HOW TO SMILE AT DEATH
Now, I suppose that Psalm twenty-three is known better than any other Psalm in all of the Bible. And I suppose that verse four is quoted perhaps more than any other verse in that Psalm. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. A little lady had walked with for many, many years. She was a saint by every measure of the word. At last her body grew frail and her life was ebbing away. And she was on what many would call her death bed. And her loved ones were around her and they were wringing the hands and they were crying and they were weeping. And she looked up at them. She said, "Now, go ahead and cry if you must; but, "she said, "don't cry for me." She said, "I am tickled to death to die." I like that. Tickled to death to die.
I want to talk to you today about how to smile at death. How to smile at death. How to be tickled to death to die. Now, death is not a popular subject. As a matter of fact, when you mention death, people will change the subject like they change channels on the TV set. We've done everything we can do to avoid thinking about death. Man is the only creature who knows he's going to die, and he's trying desperately to forget it. That's the reason some overdo the makeup. That's the reason when a fellow gets a certain age, if he can afford it, he buys a sports car. We're trying to do everything we can do to obscure the fact that we're winding down to the grave. And even the grave, the burial places, we make them look like a memorial park, like a garden of some kind. We don't like the idea of dying. But death is a very real fact as we're going to see and it's something that we're not to be afraid of. Really it's something that we ought to anticipate.
Now, David had that in mind I'm certain, when he wrote this wonderful, beautiful psalm and especially verse four. He spoke of a valley called the valley of the shadow of death. And there is such a valley in the land of Palestine. There is a valley called the valley
of the shadow of death. If you were to go there, you could seek it out. It starts up between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, up about 2,700 feet above sea level. And there's a little spring that comes out of the hillside there. And it starts a little rivulet. And sometimes it's full of water, and the water cascades down, and sometimes there's just a trickle that goes through it. But over the centuries, it has cut a ravine, a chasm, if you will, a little grand canyon in those Judean hills. It starts up there and it flows down, down, down, down, down 1300 feet below sea level to the Dead Sea.
This ravine, this canyon, that is called the valley of the shadow of death because it is so narrow that at the bottom in some places, it's only about twelve feet wide. And even at high noon, it's always full of shadows. And there are caves there. And shadowy places
there. And in Bible times there were bears there. And hyenas there. And leopards there. And there were robbers. And there were steep places where sheep might fall and it was a frightening place with the grotesque shadows on the canyon wall. And the shepherds had named it the valley of the shadow of death. It was a very useful canyon, a very useful valley because in the wintertime, when there was not much grass, the
shepherds would take the sheep down to Jericho and there the sheep would winter at Jericho and feed there in that lush grass that would grow even in the wintertime. And then when the spring would come, and the Judean hills would grow bright with that verdant color of green, and the flowers would come out and dot the hillside, the shepherd lead his sheep through that valley to greener pastures in the highlands.
And that's surely what David had in mind when David wrote this beautiful psalm, because David himself as a shepherd doubtless many times led his sheep through
that valley. The valley of the shadow of death. And David said, the Lord is to me what I've been to my sheep. The Lord is my Shepherd. And yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
David had learned to smile at death. And I want you to learn to smile at death. And I want to give you three principles that will help you to do that.
Number one. Number one, I want you to accept death as a decided fact. F A C T -- fact. It is a fact. Now notice how that verse begins, Yea, Y E A, not nay, yea. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Now, as I said, that's a fact that many people don't want to face. We sometimes try to change the subject, but the Bible says in Hebrews 9:27, "It's appointed unto man once to die." That's an appointment, my dear friend, that you have. It is appointed unto man once to die. And the same Bible says in Romans 5:12, "Wherefore, as by one man, sin entered into the world and death by sin, so death passed upon all men for that all have sinned." The only exception to whether or not you might die is if Jesus comes first. But if
Jesus does not come first, you certainly going to die. And so death is, dear friend, a stubborn fact. We were talking a few moments about statistics. There's a new statistic out on death. One out of one people die. Okay? One out of one. It is appointed unto man once to die.
