In my business, for lack of a better description, I see a lot of people die. I bury a lot of people. I was going through a record of funerals that I have given over the past several years, names of people, and I was considering them this week and as I was reading them certain names came to my mind as very poignant and easy to remember. Some were very sad funerals. The death of a child is always sad. The death of a young mother—also very sad. Suicide victims. Murder victims. Soldiers in battle died at a young age. Those are tough.
But then there were some other funerals that were really wonderful, filled with joy. Those who had lived a long life. They knew the Lord. They passed on that heritage to their family and friends, influencing so many people and they were ready to go home to be with the Lord. Those are wonderful times. Then there were other funerals that frankly were very confusing because I just didn’t know where that person stood with the Lord. And I know that everybody wants the preacher to push their relative over into heaven at the funeral but I can’t do that. So it was tough. It was very confusing. And I’ll just say this, take it from someone who’s done this for a number of years, people die differently. Two come to my mind in terms of contrast. One by the name of Tony, walked into his hospital room before his death and he was panicked, filled with such fear as an unbeliever, at least at that point. Then I remember walking into Barb’s room. Now Barb was full of life. I remember her sitting in church, always smiled, always had her Bible open, always trusted in the Lord. But she was dying at a young age of a very, very rare disease and as I walked into her room, I was a bit taken aback when she sat up in bed and she looked at me and she smiled and she said, I’m ready to go!
People die differently. I want to read to you the account of two people from history who have similar stories. One, Thomas Paine, very influential as an intellectual in early America, wrote the book Age of Reason, wrote many books. That’s probably his most famous. The Age of Reason. He was an unbeliever. When he died, he said I would give worlds if I had them that The Age of Reason had not been published. Oh Lord, help me. Christ, help me. Oh God, what have I done to suffer so much? But there is no God. If there should be, what will become of me hereafter? Stay with me for God’s sake. Send even a child to stay with me for it is hell to be alone. If ever the devil had an agent, I have been that one. That is the worst way to die. Summed up in a nutshell. Now contrast that with the words of John Newton. You know him. He wrote Amazing Grace. He was a slave trader turned believer, died at the age of 82, the last months of his life were spent confined to a single room. Among his last words were: I am like a person going on a journey in a stagecoach who expects its arrival every hour and is frequently looking out the window for it. I am packed and sealed and ready for the post. God’s amazing grace was even evident at the time of his death.
I want to talk to you today about the worst way to die and the best way to die. I’m doing that because, as I see it, that’s the emphasis of the paragraph we’re about to read in John chapter 8. Jesus speaks of dying three times in that short paragraph as if to imply everybody in that audience He was speaking to would indeed one day die and they did. Also He alludes to His own death two times in this paragraph because that is the key to a person dying the right way. So we’re gonna pick it up in verse 21: “Jesus said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come.” So the Jews said, “Will He kill Himself, because He says, ‘Where I go you cannot come’?” And He said to them, “You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” Then they said to Him, “Who are You?” And Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning. I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.” They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father. Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.”
There’s something that I’ve noticed and this accentuates it for me. Maybe you’ve noticed it as well. So far in the Gospel of John, we’ve seen that Jesus has a knack of boiling everything down to the irreducible minimum. You’re either this way or that way. He just sort of boils everything down to its simplest form. As an example, this is what we’ve learned so far in John. Either you’re in the light or you’re in darkness. You’re either born again or you’re not born again and not entering the kingdom. You are either going to be in the resurrection of life or you’re gonna be in the resurrection of damnation. You are either dying of thirst or you’re thirst will be quenched by the living water. You either labor for food that perishes or for food that endures to everlasting life. See how everything is just boiled down to the unmistakable simplest form? So it is in this paragraph. You either die this way or you die that way.
