What Happens After I Die?
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Theme: Preparation for Death
Proposition: You can be prepared to face death
INTRO: Stats on life in US. Stats on death.
My favorite show on TV is Jeopardy. I like to consider myself a wealth of useless knowledge and statistics. This week I learned:
- 2/3 of the people use the back light to see in the dark
- a 2004 MIT survey.....said that cell phones was ranked as the one invention that people hate the most, but can't live without..it beat out the alarm clock and TV
A dime has 118 ridges around the edge.
Germs: A U. of AZ study found that your office desk has up 400x more bacteria than a toilet seat. (amusingfacts.com)
3% of pet owners give their pets gifts on Valentine’s Day.
Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts
(TRANS) There are also some sad statistics about accidents and death.
1 out of every 350,000 American’s gets electrocuted in their life.
Men are four times more likely to be struck by lightning than women.
Each yr, more American’s die in fires at home than in all natural disasters combined.
The leading cause of deaths for children between the ages of 1 and 4 are motor vehicle crashes.
Every year approximately 3,000 people choke to death.
Every year approximately 2,500 left-handed people are killed by using object or machinery designed for right-handed people.
In the United States, you are more likely to be killed by a bee sting than a shark attack.
Since 1978, at least 37 people have died as a result of shaking vending machines, in an attempt to get free merchandise. More than 100 people have been injured.
(TRANS) I got most of the statistics from online sources, and I can’t vouch for the validity of them. But one stat I am very certain of - One out of every one Americans dies.
We all wonder what happens to us after we die.
Separation of body and soul/spirit. We all know what happens to the body – it’s gets laid in the grave. What happens to your soul? Bible tells us it goes to one of two places.
What is one place (point up)? Heaven.
What is the other place (point down)? Hell.
IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOU DIE (TWO PATHS)
Right. Those are the basics. This morning we are going to go beyond the basics to see what happens to each of us after we die. Along the way you may hear a few things that will challenge your concept of heaven and hell. If that happens, be sure to let God’s truth in the Bible be the source for our understanding.
Do you have a bulletin? Please take out the manila insert. On here you will see a little diagram that we will follow in our time together this morning. There is some blank space on here for you to write down notes or scripture references so you can check these things out later for yourselves. We are going to start at the left and work our way across the page, explaining each little picture along the way.
GRAPHIC: split path and tombstone
We are all on the single line, headed for a fork in the road. That split happens when we die. Which path we take after death is determined by a decision we make in this life – the decision to accept or reject Jesus Christ.
The Bible is very clear about this. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of holiness, or perfect righteousness. The penalty for these rebellious actions is death. That is what each of us have earned by our sin. God’s Son, Jesus, came to earth and lived a perfect life, one of absolute righteousness. Yet he was crucified as a criminal. When he died that death which he didn’t deserve, God laid on him the guilt of my sin, your sin, and the sin of every other person who has ever lived or will live. Jesus paid the penalty for us.
We are each given the opportunity to believe and repent. Believe that Jesus really did that, and that his death really is the payment for our sins. And repent, or turn away from our sin and give our lives over to God. If a person does that, he stands before God acceptable b/c he is clothed in the righteousness of Christ. If a person doesn’t believe and repent, he stands before God still bearing the guilt of his own sin, and God cannot accept him.
The beauty of this is that each of us are given the opportunity to believe and repent. But this is one of those opportunities that is “for a limited time only.” We can only make that decision while we are still alive. Once we have died, the chance is gone. That is why your diagram shows a fork in the road at that tombstone
(APP) The whole key to this message is to understand this point: the time to decide is now. You may never get another chance to make this decision.
(TRANS) Now I want to walk you down both of these paths and explain what you can anticipate after you die. The top path shows you what you will experience if you are made righteous through Jesus’ sacrifice. The bottom shows you what you will experience if you do not make that decision.
Let’s head down the bottom road first. Remember I said there would be a few things that may challenge your thinking. Here’s the first. Did you know there are two hells?
The Bible describes two different places where the unrighteous go after they die. We use the word “hell” to describe both of them, but they are different. We’ll look at the second “hell” later this morning, but the first one is called Hades. In the OT it is referred to as Sheol.
We have a really good picture of this place from a story Jesus tells to a group of religious leaders. It’s found in Luke 16. Some Bible translations just use the word “hell.” I’m going to read from the NASB b/c they are careful to translate it more specifically as Hades. Let’s start in Luke 16:19.
19 "Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.
20 "And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores,
21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.
22 "Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.
23 "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 "And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.'
25 "But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.
26 'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.'
GRAPHIC: Hades/Paradise (bottom line)
Did you notice what Hades is like? It has two regions separated by an uncrossable chasm. The beggar went to the side reserved for the righteous, a place of comfort. The rich man went to the portion reserved for the unrighteous. It was a place of conscience torment and the agony of being burned alive.
I need you to hang with me here and pay close attention. That is what Hades was like up until the time Jesus died, a holding place for the dead, both righteous and the unrighteous. After Jesus rose from the dead, that changed. The unrighteous still go there after they die, but now the righteous actually go to heaven to be with Jesus where God reigns on His throne.
GRAPHIC: Throne (top line)
We know this b/c of what Paul tells us in 2Cor 5. Pastor Chuck walked us through that a couple weeks ago, but let’s look at it again.
6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord --
7 for we walk by faith, not by sight --
8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
(SUM) The Bible tells us that immediately after we die, we go to one of two places. Believer in Jesus Christ go to heaven to be with him. Those who have not embraced Christ go to Hades, where they are tormented in fire while they wait for the next stage of the journey.
