Dead People Go to a Better Place
Dead People Go To A Better Place
Last week I said we were concluding the Urban Legends Series, but I got to thinking this week about another one. When I was planning this series, this one was in the list, but I probably pushed it to the bottom because it’s one of the hardest to deal with.
One of the things I get to do as a pastor is conducting funerals. For some people that would be good enough reason not to become a pastor. Weddings are a lot more fun, and baptisms are even better. But I have found that being able to speak into people’s lives at probably their most vulnerable time is a great privilege and a huge responsibility. I didn’t always feel so positive about conducting funerals.
Looking back, I was very poorly prepared for conducting funerals in theological college. I remember we covered it briefly in class and do a visit to a funeral home, where the director told us about what they do. But I was not well prepared.
I was in my first ministry, an associate pastor working with a senior pastor over me. He went on holidays for one week, and during that week I had my first two funerals. It wasn’t enough to have one, but there were two.
There’s something that gets said at funerals that I have often wondered about. Someone will be at the graveside of their mother and say, “At least she’s in a better place.” A woman will stand at the graveside of her husband and say, “Well, he’s in a better place.”
So, here’s our question for today.
Do dead people go to a better place?
If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone at a funeral say their loved one was in a better place, I’d have more money than I do now.
How many of you have been to the funeral of somebody you know is most likely not in a better place and heard somebody express that outlook?
I have conducted funerals where I could confidently say that the person who died is in the hands of God and in a better place. But I have to say that’s not been the case with every funeral I have conducted or every funeral I have attended.
We’re going to look at this long three lines.
What most people would like to believe.
What the Bible says.
How that should impact the way that we live.
MOST WOULD LIKE TO BELIEVE THAT DEAD PEOPLE GO TO A BETTER PLACE
Let’s be honest, I would like to believe it too. Wouldn’t you?
There are reasons for wanting to believe this.
A. We’d like to believe that God uses a scale.
That is, that God puts all our good works on one side of the scale and all our bad stuff on the other side. If the good things outweigh the bad, then we’re in! That’s what a lot of people believe.
There’s a problem with this.
How many have worked with, gone to school with, or known someone who was below average when it comes to working with others?
A survey was done in which people were asked how many would rate themselves below average. Do you know what percentage of people rated themselves below average? None!
Here’s the deal. It is really easy to deceive ourselves and to think that we’re better than we really are.
So, if God puts our good deeds on one side and our bad deeds on the other, how many of us could be truly confident of the outcome? Now, when we get to what the Bible has to say about this, we’ll see that God doesn’t operate that way, but even if he did it wouldn’t be a lot of comfort to us.
B. We’d like to think any path will do as long as we’re sincere.
I’ve heard people say it. Here’s the problem I have with that approach:
If you sincerely follow the wrong map, you still end up in the wrong place.
If you sincerely take the wrong medicine, it could be disastrous.
Sincerity is good. It’s better than insincerity.
But it can also be a terrible guide that puts us someplace we don’t want to be.
Here’s another reason why people believe dead people go to a better place. How many have heard this one?
C. We’d like to believe a loving God wouldn’t send anyone to hell
This is not a stupid way to think. A loving God wouldn’t send anyone to hell, because we wouldn’t. Well, maybe we would with our worst enemies. But even with the worst, we’d probably roast them for a few months, give them a good flogging and let them in.
Now, I’m convinced that there’s a lot about the judgment of God that I don’t understand. But I also believe that I need to let the Bible speak.
"Don't be afraid of those who want to kill you. They can only kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28. NLT
Here is Jesus, the friend of sinners, the one who loved the worst of the worst. And he’s telling us – well let’s just let Jesus speak for himself.
Here’s another reason why for believing dead people go to a better place. I have heard this one recently.
D. Some think that only an intolerant bigot thinks Jesus is the only way
The buzz word of our culture seems to be tolerance. We have to be people of tolerance. Then when a Christian stands up and says Jesus is the only way, he is accused of being an intolerant bigot.
