Rosalie lost her husband Keith after a long period of progressive heart failure and much suffering. He had been one of the first in America to receive a heart transplant.
In a pastoral contact several weeks after his death Rosalie said to me: “Pastor, I’ve been visiting Keith’s grave every day, but yesterday, I suddenly realized that Keith is not there, he’s with the Lord.”
It’s one of the great assurances of the Scriptures that believers snatched away by death are “absent from the body but present with the Lord.”
This assurance enables us to grieve in hope when we have lost someone dear to us. That is, at the same time that our grief is deep and enduring, we are comforted by the Christian hope of eternal life with Christ.
Yet, in the depth of grief, some believers do not rest easily on this promise. They sometimes require time to embrace it. Can that time be shortened?
The best way is for us to have stored in our hearts and minds in readiness some of the great scriptural assurances where the truth of our security in Christ is declared by God to those who believe.
Recall, for example, that at the moment Jesus on his cross yielded himself to death, he cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). His future was not blank; his destiny was assured and, as believers, so is ours.
Or consider the prayer of dying Stephen, the first martyr, when he was being stoned to death by his enemies. He prayed in triumph, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ (Acts 7:59–60).
There was spiritual connectedness with the Lord in that prayer, and even death could not break it. Every believer is offered that assurance.
Even the ancient sufferer, Job, found solace in the certainty of an afterlife which he could affirm in spite of the skeptical questions mounted by his friends. Here’s his statement:
I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27).
This assurance is repeated in various ways in the Scriptures, but it is especially reassuring in the promises of our Savior himself. For example, at the burial place of Lazarus, before Jesus called the dead man back to life he assured Martha, the sister of Lazarus:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever believes in me will never die” (John 11:25 -26).
As well, who can read the New Testament and miss the Apostle Paul’s radiant words of certainty? He writes, “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 5:1)
It is half a century since Rosalie, while in deep sorrow over Keith’s death, nonetheless found comfort in the great promise of Scripture that, to be absent from the body meant to be present with the Lord. God wants all his children to have such assurance as revealed in Scripture.
Only by a living faith in Jesus Christ, the victor over death, can this assurance be appropriated.