Please open your Bibles again to the book of Philippians chapter 1. This week we have been considering some of the Lord's surprising servants, things that we may overlook as being in His service. That would be the moth on Sunday morning, how that God's judgment also comes through slow, quiet, almost unnoticeable means.
And then on Sunday night we considered unconscious influence, how that it has power on us and how that there is a sphere of unconscious influence that we exert on others. On Monday night we considered how that God's surprising servant of adversity is used to accomplish a number of good purposes in our lives. And last night we looked at a particular adversity, wicked men, how that the Lord uses the wicked to bring about His purposes. And tonight we're going to consider God's surprising servant of death. Now death is in this world as a result of sin. And so I think indeed it is surprising that death should be used to accomplish some of God's choicest blessings. But I think the passage of Scripture before us tonight will help us to think about the ways that death can be used to be a blessing. Now it's possible that you might live your life without having been deeply affected by wicked men.
You might live your life and not have to suffer any kind of adversity, but not everyone has to suffer the same depths of adversity and the amount of adversity that I encounter may be relatively small in comparison to the adversity that some of you have to encounter. But here's something that each one of us is going to go through and that's death. Unless the Lord Jesus Christ returns and changes those who are alive and remain in a moment in the twinkling of an eye, then you're going to die. And if you are like I am, I think about death quite a bit. I enjoy good health, but I'm around death a fair amount as you can imagine any pastor or minister would be whose pastor of a church of any size. I had to call two of my people today to console them and tell them that I was praying for them.
One had lost a sister, another young man had lost his father to cancer. I have been around death. I grew up in a pastor's home and so I've been around death quite a bit. And I think about death often.
And with sobriety. I think I have seen some people, saw my mother and my dad both die. Was with them when they were drawing their last breaths. And it's a very solemn thing to watch someone die and to think what happens next. And so I think that this sermon tonight is a very practical sermon to help us think about the time when we are going to leave this world behind. We're going to die. We're going to be the one whose breathing is labored on the deathbed or we're going to be the one who is in the car wreck or who suddenly dies of a heart attack or something along that line.
But unless the Lord intervenes and sends Jesus back, then everyone in this room is going to die. And so I hope that the sermon tonight will help us to think biblically about our death and when it comes our time to die that we will be able to die full of hope. And that we will be able to die like sons and daughters of God. And so let's consider what the Bible says here and what it can teach us about death. In this passage of scripture I think that we can see what death delivers us from. That's going to be my first point, what death delivers us from.
And then secondly, how the prospect of death refines our living now. And then finally we'll see how that death transports us to our greatest joy. Let's read again beginning at the end of verse 18, Philippians chapter 1 verse 18, he's in prison. And it seems like he is saying because you are praying and because the Spirit of Jesus Christ is helping me, I think I'm going to get out of jail.
But let's see if that is all that he's saying. This will turn out for my deliverance as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body. Now if he were thinking exclusively about getting out of jail then I think the sentence would end differently.
It would end something like this. I won't be ashamed but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body and when I get out I will continue to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. But apparently deliverance for Paul is not just the prospect of getting out of jail, it may be the prospect of being delivered from this life with all of its problems. Well what are some of the problems that are implied here in these few verses? He says this will turn out for my deliverance.
Of course he is in jail and he's in jail because of the will of wicked men who are opposed to God. And who are trying to interfere with the proclamation of the gospel as it is being so effectively done by the Apostle Paul. And so these people have brought up charges against Paul that they have somehow worked the legal system to get this good man who had not committed any crimes put in jail. It may be that Paul says I can be delivered from that. It may be that the Lord will deliver me out of the hands of these wicked men and let me live a few more years and preach the gospel.
But it may be that the Lord is going to deliver me out of their hands by taking me completely away from this world. One night this week I quoted a little bit of the poem that begins, there's four or five stanzas of that in our hymn books, but it actually is part of an 18 stanza poem. And it's well worth looking up.
The sands of time are sinking. I suppose you could find it on the internet. It's in my copy of the letters of Samuel Rutherford. At the very end there is this 18 stanza poem. Maybe 21 stanzas, I can't remember.
