One of the most helpful passages in the Bible on dealing with grief is found in Genesis 23:1-4. This is not the first place death is mentioned in the Bible, however it does give us some important principles about dealing with death that everyone needs to know. It says, “And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her. And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”
So what do we learn from this passage that we have read today that will help us deal with death in a Biblical manner?
First, It is ok to mourn for those who die. The word mourn literally means to tear the hair and beat the breast, to lament and wail. It is normal to weep and sorrow, it is normal to sit down before your dead and cry. Understand that this does nothing for the dead, you cannot alter their state at all, you cannot affect their place in either heaven or hell. That is not based upon what you do, but what they have done.
Someone however, who does not mourn, and does not weep has a serious problem. They have bottled up what is normal and natural, and are going to experience a greater conflict down the road. Really what you are mourning is not just their absence but, if they were close to you, you are mourning the loss of part of who you are. You are mourning the loss of part of your identity. This is especially true for those who have been a caretaker or have been married for many years. Their identity is so enter twined with that of the deceased, that it is hard to reconcile who they now are. how do they go forward from here, part of me is gone they may say.
The key here is that you have to realize that your identity cannot be in anyone but Jesus Christ. You are a new creation in Him, and your identity must be in Him if you are going to get through the loss of a loved one. If Christ is in you things have changed concerning death, Romans 8:10, “And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” You must recognize that your life is now hid in Christ, and He is in your heart. Galatians 2:20 says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Notice what Paul says, “I” that is the old I, the old man, “am crucified with Christ”
If you are saved today, you are not the old man any longer. Your identity is then in Him. I realize that we have a strong identification with our loved ones, but they are not who we are. Our relationship with them did not define us completely. I love my wife, I cannot imagine what life would be without her, I don’t ever want to find out, but if that was to happen, I would have to remember that her death did not end my life, because my life was not in her, it is in Jesus Christ. Your life is not found in anyone on this earth, but rather it is found in Jesus Christ as well.
Secondly, There is a time to stop mourning. It says in verse 3 of our text that Abraham stood up from before his dead. He didn’t stay there the rest of his life. You must realize that you still have a life to live, and God still has a purpose for you. Several years ago when I was on a trip to England I was putting out literature door to door and ran across a lady that was sitting on her front porch in her pajamas crying. As I asked her what she was troubled about she told me that she was sad because her father had died. This was a lady who was in her fifties. I asked if I could come back later and visit with her, she agreed so I took a missionary with me and later went back to her house. When we got there she was inside and invited us in. Her house was a shrine to her late father. She began to tell us how she had taken care of him since she was just a teenager. And how she had done everything for him. I asked when he passed, and she said about four years ago. She was completely engulfed in grief and had never stopped mourning because she had no identity of her own.
Because she had no identity of her own she had no purpose to live. Her only purpose in life had been to take care of him. She didn’t know what to do now. Ro 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” You may have lost your purpose, but God has one for you. You are called according to His purpose. Turning from your own confusion to His purpose for your life is vital to standing up from your dead and moving on with the life that you have been given.
To end mourning your dead must be buried out of your sight. Some time ago I counseled with a man who was overcome with grief at the death of his wife. She had passed away almost six months prior and he was getting worse each day. As we sat down to talk he began to tell me how much he missed her and how he just didn’t know if he could go on without her. He pulled out of his pocket a phone and said this is her phone, I have kept it active so that I could call her voice mail and listen to her voice and he called it a dozen times a day. His mind was telling him that she was still there, but he knew that she wasn’t. the confusion was destroying him.
Abraham said, I must bury my dead out of my sight. He put away the things of Sarah. Not to forget her, but to bury her, he was not saying she was not a part of my life, but he was saying she has died, and if I am to live, I must live with the living and not the dead. Death will come soon enough, you are still among the living, you are still here so those who have died must be put out of your sight or you will be focused on death rather than life. This is not to scorn their memory. There will come a time that your heart has healed from the grief and sorrow, and then you can remember them with the joy and fondness that is healthy and good. But until that time to keep everything before your eyes is much like keeping their dead body in your living room. It brings with it a stinch and sadness. It must be put away.
