Summary: To the first step in getting to heaven is to physical death. This message seeks to answer three questions: Why must we die? When will we die? What happens when we die?
Introduction: Ernie just wanted to go home. Nobody knows why he abandoned his family in the first place. Chris and Jennifer Trevino were cruising down a Texas highway at 60 miles-per-hour, out in some of the most barren territory on earth, when Ernie bailed out of the family truck without anybody noticing he was gone. Did the black-and-white tomcat lean the wrong way on a corner somewhere out there in the desert 600 miles west of his Victoria home? It’s possible. Did he instinctively lunge at a passing insect without realizing that he would come down beyond the bed of the Trevino’s moving truck? It’s anybody’s guess. By the time Ernie’s owners missed him, they were many miles down the road. "We ought to go back and look for him," they said, but it was dark by then, and they didn’t know where to start looking anyway. Imagine their astonishment when a week later the errant Ernie showed up at their Victoria home all bloody and scratched and footsore. Just how Ernie navigated that far through unfamiliar terrain, only God knows. Ernie’s worn claws and the sores on his feet convinced his veterinarian that the plucky cat had covered lots of rough real estate. Like everybody else who heard of Ernie’s trek, the vet was amazed that a cat could cover so much distance in so short a time. "But," he said, "I wouldn’t put anything past cats." With so many questions unanswered, one thing is clear. Ernie just wanted to go home. Have you ever felt like Ernie? All you want to do is go home. I’m not talking about going to your place of residence here in Antioch or Lake Villa. I’m thinking of the eternal home that God has prepared for you in heaven (See 2 Corinthians 5:8). In recent days, I’ve been thinking about heaven a lot. Many of you know that this past week, our family had to say our goodbyes to Laurie’s mother, Jeanne Rosing, as she died suddenly on Easter Sunday morning. It was bittersweet to say the least. The sorrow of not having had the opportunity to talk with her one last time and the knowledge that we will be separated for a while has taken an emotional toll on all of us. Yet there is joy as well. For Jeanne is now able to see her Savior face to face and for the first time in several years, she knows what it is to feel no pain.
In the wake of having celebrated the resurrection of Christ, I can think of no better subject to study than topic of "heaven." Over a period of four weeks, we will be looking at several issues related to our eternal home: Next week we’ll talk about what heaven will be like. Is it really a giant cube? Are the streets paved with gold? What about our resurrected bodies? The following Sunday, we’ll consider our relationships in heaven. Will we know others and remember our lives together on earth? What about our husbands, wives and children? What kind of relationship will we have with them? In the final message we’ll look at what we’ll be doing in heaven. Is it true, as most people think, that we’ll sit around singing hymns for the rest of eternity? Today, however, we’re going to address the topic that of necessity must come first, "What Happens When We Die?"
Background: Before we jump into in this topic, it would be helpful for you to understand what the Bible teaches about death. It speaks about three different kinds of death: Physical, spiritual and eternal death. Death, in the scriptures, always carries the notion of separation. Physical death brings physical separation from one another (See Job 14:10). Spiritual death results in spiritual separation from God (See Isaiah 59:2) and eternal death means that we will be eternally separated from God and those who dwell with Him in heaven (See Matthew 25:46). The first two are experienced by everyone, the only exceptions being Enoch and Elijah who did not die physically (See Hebrews 11:5; 2 Kings 2:11). In fact, with the further exception of those who will one day be taken up to be with Christ (See 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), we can say that both physical and spiritual death are conditions of human existence (See Genesis 3:19-22; Ephesians 2:1). However, Eternal death will not be universally experienced. The Bible tells us that those who place their trust in Christ for the salvation of their souls have everlasting life (See 1 John 5:11-13). Only those who reject God’s offering of Christ as payment for their sin will suffer eternal separation from God.
I. Why Must We Die? Death is not God’s punishment for Christians (See Romans 8:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). As I shared earlier, there is a precedent for God simply removing believers from the earth without facing death when we have completed our service to Him. So why do we have to die?