Now we’re gonna consider first of all the worst way to die and it’s summed up in your bulletin by three statements: in sin, in self-righteousness, and in worldliness. Go to verse 21: “Jesus said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek Me, and you will die in your sin.” Now did you notice that it’s singular in verse 21 but plural in verse 24? Verse 24: “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins”. Maybe it’s helpful to make this distinction. The first, sin singular, is sin in its essence. Sin plural, sins, is sin in its expression. One is because we have a sin nature and the other is simply the expression of that nature. I sin because I’m a sinner. If you hear a dog bark, you don’t say it’s a dog because it barks but rather you say it barks because it’s a dog. That’s its nature. See, I can bark and I have faked out some pretty good dogs in my time but a dog barks because it has that nature and it expresses itself in that nature. So with people it’s the same. We commit sins because we have the nature of being a sinner. If a person dies without any change to that, that is the worst way to die.
Now we gotta press this a little bit further. How did we get to be sinners? What’s up with that? When did that happen? Was it when I turned a teenager? Is that it? My parents may have thought so. No you gotta go back further than teenage years. How about two? When you turn two, you know, the terrible twos, is that when, wow, that’s when the sin nature manifests itself? No you gotta go back further than that. How about birth? Was it when I was born? No actually you have to keep going further back all the way to your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great… Grandpa Adam.
We’re part of that family. We’re part of the Adam’s Family. We have that nature. Paul does a beautiful job in outlining the progression of what happened in Romans chapter 5 when he says by one man sin entered the world and death entered through sin. And then he goes on to say death spread and then finally death reigned. That’s the progression. Sin entered, death entered, death spread, death reigned. And that happened because of Adam. Adam did it. He set death in motion. Adam acted as the federal head of all of the human race when he sinned. Why is it important to know that? Because this answers a fundamental question that every person asks, I believe, in every generation. And that is, why is the world as bad as it is? Why, after thousands of years, haven’t we learned from previous generations and solved all the world’s problems like famine and hunger and murder and war? Why is it that we seem to be escalating in those things rather than diminishing? Who do we blame for that? Do we blame the Democrats or the Republicans or the United Nations or do we blame the liberal media or do we blame Lady Gaga or whoever else we want to blame? That would be wrong to blame them. It stems from deep within the heart of every single person and it goes all the way back to Adam. When Adam sinned, he generated a constitutional change in his very character that was passed down to us.
Whenever I talk about this, a picture comes to my mind of a family vacation at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. You ever been to Jackson Lake? Beautiful. Foot of the Grand Tetons. On that summer day, the four Heitzig boys were standing at the shore of Jackson Lake. The four Heitzig boys at that time had a fully formed sin nature. The Grand Tetons was a perfect mirror-like reflection that morning, I’ll never forget it. But we were four little boys and that was a placid lake and somebody had to do it. I don’t know if it was me or my oldest brother, but one of us took a stone and tossed it at that beautiful lake, skipping the stone across, and as soon as we did, ripples shot across the lake and marred the image of the mountains that we were seeing. That’s effectively what Adam did. He was the guy that first threw the rock and marred the image of God within man so that everyone born after him has the image marred, marred. And so we were born into this world dead the Bible says. Dead on arrival. Paul says in Ephesians chapter 2: and you He has made alive who were dead in trespasses.
So here’s a question. What’s the solution to spiritual death? Spiritual birth. Born again. Jesus said unless a man is born again He will never see the kingdom of God. So here’s the worst way to die. Dying of sins unrepented of and unatoned for is the worst way to die. It’s a famous illustration. Many have used it. I’ve used it. The only thing is I actually have the photograph of the tombstone itself from the east coast. A real tombstone reads this: pause stranger, as you pass me by, as you are now, so once was I, as I am now so you will be, so prepare for death and follow me. That’s written on a tombstone. Somebody saw that and wrote a little sign next to it; this I don’t have a picture of, I only heard it. And the sign read: to follow you I’m not content, until I know which way you went. Good advice. Worst way to die is to die in your sin.
Following along on those heels is also to die in self-righteousness. It’s all part of the same package. Look at verse 22: “So the Jews said, “Will He kill Himself, because He says, ‘Where I go you cannot come’?” You gotta understand that that is a very sadistic and self-righteous comment they just made and I’m gonna give you a little background to help you understand this. 2,000 years ago in Jewish thinking if a person killed themselves, committed suicide, they would have reserved for them the darkest place in hell. Even Josephus, their historian, wrote the souls of those whose hands have done violence to their own lives go to the darkest Hades and God will visit the sins of the evildoers on their descendants.
