The phone call with the news was devastating. A dear friend had suddenly died after returning home from mid-week Bible Study. One moment he was conversing with his wife and going about his normal routine before retiring for the night, and the next, he was gone. He was seventy-five years old and was generally in good health. His mental faculties were still intact, and he was engaged in important work for the kingdom of Christ. His passing leaves a void, not only in the hearts of his wife and family, but in the congregation for whom he preached, and in the lives of thousands of brethren who read and profited from his many books and articles.
The pain that we feel when a loved one passes from this life is deep and lingering. We often console ourselves by saying that time heals all wounds, but in some respects we never completely recover from the passing of a close family member. The scriptures teach us that a faithful brother or sister who passes from this life has gone on to a far better place. We understand this with our heads, but our hearts still struggle to grasp this truth. Such are the limitations of our finite nature.
The sudden passing of a loved one reminds us of the frailty of human life, and of the necessity to be ready for this inevitable event. In Heb. 9:27, 28 the scripture says, “And in as much as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”
Two important truths are stated in these short verses. First, it is appointed for men to die once. This is a truth that has marked human life since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden. Someone once said that as soon as one is born he begins to die, and this is essentially the truth. Every person who is born will die. The only exception to this rule is those who are alive when the Lord returns (cf. 1 Th. 4:13-18).
The second important truth from Heb. 9:27, 28 is that judgment awaits all of us when we die. This is a truth that permeates the entire New Testament. When the Lord comes again, He will do so for judgment (cf. 2 Th. 1:5-8). The imagery of the Lord and His angels dealing out retribution to those who do not know God, and to those who do not obey the gospel, clearly warns us that we must be ready to face Him when this occurs.
The time for preparation, however, is limited to the time we are alive on the earth. This makes sense, of course. We understand this in every aspect of life. One cannot prepare for a test at school after the test papers have been distributed by the teacher. One cannot prepare for an inspection or audit after the inspector arrives. Neither can one prepare to face the Lord in judgment once he has passed from this life. The story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31) makes this clear.
Since we know that these two inevitable events lie somewhere in our future we must make the best use of each day to be prepared for them. The only way to adequately prepare for death and judgment is to be right with God before we get there. The gospel of Jesus Christ requires us to believe in Him (Jn. 8:24), to turn away from our sins (Lk. 13:3), to confess our faith in Him (Mt. 10:32, 33), and to be baptized in order to have our sins forgiven (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38). It also requires us to live faithfully until we die (Rev. 2:10). There is urgency in the call of the gospel, however, because our lives are like a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes (Jas. 4:14).
One day each of us will pass away. One moment we will be there, alive and well, and the next moment we will be gone. Are you ready?