I memorized it years ago. It's a very, very encouraging poem. As I was thinking about it today, I thought, well, I need to review that poem again.
But here is one stanza that I want to draw out of it. Samuel Rutherford was a great and godly man. And just to recommend the book to you in case you should be interested in reading it, C. H. Spurgeon said, let it be known that outside the writings of Holy Scripture, C. H. Spurgeon considers the letters of Samuel Rutherford to be the most inspired writings known to man. And so C. H. Spurgeon had a great appreciation for the letters of Samuel Rutherford. And especially if you are going through a time of suffering, I would recommend that you procure a copy of the letters of Samuel Rutherford.
Banner of Truth prints all 365 of them that we have, but they also print a much smaller version of about 40. That they were just so looking forward to. And she had carried the baby for several months and they lost the baby. And I sent them that small version of the letters of Samuel Rutherford. And they wrote me back thanking me and how it had ministered to their souls. Samuel Rutherford lived in the early 1600s and he was persecuted for Christ. He was exiled. And finally things got so bad that the governing officials summoned him.
They were going to put him to death. But in his letters he wrote, I have received a higher summons from someone else because he knew that he was dying. And Anna, our cousin, who set the dying words of Samuel Rutherford to this poem I've been referring to, renders those words of Samuel Rutherford this way. My Lord says, welcome home. My kingly king at his white throne. My presence doth command where glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel's land. And that's one of the ways that the Lord delivers his children out of the the unjust persecution that is brought upon them in this world.
He delivers them by taking them out of this life. I just finished reading the account of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles. And you know when the kingdom divided under Rehoboam, then Jeroboam the son of Nebat took off with the 10 northern tribes and Rehoboam in the house of David was left governing the two southern tribes. Well Jeroboam the son of Nebat had a son, a young son who was very sick. And so he instructed his wife to disguise herself and go to the prophet and inquire whether or not the child was going to live.
That seems illogical to me. If someone is able to know whether or not a child is going to live or die, surely he would be able to recognize someone through a disguise. And the Lord spoke to the prophet, not Jeremiah, the Lord spoke to the prophet and said, the wife of Jeroboam is coming to see you. And so just about the time I imagine she walks up the sidewalk and steps on the porch and knocks on the door, he says, come in thou wife of Jeroboam. And so she comes in and he says, I know why you've come and I'm telling you the child is going to die, because he is the only one in the entire household of Jeroboam who is pleasing in the sight of the Lord. He's the only one I like, God says, so I'm going to let him die. Death is not always an indication of God's disfavor.
And in fact, in the child of God, I would say that it rarely is an indication of God's disfavor. In the letter that the Lord directed to the church at Smyrna, he tells them, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison and for 10 days you will have tribulation. Okay, after 10 days, it's going to be over with, right? Next sentence, be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.
How does that work? I thought after the 10 days I get out. But no, you be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life. So we're scratching our head and go ahead and read the rest of the letter, which is the shortest letter to the seven churches. And it says, he who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the seven churches.
And then it concludes this way. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. Oh, I see God's way of thinking about things. It doesn't matter how wretched and miserable your life is here in God's perspective.
That's just a little bit. That's just a little while in comparison to the great reward that is going to be given to you when you're not hurt by the second death. And so he writes this letter of encouragement. The devil's going to throw some of you into prison and for 10 days you'll have tribulation. Be faithful unto death and I'll give you the crown of life.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. You're going to die.
You might as well die being faithful to the Lord instead of denying the Lord and scratching and clawing and clinging and whining on to a few extra days of life in this miserable sin-cursed world. One of my favorite long poems that tells a story is Horatius at the Bridge. I highly recommend it to you. It takes about 30 minutes to read it, but it's a wonderful story. It's a story of how Rome was under attack from the north and separating them from these attacking armies is the river Tiber and over the river there is one bridge. And the Roman authorities recognize this invading army is going to come across this bridge and invade the city.