But not only is it a stubborn fact, it's an uncertain fact. You don't know when you're going to die. You see, David said, Yea though I walk through the valley. He's walking through the valley. He doesn't know from one moment to the next what is going to happen. There's just we live life a step at a time. The Psalmist said there is but a step between me and death. There is but a step between me and death. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It is a stubborn fact, but it is an uncertain
fact. You don't know when you're going to die. Old men die. But sometimes mothers kiss their helpless babies and their innocent babies good-bye and leave them. Sometimes even a little child must drop his toys to grapple with the iron strength of death. I must
preach, dear friend, as a dying man would preach to dying men because I don't know, this may be the last sermon I'll ever preach. It may be the last sermon you'll ever hear. I don't know. You don't know. Many a time, I've preached the last sermon a person has heard before that person died, and so the Bible says, in the fourth chapter of the book of James verses 13-14, "Go to now ye that say today or tomorrow we'll enter into such and such a city and continue there a year and buy and sell and get gain. Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little while and then vanisheth away." So that you ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that.
You see, God doesn't have to take your life. All he has to do is stop giving it. Do you understand that? It's of the Lord's mercies that we're not consumed. You see, dear friend, life is a gift from God. If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or that. Your
life is like a vapor on a frosty morning, like a breath on a frosty morning. Here for a moment, and then gone.
You see, listen, accept death as a decided fact. It is a stubborn fact. It is an uncertain fact. And I'll tell you what else it is, it's a personal fact. Yea, though I walk. I walk. Huh, not they walk, I walk. You are walking in the valley of the shadow of death, just
like David was. Well, you know when a preacher talks about people getting ready to die, you know what happens in the human mind? You know what the human mind says? Tell 'em preacher. Tell 'em. They're going to die. Tell 'em to get ready. Tell 'em that they may die at any moment. Friend, you may die at any moment. You say, well I'm healthy right now. You may not be as healthy as you think. But, you know, automobiles run over healthy people also. I want to tell you, my dear friend, that you are living on the very edge of eternity, which incidentally is going to be the subject of our message tonight, the light of the talk about the second coming of Jesus, Living on the edge of eternity). And I certainly want you to be here, for death, my dear friend, is a stubborn fact. Death is an uncertain fact. And death is a personal fact. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Step number one. Are you listening? Step number one in learning to smile at death is to look death straight in the face. Look death straight in the face. Think about it. Bring it into focus and say with David, Yea, though. It's there. Yes, it's there. Yea, though I
walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Now, there's something else I want you to do. Number two. Not only do I want you to accept death as a as a decided fact, but I want you to acknowledge death, dear friend, as a defeated foe. As a defeated foe. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. There are three wonderful truths there as we think about death as a defeated foe.
First of all, he's talks about a valley, a valley. Now, learn this, learn this. There can be no valley without mountains. Isn't that true? It's impossible. It's impossible for there to be a valley unless there are mountains. And you see, this is the valley psalm between two mountain psalms. Psalm twenty-two is a mountain psalm. It deals with Mount Calvary, and it tells of the crucifixion of the Messiah. And then, Psalm twenty-four is a mountain psalm. It deals with the coronation of the Messiah. It deals with the second coming. So, Psalm twenty-three is a valley between two mountains. Over here are the blood-drenched slopes of Mount Calvary. And over here are the sunlit peaks of Mount Zion. And over here we have crucifixion. And over here we have coronation. And we
are living in the valley.
Remember that we said that the Lord Jesus Christ is described as a shepherd three times in the New Testament. For example, the Lord Jesus is called the Good Shepherd. John 10:11, "I am the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." Now the Good Shepherd, that's Mount Calvary. And then, the Lord Jesus is called the Chief Shepherd. First Peter 5:4, "And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye
shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away."
The Good Shepherd died for me. The Chief Shepherd is coming for me. But then also, the Lord Jesus is called the Great Shepherd, and that's the One who now lives
for me. Hebrews 13:20-21, "Now the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that Great Shepherd of the sheep."
