We continue our discussion of good preaching and we begin to get practical.
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Here’s the full text of David Bayly’s funeral sermon that we mention in the body of the episode:
Bob Forney Funeral Sermon
Appointed Once to Die…
December 12, 2022
27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
The reason for death…
What is the reason for death? Its purpose? Its function?
This is a question we must ask to rise above the animal….
But, for many today, this is a question blithely and dishonestly answered.
Death, they say, is good. It is a return to the cosmos. The circle of life being completed. Me going on my way to where I came. Hunter S. Thompson having his ashes blasted into space.
We speak of a “good death” and of wanting such a death ourselves. We speak approvingly of euthanasia and request it for ourselves, and if we are medical professional, unacknowledgedly but very clearly practice it on behalf of others.
But the good death does not exist, and those who speak of it are lying to themselves and others. The Bible says, “evil men love death,” and this is true. Good death is a concept only in the evil heart. Death is an enemy, the Bible says, never a friend. And those who make peace with death, use death and clasp death embrace an enemy.
And really, those who speak of a good death are usually speaking of the death of others. It was a good death for the millions of peasants who starved under Stalin, by his command, because according to Marxist theory, the peasant class had to disappear to enable the glorious flowering of communism. The same with Mao’s Great Leap Forward under which millions of Chinese were killed and starved. It may have been a leap forward for Mao. It certainly wasn’t for the millions he killed.
Even in our own lives, even when we embrace death as good ourselves—and you may argue that those who believe in the good death actually believe it for themselves—the truth is seen in our members. I knew a blind art teacher. He was not always a blind art teacher. He had been a seeing art teacher, but as a young man he decided death would be better than life, put a gun to his head, pulled the trigger and shot himself. But the portion of his mind that commanded his hands to do this act was a traitor to the rest of his body and the rest of his mind, and the surviving portion of his brain, which even as he was unconscious fought the part that had decreed death, and with his lungs and his heart and all his organs rallied a defense of life that successfully defeated the traitor mind that had decreed their death. And they won. Even in your body, your will for a good death is a minority. This is why people insist on the right to “assisted suicide,” because they know the body will leap at the chance to defeat the betraying member in its midst that decrees death for it.
No, death is NOT good. It cannot be because it is the last enemy we face in life. It is an enemy, and any attempt to define euthanasia or abortion or suicide as good is a lie—and your organs know it and fight it as an enemy. Which is the real you? That small portion that says “Die,” or the entire rest of the body which responds, “Live! Fight! Survive!”?
No. Death is an anvil against which life is flung. It is not embraced. It cannot be embraced as a friend or a good thing by anyone who honors truth.
What is the reason for death then? You may say, “Death just is.” It has no reason, no purpose. It is simply natural and inescapable, a universal law.
If you took physics at some point in your life you might think death is related to the second law of thermodynamics. The second law of thermodynamics is the principle which states that heat always moves from hotter to colder objects unless outside energy is supplied. It’s also known as the law of entropy, that the universe as a whole together with all its systems and parts tends only toward disorder.
The second law of thermodynamics states in a nutshell that things fall apart. Things must fall apart. Things only fall apart. Without external energy supplied, things can do nothing but fall apart. No law of physics seems more true in light of personal experience. Toys, gardens, houses, cars, organizations, nations and human bodies: all tend toward disorder, each falls apart over time.
But actually, if you believe in evolution you should see a reason for death, maybe not a conscious principle death follows, but nonetheless, a purpose and goal for this law of disorder and decay which makes a good of it and gives a reason for it. Darwinism says death accomplishes a basic goal of physical organisms by serving as the anvil against which species beat themselves to improve their species, causing stronger, fitter lines and races to be forged.
But is death truly a natural law? Is death written in stone on the face of the universe? Today, facing death, we ask, is this most basic way in which things fall apart necessary? If so, why? Why is death necessary? Is it truly natural? Is the disorder caused by death in its many forms—the disruption of families, the departure of loved ones, the loss of accumulated wisdom, the decline and decay of human bodies—is this falling apart demanded by nature?
It seems natural, doesn’t it? Evolution declares that the biological universe depends on the survival of the fittest, that biological advancement comes from life fighting the inevitability of death, that growth issues from the challenge to survive, to stave off death, to succeed, inch by painful inch, in forcing back the darkness of entropy. But darkness must win, right? Things do fall apart. Nothing in the universe is certain but death, entropy and taxes, right?
Our passage from Hebrews in the Word of God declares several truths about death which may come as a surprise to many of us this afternoon.
- Death is appointed…
The first startling truth we find in these verses is that death is far from natural. Our passage tells us that it is appointed for men to die. Death is an appointed end for man. To be appointed something must be decreed. Appointment does not lie within the power of the appointed. Appointment requires decretal power. To be appointed there must be authority to decree, with power sufficient to bring it to pass.
