I sat upright in my bed, in utter disbelief. My wife, Bernadette, was snuggled in beside me, but I leapt out when I read the text I’d just received: “Augustin’s dead”.
Never once had I comprehended the prospect that we would face the death of my best friend. Yes, he had been sick for a long time, after an operation on his brain, but 31 years old and dead? Just like that he had been transported to his heavenly home.
I’ve never been one to be in denial about my own mortality; as a pastor I think and speak about it regularly. I know that one day my time will come. But I didn’t consider the possibility that my best friend was going to die so young. Unthinkable.
As I sat on the front row at his funeral, with his casket before me, I couldn’t help but proverbially shake my fists at God. I had questions that I thought demanded an answer.
When it comes to death, we'd appreciate a heads-up regarding the date. Couldn't God send us regular email updates with a countdown to our departure date? For reasons undisclosed to us God runs his death date book without our advice, and while the date of our death isn't revealed, it is inevitable.
"It is destined that each person dies only once and after that comes judgment", says Hebrews 9:27. From God's perspective death is nothing to grieve but is in fact, good news. "The day you die is better than the day you are born" (Ecclesiastes 7:1).
I can imagine the angels watch a funeral the same way new grandparents monitor the delivery rooms of their first grandchild. They can't wait to see the new arrival. The hosts of heaven don't weep when we leave, they anticipate our departure with joy.
I can imagine as my best friend was lying in the hospital bed, an angel ripped open the skies, and called out for Augustin: “Come, it’s time, he’s so pleased to see you my good and faithful servant.” I have realised in the midst of my grief: the fear of death ends when you know heaven is your true home.
John Knox could relate. Born in 1505 in Scotland. His preaching regenerated a society. Many loved him, a lot of people despised him, but the nation of Scotland has never forgotten him.
To this day you can sit in his home in Edinburgh and stand in the room where he died. It is believed that Knox’s co-worker Richard Bannatyne stood near his death bed.
As Knox’s breath became slow and inconsistent, Bannatyne leaned over his friend’s body and said to him: "The time to end your battle has come. Have you hope?"
The answer from Knox came in the form of a single finger. He raised his arm and lifted his finger and pointed it upward to heaven and died. I hope my death finds me pointing in the same direction.
My best friend’s death has taught me to give God my death. To imagine my final breath, and to envision my final moments, and what they would encapsulate, and offer them up to him. I will do this deliberately. I will do this regularly. "Lord, I receive your work on the cross and in your resurrection. I entrust you with my departure from earth."
With Christ as our saviour, and with heaven as our final destination, my best friend’s death taught me that the end of our life is not the final chapter, but a preface to an eternal one. A day that will become sweeter than the day of our birth.
It is with this eternal perspective that we can endure with faithfulness and perseverance in the midst of our loss, knowing death is just a shadow going over us. Death is not a dead end because the resurrection of Jesus made it a door. Therein, lies our hope.
Rob Wall is founder of The Reach Ministries, an organisation with a passion to share hope and help lives. Rob currently broadcasts his preaching series ‘Hope Heals’ on networks across the world, including: TBN UK, Asia, Africa, Pacific, Middle East, and a variety of other television networks. Rob is a writer, pastor and speaker and is based in London with his wife Bernadette and daughter Gracie-Hope.
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