We've got to cut down the bridge, but I'm not sure that we can do that. And then up spoke brave Horatius, the captain of the gate, to every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late. Hue down the bridge, Sir Consul, with all the haste you may, I with two more to help me will hold the foe at bay.
In yon straight path an army may well be stopped by three. Now who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me? And he says, every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better than facing fearful odds for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods? And yon straight path a thousand may well be stopped by three. Now who will stand on either hand and keep the path with me? And there are a couple of guys who speak up. I'll stand on your right hand.
I'll stand on your left hand. But Horatius is right. To every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late. And so to die nobly in the service of the Lord while faithfully doing what the Lord has called you to do is a good way to die. And in dying that way then the Lord delivers us out of the injustice and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and the thousand burdens that flesh is heir to. And the Lord uses death to deliver us from that. You can imagine that being in a prison in the apostles Paul's day was not quite the cushy experience that it is in the United States of America today.
I doubt if there was a, I doubt if he was working on his bench press while he was in there. And so back in those days about the only way that you could live if you were in prison was if you had friends on the outside who would bring you food. And so that in fact is the occasion of this letter. The Philippian church has sent Epaphroditus or Paphras, I can't remember which one, to bring a gift to the apostle Paul so that he can continue to live. But the conditions in that prison must have been wretched. And in one of his letters that he writes from prison he sends to Timothy and he says, be sure to bring that cloak that I left at Troas.
And just imagine the cold nights that he was experiencing and oh he just really wishes that he had that cloak that he had left at Troas. Makes me think of the experience that Deir Adoniram Judson had when he was falsely imprisoned in Burma. They had his legs chained together and they would raise his feet up off the floor so that only his shoulders were touching and they'd leave him that way all night long. And then one day they decided they were going to move him and some other prisoners to another location and their feet had not been on the floor for weeks or months. And as they marched then blisters quickly formed and those blisters burst and then they were marching on their bloody feet. As they crossed over a bridge Adoniram Judson just thought how about if I just dive in here and end it all. He was in such misery. But he carried nobly on.
I know some of you are interested in reading good books of history and if you'd like to read a wonderful biography read the biography of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson to the Golden Shore. But that's what I'm reminded of when I think of Paul in a Roman prison is being treated unkindly, not having enough food, cold. And death would be a deliverance from all of that. When death comes it delivers us from the cruelties that we may be experiencing at the hands of unjust men and all of the deprivations and the discomforts that are in this world as a result of sin. Thank God we're not in prison but we still have to suffer the effects of God's curse against sin in this world, the aches and pains of our bodies and all of the things that go along. Death for the Christian is a deliverance from all of that.
Now I'm going to just give a little parenthetical interruption here and point out to you something that I'm sure you have mused upon. It seems to be the idea in the United States of America at least that when someone dies they automatically go to heaven. And someone might have been a notorious pimp and drug dealer and committed gang murders. But when he dies people say well thank God he's in a better place. And that's going to heaven is not the default position of humanity. Going to hell is the default position of humanity.
You must be rescued from hell. You must be rescued from sin if you're going to go to heaven. But for the child of God death is a deliverance from all the miseries and injustices of this life. I think this passage of Scripture shows us secondly that living in prospect of death has the potential to refine and enrich our lives even now. It may be that some people would hear that we're thinking about death tonight and think oh how morose to just be dwelling upon death. So I don't want to think about that at all. I just want to go on living my life and hopefully I'll die quickly.
But I don't even want to think about it. I believe that thinking about death and thinking about the brevity of life has the potential to enrich our lives even now. So that we might live life more courageously. Paul says in verse 20, it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage, now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. So if it's God's will for me to die, I want to live courageously. If it's God's will for me to live, I want to live courageously. I'm afraid that courage is a virtue that is in extraordinarily short supply these days, but something that is desperately needed. If you arrive at the position that my life is entirely in the hands of God, it frees you up to live courageously.
I mean, the number one threat that can be leveled against you is taken away. I think of a story that I read in the Discourses of Epictetus, probably my favorite philosopher, a Greek philosopher who lived in the first century. He tells about a man who was being threatened by a tyrant that if the man did not inform on his friends, then the tyrant would cut his tongue off.