So when they say where is He going, is He going to kill Himself, here’s what they’re saying. He must mean He’s going to hell and He’s right. We won’t follow Him there. They are so smug and so self-righteous. What they’re basically saying is we, the Pharisees, we’re going to heaven. Jesus is going to hell. That’s self-righteousness. Smug self-righteousness. Solomon, Proverbs 30 verse 12, said there are those who are pure in their own eyes and are yet not cleansed of their filth. You know what the worst form of badness is? The worst form of badness is goodness that substitutes itself for the new birth. That’s the worst form of badness—self-righteousness. The worst form of badness is goodness that substitutes itself for the new birth.
Dwight Lyman Moody, the preacher from Chicago 100 years ago, he said you can always tell that a person is far from God by how much they talk about how good they are. Just a dead giveaway. They want to talk about about how good… I’m good and I try and I work hard and don’t you know? You can always tell that person’s far, far away from God. Man is incurably addicted to working for his own salvation, his own righteousness.
Did you know there’s only one righteousness God will accept and it’s not righteousness that comes from you, it’s the righteousness that comes to you through Jesus Christ. That’s the only one He’ll accept. That’s why Jesus even said unless your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom. When He said that everybody went what?! Who could be holier than the scribes and Pharisees? They try so hard! Jesus said not good enough because the only righteousness God will accept, here’s the biblical, theological term, is imputed righteousness. That is, Jesus’ perfect record is put to your account by your faith in Him.
Here’s the third, all part of the worst way to die, and that is in worldliness. Verse 23: “And He said to them, “You are from beneath”, imagine having Jesus say that to you, “You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” In other words, you and I are from two totally different dimensions. I’m from heaven and I’m going back to heaven. You, you’re all about this earth, this world. You’re from here—beneath—the world.
The word Jesus used is a word some of you are very familiar with, others should be. It’s the word cosmos. You’ve heard it, yes? Cosmos. Cosmology. Cosmopolitan. We get those words from cosmos. John uses the term cosmos 77 times in his writings. It’s a word that doesn’t refer to the world like the earth or the world of people, but the system, the ideology. When Jesus uses this term and when most New Testament writers use this term, it speaks of an ordered system of values, ideas, activities, people that are opposed to God and under, the Bible says, the control of the devil. 2 Corinthians 4 Paul calls Satan the god of this world who has blinded the minds of those who believe not. That’s the world as Jesus used… you’re from that, this system. I’m from above. Big distinction. Big contrast.
Here’s something to make a note of. The people Jesus was talking to? They were religious people. They were spiritual people. But Jesus calls them worldly people. Isn’t that amazing? Did you know that within this world system there are many religious, there’s a lot of religion and spirituality and intellectualism and cultured stuff, all opposed to God? All opposed to Christ. And they’re not too crazy about you. That’s the world that we live in.
So let me sum it up. Here’s the worst way to die. The worst way to die is with your sins unrepented of and unatoned for, smugly clinging to your own self-righteousness, I’m a good person, I deserve, I work hard, and living for the world with enough religion to blind you from your real need. That’s the worst way to die.
But let’s flip that coin. Let’s turn it over because if there’s a worst way, then there’s a best way. Now what is the best way to die? It’s summed up in three statements. Again, they’re in your outline and they’re part of the text: belief in His person, the person of Christ, confidence in His work, His work for you, and fixed on His Word.
Let’s explore those three. Go to verse 24. There’s one word I want to draw your attention to. “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if”. If there was any word that I would circle in that verse, it would be that word ‘if’. To me, that’s the hinge. To me, that word means there are other options. You don’t have to die in your sins for, verse 24, “if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” The word if introduces the only way of escape. Richard Lenski in his great commentary on this says the if clause in this verse is pure gospel. It opens the door of life in the wall of sin. That’s the best way to die: belief in the person of Christ.
