My mother, so dignified and proper her entire life, now lay in a hospice bed, held captive by debilitating age. Struggling for breath, her declining condition contradicted the gorgeous spring day that danced invitingly on the other side of the windowpane.
All the emotional preparation in the world cannot sufficiently brace us for the stark reality of goodbye. Death is such an indignity! I thought.
I diverted my gaze to the birdfeeder outside the window. A grosbeak flitted close to help itself to some seed. Instantly a familiar phrase popped into my mind: “Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it” (Matt. 10:29
My mom stirred and opened her eyes. Reaching back to her childhood, she used a Dutch term of endearment for her own mother and declared, “Muti’s dead!”
“Yes,” my wife agreed. “She’s with Jesus now.” Uncertain, Mom continued. “And Joyce and Jim?” she questioned of her sister and brother. “Yes, they’re with Jesus too,” said my wife. “But we’ll be with them soon!”
“It’s hard to wait,” Mom said quietly.
An elderly woman named Violet sat on her bed in a Jamaican infirmary and smiled as some teenagers stopped to visit with her. The hot, sticky, midday air came into her little group home unabated, but she didn’t complain. Instead, she began wracking her mind for a song to sing. Then a huge smile appeared and she sang, “I am running, skipping, jumping, praising the Lord!” As she sang, she swung her arms back and forth as if she were running. Tears came to those around her, for Violet had no legs. She was singing because, she said, “Jesus loves me—and in heaven I will have legs to run with.”
Violet’s joy and hopeful anticipation of heaven give new vibrancy to Paul’s words in Philippians 1 when he referred to life-and-death issues. “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me,” he said. “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (vv. 22–23).
Each of us faces tough times that may cause us to long for the promise of heavenly relief. But as Violet showed us joy despite her current circumstances, we too can keep “running, skipping, praising the Lord”—both for the abundant life He gives us here and for the ultimate joy that awaits us.
“There’s no place like home.” The phrase from popular culture reflects a deeply rooted yearning within us to have a place to rest, be, and belong. Jesus addressed this desire for rootedness when, after He and His friends had their last supper together, He spoke about His impending death and resurrection. He promised that although He would go away, He would come back for them. And He would prepare a room for them—a dwelling-place. A home.
He made this place for them—and us—through fulfilling the requirements of God’s law when He died on the cross as the sinless man. He assured His disciples that if He went to the trouble of creating this dwelling-place, that of course He would come back for them and not leave them alone. They needed neither to fear nor be troubled about their lives, whether on earth or in heaven.
We can take comfort and assurance from Jesus’s words, for we believe and trust that He makes a home for us; that He makes His home within us (see John 14:23); and that He has gone ahead of us to prepare our heavenly home. Whatever sort of physical place we live in, we belong with Jesus, upheld by His love and surrounded in His peace. With Him, there’s no place like home.
I’ll never forget sitting at the bedside of my friend’s brother when he died; the scene was one of the ordinary visited by the extraordinary. Three of us were talking quietly when we realized that Richard’s breathing was becoming more labored. We gathered around him, watching, waiting, and praying. When he took his last breath, it felt like a holy moment; the presence of God enveloped us in the midst of our tears over a wonderful man dying in his forties.
Many of the heroes of our faith experienced God’s faithfulness when they died. For instance, Jacob announced he would soon be “gathered to [his] people” (Genesis 49:29–33). Jacob’s son Joseph also announced his impending death: “I am about to die,” he said to his brothers while instructing them how to hold firm in their faith. He seems to be at peace, yet eager that his brothers trust the Lord (50:24).
None of us knows when or how we will breathe our last breath, but we can ask God to help us trust that He will be with us. We can believe the promise that Jesus will prepare a place for us in His Father’s house (John 14:2–3).
In 2014, a sinkhole opened up under the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky, swallowing eight vintage, irreplaceable Chevrolet Corvette sports cars. The automobiles were severely damaged—some beyond repair.
One car in particular received a lot of attention. The one-millionth Corvette, which rolled off the assembly line in 1992, was the most valuable in the collection. What happened to that gem after it was pulled from the sinkhole is fascinating. Experts restored the car to mint condition, mainly by using and repairing its original parts. Although this little beauty was in horrible shape, it now looks as good as it did the day it was built.
