Bible Study Series: 'But God Bible Verses'
'But God' as we step into eternity...
by I Gordon
As we come now to what is 'probably' the last in this series, I've decided to keep it nice and light. So this message is on the lightest of topics - death. I've called it 'But God' as we step into eternity. This follows on from the last message where we traced some key 'but God' moments in the life of Paul, right up to the time of his death. So what then happens next? If you are a believer, is there a 'but God' in death itself? And what if you are an unbeliever?
This study will explore this theme looking at the difference between the believer and unbeliever when the final curtain falls... or, more accurately, when the curtain is drawn back and the thin but seemingly persistent veil that separates this life and the next, is removed forever. Along the way we'll sprinkle a few C.S Lewis quotes around and see how important it is to be living today with that day in mind. But let's start first where we left off with the Apostle Paul.
Death - Your days are numbered (it's better than it sounds!)
If someone said to you 'your days are numbered' how would you feel? I guess it depends on who says it and how it is said right? If you were living in the days of the wild west and someone with a 6-shooter and a stern look rides into town and says 'your days are numbered boy!' then, well, that could be a little disconcerting. You'd probably take it as a threat and rightfully so! In the days of Daniel, King Belshazzar went a sickly shade of pale when he saw an odd hand writing 'Mene, mene, tekel, Parsin' on the wall. The first part of this meant 'God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.' Gulp. He died that same day! But when God says to those that are His own that our days are numbered, don't let that freak you out or cause alarm... it is a good thing that we can take a lot of comfort from. It means that God knows the number of our days. We don't need to be fearful. We aren't going to die a day earlier or a day later. It actually brings comfort. This is something King David (among others) understood and wrote::
Psa 139:14-16 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (15) My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, (16) your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.1
As mentioned, in the last message we spoke about the difficulties that the Apostle Paul faced throughout his whole ministry. Three times he was beaten with rods. Five times he received forty lashes minus one from the Jews. Three times he was shipwrecked and spent the day and night out in the deep. Once he was even stoned (possibly to death)! But in all of those terrible and life threatening trials, it was not his time. The number of days and the plan that God had for him had not been fulfilled yet. So it was not his time to die. God saw to that. In fact, straight after speaking of all that he went through as just described, Paul even mentions an unusual and incredible experience where he saw inexpressible things in heaven.
2Co 12:2-4 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know-- God knows. (3) And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows-- (4) was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.
Paul says this 'out of this world' experience of being caught up into heaven happened '14 years ago'. So when was that? Some biblical scholars link this to the time of his missionary trip to Lystra2. Oh, I can hear you now... "Lystra? You're kidding... Are you sure? Are you saying that...? You mean... Do you think... Actually, no, Lystra's not ringing any bells sorry! What happened there?" An important event took place in Lystra. The Bible says:
Act 14:19-22 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. (20) But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. (21) They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, (22) strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said.
So Paul experienced firsthand that the end of his life would only come when God ordained it. Even being stoned, quite possibly to death, wasn't going to prevent God's plans. It seems that at this time he had a supernatural experience of Heaven (and even he doesn't know if this was bodily or not so we'll never be able to answer whether he did actually die or not) before coming back, shocking his grieving fellow disciples by getting back up on his feet and going straight back to work with proclaiming the Gospel! Amazing. As we go through this study on 'But God' in death, we should always remember that God has the final say on when His own go to meet Him. Maybe you had a time when death was right at the door 'but God' had a different plan? Let me give you one such testimony from my sister in law, Wendy.
When our daughter Ella was born it was discovered she had dangerously low platelets. She had suffered a brain bleed and was in danger of further hemorrhaging. Unknown to us, my immune system had produced antibodies which attacked her platelets so at one day old she was given a platelet transfusion and immediately flown to the neo-natal unit at Waikato hospital. Over the next 3 weeks she received platelet transfusions every few days as they continued to drop to dangerous levels.
After two weeks in hospital with our daughter, my bowel perforated twice due to a complication from my cesarean. A few days later I was eventually taken into surgery with septicemia. Meanwhile my husband Fraser was burying our dog who had to be put down the same day. A phone call to Fraser by the surgeon advised him to get back to Waikato hospital as soon as possible as I was in a very serious condition and they had to operate immediately. As a result, Ella was in one part of the hospital and I was in another, both of us with life threatening conditions. I'm sure you can imagine the scene... The beloved family dog has just died and now Fraser is rushing between us, his wife and daughter, both of whom could potentially die!