You see, he's the one who rose from the dead. He's the One who has conquered the valley of the shadow of death. The Good Shepherd, he died for me. The Chief
Shepherd, he's coming for me. The Great Shepherd, he lives for me. In the valley of the shadow of death, he was raised from the dead. And so, what I'm trying to tell you, my dear friend, if you want to learn how to smile at death, understand number one, there can be no valley without mountains. Thank God, I'll lift up mine unto the hills from whence cometh my help. Are you down in the valley? Then look at the mountains, my
dear friend. Look! Look, I say to Mount Calvary, and look to Mount Zion.
Second thing, second thing. There can be no shadow without a light. Notice what it says, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Now death is just a shadow if you know the Lord Jesus Christ, because Jesus has become the death of death. You see, Jesus pulled the sting out of death. Jesus took the gloom out of the grave. Jesus took the dread out of dying, and Jesus had given us a hope that is
steadfast and sure. A shadow may frighten you, but a shadow cannot hurt you.
Joyce and I took a walk the other morning. We go for morning walks. And we were walking there along Grove Park. It was early in the morning, the sun was coming
up, and the automobiles were going down Grove Park 25, 35, 40 miles an hour. They were coming down Grove Park. And Joyce and I were walking north and the cars were coming past and the sun was making the shadows of the cars to come right down the sidewalk there. And as we were walking down there, the shadow of those cars
kept hitting us and running over us. Bang, one would hit. Bang, another would hit. Oh, it hurt. When those shadows would run over me, oh it was terrible. You say, "Now wait a minute, pastor, the shadow couldn't hurt you," and you're exactly right, dear friend. Now if the automobile had hit me, that's one thing. There can be no shadow without a substance, but all we were doing was being hit by shadows. And it was kind of humorous to see those shadows come and run over us, and we, you see, God made us to walk through shadows. Now, listen, there cannot be a shadow without a light.
There was a great, great preacher whose wife died when she was still a very young woman. Left a little girl in the family. The little girl didn't understand all
of the intricacies about life and death and Jesus dying for our sins and all of that. But after the funeral one day, the father was downtown. They were doing some shopping. The little girl was in the car and she looked over on the wall of a department store
and saw the shadow of a truck. And the shadow was even larger than the truck because the sun was setting low in the west and it made a huge shadow on the department store wall. The little girl said, Daddy, look at the big shadow of the truck. And he thought
right then, I'm going to teach her a lesson. And he said, sweetheart, if you had your choice, would you rather be hit by the shadow of the truck or had you rather be hit by the truck? Oh, she said, Daddy, that's easy. I'd much rather be hit by the shadow of
that truck than to be hit by that truck. He said, that's right, darling. He said, it was only the shadow that hit mama. The truck hit Jesus two thousand years ago at Calvary. Tremendous lesson. The truck hit Jesus. Jesus has taken the sting out of sin, the dread
out of the grave. Jesus has become our victor. And there cannot be a shadow unless there's a light.
Let me give you some verses here. I found these. What a blessing. Isaiah 9:2, "The people that walk in darkness have seen a great light, and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." There's no shadow without light. Are you in the valley of the shadow of death right now?
Look to the light, and I'll tell you, my dear friend, if you'll look to the light, the shadow will fall behind you. You won't even see it. Look to the light.
There is no valley without mountains. And there is no shadow without a light.
There's a third thing I want you to learn as you see death as a defeated foe. And that is this, there is no evil without a greater good. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. This time now, he's comparing the evil with the Great Shepherd, the Great Shepherd of the sheep. Who is the thou? Who is he talking to? Who does David mean when he says, Thou art with me? Well, remember how this psalm begins? The Lord is my shepherd. And if you have the old King James Version of the Scripture, the word Lord, L 0 R D, is in all caps, because that word Lord means Jehovah, Jehovah, or as some would say, Yahweh.