And the man bit his own tongue off and spit it at the tyrant's feet, as if to say, you've got no power over me. You can't kill me. I mean, you can kill me. But who said I was never going to die? And when you've got that kind of attitude, that lays the foundation for courage, whether I live or whether I die, that I may have the courage to glorify Christ. Living in prospect of death and embracing the fact that we are going to die and that we're willing to die for what we believe in, that we're willing to suffer for what we believe in. And there's a difference between being willing to die and willing to suffer. In Dostoevsky's novel, The Brothers Karamazov, there is a wise holy man who speaks about this issue, and he says there are eager young men who would lay down their lives in a moment for what they believe in, but they are unwilling to give four or five years of their seething youth to preparing for a calling that requires preparation. Sometimes, according to that, and I think he's right, that in a moment of great bravery, a person may give up his life.
And that is a noble thing. But for most of us, the Lord has not asked us to give up our lives in a moment. But what he has said is, I want you diligently to give yourself to doing well the thing that I've called you to do. If you are a student and you know that the Lord has called you to do it, then be a student for the glory of God. If you are working in a warehouse and that's what the Lord has provided for you, then work in that warehouse like a son of God.
If the Lord has called you to be a mother, then discharge that all-important task like a daughter of God and do it well. Embracing the fact that we do not have forever helps us to live our lives deliberately and helps us to live our lives with focus. Years ago, when I was reading J. I. Packer's book, Knowing God, for the first time, I came across a couple of lines from a hymn that was written by Richard Baxter. And so I looked it up in Spurgeon's hymnal and saw all five stanzas. It's a wonderful little hymn. I checked in your hymn book to see if you have it so that I might ask you to sing something else that you have no idea how it goes. But listen, it's a wonderful little poem. Richard Baxter, who thought that he was going to die young and wrote one of the great classics of Puritan literature, The Saint's Everlasting Rest, wrote this little poem.
Lord, it belongs not to my care whether I die or live. To live and serve thee is my share, and this thy grace must give. If life be long, I will be glad that I may long obey.
If short, then why should I be sad to soar to endless day? Christ leads me through no darker rooms than he went through before. In other words, Jesus has led the way through death. Christ leads me through no darker rooms than he went through before. He that into God's kingdom comes must enter by this door, by the door of death. Come, Lord, he says, come, Lord, when faith hath made me meet thy blessed face to see. For if thy work on earth be sweet, what will thy glory be?
My knowledge of that land is small. The eye of faith is dim, but tis enough that Christ knows all, and I shall be with him. I'll come back to that last part at the very last part of the sermon that death ushers us into the presence of Christ. But now we're thinking about how that death frees us up to live life intentionally. Knowing that our time is short, Jesus said to his disciples, night is coming when no one can work.
Let us do the works of him who called us because night is coming when no one can work. And so remembering that there is a termination to our life helps us to live our lives deliberately and not waste our lives. Paul describes the kind of life that he aspires to live in verse 21. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Let's just think about that first part. For to me to live is Christ. Well, that's a very deliberate, joyful way to live. But what does it mean for me to live is Christ?
Well, maybe this will help you out. I think that there are some people who would say for me to live is to eat. That's the thing that I look forward to most in life. Other people might say, well, to me, to live is to watch football. And somebody might say, well, to me, to live is to play video games. To me, to live is to shop. To me, to live is to hunt. To me, to live is to fish.
But Paul could say to me, to live is Christ. This is this is the person who occupies my mind. I want to serve him.
I want to know him. I'm enjoying this. I'm enjoying even sharing in the fellowship of his sufferings so that I might enjoy a resurrection. I think he's talking about a metaphorical resurrection. I don't think that he's saying that if I suffer enough, then I'll finally get raised from the dead at the last day. But for me to live is Christ.
I have deliberately taken into account how much time I have. My life is short. I may die very soon.
I want to spend all of my life for something for someone that really matters for me to live is Christ. And I think that this this focus and this this joyful courage and intensity is enhanced by facing the reality that we are mortal. We will die and we could die soon. But then let's move on finally to see that death ushers us into our greatest joy.