The Bible says death is appointed. There’s a world in that word: “It is appointed for men to die once.” Decreed. Requiring authority and power sufficient to bring it to pass.
We think of death as natural—the result of basic forces, a requirement of the physical universe. But what part of the universe requires death? Why must things fall apart? In my mind I can imagine a world where things only improve, a world without death, a world where instead of decay there is order and development. You can imagine such a world as well. Doesn’t evolution actually posit such a world in a long-term way? Why must entropy be? Why must things fall apart? In fact, most people on earth do not believe this is natural because most people on earth actually believe in a world where this does not happen, and they look forward to that world. They may call it Heaven or paradise or nirvana, but they believe death is unnatural, a foe to be fought.
And they are right. Death is not natural. Death is decreed. The garden does not naturally produce weeds that choke out plants. It is decreed. Things do not naturally fall apart. Floods do not naturally take place. Earthquakes are not natural phenomena. As the insurance underwriters still say and as our wiser ancestors believed, these are “acts of God.”
Yet though we can imagine it and many of us believe in it, this is not our world. Why not? What forces life to end? Why can’t life go on and on and on? You say, “Biology.” I say, “Who says?” You respond “Nature.” I ask, “Says who?”
Death is not natural. Nothing about death is natural. If you think death is in accord with nature you are blind to nature. Nature at times is red in tooth and claw. But far more often than red in tooth and claw, we see in nature beauty, tranquility and harmony. Nature itself shouts that death is an outlier, that viewed even by its light death is an interloper and an enemy, unnatural and an abomination. You say death is “natural?” How many deaths have you observed as a caretaker? Natural?? Have you ever killed a mammal? Natural??? Do you look at the twisted body of the dog on the side of the road and fail to realize the absurdity of death, that death is an abomination: one moment alive, loved, loping along, the next a broken carcass? Death is natural? Then nature is a beast, an abomination, the work of demons. Death is natural only if nature is deformed.
And nature is deformed….
According to God’s Word, nature is a picture of God who is eternal, nature reflects the nature of its Creator. The Bible says that the world and the heavens above declare the glory of God. Nature is peaceful at heart. Nature is generous at heart. Nature is benign and kind at heart. Death is not natural.
Death is clearly no more natural than evil is natural, than sin and depravity are natural. This is what the Bible says: God’s Word says this remarkable thing, that nature suffers under slavery, a bondage to futility and corruption, in short, to death:
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21)
There was a time when death was not. The decree of death went out from Heaven as a result of sin. God decreed death, removing the Tree of Life from the Garden at the same time, and with it the possibility of man living forever. Man was thus appointed to die as a result of sin. Death is not the way the universe worked initially. Death has a cause. It came later. And the cause of death is found in you and me, in our sin. We offend God, our Creator. We turn away from Him. We reject Him. Death is not the anvil of evolution against which organisms fling themselves to become fitter. Death is the anvil of God against which He hammers us, against which sin forces us, so that we will turn to our Maker for help and hope.
- Death is appointed by God…
Death is appointed. That is the first truth in our passage. The second rises from the first. To be appointed, there must be authority and power to do so: power as universal as death itself, power covering all time and crossing all space, power stretching to the deepest seas and the highest heights, power touching king and pauper alike, paying no respect to status, no respect to wealth, no respect to age, power that can even cause the eternal, omnipotent and sinless Son of God to die on a cross.
That’s the power of death. That the Son of God could die on a cross is an immensity we can’t grasp. He was Creator. He is Sustainer. In Him all things hold together. His death on the cross is ultimate proof that death is appointed, not natural, not caused or brought about by any power but His own, even though humans hammered the nails and thrust the spear. And this is true. Death held no power over Jesus. It could not claim Him naturally. The Bible says that Jesus gave up His Spirit in death. It was not taken from Him. Speaking of His upcoming death Jesus said to His disciples,
For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.
He was fully human, fully man. But He had no sin and therefore death had no power to claim Him. The power of death resides in God. Man is forced to die, appointed to die by God. God the Son, Jesus Christ had to will His own death. He could die by no other power but His own. The causes of death are as varied as the flowers of the field. The instrumentality of death is vast. The authority behind death is singular. Death is appointed by God. As a consequence for human sin. Inescapable. Irreversible. Universal. Your day and hour appointed. Mine. All of ours.
- Death is appointed for judgment…
Death is appointed rather than natural. Death is governed by God. And third, death is appointed for judgment.
I wonder at times if those who speak about a “good death” and who call death natural and speak of it as though we have control over it, have ever actually faced death. Death natural? Have you every pulled a fish from the lake and looked at the hook in its mouth, the instrument if its imminent death, without a twinge of horror? Have you cut the head off a flopping fish without being sobered? Have you watched as a butterfly desperately heaved to escape the spider web? Have you seen a man weep moments after his dog was struck on the road in front of his house? Have you watched a four-year-old with leukemia hemorrhage, agonizingly bleed to death hour after hour in bed at home, dying slowly until the last flicker of breath departs with the last hemorrhage of blood after all medical treatment has failed? You say death is natural? You don’t believe it. You would have to believe nature is obscene to believe this because death is an obscenity.