Actually it's an unpronounceable word, just four consonants that cannot be pronounced. We pronounce it as best we know how, Jehovah, but actually, Yahweh, or
the Lord is my shepherd. It was the most sacred name, the most sacred name for God that the Jews knew.
When Moses was getting ready to deliver the children of Israel out of bondage, he made excuses. He said, I can't go. They won't believe me. Who shall I say sent me? And, God said to Moses, Moses, you tell them that I am that I am sent you. That is, I am the great, eternal, personal God, the ever-existing One, the One who never had a beginning, the One who never had an ending, not I was, not I will be, but I am. You tell them that I am sent you and then he said, You tell them Jehovah is my name. Jehovah is my name.
As I told you last week that name Jehovah is not mentioned in the New Testament, only in the Old. Why? Because Jesus is a form of Jehovah. Let me tell you what happened. That name was so sacred that a Jew copying that name would go take a bath before he would copy that name. Get a new pen before he would write down that name, that holy name, Jehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah. Do you know what the name Jesus means? It
means Jehovah saves. Jehovah saves.
Let me give you a little background. Just think about this. You remember when Moses could no longer lead the children of Israel? He had a man named Joshua who took
his place. Joshua. But Joshua's name wasn't always Joshua. His name was Hoshea, Hoshea. That was his name. And his name, Hoshea, means salvation. Moses
said, I'm going to give you a new name, and I'm going to take Hoshea, a part of that name and I'm going to take a part of the name Jehovah, and I'm going to put
them together. And then so you have Jehoshea, Joshua. And I'm going to put Jehovah and Hoshea, and I'll put them together, and I get a new name. Jehovah saves.
Hoshea is salvation, Jehovah, Jehovah saves, and that was Joshua's name in the Old Testament. Now, in the New Testament, the name Jesus is the same as the Old
Testament Jehovah. Jehovah, Old Testament -- Jesus, New Testament. Both of those names are the same. Jesus is the Joshua of the of the New Testament. He is the
Jehovah saves of the New Testament. And what was David saying? David's saying, there may be evil, there may be evil, but Jehovah is with me. How much more can we
say it? Jesus, Jehovah is with us. There can be, there can be no valley without mountains. There can be no shadow without a light. There can be no evil without a
greater evil. Truth is mightier than error. Grace is greater than sin. Our sovereign is greater than Satan. And life is greater than death. You've got to understand that. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou,
Jehovah art with me.
Now, my dear friend, there's a third thing I want you to learn. And it is this. Not only must you see death as a decided fact, and not only must you see death as a defeated foe, but you need to see death as a delightful friend.
Pastor, did you say friend? Death? Yes, I said friend. I wanted to change that as I prepared this sermon and I did change it. I said I'm going to change it to something else, because I just don't like calling death a friend. Then I just came back and I said, No, I'm going to leave that there. Death is a delightful friend.
Let me give you an interesting verse. First Corinthians 3:22-23. The apostle Paul is telling us what we have in Christ. Heh, and the Corinthians had been arguing and squabbling a little bit about what preacher they liked best. And this is what Paul said,
Whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, now watch this, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours. Now, of the wonderful things he says belong to us, he says death belongs to us. It's one of our treasured possessions. It's yours. Death is yours. He thinks of death, now, not as an enemy, but as a servant to help us. Did you the Bible says in Psalm 116:15, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Did you know that the apostle said in Philippians 1:21, For me to die is gain? I mean, physically it's gain. My body's going to be made like the Lord Jesus. Intellectually it's gain, for I'll know as I am known. Emotionally it is gain, because I'll be able to praise him with my whole heart. Socially it is gain, because I will be with the
saints of all of the ages, and with my Lord face-to-face. Spiritually it is gain, because temptation and sin will be behind me, and I will be one with my Lord like never before.
Now, what brings me into that relationship, my dear friend, what brings me there is death. So death is not an enemy if it helps me to come into a place like that. For me to die is gain. Now, now listen. See why David thought of it as a friend. Now notice what he
says, Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, now watch, for Thou art with me. First of all, there is the presence, there is the presence of the Shepherd. Thou art with me.
