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What Luther Says

Celebrity Deaths And The Truth We Can't Escape

This entry is about celebrity deaths and the truth we can't escape.

Death was not a part of God's original creation. Genesis 1 gives us proof of that. In Genesis 1, we hear the wonderful refrains "It was good" and "It was very good" even. Life was flourishing! Death was not a part of God's good creation.

However, everything changed forever when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sinned. Genesis 3:19 and Genesis 3:22-28 tells us why every human being born since then, every one a descendant of Adam, has an inheritance of sin and death.

The truth we can't escape? Each and every one of us is a sinner (Psalm 51:5). As a result, each and every one of us will die, because death is the judgment for our sin.

Romans 5:12 (ESV) Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

Romans 6:23 (ESV) For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Truth is, there's nothing we can do to eliminate death. Absolutely nothing. There is no human accomplishment, effort, or scientific-technological advancement that can help us cheat death and give us immortality. None. Sorry Ray Kurzweil.

Truth is, every single person ever born into this world will die, because death has a claim on all of us due to our sin. That's the reality and that will continue until the day the Lord returns.

What will you do when you are personally faced with death? Death could stare you in the face with a diagnosis of incurable cancer. Death could stare you in the face with a diagnosis of extremely risky surgery. Death could stare you in the face, as you see your mother, father, spouse, or child in a hospital -- in intensive care with breathing tube, intravenous feeding, and other life support -- then the doctor comes in and says, "I'm sorry, there is nothing more we can do for him -- and there is no hope of recovery. I'm very sorry." [Via]

What will you do when you are personally faced with death? That's the question and there are many possible answers, but there's only one answer that can provide true and lasting comfort, hope, and peace; only one answer that can help you to face death without fear and sorrow.

The truth we can't escape? We all need a Savior to rescue us from death. We must have a Savior who can save us from the power of this world's god (2 Corinthians 4:4), and this world's ruler (John 16:11), the devil. We must have a Savior who can save us from the power of sin and death.

But does such a Savior even exist? You bet He does!

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (ESV) 55 "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 2:14-15 (ESV) 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

Isaiah 25:7-9 (ESV) 7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, "Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation."

Thankfully, Christ is the true, eternal God, through whom all believers receive God's approval and are saved. Yes, death has a claim on us because of our sin, but Jesus had no sin, and so the grave had no claim on Him. So, while we still experience death, we now have a new life in Christ Jesus!

Furthermore, the life we now live is freed from the fear of our own death, because in Jesus we know that death is not the last word. Death is our enemy, but it is our defeated enemy thanks to the death and resurrection of Christ on our behalf. This determines our attitude, as Christians, towards death and dying.

For the non-believer, death is still a fearful thing. Every single day the news cycle gives us story after story involving the death of someone or some group of people. Some days we don't even need to turn on the TV. Sometimes it's a phone call we receive out of the blue to let us know that a loved one has died.

Such scenarios and the emotions associated with them are always heightened whenever a celebrity death occurs though. Lately, there have been quite a few that have gotten the world's attention. The most recent involved the "Fast And Furious" star, Paul Walker.

One great thing (yes, "great") to come from the news about the death of a celebrity is that it forces people to come face-to-face with their own mortality.

Sure, some might think it's "morbid" of me to point this out, but I hope that others see it as a compassionate gesture and a plea to prompt people to consider the reality that we all face regardless of our unique background and present day circumstances.

People die. Each and every one of you reading this right now will die some day. You can count on it. You, me, your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, your best friend, your boss, your co-worker, your neighbor. All of us.

Eternity is a long time. To live like we'll never die, or to act like it all doesn't matter one way or another, is a tragic state to be in, my dear friends. I would argue that what we believe about what happens to us when we die determines how we will live our lives here on earth while we still have them to live.

Of course, as we've already seen, God's Word gives us the answers to both this life and the life to come. God's Word also pulls no punches. We are sinners. This we know. We are going to die one day and leave this earth. This we know.

Hebrews 9:27 (ESV) And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

The great equalizer in this life is death. It doesn't matter where you come from, or what your life on this planet consists of at the moment, because we will all die one day. I cannot stress this enough, especially in this day-and-age when far too many people live life without a single thought about what will happen to them when they die.

Up until this point, I've been attempting to speak "the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) by presenting a message that's more Law than Gospel. Oh sure, there's been mention of Christ's "propitiation" for our sins (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10), but let's see if we can lift you up and give you hope by the promises born out of His grace and mercy.

The truth we can't escape? Who you know in this life can actually save you from death and get you to the life everlasting to come. I just love reading the next verse that follows the one from Hebrews highlighted above.

Hebrews 9:27-28 (ESV) 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

And so we discover that salvation from death is actually possible, but the holy Scriptures tell us that it's only through repentance, baptism, and faith in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who was crucified for the sins of all mankind having died and been resurrected to defeat death which is the result of our sins (Romans 6:23).

