How is Death Precious to God? December 2016

How is Death Precious to God?

Meditation on Psalm 116:15

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

As the creator of life, God does not like death. He created man and woman to live with him forever in the Garden of Eden. When Adam sinned, death entered the world as the penalty for sin and spread to all of Adam’s descendants because “we all sinned” in Adam (Rom. 5:12).

Death is a fair penalty for our rebellion against the God who made us, but it was not handed down by God in a cold or unfeeling way. God told Adam that if he disobeyed his word, he would “surely die” (Gen. 2:17). But God has not kept this promise without great sorrow. “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God” (Ezek. 18:32).

If this is true, how can the Psalmist say that the death of the saints is “precious” to the Lord? The answer lies in the meaning of the Hebrew word for “precious.” This word (yaqar) can also mean “costly” or “weighty.” The New American Bible thus translates the verse like this: “Too costly in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful.” In other words, when a follower of Christ dies, it costs God something. It pains him. It moves him. It breaks his heart. The best example of this in Scripture is when Jesus wept after he learned of the death of his close friend Lazarus (Jn. 11:35). God is emotionally moved when one of his children dies.

This is not the picture of God we usually have in our minds. We think of him as strong and mighty and holy and righteous. But do we ever think of him as feeling emotions like sadness and sorrow? This truth ought to instruct us when we face the loss of someone who belonged to God. If God can grieve over their death, then so should we.

God the Father has firsthand knowledge of losing someone he loves. He sent his Son Jesus into this world with a singular purpose: to die for the sins of his people (Matt. 1:21). He had to turn away from his Son while his holy wrath was poured out on him for our sins (Matt. 27:46). God knows the agony of losing a loved one.

One of the reasons why God became a man was in order that he might experience what we experience and feel what we feel in times of loss. Jesus was a “man of sorrows” and was “acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). And the beauty of the gospel is that he willingly experienced these things and more for our sakes. “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (vv. 4-5). Jesus became like us so that he might meet us where we are. So that he might meet us in our pain, our grief, and our sorrow. So that he might give us his strength and his peace. So that he might heal us.

An implication of this truth is that Jesus’ followers, his church, must be like him in these ways. We must “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Because Jesus “comforts us in all our affliction,” we must “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

God calls his church to be like Jesus in times of loss. He calls us to grieve deeply and genuinely at the passing of one of his sons or daughters. He calls us to feel the weight of the penalty of sin that is ours because of the fall. He calls us to draw near to those who are weeping, not with empty and trite clichés, but with a comforting and loving presence that is willing to enter into their pain and feel what they feel.

The only thing able to give us the strength and grace we need to do this is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus died on the cross so that “our souls might be delivered from death” (Ps. 116:8). And he rose from the dead to remove the sting of death and give eternal life to all who will repent of their sins and put their trust in him (1 Cor. 15:55; 1 Pet. 1:3).

In light of what God has done for you in Jesus Christ, may you “offer to him the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps. 116:17). May you “love the Lord, because he has heard your voice and your pleas for mercy” (v. 1). And may you feel the weight that God feels when he calls one of his children home. The death of a saint is precious and costly to God. May it be no less to us.
Grieving With You,

Pastor John