And yet I say, and Scripture says, this obscenity is appointed by God? How can it be? The answer is that death is the terrible cure for an even more terrible illness. Sin is the greater obscenity of which death is the end. Sin is the foulest thing on earth, fouler by far than death, and we are the founders of sin, we are the ones who choose sin, we are the ones who kill, who lust, who commit unspeakable acts sexually, who lie and steal, who horde our wealth in the face of the poor, who speak ill of others, who gossip, who hate, who breed bitterness. Death ends sin. Only death puts a stop to sin. Hitler would be living and killing today but for death. Stalin too. You. Your sin going on forever as well.
We are the cause of death. We give death its power. Our sin is the reason for death. We forced death on the earth, on the puppies, on the butterflies, on the trout in the stream and the babies in the womb. We are the agents of destruction and entropy in the universe. We chose sin. We choose it day by day.
God has appointed death as the end of sin. We die to face God. We die to pass through from earth to Heaven where we will enter the presence of God. Death is the arrest of the sinner by its Maker, the summons of the sinful soul from God the Judge Eternal.
This is why man dies. It is appointed that man die to face judgment. Death is the anvil of God against which sinful man is flung. Death will make you or destroy you. You will either be shaped by fear of death into a Son of God through repentance and faith or you will die cursing God, cursing death, cursing the world in rebellion against your Maker.
Man dies. And when He dies he enters the presence of God where he will give an account for the deeds done in this life. This is the disturbing point found in these verses. All die. All face judgment after death.
The English pastor John Donne wrote these words:
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
Look at death wherever it exists, wherever you see it, wherever the bell tolls and understand that it is ultimately your own. You face it. You cause it. You will pass through it. And when you pass through it you will come face-to-face with God.
Death is appointed for judgment. Just as the gun on a police officer’s belt serves as a warning, death is a warning. Consider your life. Consider your ways. Will you stand in the judgment? Will you escape the verdict of guilty by God and the following sentence of eternal death which the Bible differentiates from the death of the physical body by calling it the “second death”?
- Jesus saves from the second death…
My friends, something so deeply unnatural as death is only explainable by an equally great obscenity as its cause. And there is. The obscenity making sense of death, in light of which death is reasonable, is sin. Sin is the unnatural thing. Sin is the obscenity. Sin is the reason and cause of death. And we are all sinners. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Death ends sin. Death ends entropy. Death takes control of the lawbreaker. Death handcuffs the rebel. Death is a universal arrest warrant and summons to the court of God. But the death of the body is only the first death.
28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
You will face death, the first death of the physical body. It is appointed. But will you escape the second death, eternal death, the death of your soul God promises to those who do not embrace His Son?
What escape is there? How can we be saved from this fate by Jesus? Our passage makes clear that Jesus died, “having been offered once to bear the sins of many.” Jesus died of His own volition, His own will as a sacrifice for the sins of many. Notice that it’s not “all.” It’s “many.” Jesus died for the sins of many, and to those for whom He died He will appear in the Heavens, in this physical sky, a second time. His first appearance was announced by angels on the day we celebrate as Christmas, the day Christ was born on His mission to earth to become our sacrifice by dying for us. His second appearance will not be as a baby come to earth to die, but as God Almighty, arriving with trumpet blast, accompanied by armies of angels, His glory blazoned across the sky. He will appear as Savior to those who have trusted Him, and for the many whose sins He bore on the cross He will put to death any possibility of the second death.
But to those who have denied Him on earth he will appear as judge.
Are you part of that “many” who will be saved by Him?
Death is an anvil. A great rock wall against which all mankind is flung. Some come through the experience improved. Some are made better. They face death honestly. They acknowledge that they are not the masters of their own destiny in the end, but sinners on their way through death to stand before God their Make—and thus they turn to Him in repentance.
Will you survive death, saved by the offering of Christ to bear your sins? If you are not saved by Jesus, it will be because you have been a sad and self-pitying rebel in this life. You have felt sorry for yourself rather than admitting that you are to blame. You have raged against death rather than against yourself for causing your death.
Give up the self pity. It’s a strange and grotesque thing to go through life as a perpetual victim. It’s the manner of many today. But it’s lacking all courage and it denies the truth.
You are not a victim of entropy. You are not a victim at death. You are not bullied by God. You have made your destiny. You are responsible for where and who you are. Take stock of this fact and face your Maker honestly. Face your sin and look to Jesus the Saviour. Or deny your sin and face Jesus your Judge.