Because all humans die once, Christ's sacrifice cannot be repeated. Also, one cannot hope for a second life by which he might appease God through his own actions.

As Christians, do we know what we believe and why we believe it? Are we ready to give an account of these truths to those who ask and challenge us about it (2 Timothy 4:2) when these topics come up in casual conversation following the news about a celebrity's death? Because, make no mistake, it will come up (if it hasn't already). We need to be ready to tell them about the hope we have in Christ.

We return to the sermon we opened this piece with...

The people of the town of Nain in Galilee were filled with sorrow that day when Jesus happened to meet their funeral procession. There was not a dry eye in the crowd. No one was more sorrowful than the deceased’s mother, who was a widow. Not only was she living with the sadness of the loss of her husband, without remarriage, but here she lost her only son. She had thought he would provide and care for her until her old age. Now she had no one -- she was a "widow" in every sense of the term. Only poverty, sadness, and fear of the unknown were in front of her into the distant future.

Jesus’ first words to the widow was "Don’t weep!" That certainly does not sound very sympathetic. Everyone expected her to cry; anyone with a bit of empathy cried with her. But Jesus saw things differently, because he saw things that neither they, nor you, nor I can see. The people of Nain and the widow saw death, with lots to fear and sorrow over. Jesus saw the soul of the young man, which was not extinguished, although the body was absolutely dead. So Jesus called to the soul of that young man and said, "I say to you, arise," and the soul returned to its body. Jesus then gave the living young man to his joyful mother, and the crowds were amazed. This was one of three resurrections that Jesus accomplished, not including his own, which was a fourth.

Surely a seemingly "unsympathetic" Jesus to those who did not know Him, but an incredibly caring Savior to those who did know Him.

My dear friends, whenever a famous person dies I'm always reminded of how this should be an opportunity to remind ourselves that we will all die one day too. More importantly, it's an opportunity to receive God's free gift of salvation (2 Peter 3:9).

And so the question must be asked right now without me making any assumptions here, because Deuteronomy 29:29, Isaiah 55:11, and John 6:44 all tell me I have no way of knowing for sure.

Do you know what will happen to you when you die? The time for you to repent of your sins is right now! Not tomorrow, but today!
Acts 2:37-39 (ESV) 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38 And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."
Confess your sins to the Lord and ask Him for forgiveness, mercy, and salvation and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, because repentance, baptism, and faith in Him is what He commands in order to give you this glorious free gift called salvation (Acts 17:30), and also true hope of a future for all eternity with Him after death!

Unless you're a Christian "saved by grace through faith" (Ephesians 2:8-9) because "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16), then you have no chance of being given the gift of life after death in this world. None. All you have to look forward to is eternal damnation and eternal separation from the Lord.

In a nutshell? I encourage you to grab a Bible and take the time to read it and let God speak to you through His Word. Romans and John are great places to start.

God has seen fit to rescue you from evil men and even yourselves. He has shown you your Sin, the deep darkness sitting underneath that veneer of doing good. Your hearts are not good. Life is not a part of the idolatries you keep. Death has sold you a lie. But God knows that. He sent Jesus to deliver you out of the bondage of your idolatries to be ushered into a promised land filled with people forgiven by His work. Jesus takes on your idolatries and will not leave you stuck in the lie. He has redeemed you from that wicked master of death. Not only that He comforts you for all that you have or haven’t done while listening to the lies of death. As such you are free and forgiven. You are free from the guilt and condemnation of sins past.

God has granted you a great thing this day -- being alive to remember and be a part of memorial. This is the life that He gives to you -- a life that is filled with repentance and faith in Jesus. It is a life of leaving the lies of death behind, of taking all of the reasonable things the world may say to you and leaving them behind. A life of clinging to the Truth, clinging to Jesus, trusting His Word. His voice of the Gospel, it is the voice of life, and it drowns out the voice of death. And today in your hearing, He gives you life once again -- a life renewed and made right by what He has done for you. In the name of Jesus. Amen.


In other words, it's like Pastor Martin Noland shared in the sermon we've been referencing throughout this post...

What will you do when you are personally faced with death? If you are a believer in Jesus and His words, you really don’t need to fear or have sorrow. If you are the one who has received the diagnosis of death, then you know that when you die, your soul will be with Jesus and with all the departed believers who wear "white robes" in heaven (Revelation 7:9). If you are the one who is going to die, then you know that your soul will return to your own body on the Last Day and then you "will always be with the Lord" (I Thessalonians 4:17). If your loved one dies, and he or she is a believer, then he or she has gone to a far better place; as Saint Paul desired "to depart and be with Christ which is far better" (Philippians 1:23). It is true that we believers feel sorrow over our loss of loved ones this side of the grave, but there is no reason to fear. There is no good reason to fear death at all!