The old and damaged was made new.
This is a great reminder of what God has in store for believers in Jesus. In Revelation 21:1, John spoke of seeing “a new heaven and a new earth.” Many biblical scholars see this “new” earth as a renovated earth, for their study of the word new here reveals that it to means “fresh” or “restored” after the decay of the old has been wiped away. God will renovate what is corrupt on this earth and provide a fresh, yet familiar place where believers will live with Him.
What an amazing truth to contemplate: a new, refreshed, familiar, and beautiful earth. Imagine the majesty of God’s handiwork!
Henry Durbanville, a Scottish pastor from another era, tells the story of an elderly woman in his parish who lived in a remote part of Scotland. She longed to see the city of Edinburgh, but she was afraid to take the journey because of the long, dark tunnel through which the train had to pass to get there.
One day, however, circumstances compelled her to go to Edinburgh, and as the train sped toward the city, her agitation increased. But before the train reached the tunnel, the woman, worn out with worry, fell fast asleep. When she awoke she had already arrived in the city!
It’s possible that some of us will not experience death: If we’re alive when Jesus returns, we will “meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:13–18). But most of us will pass into heaven through death and for some that thought causes great anxiety. We worry that the process of dying will be too difficult to bear.
With the assurance of Jesus as our Savior we can rest in the confidence that when we close our eyes on earth and pass through death, we will open our eyes in God’s presence. “One short sleep past we wake eternally,” John Donne said.
My wife walked into the room and found me poking my head inside the cabinet of our grandfather clock. “What are you doing?” she asked. “This clock smells just like my parents’ house,” I answered sheepishly, closing the door. “I guess you could say I was going home for a moment.”
The sense of smell can evoke powerful memories. We had moved the clock across the country from my parents’ house nearly 20 years ago, but the aroma of the wood inside it still takes me back to my childhood.
The writer of Hebrews tells of others who were longing for home in a different way. Instead of looking backward, they were looking ahead with faith to their home in heaven. Even though what they hoped for seemed a long way off, they trusted that God was faithful to keep His promise to bring them to a place where they would be with Him forever (Heb. 11:13-16).
Philippians 3:20 reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven,” and we are to “eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Looking forward to seeing Jesus and receiving everything God has promised us through Him help us keep our focus. The past or the present can never compare with what’s ahead of us!
As we viewed my father-in-law’s body in his casket at the funeral home, one of his sons took his dad’s hammer and tucked it alongside his folded hands. Years later, when my mother-in-law died, one of the children slipped a set of knitting needles under her fingers. Those sweet gestures brought comfort to us as we remembered how often they had used those tools during their lives.
Of course, we knew that they wouldn’t actually need those items in eternity. We had no illusions, as the ancient Egyptians did, that tools or money or weapons buried with someone would better prepare them for the next life. You can’t take it with you! (Ps. 49:16-17; 1 Tim. 6:7).
But some preparation for eternity had been necessary for my in-laws. That preparation had come years before when they trusted Jesus as their Savior.
Planning for the life to come can’t begin at the time of our death. Each of us must prepare our heart by accepting the gift of salvation made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
At the same time, God has made preparations as well: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). He has promised to prepare a place for us to spend eternity with Him.
A siren wailed outside a little boy’s house. Unfamiliar with the sound, he asked his mother what it was. She explained that it was meant to alert people of a dangerous storm. She said that if people did not take cover, they might die as a result of the tornado. The boy replied, “Mommy, why is that a bad thing? If we die, don’t we meet Jesus?”
Little children don’t always understand what it means to die. But Paul, who had a lifetime of experience, wrote something similar: “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Phil. 1:23). The apostle was under house arrest at the time, but his statement wasn’t fueled by despair. He was rejoicing because his suffering was causing the gospel to spread (vv. 12-14).
So why would Paul be torn between a desire for life and death? Because to go on living would mean “fruitful labor.” But if he died he knew he would enjoy a special kind of closeness with Christ. To be absent from our bodies is to be home with the Lord (2 Cor. 4:6-8).
People who believe in the saving power of Jesus’ death and resurrection will be with Him forever. It’s been said, “All’s well that ends in heaven.” Whether we live or die, we win. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).