Now evidently, some did that the day Jesus spoke these words. Verse 30: “As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.” Stop right there. What are we to believe about Him? After all how many times have you heard people say I believe, I believe, I believe in Jesus, He’s a good guy? Neat guy. Great teacher. Inspirational. Compassionate. I believe in Him. What exactly are we to believe in Him? Look at verse 24 a little more carefully: “For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
In your Bibles, is the word ‘he’ italicized? You know why that is? Because it’s not in the original. It was added by the translators. Modern translations added the word ‘He’ as the predicate, but in the original Greek language it’s simply, “If you do not believe that I am you will die in your sins.” Two Greek words. Eimai. I AM. Eimai. If you do not believe ego imi, that I AM, you will die in your sins. Ok, now, to Jewish ears 2,000 years ago, you know what they were thinking? It’s unmistakable what they were thinking. Their minds went back to Exodus chapter 3, first time that phrase is ever introduced, when Moses was gonna deliver the children of Israel, remember the story, and Moses is at the Burning Bush and he goes ah, give me a name here. They’re gonna ask me who sent you? Who will I tell the children of Israel is the One that sent me? Here’s God’s answer: I AM that I AM. You tell them the I AM has sent you. If you were to look at that verse in the translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint version, where they took the Hebrew and put it into Greek, it’s the words eimai. I AM.
Furthermore, of the times that is used in the Old Testament, I’m gonna read to you Deuteronomy 32 verse 39. This is what it says: “Now see that I, even I, am He, and there is no God besides Me”. If I were to read that to you in the Septuagint or Greek translation, it would read this: Now see that I, even eimai, and there is no God besides Me”. So here’s Jesus, comes on the scene, and He says if you do not believe ego imi, you’ll die in your sins. Jesus is making an unmistakable direct claim to Deity. That He is God. The God. And I’m not making that up. There’s no other way to view it.
How do I know that? Well just go down to verse 58, same conversation, same chapter: “Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was” what? “I AM.” What did they do with that? Did they go huh? Ok. That’s cool. Verse 59: “Then they took up stones to throw at Him”. Why would they do that? Because that’s the punishment for blasphemy. They knew exactly who He was claiming to be. So you put all that together and this is what it means: to be a Christian you have to believe the full, biblical revelation of Jesus Christ—that He is God in a body. That He is the second Person of the Trinity, incarnated into the virgin womb of a woman, born to this earth, crucified for our sins, risen from the dead, and coming back. And unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.
Can you see now why when somebody goes I believe in Jesus, He’s a good example, great person, inspirational—it’s not enough! It’s not enough. Best way to die is believing—that—believing Him. Second is confidence in His work. Verse 28 He speaks of His work: “Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am… and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.” That’s a reference to His crucifixion. When you read that phrase ‘lifted up’, Jesus being lifted up, it’s not speaking of worshiping Him or exalting Him, it’s speaking of crucifying Him. John chapter 3, He said as Moses lifted up that serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up. Moses put that snake on a pole and lifted it up. The Son of Man will be lifted up on the cross.
So here’s what He’s saying. When I die on the cross, then you will know that I am who I claim to be. Now a question: did that happen when Jesus died? Did people know that He was who He claimed to be? Well yes they did. In fact, some of them immediately did. One was a criminal crucified next to Him who said to Him, Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom. Jesus said today you’ll be with Me in paradise. Second guy was a Roman soldier who said after Jesus died, truly this was the Son of God.
But the real, um, fulfillment of this prophecy of Jesus, and it is a prophecy, came weeks later when thousands of these very same people from Jerusalem in the crowd that day came to know that Jesus was who He claimed. The Day of Pentecost. Acts chapter 2. Peter’s giving a message and Peter says this: you, by your wicked hands, have taken Jesus and crucified Him and slain Him along with the Gentiles. But God raised Him from the dead because death could not hold Him. The Bible says they were cut to the heart and they said what must we do and Peter gave them the answer: you must repent. And 3,000 did. And 3,000 were baptized that day. And that was the beginning of a groundswell of thousands upon thousands of them believing as Jesus said they would, confident in His work.