I think we have confused what it means to be tolerant.
Being tolerant used to mean, “You have the freedom to believe what you believe, whether you are right or wrong.” In other words, I will treat you with respect and dignity even if I think what you believe is wrong and even if it really is wrong. That’s what tolerance used to mean.
Tolerance today seems to mean, “Everybody is right.” Whatever you want to believe is right for you, and nobody has the right to say that anything is wrong.
As Christians, we come back to what the Bible SAYS.
So what does the Bible say?
A. There is a real place called hell.
We already looked at Matthew 10:28 where Jesus warns us to reverence and honour God who has power over not just our bodies but also our souls.
Here’s another thing Jesus said in Mark 9:42-48.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Mark 9:42-48. RSV
Jesus is using what is called hyperbole. That’s where something is deliberately overstated in order to drive home a point. He’s not advocating self mutilation. He is saying that we need to take this whole thing seriously, because hell is a real place.
B. Hell was made for Satan and his angels.
Hell is a real place, but it was not intended for you and me. Take a look at Matthew 25, where Jesus is telling a parable about two groups of people who are separated for judgement.
Then He will also say to those on the left hand,’ Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels…’ Matthew 25:41. NKJV
Hell was made for Satan and his angels, not for you and me.
Back in 1741, a preacher named Jonathan Edwards preached a famous sermon which sparked off a huge revival. The title of the sermon was “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” God used that message to spark a huge revival. But, theologically speaking, I have a problem with that title. It gives the impression that hell is for those people who tick God off.
That is not the picture I see in the Bible. God is not on a search and destroy mission aimed at every person who makes him angry.
God, in Jesus Christ, is on a search and rescue mission to rescue people from an angry devil.
Look at Revelation 12:12
Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short. Revelation 12:12. NIV
It’s the devil who is angry. He knows his fate, and he is trying to drag with him as many as he can. God is the one who is on the rescue mission.
Look at Hebrews 2:14-15 from The Message
Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it's logical that the Saviour took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil's hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death. Hebrews 2:14-15. The Message (© 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.) .
Even though hell is prepared for the devil and his angels, people will get in there.
Remember Jesus’ parable about the judgement. The king will tell a particular group of people to depart to the place prepared for the devil and his angels.
All of those who join in the devil’s rebellion will also share in the devil’s fate.
C. We’re in a heap of trouble.
Although hell was not designed for humans, humans will get there. That’s not because God sends them there, but because Satan lures them there.
He’s angry at God for having cast him down. He has set out to destroy God’s most precious creation – humanity. He does this by enticing people out of a relationship with God, knowing that if he can get humanity out of sorts with God, he can draw them away from God, both for now and for eternity.
I have heard God misrepresented as some insecure megalomaniac who flings into hell anybody who doesn’t bow down to him.
That is a gross distortion.
It’s humanity, enticed by the evil one, who has placed itself in jeopardy by thumbing its nose at God.
It’s God who is throwing out the lifeline.
We’ll just look at one Scripture which sums up this situation.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23. NLT
D. Jesus is our “Get Out of Hell Free” Card
If the devil’s plan was to alienate us from God by enticing us away into selfishness and sin, God reached out through the person of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:19-21
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ's ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, "Be reconciled to God!" For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:19-21. NLT
It’s not like God is saying, “Believe in Jesus, or I’ll send you to hell” – which is how some misrepresent God. God is saying, “You have walked away from a relationship with me and fallen for Satan’s trick, but I am offering you a way back.”
God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself…
God made sinless Christ to be the offering for our sin…
We can be made right with God…
The one thing Jesus offers, that no one else offers, is grace!
If it was about being religious, then just about any one would do, although some are a little creepy.
This is about grace, and only one person offers it – Jesus.
HOW SHOULD THAT IMPACT THE WAY WE LIVE?
If all this is true, what should we do with it?
