What is the most dreaded appointment you have ever had to keep? Some have mortal fears of going to the dentist. Others dread certain doctor visits while others seem to look forward to going to see him or her. Some people dread meeting with the funeral director to purchase their pre-arrangement of their funeral. I’ve known many people who just couldn’t bring themselves to make that appointment. People talked to them, including me, to try to convince them to go and pre-arrange their funeral so that when their time of death actually came it wouldn’t fall on their children to take care of those arrangements. But in their minds, planning their funeral was too close to death itself and sent the message there was something wrong with them and death was close. What is that appointment in your life that you are certain will take place but you had rather live your life denying it than actually preparing for it? I suspect that the one appointment most fear and too many refuse to prepare for is the appointment with death. Most of the older translations of Hebrews 9:27 use the word appointment saying, “It is appointed to mankind to die once and after that face the judgment.” The NIV translates it like this, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face the judgment.”
Why do we dread the appointment with death so much? Probably out of the variety of reasons for such fear is the fact it is unknown to us. What happens the moment we die? Do we fall asleep, both physically and mentally? Do we go down into the grave, body and soul alike to wait for the return of Jesus when “All that are in their graves will come forth, those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation.” Or is it the case that when death comes there is an immediate separation? The body goes down into the grave, or into the drawers at the mausoleum. The Soul or inner man goes to Jesus in glory to be forever with the Lord. This would explain the language of I Thessalonians 4:13-18 “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have not hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until they coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” Focus on that follower of Christ that has died and been buried. Those who have fallen asleep in him, Jesus will bring with him when he comes. Also the dead will be raised with the shout and voice of the archangel and trumpet of God. They will then meet the Lord in the air and always be with him. How can Jesus bring the dead saints with him and them also be raised from the grave to meet him in the air? There is only one way that I can see and that is that at death the soul went to be with Jesus in heaven but the body went down to the grave. When Jesus comes again he will bring with him the souls of the dead and he will raise their bodies so that body and soul are again combined as immortal and to spend eternity with God in glory.
If that is what God tells us will happen, then at death we truly go through the separation described in Ecclesiastes 12:7 “And the dust returns to the ground it came from and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” It also gives new meaning to Philippians 1:21-24. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” It is intriguing to me to visualize the whole picture he laid out for us. He saw death as a departure. Remember 2 Timothy 4:6-8 when he was near his death in appearing before Nero for a second time. “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my DEPARTURE is near. I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” He saw his time of death as a departure. He was leaving the body to go and be with the Lord.
With that being the case, the appointment of death means that I lay aside this tent, this body and I go to be with the Lord until the time of my return with Jesus when he descends from heaven with a shout, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God and the raising of the dead to meet the Lord in the air and thus always be with the Lord, body and soul for eternity. Death not only is the separation of body and soul, it is a sealing of my destination. Until death I can change my life, my relationship and my destiny. God longs for all people to be saved. But he gave each of us the right or ability to choose for ourselves what our eternity will be. If our longing is for heaven, for glory and for God we must choose to live the life that God calls on us to live. It means a laying aside of the old way of life and living a life for the Lord. It means a turning from sin to God in repentance and an obedience of God in being baptized into Christ to start new life in him and a commitment to continue faithfully walking with him in this life. When death comes, we have finished our work on this earth. We have made our choice. We will now face God in judgment based on how we lived our life on this earth. God will look at our choices, our commitment and our faith in him to determine our final rewards. But at this point, no matter how much I may wish I had done things in a different way, nothing more can be done. I will either have passed the test and go to be with Jesus, or I will have failed the test and go to be with my Lord, Satan to spend eternity with him and all that hell has to offer.
Our appointment with death is a very serious time for all. But I can make that time quite easy if I will. I can truly remove the sting of death so that it causes no harm. When I was a boy growing up on a farm in Alabama, it was pretty common to get stung by a wasp. It also became common for me to catch some of those wasp and remove their stinger. They still looked the same, but they were harmless now. I took the stinger out to allow them to fly and land on people but now they couldn’t do them any harm. Jesus caught Satan when he went to the cross for us and took his stinger out. The sting of death is sin and when God made the way for our sins to be fully forgiven and us face him without fear of death it removed Satan’s stinger. He can still fly around and land on people to frighten them, but if our lives are committed to God and walking with him, he is without his stinger. We have no reason to fear death since to die is gain and to have something far better, to be with him forever in glory.
Keep your appointment but take the stinger out and face death with a smile, since Jesus has been that way and shown us the way to travel without Satan having a means to sting us.