By Ryan M. McGraw
Death is not a natural part of life. Death is the result of sin (Rom. 5:12). Death is dreadful and jarring, and there is a sense in which we should never get used to the thought of it. None of us know death by experience, and the book of Job calls death the “king of terrors” (Job 18:14). Most people do not desire to think about death. However, according to the Bible, death is one of the most profitable subjects of reflection. In Isaiah 51:6, the Lord told His people, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but My salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.” The point of this exhortation is that the certainty of death highlights the joys of the eternal salvation that God provides for His people. By considering the context of this passage and then the passage itself, I will seek to show you how the thought of death is profitable to your soul.
The purpose of this text is to comfort God’s people. These people are described as those who listen to God’s Word, who follow after righteousness, and who seek the Lord (v. 1. See 66:5). Christians are likewise those who have been born of God the Holy Spirit (1 Jn. 3:9; 5: 4, 18). Jesus said, “He that is of God heareth God’s words” (Jn. 8:47). To be a Christian is to trust God’s promises (Rom. 4:21). In particular, we must trust that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, apart from whom no one comes to the Father (Jn. 14:6). We are not saved by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy (Tit. 3:5). We believe in the name of the Lord Jesus so that we might be saved, and so that we might not be found in our own righteousness but the righteousness that God gives to us through faith in Him (Acts 16:31; Phil. 3:9). Nevertheless, those who are born of God love Christ and keep His commandments (Jn. 14:15). Comfort in the face of death begins with trusting in Christ alone for your salvation and becoming His loving servants.
The means of the comfort provided is to consider the ways of God. God promised Abraham that in His seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18). This blessing came ultimately to the nations through the work of Christ on the cross and the offer of the gospel to all who will believe in Him (Gal. 3:16). Just as God called Abraham and Sarah when they were solitary and without children (Is. 51:2), yet made a great nation from them, God would likewise take His exiled people from a desolate wilderness and make them prosper joyfully as though they lived in the Garden of Eden (v. 3). God’s law guides His people in a good path, and He will judge His enemies while He saves them (v. 4-5). Comfort in the face of death rests upon God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises and the fact that His arm is mighty to save in Christ.
Our comfort rests upon the permanence of God’s salvation. This is set in contrast to the passing nature of life in this world. Every day when you rise in the morning, you should look up and picture the sky vanishing away like smoke in the wind, and you should look down and imagine the earth itself wearing away like an old garment that is ready to be thrown away (Is. 51:6). Then look at your own body and consider that along with the vast ocean of humanity, you shall die. This is the one subject that few desire to think about. Yet this is the one thing that the Lord calls you to meditate upon in this text. Death is certain and it is part of the wrath and curse of God upon sin. Those who have not been born of the Holy Spirit, trusting in Christ alone, and calling God Father through Him are dead as they live (Eph. 5:14). You are born dead to spiritual things (Eph. 2:1ff), you shall die physically (Heb. 9:27), and you shall experience the everlasting and sensible death of God’s wrath (Rev. 2:11; 21:8). This makes the permanence of God’s salvation and His righteousness stand out in glorious relief. God will no sooner violate His own righteous and immutable character than He will permit the salvation of His people to fail. Isaiah wrote earlier, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body they shall arise” (Is. 26:19). God’s promise of salvation in Christ is just as certain as the reality that we must all die. Comfort in the face of death is magnified by contrasting the brevity of life with the permanence of salvation in Christ.