You know up until this time, he's been talking about the Lord. The Lord is my Shepherd. He maketh me to lie down. He leadeth me. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness. His rod and his staff. But now when he's in the valley, it's no longer talking about, talking about him, he's talking to him. Thou art with me. There's nothing that will bring you face-to-face with God more than the dark valleys of life. But when you get in the dark valleys of life, you're going to know what he meant when he said, I will never leave thee or forsake thee, I will be with thee always, even to the end of the age. There is the presence of the Shepherd. Now, who is the Shepherd?
Jehovah. The ultimate is my intimate. Think about it.
Think about it. I won't have to cross Jordan alone. I'm not going to have to die alone. I tell you when I come to die, Our Lord is there with us. The light is there. The shepherd is there. There is the presence of my Shepherd. But, not only is there the presence of my
shepherd, there is the power of my shepherd. His rod and his staff, they comfort me.
What did I tell you the rod was for? To protect the sheep. And did I tell you what the staff was for? To lift the sheep. Friend, when you come to die, I can promise you the Lord will be with you. He will strengthen you. I mean, there will be the presence of
Jehovah God who says, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of this saints, will be there. His rod will be there to protect you from all of the powers of evil and his staff will be there to draw you up close to him as you walk through that valley. As your feet touch those chilly waters of the river of death, singing you can go along your way.
Not only is there, my dear friend, the presence of the Shepherd and the power of the Shepherd; there is the purpose of the Shepherd. And what is the purpose of the Shepherd? It is through the valley. It's not a box canyon. It's a valley, dear friend, and Jesus has kicked the end out of the grave. I want you to know that. I want you to know that he's bringing us through. And you may be in some trouble today, and you may be in some difficulty today, but I want to tell you, my dear friend, it's only for a season. It's only for a purpose. David knew enough about a shepherd to know that a shepherd would never lead his sheep through any place like that unless he's leading them to a better place. So, David knew that the shepherd would never lead his sheep through any place like that unless he was leading them to a better place.
Somebody asked a man, he said, What's your favorite verse? He said, that one that says it came to pass. So, why is that your favorite?' He said, I know it didn't come to stay, it came to pass. Whatever it is, dear friend, it has come to pass and we are going through. I love the song that we sang: All the way my Saviour leads me, what have I to ask beside. Can I doubt his tender mercies who through life has been my guide? Heavenly peace, divinest comfort, here by faith in him to dwell, and I know whate'er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.
The purpose of the Shepherd is to lead us through.
Now, my dear friend, the Bible says in Hebrews chapter 2 that the devil keeps people in bondage through the fear of death. You listen to me. You are not ready to live, until you're no longer afraid to die. You are not ready to live, until you're no longer afraid to
die. Well, you say, with my sins, though I'm afraid to die. What shall I do with my sins? I'll tell you what to do with your sins. You put your faith where God puts your sins, on Jesus. Just put your faith where God puts your sins, on Jesus. All we like sheep have
gone astray. We have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Let's bow in prayer.
Heads are bowed, eyes are closed. I want to help you right now to know that death has no more terrors for you. To be able to smile at death. To settle the death question, so you can now begin to live the life question. If you're not certain that you're saved, may
I invite you to pray a prayer like this? Dear God, would you just pray that way, just quietly now, forget anyone else is here. You can be saved right where you
are in your seat this morning. Just pray this way, Dear God, I know you love me and I know you want to save me. Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd. You died for this lost sheep. You died for me. And Lord, you are the Great Shepherd, you've been raised from the dead. And you're the Chief Shepherd. You're coming again, and I want you to be my shepherd. I open my heart. I receive you now, right this moment as my savior and as my Lord. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Would you ask him that right now? Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Forgive my sin and save me. Thank you for doing it, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus, for doing it. And, Lord Jesus, help me never ever to be I ashamed of you. In your name I pray, Amen.
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