It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. (Ecclesiastes 7:2 NASB)
Of all tragedies in this life, the death of a loved one seems to be the deepest of all pains. I’ve seen friends and family lose a parent, a child, a spouse, and I’ve always felt stupidly silent for not knowing what to say. What can you really say anyway? Who can truly understand the futile longing of a person who aches for one more day to be with a husband, a wife, a mother, a father, a child?
But sometimes when I know the person who passed away and witnessed their devotion to Jesus, I know for sure that they have gone to be with the Lord. I’ve entered into the wakes of committed believers and felt the solemn ambiance overcome by a joyous hope.
August 20, 2012. Tita Chua died because of unexpected heart failure. Bam, her daughter, was (is) a family friend. She worked for my dad for a number of years and she has served in the church faithfully.
My kids know Bam and her parents, too. They remember that Tita Chua would often hand them snacks at church or stop to chat with them. She was always smiling, kind, and radiant with the joy of the Lord. Everyone who knew her was certain that she was a woman with a personal relationship with Jesus.
When we found out that she passed away, we were all shocked. Just two weeks earlier, she looked healthy, well, and happy, as usual. There was nothing about her demeanor or countenance that indicated that she was not okay. We were all surprised to find out that she died so suddenly. Even our kids couldn’t believe it.
The boys felt badly for Bam. They knew that she was hurting and in pain. So Edric asked them to reach out to her by writing a little note. When Elijah handed me his letter to Bam, I opened it and read what he wrote.
Dear Tita Bam, Condolences. Thank you for taking care of me. I am sorry that your mother passed away and I know you must feel bad. I want to remind you that someday we will all be together again. I love you and again, condolences. I hope that God will comfort you. Love, Elijah.
I don’t know why I felt like crying. The letter wasn’t for me. Elijah just wanted me to proof read it. But when I read, “I want to remind you that someday we will all be together again,” I realized that he lives with the certainty of heaven. And in his simple understanding of faith, he was offering the one consolation he knew was true.
Jesus told us…“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you be also.” John 14:1-3
During the wake, my dad gave a short message on “The Three Realities.” And given the equally untimely passing of Secretary Jesse Robredo (a matter of national tragedy), it would do us an eternity of good to duly contemplate the truths that death makes us consider.
The first reality is that LIFE IS SHORT. We know this, but we often don’t live very conscious of this reality.
“Lord, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am. ‘Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; Surely every man at his best is a mere breath.’ Surely every man walks about as a phantom; surely they make an uproar for nothing; he amasses riches and does not know who will gather them.’ Psalm 39:4-6 NASB
At best, a mere breath…
If we understand the brevity of life then what are we living for? People who are about to die can answer this question with greater perspective. They don’t care about money fame, power. They care about relationships – with family, with God. My dad shared that he has met with, prayed with, and shared the gospel with people before they die, and they want to be right with others and with God.
My grandpa, Marvin Howard, who experienced World War II used to say, “There are no atheists in the foxholes.”
The second reality is that DEATH IS A CERTAINTY. That’s incredibly obvious, too. But we don’t like to think about it.
There’s a Jewish Proverb that says, “Everyman knows he will die but no one wants to believe it.”
Since we are prone to ignore the tolling bell of death, we don’t prepare in advance for it. We cram, or worse, we are simply caught of guard. The frightening thing about death’s certainty is what follows after. It’s not like a test that you can recover from. That is it — the final exam of life. There’s no second chance when you are at the death mark.
Hebrews 9:27 tells us it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.
God doesn’t desire the death of those who do now know him. He wants us to be prepared and ready. He says that the death of his godly ones is precious (Psalm 115:16) but “he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” (Ezekiel 33:11) Why? Because he knows what is in store for them. So the time to prepare for the end is not then, but now.
The third reality is that HEAVEN IS REAL. We exist in a time when humanism, the material world, and relativism have replaced truth. And we resist absolute truth because it makes us accountable for our actions and choices. If heaven is real, then hell is real and this means that we are destined to go to one of these places when we die. More sobering than death itself, is that it ushers us into an eternity in heaven or an eternity in hell.
Eternity is real. I remember a line from Gladiator (2000), where the main character played by Russell Crowe said, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” In the story, we see consistency between this belief and his moral choices.
But that was just a story. Here is something we can really hold on to. God wants us to choose eternity with him. He desires to have a relationship with us. He has an incredible heaven prepared for those who love him.
1 Corinthians 2:9 But just as it is written, “things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him.”
During a family meal, I was having a conversation with my older sons, and Edan, my second, said, “Mom, there is something that God cannot do. He cannot let bad people into heaven.” And I recall that my eldest added, “Yes and the people in hell are those who chose to go there.” (Something like that…) This was theologically accurate.
God is a holy God. He hates sin. But he loves sinners. So he made a way for us to come to him through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 3:18 “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bright us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit…”
Jesus took our place. One of my favorite passages of all time is Romans 5:6-9 “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for the good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more than, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through him.”
No rational person would give his life for a wretch. Yet such is the love God demonstrated toward us.
There is a story of an Indian tribe that was trying to catch a thief who was stealing animal skins. The punishment for the thief was to receive lashings on the back. The chief asked the men to set up a trap in order to catch the thief. They hung the animal skin and waited to see who would take the animal skin. The first night, no one came. However, the second night, the thief was caught. Unfortunately, the thief happened to be the chief’s mom. What was the chief going to do? Justice had to be served but he loved his mom.
The morning of the flogging, the chief’s mom was tied to a post. Everyone watched the chief. He signaled for the flogging to begin, but first he went up to his mom, disrobed himself so that his back was exposed. He embraced his mom from behind and received the lashes for her. Love was demonstrated but not at the expense of justice.
In the same way, we see justice and love at the cross of Christ. Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God gave us his son. But just like any gift, we have to receive this gift. We can agree in the head but not take it. And to receive it invites the transforming power of Jesus Christ. It is like being born-again. He gives us a new desire and capacity to live for him.
Without Christ, we are born once to die twice — a physical and spiritual death. But if we are born twice, we die once to enter into eternal life.
My dad ended his talk by saying Tita’s death is a message to all of us. Be ready. Live ready.
Death to the Christian is the funeral of all his sorrows and evils and the resurrection of all his joys. – Aughey
While we are all sad that Tita Chua is gone and we grieve the loss her family feels, we know she is rejoicing in heaven with the Lord. She lived ready.