Can anybody give a definition of death? Does the Bible tell us exactly what it is? Yes. In fact, in the words before us we have what is surely the simplest, shortest, most straight forward definition of death to be found anywhere. James tells us that death is the body without the spirit. What a wonderful explanation. James doesn’t say that death means that the life of the body is extinguished, not at all. It is simply that the life is absent – it’s away. The body is without the spirit. This verse doesn’t tell us that to die means that the spirit is without a body. Or, to put it another way, that the spirit without the body is dead. Absolutely not. The spirit can not die. It doesn’t matter if it is on the inside or the outside of the body.
There are some who believe and teach what they refer to as “soul sleep.” Don’t believe it for a minute. The soul can never sleep. Even in the dark hours of the night the body may sleep, but not the soul. What a tremendous picture. Death’s sleep is like life’s sleep in that it belongs to the weary, worn frame, not to the living, moving spirit.
Let me speak specifically to those who are reading this post and may be weeping and mourning unceasingly over your dead. Let me share some words that I believe you need to hear today – “He is no here, He is risen.” You say, “But he’s dead.” That’s really not correct. Death does not apply to the spirit and really when you get down to it, the spirit is the man. It’s only the body that can die. It is the body without a spirit that is dead. You say, “Then what do these words mean, ‘Though he may die, he will live”? It means that what we call death is not the great contradiction of life.
Standing before Bethany’s tomb, Mary expressed what she thought was great faith and hope when she told Jesus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” But Jesus told Mary that her understanding and expectation was too small. “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die,” Jesus said. Martha thought that Lazarus’ life was extinguished until a future day when it would be revived. What she failed to realize is that death is only the spirit’s flight from the body. As children of the resurrection of Jesus, we should understand that.
So, why are you hovering and huddling near the spot where the dust of your loved one lies? Why are you looking for the living among the dead? Why do you think that being near the cemetery means that you are near to your departed?
What fellowship does a cemetery have with life? What interaction does the spirit have with death? If your departed is going to meet you anywhere it won’t be in a graveyard, but rather at the spot that is farthest away from that graveyard. Their voices won’t come from a tombstone, but from the thoughts that cause you to forget about the tombstone. You won’t see them among the symbols of death, but rather will find them through the hopes that speak of immortality. It will be in those moments, when heaven is opened and the ladder is seen stretching from the sky to the earth; in the hours when your own spirit is caught up to meet your Lord in the air; in the days when you begin to see the beautiful glimpses of the Promised Land from Nebo’s heights; in the seasons of summer when Love lifts her voice and sings, “O Death, where is your sting? O Grave, where is your victory?” that you may see, if you will, the fellowship of those ministering spirits who have been sent forth to minister to them who are the heirs of salvation.