We have recently had the joy and privilege of again focussing on the events of Easter, remembering all that Christ achieved on behalf of His people. We thank God that the price of our sin, death, was fully paid, because Christ was willing to suffer on our behalf. The cross was a horrific experience, both physically and spiritually for Christ. That was not the end, because He was also buried. For the majority of people we can have some idea of the pain of the cross, but none of us knows the experience of the grave, that separation of body and spirit. No matter what that experience might be, we are grateful that it was temporary and Easter declares that He is Risen; death has been seen to be conquered. There is life beyond the grave. We can see this great truth as something that will happen in “the sweet bye and bye”, but the Good Friday and later New Testament stories give us great comfort concerning our spirits. There is no long period of separation after death, but there is the assurance of being taken into the immediate presence of God.
Listen carefully to what Jesus said to the thief on the cross –
And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”’ (Luke 23:43)
They were hanging on their respective crosses preparing to die, but the thief exercises incredible faith asking to be remembered by Christ when He comes into His kingdom. Christ then in effect replies “OK, that is all sorted and TODAY we will be together in Paradise.” They have both lived in this world with all its trials and tribulations, but Jesus effectively says that will all end TODAY. The word that He uses for today is immediate, and can even refer to the night that has passed. The point being made is that there is no gap between life on earth and life in the presence of God.
If we continue to listen to the words of Christ on the cross we find that Jesus goes on to have a conversation with His and our Heavenly Father and … “calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” … (v.46) He knows that the work He had come to do is complete, therefore He can confidently commit the care of His Spirit into His Father’s hand. His spirit is not going to somehow wander aimlessly, but in light of John 10:29 “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Nothing, not even death separates us from the presence and care of God.
Later in the New Testament we have the account of Stephen’s martyrdom and as he died ‘… he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”’(Acts 7:59) We are told that just prior to his death Stephen had been given the rare privilege of looking into heaven, and we are told ‘ he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”’(Acts 7:55,56) He was granted a very rare experience, but he was able to see the order of heaven, so even though he suffered a brutal martyrdom yet he was confident that God would take him into the experience of the vision that he had seen.
When Paul reaches the climax of his teaching in Romans 8 he makes it clear that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:39) As Christians we can live and die in peace, that because of the grace of God nothing will separate us from God and that death will act as a gateway into the visible presence of God. We will enjoy immediate fellowship with God until that day of the Final Resurrection when body and soul will be re-united and the whole world will be redeemed as all things are made new.
Let us encourage each other with this hope and confidence.
Yours in certain Hope,