EASTER: 'No fear in death!'

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP) -- As I walked into the hospital, I looked on a visitation card at the name of the man who had requested that I visit him. He was dying of cancer and wanted me to come and pray with him. I was honored to do so.

When I walked into his hospital room, I was taken aback by his appearance. His body was thin. His skin was darkened. His teeth were shattered. All of this was the result of endless rounds of chemo. Yet in spite of all the doctors could do, Jim was dying.

He was on the brink of eternity. He knew he was going to heaven but he was still afraid. He said, "Pastor, I know I am saved. I know that when I die, I'll go to heaven. But I'm afraid. I've never died before. I'm afraid of what death will be like. Can you help me?"

We talked about what happens when a Christian dies. We talked about how his spirit and soul would soon leave his body and go directly to God's presence in heaven. Then the Lord gave me a thought to share with Jim that I'd never shared before.

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I said, "Jim, when I was young, I was afraid of the dark, especially any dark area in our house. I remember coming home at night with my family. My father knew about my fear of darkness. So, every time we came home, my dad would unlock and open the door, go inside and turn the light on. Then he'd turn around and say, 'Come on in, Steve, everything's fine.' I remember walking into our house in total peace because I knew that I could trust my father to take care of me. I didn't have to be afraid."

Then I said, "Jim, when Jesus came to this earth, He lived a sinless life so He could die for our sins. He gave His life as an atoning sacrifice for God's children and then He was buried. But three days later, Jesus walked out of that grave with the keys to death, hell and the grave itself in His hand. Jim, Jesus unlocked the door of eternity, went into the grave and turned the lights on for you. Now He's saying, 'Jim, come on in, everything is fine.'"

By this time, Jim and I were both crying. In fact, I'm fighting back tears as I write this article. Jim said, "Pastor, I get it! I can see Jesus opening the door for me! He's turning the light on for me! He's saying, 'Come on in, Jim, everything is fine.' Jesus is the Light of the world! He's turned the light on in my grave! I can die without fear! Thank you, pastor, for helping me."

We prayed and I left. A few days later, Jim stepped out of this life into eternal life. And Jesus was there waiting for him with the lights on.

That's all possible because Jesus died and rose bodily, victoriously and eternally from the grave.

The apostle Paul said that one day every Christian will die. Each of us will shed this earthly body and our spirit and soul will enter eternity. This perishable shall put on the imperishable. This mortal shall put on immortality. At that moment we won't fear the grave any longer because Jesus has conquered it! Death is swallowed up in His victory!

As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:53-57: "For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. 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" (NASB).

Jesus removed the sting of death when He walked into the grave and defeated its power. He turned the light on and says to us, "All is well! Come on in!"

That's why I love Easter. It shouts loudly that because of a bloody cross and an empty tomb we can have what the modern hymn says: "No guilt in life, no fear in death!"

May God bless every Southern Baptist and every Southern Baptist church this Easter. Let's tell the world that Jesus is alive, and all fear is gone!

Steve Gaines is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn.
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