would you say to someone who was afraid of dying? 

How would what you say change depending on whether that person was a Christian or not?

How would you help someone prepare to die?

Do you think it is reasonable, or responsible to tell people they shouldn’t fear death?

Further reading:

John 11:1-44

(we’ll be coming back to this passage several times in the next few weeks)

What strikes you about Jesus’ attitude to death in vv.4-6

How do you feel about Jesus referring to death as ‘sleep’?

Why do you think Jesus responds to Mary and Martha so differently when they say the same thing to Him?


Write my will if you haven’t already done so.  If you have, check it is up to date, and that those concerned know where to find it.

Useful website:

Also, check out Will Aid.

Write-your-own-will kits are available at WH Smith from £9.99.  Other suppliers are available!

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