Truly comforting, isn't it?

And yet, millions of souls, even those who identify themselves as Bible-believing Christians, still fear death. Why is that exactly?

There are wrong reasons to fear death. Those wrong reasons to fear death come from false doctrines found in various Christian churches. These doctrines explain, among other things, what happens to you after death, and how you can be sure that you will be saved. These false doctrines of salvation are the primary reason that I could not, in good conscience, become a pastor or priest in those churches.

This does not mean that every member of these churches believe these doctrines, but they are the official doctrines in those churches. You need to know about these false doctrines, because your friends or loved ones may be members of these churches or influenced by them. You can offer them real comfort and hope when their doctrine fails them.

In the Eastern Orthodox churches, their doctrine teaches that the souls of the dead, both the believers and the damned, go to an intermediate state called Hades. They teach that believers in Hades are sorrowful and suffer pain, because they are separate from God and their bodies. Thus people facing death in these churches are sad, because they think that believers are going to a worse place than here on earth, before the Last Day.

In the Roman Catholic churches, their doctrine teaches that the souls of the dead believers enter purgatory. According to Thomas Aquinas, the least pain of the poor souls in purgatory is worse than the greatest pain on earth. These churches teach that souls in purgatory suffer for a long, long time, but will eventually be purged of their sins and enter heaven. They teach that you may shorten or lessen your loved one’s suffering in purgatory by obtaining a novena or by obtaining an indulgence on their behalf. If I was Catholic, I would certainly be afraid to die, no matter how “good” or “pious” I was.

In the Calvinist churches, which includes the Presbyterians and Reformed, their doctrine teaches that the souls of dead believers enter heaven. But according to John Calvin and his followers, you will never really know if you truly believe, because only those elected by God before the foundation of the world have true faith. Calvin taught that many think they have faith, and say they have faith, but they really don’t -- they are self-deluded. So you could die and wake up in hell; or you could die and wake up in heaven -- you will never know until you get there! Which is kind of too late, in my opinion!

In the Arminian churches, which includes most Methodists, Baptists, Evangelicals, and Pentecostals, their doctrine most commonly teaches that the souls of dead believers enter heaven. But according to these churches, mere faith is not enough to receive the “blessed assurance” of salvation before you die. They say you also need to have some sort of experience of conversion and/or evidence of a renewed life in good works, sanctification, and/or a life of virtue.

The problem with this doctrine is that you never know when you have done enough good or feel pious enough. It is the same problem that Martin Luther faced in the monastery before his discovery of the Gospel. As these Evangelical Christians face death, they often fear that they have not done enough good, or that their conversion was counterfeit. There is no “blessed assurance” in the face of death for such Christians, especially when they feel the pangs of conscience and their own sinfulness.

One of the best parts of being a Lutheran is being able to face death without uncertainty, fear, or sorrow, because you have the sure and certain confidence of live everlasting. Because of the Lutheran church’s insistence on sola Scriptura, we long ago rejected the old pagan ideas of Hades and purgatory that crept into the medieval church. Because of the Lutheran church’s insistence on sola fide, we long ago rejected the common idea that you have to make a contribution of some sort to your own salvation. All you need to do to be saved is to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Because of the Lutheran church’s insistence on sola gratia, we long ago rejected the idea that God is a wrathful judge who enjoys sending the vast majority of humanity to hell. We teach that “God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4). The only reason that some people are not saved is their own stubborn rejection of the Gospel. Those who want to be saved through the merits of Jesus Christ obedience, suffering, and death will most certainly be saved. They have no reason to fear death, because being with Jesus is far better than this “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4).

I apologize for the length of that excerpt, but these are matters of life and death.

A human, creature, created being -- however one wants to describe himself -- cannot overcome death. Only God can and, most importantly, has. When one talks about justification he must distinguish between law and the Gospel; because when a preacher steps into his pulpit to justify the Spirit of God is sending him into the pulpit up to preach a word -- God’s Word -- that kills and makes alive. [Via]

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, "may you always remember why you can face death without fear or sorrow, so that you may help those who do fear or sorrow; and so that you may be joyfully ready to be with Jesus when he calls you home" because "Christ alone is the means by which the old sinner is killed and a new saint raised by the forgiveness of sins, for life and eternal salvation."

May we all confess with Johann Gerhard that "the death of Christ is the life of the godly" since He is the satisfaction for our sins, and that is the truth that is our ever present hope in this life, and our hope for the life to come whenever news reports of death strike our hearts and minds.

Grace and peace to you and yours!

[NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with Lutheran doctrine -- in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word -- so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

1 comment

  1. Your tips are remarkable. I regularly read your blog and its very helpful.


Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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