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Dying Without Fear
5-DAY READING

Death is a great unknown. And because death is so mysterious, it elicits fear—the fear of unfulfilled dreams, losing control, and being alone in that very moment. Is it possible to face death and not be afraid? In this 5-day plan, Pete Briscoe takes you on a journey to discover the answer and equips you with the biblical truth you need to face death without fear.

Day 1

Dying Without Fear | 1 Corinthians 15:55

We all need to learn to die well, whatever age we are. —Rob Moll, The Art of Dying

My wife, Libby, and I were listening to a TED Talk by Ivy League lawyer, Elyn Saks. She was sharing her struggles with schizophrenia and what it was like from inside her heart and mind. I’ve never heard anyone describe it this way before. And as she talked about what a psychotic episode feels like, I found myself thinking, You could never explain what mental illness is like unless you’ve personally experienced it.

Some things you have to personally experience in order to explain them.

There is one topic that hasn’t been covered by any TED Talk: What it’s like to experience death. I’m not talking about the out-of-body experience full of light that some describe. I’m talking about death to the degree that the person is declared dead, the body is prepared and buried. There aren’t any talks on this; no one can share from experience. Death is a great unknown.

Because death is unknown, it elicits fear. Author Rob Moll, in his book The Art of Dying, describes three fears we experience when we think about death:

  • The loss of control
  • Incomplete dreams or goals in life
  • Separation from our loved ones

And I’d add one more:

  • Aloneness

Growing up, when I thought about my own death, what terrified me most was being so very alone in that moment.

The vast majority of our world is absolutely terrified of dying and what comes after. And yet there is a subset of people for whom there is no fear. As a pastor, I’ve been blessed to witness the final weeks of those who face what comes next with peace and confidence, embodying the verse, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

How is it possible to face death and not be afraid? We’re going to spend some time together discovering the secret that isn’t so secret after all. Since we are all terminal, facing death is an essential part of life.

Lord, I long to love You more than life. But when I consider the people I love and those who love me, I fear death. Show me why I can release this fear and embrace expectation of eternity instead. Amen.

Day 2

Pioneering Death | Hebrews 2:10

For we cannot tarry here / We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger… — Walt Whitman, “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” from Leaves of Grass

It is said that Christopher Columbus struggled to find a crew for his ships because so many sailors feared heading into the unknown. Even when the royal secretary offered freedom for any prisoners who volunteered, the recruits numbered only a few. Fear of the unknown is powerfully paralyzing.

Death is one of life’s great unknowns, isn’t it? And we don’t have the option to refuse. For some, this is terrifying. For others, there is no fear. It’s as though they know the way has been cleared for them.

“In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 2:10)

The Greek word for “pioneer” is archegon, and it means “one who leads the way.” Sort of like a person bushwhacking through the jungle—his or her machete carving out a path. “Follow me, everyone!”

The picture we have of Jesus is a true pioneer of salvation, blazing His way through death so He could lead us into the land of God’s glory. The question then is what prerequisites are there for entering this glory land?

Just one: holiness.

Before you let this overwhelm you, I have great news. Holiness is something done to us by Jesus. It’s a gift of grace, and it’s the reason the fully divine Son chose to come to earth fully human.

What’s even more remarkable is that after we’ve chosen Jesus and He has cleansed us of sin, He is not ashamed to call us His. Notice how the verse above says, “in bringing many sons and daughters to glory.” God anticipates a large family. His goal is to populate heaven.

The great unknown will someday be a glorious place shared by us. Do we trust the path through death that Jesus has carved? Will we accept His invitation to follow? Will we exchange our sins for His holiness?

Suddenly, death has become quite the expedition.

Jesus, what grace that You not only lead the way through death, but also outfit me in holiness for the journey! Thank You for making death another adventure in faith. Amen.

Day 3

What Was Jesus Thinking While Dying? | Psalm 22:2, 11, 14, 21-22

Death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. —Steve Jobs

I didn’t watch the videos, but I did see the photographs of our brothers in Christ, dressed in orange jumpsuits, knowing the men standing behind them intended to take their lives. And I wondered, what were they thinking, knowing death had arrived?

I’ve wondered the same about Jesus. What was He thinking as He hung upon the cross, knowing death had come?

