The Final Rescue
Words of hope for the darkest times
By Mark A. Finley
I first met Bill 17 years ago, in 1991. Through the years since then, we talked often about his favorite themes—vision, optimism, defeating the odds, faith in God, and making a difference in this world. Those of us who knew Bill well knew that he had a passion for life and a passion to make other lives better because of his own.
In the last few months of his life Bill and I talked regularly, often weekly. In one of our conversations, I sensed Bill’s illness was terminal and that he probably did not have long to live. That final conversation is etched in my mind forever. We talked about the fact that, ultimately, Jesus would triumph over all the powers of hell, and death would finally be defeated.
I would like to mention here some of the thoughts I shared with Bill that day as well as some further reflections.
His tears speak of a Savior who understands our tears.
Death is not some unsolved mystery. It’s not a dark hole in the ground. It’s not a long night without a morning. Jesus met the Grim Reaper head on 2,000 years ago and conquered.
In the life of Jesus there are three episodes in which He confronts death. And although the lessons are old, they speak with increasing relevance to us in the twenty-first century. They are ever new, ever fresh, ever speaking hope and comfort to new generations.
Episode #1—The Death of Lazarus
Jesus’ friend Lazarus developed a sudden illness and died unexpectedly. The shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), is found in this story. Why did Jesus weep? One reason is simply this: He identified with the pain in the heart of Lazarus’s two sisters, Mary and Martha. His tears speak of a Savior who understands our tears.
Jesus identifies with our pain. He understands our grief. He experiences our sorrow. He is one with us in our suffering. He is our companion in tribulation. When our hearts are broken, His heart is broken too. When we hurt, He hurts too. When Mary and Martha wept, Jesus wept too.
He shares our tears!
Jesus not only weeps, but He has the divine power to do something about Lazarus’s death. Jesus declares to Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40, NASB).* Those words echo down the centuries to our times: Believe, and you will see the glory of God.
We have not seen our friend Bill for the last time. In the catacombs under Rome, chiseled in the pagan graves are these sorrowful words, “Goodbye, my love, forever.” By contrast, Christian graves ring with words of hope. For us, it’s: “Goodbye, until the morning.”
Believe, and you too will see the glory of God. You have not seen your loved one for the last time. In some of the most powerful words of the entire Bible, Jesus cried “with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’” (John 11:43).
Death flees at the words of Jesus; the tomb gives up its dead at the words of Jesus; Satan trembles at the words of Jesus; Lazarus arises at the words of Jesus; and death is vanquished at the words of Jesus!
Here is something we can be certain of: Jesus has never lost a battle with death. And He is not going to lose the battle with death in regards to Bill. The resurrection of Lazarus is a type of the resurrection of all believers at the coming of our Lord.
Episode #2—The Testimony of Jesus
The resurrection of Jesus Christ speaks of a Savior who has power over death, even His own. “‘I am He who lives, and was dead’” he says, “‘and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades [hell] and of Death” (Rev.1:18). We need not fear death because Jesus has the keys to the grave.
Come with me to a place called Calvary and a hill called Golgotha one Friday afternoon 2,000 years ago. It was a dark, dark Friday. The sun refused to shine. Thunder crashed. Lightning flashed. That dark Friday, Peter denied the Savior. Judas betrayed Him. The Jews forsook Him. The disciples abandoned Him, and the Romans crucified Him.
They took His broken, bloody body down from the cross. And the disciples’ hopes were crushed.
But that dark Friday was followed by one bright Sunday morning. Jesus is resurrected from the dead. Death is defeated. The enemy is conquered. And the grave no longer holds its victim.
And because Jesus lives, our loved ones will live again.
Episode #3—Jesus Conquers Death Forever
The victory of Jesus speaks of a conqueror with a lasting and final power over death.
The apostle Paul speaks of our final hope in these words, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16, 17).
Jesus will return. The last enemy will be defeated. Death will be gone forever. “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O [Grave], where is your victory?’ …But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
In my last conversation with Bill, we talked about eternity. We talked about heaven. We talked about forever. And my last words as a pastor and a friend went something like this. “Bill, you are not alone. Christ is with you, and one day soon, my friend, you will see Him face to face.”
Bill’s Final Moments
As Bill faced the last few moments of his life, his wife, Bonnie, and his sons, Bart and Brad, gathered around his bed. Bonnie asked that they play the CD of religious hymns by Wintley Phipps. She wanted the message of a familiar old hymn to be in Bill’s mind as he lingered between life and death. Soon the words of the familiar song flowed into the room: “When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high, and don’t be afraid of the dark.”
The message of the song is that regardless of what faces us, we never walk alone.
During life and in death, in Jesus and through Jesus and because of Jesus we never walk alone. One day we will see Him come. Our hope is built on the certainty that the Jesus who rose from the dead and conquered the grave is coming again to take us home.