Some believers use it as a spiritual hammer to beat people over the head with. They arrogantly put on a superior attitude and place themselves above everybody else. They talk about talk so negatively about those who are far from God that you could easily get the impression that they don’t like them very much and wouldn’t be all that upset if they went to hell.
To others the Bible is all about which sets of beliefs you subscribe to. It’s all about doctrine!
That doesn’t do much good if it doesn’t impact the way you behave and the way you approach life.
The world is sick to death of Christians who push their beliefs but do not behave Christianly.
A. Be amazed by God’s grace!
One of the best advertisements for Christianity is people who have been transformed by grace.
There’s a Christian blog I read last week. It had this reflection.
I saw a guy on the subway today wearing a placard that said:
"Hellfire is real,
Or spend eternity in Hell"
And I thought to myself how much more appealing, more attractive his message would have been if he had:
"Jesus' love is real
It changed my life
Ask me how"
Christians who want to argue about doctrine not only miss the whole point of grace, they do damage to the mission of the church.
At the Queensland Churches of Christ Ministers Refresher, Les Scarborough said that one of the most common causes of stress, burnout and depression is a failure to understand who we are in Christ.
We still think that our acceptance by God is based on how well we perform. It’s all about grace.
There are many Scriptures that point this out. We’ll look at Ephesians 1:6-8
So we praise God for the wonderful kindness he has poured out on us because we belong to his dearly loved Son. He is so rich in kindness that he purchased our freedom through the blood of his Son, and our sins are forgiven. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. Ephesians 1:6-8. NLT
To live in the amazement of God’s grace does two powerful things.
It gives us a much brighter outlook on life.
It makes us (and our message) more attractive to those who are not walking with God.
Live like someone who is going to a better place when you die!
B. Trust God with your “Yeah, but what about…” questions.
Faith does not mean the absence of doubt. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have questions. It doesn’t mean that you don’t look at some things in the Bible and find that it makes no sense to you at all.
It’s like this…
How many have kids?
How many have kids who never question your wisdom?
There will always be things we don’t understand.
What about those who never heard?
What about those who love God, but have a distorted view of God?
What about those who seem to live godly lives, but aren’t very religious?
What about church people who believe but don’t behave very Christianly?
There are times when we won’t have the answers, and it will seem like God’s not telling us. It’s then that we have to trust God to be God.
Has God proven himself to be good and fair or mean and erratic?
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk 3:17-18. NLT
C. Involve yourself in the Great Commission
We have a message that people need to hear! That’s why, just before he left to go back to heaven, Jesus gave us his final words in what’s called The Great Commission.
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28:18-20. NKJV
I talked about this a couple of weeks ago when we looked at the myth that Evangelism is for Experts and Extroverts.
What we saw was that we will all contribute to evangelism is different ways.
The extroverts, and especially those with a gift of evangelism, will just walk up and start talking…
Others will use friendships to build bridges…
Others will serve, and through their serving, look for ways to talk about their faith…
Some will be on the prayer team, praying for God to open people’s eyes to who he is and to his grace…
The bottom line is this: God wants us all to get in on the action of bringing people to faith.
Let me just say something about Full Flame here.
At the end of this month, we will begin the Full Flame series. It’s a series on igniting a flame of God’s love for those who are far from God.
Sunday messages will be on the topic.
Weekly small groups will watch a video presentation by Reinhard Bonnke and then discuss.
From today, we are asking people to sign up for a small group. This can be one of the existing small groups or we can put together new ones. You can do this at the table near the door.
(If you are reading this online, you can sign up by going to the Full Flame tab under the What We Doheading.)
Full flame is not about learning some slick technique to “sell Jesus” to people. It’s about getting excited about the message, conquering fear and relying on the Holy Spirit.
I’m going to wrap it up with that.
How do the last three points fit for you?
Amazed by grace. How’s your relationship with God?
Trusting God with the “Yeah, but what about…?” questions.
Involvement in the Great Commission