Today has been a tough day. A dear friend and member of our church that I have had the honor of pastoring for the last 6 years passed away. I got a text from his wife at about noon that he had passed away and I immediately went over to their house. As I walked in, his body was sitting on the reclining chair in their living room where he had spent a majority of his last few weeks. I hugged the wife and tears started to fill my eyes. While he looked peaceful, he was not there. I was struck by the fact that I would no longer be able to sit at his dining room table and get his counsel. I would not see him in church anymore or shake his hand as he left the worship center. I wouldn't hear his words of encouragement. God used this man in my life and in the lives of many, but his work was done. He had finished the race. He had kept the faith. He was with Christ in fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). And that's the point. Death isn't the end. For a believer, death is the beginning.
We all wonder at some point what happens after we die. As I visited with this man in his final weeks, he repeatedly asked the question "will I be with Christ immediately once I die". One of the joys of being a pastor is being able to give the answer to that question to believers with absolute confidence... Yes. You will be with Christ. Throughout the New Testament, Scripture affirms that when we die, we immediately go to be with Christ.
Paul says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). In that verse, Paul says we are confident that this is the reality. How can we be confident? Because Christ has accomplished all that is necessary for our salvation. Because he paid the price for the sins of all who repent and believe on him. Because the goal of the gospel is being in the presence of God for eternity. Paul also wrote that his desire is to depart from this life to be with Christ for that is far better (Phil 1:23). A lot of times in this life we can fear death, but we shouldn't. Death has lost its power because Christ conquered death. Death is not an enemy to fear, it's simply the last barrier between us and eternal glory in the presence of Christ. Death dispatches believers into the presence of Christ for eternity... never to be separated.
Think about that for a moment. How often do we think of the gospel in those terms? How often do we think of the fact that the ultimate end or goal of the gospel is we get Christ, face to face, for eternity. In Revelation 21:3 the crescendo of the book is these words "the dwelling place of God is with man". That's the goal. That's the point. That's why we are saved. God created us to enjoy his presence. The garden was a place where God was specially known, experienced and worshiped. The good of the garden was God was there with his creation. Sin separated us from God though and this is why the temple was such a big deal in the Old Testament. God made a way to live among his people. It was different though. Man could not come directly into his presence except the High Priest once a year on the Day of Atonement. But in the temple, God was specially known, experienced, and worshiped.
Then Christ came. God himself made his dwelling place among us (John 1:14). Christ came to bring us to God. He came to undo the damage of sin. He came to defeat the power of death. He came to vanquish Satan. And when he ascended to the Father, he didn't leave us alone. He sent God the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. The people of God are now the dwelling place of God. We have access to God now unlike what we see in the Old Testament. No more barriers. No more veil. We have God with us every day through faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit is a down payment of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it. So for believers, God is with us. But there is still one more enemy to overcome before we see God face to face, namely death. So the whole story of the Bible is a story of God being our greatest good. The story of the Bible is the story of God bringing about a better garden in the future where he will again dwell with us... physically. In person. We will see him face to face and know him as we have been known by him (2 Cor 13:12). Revelation tells us that the former things will pass away and he will make all things new. No more tears. No more sorrow. No more sin. No more separation. Just eternal joy in his presence. This friend of mine is experiencing that joy now as we experience it in part now.
This throws things into sharp contrast. It shows the petty arguments and silly offenses we take so personally for what they are. I am convinced that the secret to my friend's unshakable joy and positivity was not that life was easy or everything went his way. It wasn't and they didn't. It was the fact that he had his eyes set squarely on the goal of Christ. It was his longing and desire for Christ. It was his joy and confidence in Christ. We get petty, argumentative, selfish, and become curmudgeons when we take our eyes off Christ and eternity. We become dissatisfied, contentious and are robbed of joy when we become selfish and self-centered. My friend struggled physically with his health since I've known him (and before that for about 15 years). I never once heard him complain. He always asked about me and my family. I looked forward to every time I got to see him because he was so encouraging and because he was focused on Christ. Don't we all want to be that kind of person? The secret to contentment is Christ (Phil 4:11-13).
So, enjoy the good gifts that God gives as a means of enjoying God. Focus on the blessings he has given. Pursue him above all else. Don't hope in this life or this world. When you struggle (and we all do), set your eyes on Christ. Surround yourself with people who remind you of that and model that for you and then be that person for others. Christ didn't die for us to live as hopeless, angry, self-centered people. He died to being us into relationship with him as the greatest good and most satisfying joy in the universe. When we focus there, it kills selfishness. It destroys pride. It produces contentment. It changes attitudes. It brings peace. It stirs worship. It gives hope. In short, it satisfied the deepest longing of our souls and produces in us a peculiar attitude and outlook that is strange, yet appealing to those who long for contentment and peace in their lives yet find it elusive. In eternity, you won't focus on those wrongs that have been done to you. You won't dwell on sadness. You won't be drawn into pride by selfishness. You won't have your eyes set upon the hurts, pains and letdowns of this life. Your eyes will forever be fixed on Christ because we will see his beauty in person and live in his presence for eternity. So then the call to us is to practice that now. Live that way now. Behold Christ and fix your eyes on him now and experience the life and peace that he provides with the confidence that it will only get better once this life is over.
Jon is husband to Carlee, Papa to Finleigh, Ainsley, and Olivia, a pastor at Arbor Drive Community Church in York, Ne, and co-host of The Pastor Discussions Podcast