Through medical advancement and specialized care, death has been segregated in our society. Most of the individuals in first world countries expect to live into their 70s and 80s. When a person is diagnosed with cancer or dies in a car accident in their teens, we are shocked that death has interrupted our expectations for a long life. In the event that a person does reach their eighth or ninth decade, usually their declining health requires them to be sequestered in a nursing home where death’s approaching day is out of sight and out of mind of the community.
Our culture’s expectations about death are a recent development in human history. In the medieval period, the people in Europe lived with sub-par medical care in the midst of the black plague. Death saturated their culture. Timothy George writes about how the preachers at this time used the fear of death to insist that the congregation be spiritually prepared to die.
A Franciscan friar, Richard of Paris, once preached for ten consecutive days, seven hours a day, on the topic of the Last Four Things: death, judgment, heaven, hell. He delivered his sermons, appropriately enough, in the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents, the most popular burial ground in Paris. Hardly less dramatic was his contemporary John of Capistrano, who carried a skull into the pulpit and warned his congregation: “Look, and see what remains of all that once pleased you, or that which once led you to sin. The worms have eaten it all” (Theology of the Reformers, 23).
The most dramatic displays in the modern era would be preaching at a funeral with an open casket for all to see the reality of death. However, the increasing popularity of cremation and closed casket viewing has helped to scrub out the stench of death.
Despite the insistence of our culture to think that “death touches everyone but me”, the church must preach on the subject. Even if many of the young people dismiss the topic, pastors must plead with them on the relevance of being prepared to die. It is like a banker warning someone about their excessive college, car, credit card, and mortgage debt. If the man does not change his habits, then the bank will repossess his car and home. However, the man does not take it seriously because someone has always bailed him out. He does not think the rules apply to him.
In the same way, the church is most relevant when preachers preach that death is real. You will die. Here are five reasons from Scripture on why preaching death is relevant.
1. Life is short.
James warns his readers that we should not sin presumptuously by assuming that we will be alive to perform our plans for today or tomorrow. He writes, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
Every person needs to be warned that our lives are temporary. They can suddenly end without us planning on it. Therefore, we must be prepared to die today since tomorrow is not promised.
2. Sin is the cause of physical death
What could be a more relevant question than, “Why do people die?” Theologically, we die because of the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden. Adam as our representative sinned on our behalf. Therefore, the sin nature is passed down to every single human being.
Besides this inherited sin, we die due to our actual sins. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death…” Through our willful disobedience, every person has earned death through his law breaking. James 1:15 says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Our desires lead to actual sins which will bring the consequence of physical death for both saved and lost.
3. Death is followed by judgment.
Hebrews 9:27 says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” All of us are like a milk carton. We have an expiration date. The difference is that we do not know what the date is. When that day comes, we will be judged by God. We will either go to heaven or hell. Hence, it is imperative for every individual to think about death now before it is too late. Therefore, if the church loves her neighbors, then we should warn them about the judgment to come even if it is not popular.
4. Salvation comes to those who look to Christ.
In Acts 7, Luke writes about the first martyr who is named Stephen. Before the mob rushed at him to throw stones, Stephen looked to the sky. God gave Stephen a glimpse of heaven. He saw Jesus Christ sitting on the throne. This narrative is an example to follow. Pastors should instruct sinners to look to Christ in life and in death. He is the only hope to avoid the judgment of condemnation to hell and later the lake of fire. We are only saved by trusting in Christ’s atonement on the cross to pay for our sins and grant us eternal life.
5. Christ’s resurrection guarantees resurrection for the believer.
By bleaching the pulpits from all references to death, the pastor fails to offer the hope of the resurrection. Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20-2). The brethren need to be reminded that the sting of death has been removed by Jesus’ resurrection. He has defeated death. Therefore, we have hope of eternal life in both the spirit and the body.
This message prepares the cancer patient, who has been given only three months of life, to die. He may face death with his hope set on the unfailing promises of God. 2 Timothy 1:10 says, “and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” Since Christ defeated death and promises eternal life to all who believe in Him, then the cancer patient can praise the Lord as he passes from this life to glory. However, how is a Christian to be prepared to die if the pulpit is silent on death?
One of a pastor’s responsibilities as a shepherd is to prepare the flock for not only their death but the death of a loved one. What is more relevant than teaching a widow on how to grieve in a godly way? She does not grieve for her deceased believing husband as one who has no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). Yet, she should not be a stoic who tries to push away all emotions. Jesus gave us an example by weeping for Lazarus (John 11:35). Instead, she should grieve knowing that her husband lives because Jesus’ tomb is empty.
Brethren, preach on death, because the Bible teaches on it. Besides taxes, death touches every single life. Therefore, be relevant by saturating the pulpit with urgency and reality of death. Then, you will be faithful in preparing the saints and in calling lost sinners to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ.
Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History and from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity. He is a PhD student in Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City and an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. In April 2016 Brandon accepted the call to pastor at Faith Baptist. He loves history and reading and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.