To put your dead out of your sight it takes some time, Abraham had to prepare a place to do so. It also takes some expense, Abraham paid for his burial place, it cost him four hundred shekels. A shekel is on half ounce of silver so at current prices this burial place cost him over $6,700. Putting your dead out of your sight isn’t just about their physical body, it is also about the things around the house and your living places that would anchor you to the past in the present. Until you have had the time to heal those things should be put out of your sight as well.
At this point in Genesis, Isaac is now around 37 years old, Abraham 137, and Sarah has died at 127 years of age. It doesn’t matter what age a person is, when we face death it is a horror and sorrow. The reason that it is such a woeful trial is because of what it represents. Physical death is the reminder of the wages of sin.
In Genesis 2:17 God told Adam and Eve, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” We know according to Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death,…”
Prior to Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden there was no death, not physically and not spiritually. Man was created in perfection and had never experienced death. But sin brought forth death, sin brought forth sorrow and pain. And death is an ever present reminder of the consequences of sin.
When you drive down the street and see a cemetery, you are faced with the reality of the effects of sin. That is why we spend so much time trying to beautify it. We dress it up and put flowers around it, we paint up our dead and put them in suits, we buy special caskets to present a beautiful picture at the funeral and we gloss over the truth of death.
The truth however, is that physical death is not the end of mankind. Genesis 25:8 says, “Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.” The soul does not cease to exist after the body dies. This body is just the holding place for your soul, it is temporary, it is headed toward death, but your soul will never die. You will live forever somewhere.
In Genesis 2:7 it says, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The soul is the seat of your intellect and your emotions, and these two together form your will. The soul is how you think and feel. The terms heart and mind and soul are often interchangeable in the Bible, they speak of the same area of thinking and feeling.
The soul is different from the body, and the soul is different from the spirit, your soul is your self conscience, the body is your physical conscience and the spirit is your God conscience. However your spirit is also conscience of the spirit of others as well.
In the account of Lazarus and the rich man we read in Luke 16:22-24 it says, “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”
Prior to the resurrection Hell was divided into two compartments, all men went to Hell because the payment for sin was not yet made. However not all were in torment, we see here that those who had put their trust in God were comforted and those who had trusted in their riches or goodness were in torment. Understand here, their senses, their thinking and their feeling, their soul was very conscience of what was going on.
So here we are confronted then with death, and as such we are confronted with the consequences of sin. The state of physical separation from the body and eternal separation from God is called the second death. Revelation 21:8 says, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
This first death is to remind us of the greater death that awaits all those who reject God. Death should cause us to question our position with God. Revelation 20:13-15 says, “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
The question that death should cause us to ask is this, is my name written in the book of life in heaven so that I will not be part of the second death? Friend today the only way that you can get your name in the book of life in heaven is by accepting the payment that Jesus Christ made on the cross for your sin. You see if you are judged according to your works you will be cast into the lake of fire. Why? It says in Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”
However when you obey the gospel, and put your faith in the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only acceptable payment for sin, God in heaven receives you on Christ’s merit. He forgives your sin for Christ’s sake. Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
James 5:20 tells us, “Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” The Bible tells us that when you trust in Jesus Christ as your Saviour, your soul is saved from the second death. Your sins are blotted out of the record, and God sees you as righteousness. He sees you as purified from sin.
Now these are the things that we learn from the fact of death, but I want to take a few minutes to learn some practicalities about how to deal with death that each of must understand, because we will all face the trial of the death of a loved one. Until the time of the return of Christ every person is condemned to become part of the ultimate statistic, 10 out of 10 people die.
You see God knows how to help us overcome death, both in the loss of our loved ones and in regards to the second death. The first step is to ensure that your name is written in the book of life in heaven. Has it been? Are you saved? If so you have no need to fear death because Jesus has conquered it for you.
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