I just read the first part of verse 21. Let's go on for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. I think this is a perhaps a fresh perspective on death that we need to cultivate. It is not just that we're going to be OK when we die. But death is the open door to gain. Death actually gives you something better than the best that you've had on earth, even if you have enjoyed sweet, sweet fellowship with the Lord. In the hymn that I just quoted by Richard Baxter, he asks, For if thy work on earth be sweet, what will thy glory be? Death ushers us into the presence of Christ to die is gain.
I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go on verse 22. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me, yet which which I shall choose, I cannot tell. I am content to do what the Lord wants with me. And contentment really is the key to being happy.
The the richest person on earth is not necessarily the person with the most money. It's the person who's content with the least. And Paul Paul says, If I live good, if I die better, I'm going to leave it into God's hands. I can't I can't choose between the two.
I am hard pressed between the two. He says in verse 23, My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. So we've already seen that death is gain for us. And now we see quite clearly that death is a departure from this world when we are welcomed into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. You know, it really is kind of amazing how little description we have in the Bible of heaven. And much of what we think of when we hear such a statement of that, I think is metaphorical language. I mean, streets of gold and gates of pearl.
That's an astounding feat, but honestly, and I'll be thrilled beyond description if that's what it is. But I can think of better stuff than that. I mean, what kind of a thrill is it after day one to walk on streets of gold? After you've seen the gates of pearl, is that going to satisfy you throughout eternity?
Some of you have been to the Rocky Mountains and just maybe camped there for a few days. And after a few days of being there, you you realize that the awe of the whole situation kind of wears off. And it's still beautiful, but it's it's not that that punch that you got when you drove up and thought, are those clouds?
No, those are mountains. And the thrill that you feel with that. I think that the descriptions that we have of heaven are are mostly saying the most valuable things that you have on earth are the sort of things that we make our streets out of in heaven. You just can't imagine how how beautiful and how satisfying all of this is.
But we we mistake if we start longing for the streets of gold and the gates of pearl and the mansion that's just over the hilltop. And even reunion with our loved ones, as if that is the greatest thing about heaven. In Christ, all the riches of God are condensed into one person. And to be with that person and to enjoy fellowship with that person, to enjoy his approval and to be with be with multitudes of people who also love Jesus and who have been freed from sin.
What a culture that is to live in. No, no wonder the writer of the book of Hebrews waxes eloquent when he says you have not come to a fiery mountain, but you've come to Mount Zion and to the company of thousands of angels in festal gathering into the church of the firstborn made perfect. And what what a wonderful prospect to live in a community like that that is governed by the Lord Jesus Christ and that is illumined by the glory of God. And that is where you go when you die. You go to be in the presence of the Lord. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness and do immediately pass into glory. And their bodies being still united to Christ do rest in their graves till the resurrection. And at the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment and made perfectly blessed both in soul and body in the full enjoyment of God to all eternity. Quoting from the Baptist catechism there.
But the great delight and joy of heaven is that when we depart this life, we go to be with Christ. There was a doctor who went to visit a dying man. This is in the days when doctors were making house calls. Both the doctor and the dying man were strong believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. And so the physical doctor was also administering spiritual care to the man who was frightened at the prospect of death. And he said to the doctor, I know so little about heaven.
What's it going to be like? Just then, the doctor heard a scratching at the door and he recognized that as the scratching of his little dog. And he said to the man, do you hear my little dog at the door?
Yes. He's never been to this house before. He doesn't know what's on the other side. The only thing that he knows is that I'm here. And that's enough to make him want to be in this house.
And that's how it is with us also. We may not know all the details of heaven and what it looks like and what we're going to do there, but the glimpses that we see make it an alluring prospect to be there. But the greatest, the greatest alluring prospect of heaven is that when we depart this life, we will be with Christ.
Anticipating the time when our redemption will be completed with the resurrection of our bodies. The Apostle Paul quotes that passage from the Old Testament and says, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The strength of sin is the law and the strength of the law is sin. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. For as much as you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. Amen.
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