But God, thankfully, has the final say and He had mercy on us and both our daughter and I survived. She continued to have platelet transfusions at increasing intervals over four months until the antibodies left her system. Thankfully she had no further hemorrhaging. After successful surgery and recovery I had a colostomy bag for a few months until my bowel healed and then another operation to have it reversed. During this time we had no assurance that we would bring our daughter home from hospital. Or that I would come home from hospital. We put our trust in God. Two scriptures in particular stood out for us during this time:
Psalm 93:3-4 The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their waves. The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, than the mighty waves of the sea.
Psalm 63:3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You.
Our daughter is now 18, has very mild hemiplegia but lives an active, full life. And my bowel has completely healed. Thank you Lord!
So what about when our time has come? Before looking at a couple of 'But God' examples from the Psalms, I just want to briefly explore the word Paul used when he knew that his time had come. Now what was that word again? I'm sure you recall that in 2 Tim 4:6 he said that the time of His 'departure' had come. Death for him was a departure. The Greek word here is 'analusis', a noun meaning to depart or return. Two other Greek words used in the New Testament for departure are also worth noting for the word pictures they give. The first occurred with Jesus at the Mount of transfiguration...
- Luk 9:30-31 And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
The Greek word here is 'exodus'. Yep, exodus. It is only used in two other places in the New Testament. Peter used it of his own upcoming death in 2 Pet 1:15 and it is used in Heb 11:22 to speak of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. So straight away we see that death for the believer is likened to a journey, an exit or exodus from one country leading to an entrance into another. Our exodus is from this world that has held us all our life and our entrance is into our Promised Land, our heavenly home.
- Php 1:21-23 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;
The Greek word for depart here is 'analuo'. The Complete Word Study Dictionary writes on this word: "From aná (G303), back again or denoting separation, and lúō (G3089), to loose. The ancient Greeks used the word to indicate loosing the anchor of a ship in order to sail from a port." So again we get the picture of being 'unloosed' from this world and setting sail for a better country. And where are we going? Simply put... Home!
- 2Co 5:8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
The Greek word for home is 'endemo' meaning 'one who is at home, in his own country, or among his own people.' What a day that will be! And as I have said before, personally I'd rather that day came through the 'uppertaker' than the 'undertaker'! That is, I'm hoping for the rapture and not the grave. By either way, can you imagine how amazing it will be to be home with all the family of God? The rapture itself will be the first time in history that the entire body of Christ, the Church, will all be together. 'Endemo' - at home, in our heavenly country, with our own people. Bring it on!
To every soul, God will look like its first love because He IS its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it - made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand. CS Lewis
The contrasting focus of believers & unbelievers
Now, while we will not be 'unloosed' fully till death or rapture, the Lord still desires us to be unloosed in our affections to the things of this world. For believers, the Lord is using these world wide events of the last year (and those that are to come) to do that very thing. With Covid, the lock-downs, decrees upon whether churches can meet, perpetual fear, injustice, lost jobs, talk of great resets and all else that is going on, the Lord is loosening our grip on the temporal things. We are being weaned off this world and rightly so. The fact is that Lord looks for, and desires, people whose hearts are longing for their true home. (Heb 11:16).
But it's not always easy right? In fact it is, unfortunately, much easier to get your eyes onto the wrong things. Let's have a look at a couple of 'But God' examples from the Psalms contrasting this focus.
Psa 49:7-20 No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him-- (8) the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough-- (9) that he should live on forever and not see decay. (10) For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others. (11) Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves. (12) But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. (13) This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. Selah (14) Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. (15) But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. Selah (16) Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; (17) for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him. (18) Though while he lived he counted himself blessed-- and men praise you when you prosper-- (19) he will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light of life. (20) A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.
This passage contains two 'selahs' so it is worth pausing and pondering both. The first selah comes after a 'But man' - But man, despite his name, power and riches, does not endure. The Psalmist begins by saying that despite the seemingly important standing of a person in this life, they all go the same way at death... if they don't know the Lord. For the unbeliever, their wisdom doesn’t save them. Their power can’t make them live forever or stop the ageing and decay. A person’s name, which would have swayed many in this life, is of no thought to God. Their riches is simply footpath paving in heaven and can’t help. You can have all the gold and bitcoins in the world and you still can’t buy redemption or a place in heaven. Doesn’t matter how many followers they had down here, how many likes, how many subscribers, how many fans or how much praise has been heaped on them from fellow men. It doesn’t matter how large their earthly mansions were. They can take precisely nothing with him when the time comes. Death is the great equalizer!
