In recent years, we received news of several Hollywood and political celebrities whose lives came to sudden and tragic ends. Most recently, we were saddened at the death of comedian and actor, Robin Williams. Mr. Williams was a comedic genius and many of us, at times, enjoyed his endearing talents and qualities. He was, by many accounts, a kind, caring, and giving person donating his time to entertain troops serving abroad and investing in other philanthropic causes. It was also revealed that he quietly battled many ‘demons’ in his life, namely depression, which apparently led to his decision to take his own life. That battle is undoubtedly real for millions of people and they should be loved and helped at every opportunity. Suicide is never the answer for saint or sinner. As has been said many times: it is a permanent answer to a temporary problem. The purpose of this article is NOT to deny or belittle the reality of Mr. Williams’ struggles, nor to usurp God’s place as the judge of mankind. My purpose is to remind us of divine truths that are easily forgotten when emotions run high and personal opinions trump reality. It is in response to some of my Christian brothers and sisters who express their legitimate sympathies in an illegitimate way.
It is not only the public reaction to the passing of Robin Williams that provokes me to consider these things, but many other celebrity deaths bring the same observation. When such news is reported, social media is instantly flooded with memorials and well-wishes for fans and family members, (which are not necessarily wrong) but invariably, Christians (who, of all people, should have some understanding of Jesus Christ and that for which He died) will post the phrase R.I.P. or Rest In Peace concerning the one who has died. Some may not be thinking about the true implications of the statement, but regardless, it is negating the
importance of the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and is circumventing the judgment of God to which all are subject. Unrepentant lives of alcohol and drug use, sexual immorality (promiscuity, multiple marriages, etc.) all seem to be overlooked in these times. Faith in Jesus and obedience and faithfulness TO Jesus apparently are not considered factors in a person’s eternal fate, especially if that person is famous or well-liked.
A SACRED PROMISE
The Word of God beautifully pictures death as a repose for God’s children who have slipped from the cares of this world to a state of peace through death. The Psalmist longed to be released from his temporal troubles saying; “…that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.” (Ps 55:6) When Job was stricken with such sorrow and loss, he saw death as a pleasant release from his turmoil. He said; “There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.”( Job 3:17) The writer of Hebrews affirmed “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” (Heb 4:9) Paul is speaking of the rest we come to know in Christ Jesus upon our faith and obedience to the gospel. We rest from the human efforts to achieve salvation through the works of the Mosaic law and now, through grace, enjoy the benefits of Christ’s work upon the cross upon our obedient faith in Him. We therefore rest in Christ. For the person who entered that rest in this life, there is a sweet assurance of eternal rest and security in the arms of Jesus after physical death. This is the whole aim of the gospel – to reconcile us to God and prepare us to enter His holy and eternal presence! Please note, dear reader, Paul’s emphasis: “There remaineth therefore a rest TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD.” Though all men are God’s creation, the designation “people of God” is always used in scripture to delineate those who are separated from the world and consecrated to the Father in a covenant relationship. That relationship by physical birth through Abraham in the Old Testament; it is now gained by the NEW BIRTH through Christ. (John 3:3-5) This wonderful re- birth into Christ’s kingdom involves water and the Spirit – regeneration through the revelatory work of God’s Spirit that takes place in water baptism for the remission of sins. (Rom 6:3-5, 17; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Col 2:11-13) Rest from sin and from the futility of self-justification in this life are found only in Christ Jesus. ETERNAL rest and peace are also ONLY in Christ. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” (Rev 14:13) Note that the blessed dead are those who “DIE IN THE LORD”. In Galatians 3:27, Paul plainly affirms that baptism of the penitent believer is the step that places us “into Christ” or into the Lord. Revelation 2:10 reminds us that we must be “faithful unto death” or faithful to even the extent of death and in death in order to receive the “crown of life”.
A SOLEMN PRONOUNCEMENT
Sadly, the Bible paints a different portrait after death of the person who did not obey the gospel and live a holy and consecrated life for Jesus. 2 Thess. 1:7-9 says ; “…when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.”
In Luke the 16th chapter, Jesus lifted back the mysterious veil of death and He allowed us to gaze into that world beyond. He showed us two men who represent the only two kinds of people who live on earth: those who are saved in Christ and those who are lost. Lazarus was a man who had little fare belonging to this life but had prepared for eternity. The other was a rich man whose life consisted of material things and pursuits. We don’t know that he was wicked by our misguided estimation of wickedness but it is clear that he was an unbelieving, unrepentant, disobedient sinner in God’s sight. Jesus could not have been more plainly spoken when He said; “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments…” Luke 16:22-23. Lazarus was “resting in peace” whereas the rich, but spiritually bankrupt, man was experiencing anything but rest or peace. I take no pleasure in these haunting words. Though it is a thrilling thought that good will ultimately triumph over evil, the sad fact is many spiritually careless people who lived their lives in sin and indifference to Jesus Christ, His church, and His word will not be saved, but will spend eternity being tormented as a result of their choice. Heartbreaking but true! If Jesus pronounced such a fate for this rich man long ago, what gives us the authority to say that one who has never obeyed the gospel, was thus not a member of Christ’s church, and by all indications did not live a life faithful to Jesus, is resting in peace.
Please think carefully about what you say and post for a world lost in sin to see! Jesus died an awful death of blood and agony on Calvary so the lost could be reconciled to God. Justifying and giving false hope to the worldly sinner who is outside of Christ (Prov 17:15) cheapens the sacrifice of our Lord who suffered so that we might have a way to God through Him and thus, truly REST IN PEACE. May the Lord help us all to be ever- conscious of our appointment with the pale rider and live our lives in faith and obedience so that we might rejoice in the repose of death and rest in His eternal love.