Here’s my point. The cross that Jesus speaks of is the ultimate remedy. It’s the reason no one has to die in their sins. I’ll put it to you this way: Jesus died for your sin so that you wouldn’t have to die in your sin. Those are the two options. Either you let Him take your sin or you die in your sin. So here’s the best way to die: belief in His Person, confidence in His work. By the way, no wonder that probably the central theme in Christian songwriting, hymnology, through the centuries, the theme most often written about is the cross. The sacrifice. The blood that was shed. The redemption. The atonement. That’s the biggie. Because this is the biggie.
Third is to be fixed on His Word. That’s the best way to die, to be fixed on His Word. Verse 25: “They said to Him, “Who are You?” Now this was also they didn’t believe in Him. They weren’t like saying, you know, we’re really curious. It’s sort of like who do You think You are? Who are You? Jesus said, “Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning. I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.”
Understand this. Jesus is and has been speaking His words to them. Those are words that come from heaven because He was sent from heaven. He was going back to heaven. And here is God speaking words into our world and the best way to die is to have your heart fixed on His words because His words point you to His world. I am from above and I’m going back. And here’s what happens. When you trust in Christ, when you believe in His Person and you trust in His work, something happens to you. You who were once a part of this world are no longer part of this world. You get out of the system. You are the ultimate revolutionary. Counterculture person. You were once a part of this world but, as soon as you come to Christ, you’re no longer a part of it. John 17 Jesus prays concerning His disciples: Father, they are not of this world just as I am not of this world. So here’s your new position as a believer. You’re in the world but you’re not of the world. You’re in it but not of it. That’s a very important thing for every believer to realize. In it—but not of it.
In fact, you know what you’re like? You’re like an astronaut or a scuba diver. You can survive in a foreign environment but you need special equipment to pull it off. You need breathing apparatus, special kind of a suit, because that’s not your environment. That’s not your element, to be in outer space or under the water. So for you and I to survive in this world we also need the breathing apparatus of prayer and fellowship and reading our Bible and encouragement. We need that. If we don’t realize that we’re in it but not of it, that we’re going to a whole different place and our focus is now on that place, if we don’t realize that, we’ll be swallowed up by it.
Listen to the words of a catechism I’m about to read to you. It’s a Norwegian catechism and it’s written so that kids can understand this concept and it pictures God speaking to the inhabitants of the earth, the saved ones, as being on an island colony called the earth. Here’s the catechism words, God warning man: The greatest danger is that you may fall in love with this island so that you will not care to return to the home kingdom. Love the island because it is My possession but do not love it because it is your home. It is not your home. Your home is here in the palace with Me. No wonder then that the second greatest theme in Christian songwriting and hymnology after the cross are songs about heaven. Because His Word points us to His world. Heavenward.
So let me sum this up now. Here’s the best way to die. The best way. The best way is believing in Jesus Christ as God, trusting in His work on the cross, holding onto His Word which points us to His world. That’s the best way to die. Now allow me in closing to boil it down to the irreducible minimum. Let me do it this way. Is there anybody here this morning who’s going through a tough time, a trial, a hardship in their life at all? Really? That’s it? The rest of you… I don’t know you then. You I know, with hands raised, you I know. Sometimes those trials can get really tough. They cause you to even be shaken in your faith. Here’s what I want you to know. This is as close as you’ll ever get to hell. This is as bad as it gets. This is as bad as it gets. You go, that’s good, because it’s pretty bad! It’s not gonna ever get any worse. As bad as it gets on earth, this is as bad as it’ll ever get. This is the closest you’ll ever get to hell. That should carry you through a lot.
If you’re not a believer, this is as close as you’ll ever get to heaven. That’s sobering. That’s sobering. It gets much worse than this. much worse. Whenever I meet an obstinate unbeliever, the kind who says yeah, yeah, whatever, I’m not interested in your Jesus, I’m gonna do my thing my way, then my last piece of advice is simply this: if that’s where you’re gonna live and stay friend, then make sure that you suck this life like you suck an orange. Get every last drop of pleasure out of it because it’s the last good time you’ll ever have. That’s sobering. You’re going to die. Unless the Lord returns soon, you’re gonna die. I’m gonna die. Will you die with regrets like Thomas Paine or will you die with joy like John Newton? I’m packed, man. I’m not Pac-Man. I’m packed, man—and ready for the post. I pray that you are.