I have to pause here to clarify one point. Some of you have heard of a place called Purgatory. Please don’t confuse that with Hades. The teaching is that Purgatory an intermediate state or location after you die if you’ve not been quite good enough for heaven. You are not in heaven, and you are not in hell, but rather some other place where you wait. Then those who are still alive on earth can say prayers for you, do good works on your behalf, or even give money to get you promoted on to heaven. The Bible doesn’t teach this, and it’s not true. No such place exists. Once you die, your path is set. No side streets, and no U-turns.
(TRANS) You move along one of these two paths on to the next step - the resurrection. There are actually two resurrections, one for the righteous and another for the unrighteous.
Resurrection is that time when our bodies will raised from the dead. But it’s not going to be this gory mess like you see in horror movies. Actually, our bodies are going to be better than ever, just like the body Jesus had when he came back from the dead. If you want more details about that new body, look at 1Cor 15.
GRAPHIC: Resurrection (top line)
To keep things in chronological order, let’s jump back up to the top line. We can’t nail down exactly when this will happen, but Paul gives us some clues in 1Thes 4.
15 According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 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.
18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.
He speaks of “the dead in Christ,” that is those who have been made righteous by Jesus. That is what believers in Jesus have to look forward to. When he comes back, our souls will be reunited with our new upgraded bodies, and we’ll spend eternity with Jesus.
(TRANS) But what about those who are not followers of Christ? What does the Bible say about their resurrection? That comes later, much later. Look at Rev. 20.
4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
After the first resurrection, the one where the righteous are raised, a thousand years pass before the second resurrection, when the unrighteous are raised.
GRAPHIC: 1000yrs and Resurrection (bottom line)
(TRANS) Now just as there are two different resurrections, there are also two judgments.
Each one has a very different purpose. Chuck already walked us through the judgment of believers found in 2Cor 5:10. As a quick review, it says:
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
GRAPHIC: Bema (top line)
This is not a judgment to determine if we are guilty and deserve punishment. Any punishment we deserved was already suffered by Jesus. This is what is called the Bema, like the platform where athletes stand to receive their medals. It is the evaluation of what we’ve worked for to determine if it is worthy of an award.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.
11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,
13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work.
14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.
15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
It’s very possible that the things we work for, while not bad, are of no eternal significance. When this world is destroyed by fire at the end of time, anything that is earthly will be burned up with it. Only those things of eternal value will last, things like the sharing of our faith, the sacrifices we make in Jesus’ name, and the acts of service we do out of love for God.
(APP) Let us make sure that we are investing our lives in things that will last into eternity, not things that are flammable.
(TRANS) That is the judgment fort the believer. The judgment for the unbeliever is very different. The book of Revelation describes it this way:
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.
12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.
GRAPHIC: Throne (bottom line)
Whereas the believer stands before the judgment seat of Christ to be rewarded, the unbeliever stands before the great white throne of God Almighty to be judged to determine guilt or innocence.
Did you see how that judgment is determined? According to what they had done. Since they have never trusted in Christ’s death to pay for their sinful deeds, they are judged based on those deeds. Anything less than 100% perfection 100% of the time is enough to declare a guilty verdict.
(APP) May I speak very frankly with you? They are many who think that God will somehow weigh our good deeds and our bad deeds and see which way the scale tips. That’s not what God tells us in the Bible. He’s made it very clear that we can never do enough good deeds to erase our bad ones. You are either perfect or you are not.
I fear there are many folks who come to church, give some money, try to avoid the really bad sins, and think that they’ve somehow earned God’s approval. We cannot earn it. If we stand before God on our own merits, we will never meet his standard. We will be declared guilty. The only way to be prepared to meet a holy God is to have your sin debt totally erased by the payment Jesus made for you. Are you ready? In whose righteousness are you standing, Jesus’ or your own?
(TRANS) Keep that question in mind as we look at the final step in this journey. We’ve looked at two paths after we die, leading to two different resurrections and two different judgments. Now, we will look at two final destinies.
For those who know Christ, they can look forward to the new heaven and new earth described a few verses later in Revelation:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
GRAPHIC: Heavenly City (top line)
The one made righteous by Jesus will dwell in the heavenly city with God in worship, beauty, and perfection throughout all eternity.
(TRANS) But for the unbeliever who has just been declared guilty, it is now time for sentencing.
Remember at the beginning of our discussion this morning we said there are actually two hells. The first was Hades, a holding cell where the unrighteous awaited their trial. This second hell is called Gehenna.
GRAPHIC: Lake of Fire (bottom line)
It is named after a valley just outside Jerusalem which was used as a city dump not only for garbage, but also for the dead bodies of criminals. There was constantly a fire burning there to consume all the refuse.
Jesus borrows this image and name to describe the place where the unrighteous will ultimately be punished. Look at a couple verses on the screens:
47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,
48 where "'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'
28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Hell is often pictured as a place where the devil rules, tormenting those who live there. Actually, the Bible paints a very different picture.
Look at this verse from Matthew where he talks about hell:
41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
The original design for Gehenna was as a place of torment for Satan and the other angels who rebelled against God. At the end of time, that’s where Satan will be punished. Revelation says:
10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
When you put all this together, you see that Gehenna, this second hell, is a place of fiery torment that never, never, never ends.
Look with me now at the sentencing for the unrighteous person:
15 If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
After being in the fire of Hades for at least a thousand years, the unbeliever is judged and condemned to an eternity of torment in the lake of fire and burning sulfur.
Why do we spend so much time talking about this difficult subject? Look at your diagram. These two paths are one-way streets. There is no cross-street between them, no U-turns. Once you die, your eternal trajectory is set. There are no second chances. If you repent and give your life over to Jesus now, you are destined for heaven. If you don’t, when you die, you have lost your chance.