I will not soon forget the death of my Aunt Mary, who was very dear to me. Her death was neither pretty nor pleasant. It was, in fact, slow and painful. She could not sleep for the suffering; and one night her sister observed her in bed, doubled over with pain and pressing a pillow against her mouth to prevent others from being awakened in the middle of the night by her groans and cries. Later, she became too weak to move or even to speak; her lungs filling with her own body fluids, she lay for several days like a drowning man, gasping for breath. Then, still conscious, but without complaint, she died.
Not a pleasant description. Not a pleasant thought. Not a pleasant experience. And yet, here is what the Word says: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones” (Psa. 116:15). How can such a gruesome, wracking end be precious? How can the Lord take glory in such apparent torture? How can a gracious, loving God do that to a sinner, let alone to one of His own dear children?
The answer to the question begins in Isaiah 53. “He [Christ] had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief” (vv. 9b, 10a). The perfect, sinless Lamb of God was slain for our transgressions. It pleased the Father to offer His only begotten Son as payment in full for our sins. It pleased the Father that His Son should suffer and die for the lives of willful, rebellious, wicked men. It pleased the Father to offer on the altar of the cross His most precious Son to save the lives of lost sinners. For the Word declares that “As a result of the anguish of His [Christ’s] soul, He [the Father] will see it and be satisfied” (v. 11). God the Father ordained then witnessed His Son’s slow agonizing death, poured out our wrath on the Son, and said: “That is enough; I am satisfied. The sin debt has been paid in full for those who believe.” The Father is satisfied, and those who believe are redeemed. What glory belongs to the Lord, who “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2b). Why did He endure? “For the joy set before Him” (v. 2c). His joy lay in doing His Father’s will in order to win for Himself a glorious Bride, one without spot or wrinkle, one that would refuse the good things of this world in favor of the perfect things of the next. One that would love Him without having seen Him, one that would renounce self, take up the cross, and follow Him because He first loved His Bride.
But what has that to do with Aunt Mary’s dying, or yours, or mine? Just this: it pleased the Father to “crush” His Son because He knew that His Son’s wounds would result in salvation to otherwise hell-bound sinners. And although our eternal salvation came through the suffering of Christ alone, we are gloriously sanctified through the testing of our faith (see Jam. 1:3). The final test—death—is precious in God’s eyes because it is the culmination of the process that releases the believer from the trials, burdens, pain, problems, work, sin and weakness of this life and ushers him into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom and the object of all the Bride’s desires.
Death is precious in the Lord’s eyes because it unites Him with a member of the Bride for whom he has longed to have unbroken fellowship and for whom He gave His life. Couples in this life bemoan long engagements, but the Lord has been awaiting His Bride for more than two millennia. The death of a saint is like the visit between a separated engaged couple—a blessed reunion anticipatory of the full consummation of the marriage.
The Lord wants to give us His best. Isaiah announces that “He will divide the booty with the strong” (53:12). Having paid for the booty for us on the cross, He strengthens and sanctifies us through trials, and finally through death, enabling us to receive all that His death purchased. Maturing is sometimes painful, but it is greatly worthwhile. A child, for example, cannot enjoy the unique blessings of marriage—first he must grow up. Just so regarding believers. The more He loves us, the more He burdens us. For the greater the burden, the greater the blessing. My aunt has already spent many glorious days [Ed. Now 40+ years!] basking in the love and approbation of the Lord, with the same prospect for eternity. Do you think that since her spirit was borne in travail into the presence of the Lord that she has regretted for one moment her suffering? Certainly not! The death of a Christian, however difficult, is not a horrible end: it is a wonderful beginning.
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