As an illustration it has been said that Michael Jackson wanted to live for 150 years and would take naps in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to help facilitate this. He had multiple doctors at his home who would daily examine him and others who would test his food to ensure he was only getting the most perfect sustenance. Others were appointed to look after his daily exercise and workout. 150 years was the goal. With all his money, power and support from the best medical minds, he died at 50. 100 years short.
This reminds me of a 'But God' example that Jesus gave in the gospels.
Luk 12:16-21 And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. (17) He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' (18) Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. (19) And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' (20) But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' (21) This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.
Like the rich man in this parable, some people go all their lives thinking only of this life and without hearing from God. Now it is not that God isn't speaking. It is that they are not listening. Their eyes and ears are alert to ‘profits’, ‘produce’ and ‘pleasure’ but not ‘prepare... for eternity'. So Jesus spoke here of many that only think of this life. They too, will have a 'but God' experience, but not necessarily in a good way. Imagine what it would be like to finally hear God's voice, after ignoring it for your whole life, and hearing - ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you.’ That is NOT what anyone wants to hear. It is not the ‘But God’ that we look and hope for but it is useful because we need to remember those that still need to know the Lord.
“I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”
But Psalm 49 does have a ‘but God’ for the believer...
What will God do in the death of the believer?
Psalm 49:14-15 Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. Selah'
Now so far the passage has been sobering and grim. But in the middle comes a lifeline. A ‘But God’ shining out in the darkness. It is a light for the dark path that penetrates the gloom and makes everything different for the believer. Look at what is says in the midst of death:
- ‘But God will make the upright to rule in the morning3 (vs 14) - This is the resurrection morning that it speaks of. It is the dawning of a new day where those that have followed the Lord, even among difficulties in this life, will then be those that rule and reign with Him!
- ‘But God’ will redeem the believers life from the grave (vs 15) - Sheol and Hades is not the believers destination. While the body goes back into the ground, the 'real' person within this 'tent' that is our body, has a place prepared by God for them!4
- ‘But God’ will take the believer to be with Himself (vs 15) - The believers destination is with God. That is our home. That is our destination. That is what we were created for!
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” CS Lewis
The same blessing of this 'But God' in the death of a believer, in contrast to that of the unbeliever, is also expressed in the awesome Psalm 73. After struggling with the prosperity of the wicked, the Psalmist comes back to his senses by looking at the eternal picture.
Psalm 73:24-28 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.
If the rapture doesn't occur in our life, then our flesh and heart will fail, just as the Psalmist said. But the Psalmist knew something else and didn't stop there. It is followed by a precious 'But God'. 'But God' is the strength of my heart in this life and my portion forever in the next. That is the hope and reality that extends out into eternity and gives peace for today.
So we have seen that both believers and unbelievers have a 'but God' at the point of death. We are all going to become 'unloosened' from this world and depart but clearly we do not want to be those that hear 'You fool' at the end of our lives. And a believer in the Lord Jesus will never hear that. As the Psalmist wrote - 'My flesh... may fail, but God is... my portion forever5'. If the rapture doesn't happen we will experience the day when we have no strength left... 'But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself' as the word of God says.
So does this make a difference? It makes every difference! I want to leave you with an email I received several years ago from Ruth Hunt. Ruth was the wife of the Christian author, teacher and apologist, Dave Hunt. Dave was a very humble and godly man whose ministry and teaching had a great impact on me personally. Shortly after his death in 2013, Ruth Hunt emailed the following. As you read it, think of the difference that God makes, even in death. Note her hope. Note her peace. Note her glorious expectation even in the midst of a terminal illness.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all of you for your dear cards and letters and prayers. They have meant so very much to me. I hope that you will understand that I am no longer able to respond individually, but please know that every note has been read and is cherished. I am truly blessed to have so many dear friends.
I must now share with you that my doctors have declared me terminally ill and have given me approximately four months to live. I am not in any pain and am being well cared for by family, friends, and caregivers.
I truly look forward to this glorious transition and the fact that I will soon be with my beloved Savior and with Dave and others who have gone on before me. The Lord was so kind to me in answering my prayer, which was that He would allow me to stay well enough to care for my dear David until he went home to be with Him. I was blessed to be there, holding his hand, as he drew his last breath, and I knew that he was with Jesus! How kind of God to have given me that privilege.
I thank each one of you for the many, many years of loving fellowship that we have shared, and I pray that you will be comforted by the fact that I am perfectly at peace. I look forward with much joy to our grand reunion in heaven one day soon! "What a day, glorious day, that will be!"
Does God make a difference?
'But God' makes all the difference in this life and the next.