Most of us know Jesus’ famous last words: “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) This is a direct quote from Psalm 22—a Messianic psalm memorized by Jewish children. As Jesus spoke from the cross, those standing there would most likely have said it along with Him. Almost involuntarily reciting the words they’d known since childhood:

“My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest … Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help … I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax … Rescue me from the mouth of the lions …” (Psalm 22:2, 11, 14, 21)

As Jesus died, He was thinking this psalm. It’s happening! It’s coming true. Only a little longer now.

“Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen. I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.” (Psalm 22:21-22)

Yet His last thoughts didn’t end with pain and loneliness. There is a pivot. In verse 21, Jesus cries for help. But in verse 22, Jesus rejoices that His cry was heard. He speaks of the resurrection and death conquered! Through Him, an assembly of believers will praise the Father in glory. And so Jesus’ last thoughts steadied Him. As lonely as death was, He was the last of God’s children to go through death alone.

Jesus, what a gift to read Your final thoughts upon the cross. How humbling to know You experienced aloneness in death so that aloneness could be conquered. When I think of being part of Your family, I feel the weight of glory found through the resurrection. Amen.

Day 4

The Promise That Erases Fear of Death | Hebrews 2:18; Mark 14:36

You only live twice: Once when you’re born. And once when you look death in the face. —Ian Fleming

I sometimes imagine my own death in a hospital room. Libby and all of my children and grandchildren are gathered around my bed, each taking turns and telling me how much they love me. Together, they leave to grab some dinner, and it’s while they are gone that Jesus says, “It’s time, Pete.” The lights get dimmer and I think, It’s about to happen!

For some time, imagining that moment brought fear because I thought, I’m going to be so alone. But then I found a beautiful promise.

We already discovered that Jesus pioneered death, and because He went first, death is supposed to be less scary. We’ll follow Him through, and one day He’ll present all the children to the Father. We’ll go blameless, without fear of rejection. This makes death less scary, but it’s still a little scary.

What promise will eliminate all fear?

“Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18)

Jesus was tempted to fear death, too. Remember the garden of Gethsemane? He was on His hands and face before the Father, saying, “Everything is possible for You. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want Your will to be done, not mine” (Mark 14:36 NLT).

Jesus suffered, He was tempted, and yet He surrendered to the Father. As a result, He is able to help those of us being tempted. The word help here means to run to someone upon hearing a cry. It’s a “Who’s in trouble? I’m coming!” When we trusted Jesus for salvation, we got Him for life! He gave us His Life, and He promised never to leave.

When your time comes to face death, cry out to Jesus. He’s already there; you won’t be alone in that moment. He is the One bridge that leads from this life to the next.

So, His dying for us might make our death less scary, but His presence with us takes all fear away.

Isn’t that beautiful?

Savior, the promise of eternity in Your presence is enough, and yet You promise more. What comfort it brings to know You are present in death, ushering us into a place of rest and glory! I feel so loved knowing that when I cry for help, You’re already there. Amen.

Day 5

What To Say When A Loved One Is Dying | Psalm 22; Hebrews 2:18

But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story… —C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Have you ever wondered what to say to a loved one who is dying? It’s a sacred moment in time as he or she faces the unknown. What words can we share?

Consider sharing Psalm 22. Talk about how Jesus was the last of God’s children to face death alone. Talk about how He’s the pioneer of salvation—cutting a path through death to glory. Speak of Jesus’ own temptation to fear death. And then talk about the transition in Psalm 22 from Jesus’ cry for help to His anticipation of life with His brothers and sisters.

Open Hebrews and share the promise in 2:18:

“Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Encourage your loved one to call for Jesus’ help. The only One who can go through death with us is the only One who has gone through death already. Jesus has experienced it and returned to tell us there is hope.

And so, if we are alive in Christ, He will walk us through death. When our moment comes to face death, we won’t be alone. He will be with us.

Jesus, because of life’s highs and lows and drama, I sometimes forget it’s not the main act. Speak words of grace and peace through me to all my loved ones who are dying. May I remind them of Your hope. Amen.

Reflection

  1. Am I afraid of dying? What is it about death that frightens me?
  2. Do I trust the path through death that Jesus has carved? Am I willing to accept His invitation to follow?

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