It was September 6, 1997 when the flower-covered casket of Princess Diana made its long journey from London all the way to another part of England, Authorp Park. A million people turned out to watch that. It was a moving scene, 2.5 billion watched by television. And what was touching especially was that one little card atop her casket from one of her sons Harry which simply read, "Mummy." Princess Diana was known as the People's Princess. She died at a very young age, age 36. She was called the most photographed woman in the world.
Sarah, her name Sarai changed by God to Sarah which means a princess. She may have not been the people's princess, she ws God's princess. And she dies at 127 years old. She may have not been the most photographed woman in the world, obviously there were no cameras back then. But she becomes an example even in the New Testament times for godliness, holiness, faith, submission. We have spent sixteen separate weeks looking at the life of Abraham and the life of Sarah with Abraham and now we look at her death, her funeral. There's a whole field of study by the way, it's in colleges and in nursing schools called phanatology, the study of death. It studies death, dying, hospice care and that's sort of a new trend because traditionally in our culture we have shunned anything unpleasant especially dying. We don't want to talk about it, we don't want to deal with it. In fact, of all cultures we are probably the most ill equipped to deal with it. You could just go to a store and look at magazine racs and you notice that most magazines deal with life, news, what's going on now. For instance a sampling: Life magazine, Time magazine, People magazine, Women Today, Us, and Victorian Homes (I just threw that in, I saw that one on the shelf). But you're not going to find a magazine called Death or Dying Today or Dead People or Victorian Cemeteries because we just don't deal with it, we're uncomfortable with death, yet it is a part of life.
There was a little boy who attended a church service and the pastor was speaking on "You are dust and unto dust you shall return," using that scripture. So afterwards he came back with this worried look on his face, "Preacher, you said that we were originally from dust." "That's right," said the preacher. "And that one day we're going to return to dust." "That's right, you were listening, why do you look so worried?" He said, "Pastor, you've got to come over to my house quick and look under my bed because I'm sure there's somebody under there who's either coming or going." You know the truth is we're all going. It's a fact of life. Malcolm Mugridge said, "I have one foot in heaven and one foot on earth and the foot on earth is on a banana peel."
Now we're going to look at this chapter, not all of the verses but several of them and the entire chapter is devoted to the funeral arrangements that Abraham makes for his wife, isn't that interesting that the Holy Spirit thought that was important to place in this primary text of the old Testament. The loving funeral arrangements of a husband for his wife, it's a noteworthy chapter. I went through it and there were several things that struck me. The first thing is that the language is plain and straightforward, the issue is not skirted, it is dealt with directly. Second, it's personal, there's no stripping of her identity, you don't talk about her as the departed done or the loved one, her name is mentioned. Sarah died. And then a third thing is that she's not in the hands of specialists who are trying to make her look really good at the time of her death. I have nothing against that, in fact I've seen some people that look better. The point is here, she is in the loving hands of her husband as she departed this life. It's such a tender moment, it's such a strong testimony. It is the end of the vows that were said so many years before, "Til death do us part." If you're taking notes tonight, I want to give you four important truths about life and death, especially death, from this chapter. And let's read together the first several verses. "Sarah lived a hundred and twenty-seven years, these were the years of the life of Sarah. So Sarah died in Kiriatharba, that is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. Then Abraham stood up from before his dead and spoke to the sons of Heth saying, "I'm a foreigner and a visitor among you. Give me property for a burial place among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight." The first and obvious truth in this chapter is this: Death is inevitable. Death is inevitable, we all know that but we forget that. Notice in verse 1 how simple its put, "Sarah lived a hundred and twenty-seven years, these were the years of the life of Sarah. So Sarah died." Sarah lived, Sarah died, simply stated because death is a simple fact of life. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, "There's to be born and there is a time to die." Every year 365,340 people are born while 147,276 die, roughly. That translates to two people dying every second, a hundred and two people dying every minute, 6136 people dying every hour. Which poses a problem, as time goes on and there are more people on the earth born, more people dying, where we bury them all. Governments of this world are dealing with the problem of burial space. I read an interesting article about a cemetery that is built in Brazil, it's 39-story skyscraper that is a cemetery that is able to house (sorry to use that word) the capacity is 147,000 people, roughly the number of people that die annually on planet Earth. So death is a fact of life. We know that, sort of, we just don't like to deal with it much. Somebody once said, "The statistics on death are amazing. Every one out of one dies." Ever person born unless the Lord comes back before you do will die. People are dying who have never died before, it's amazing.
Now you can work out and you can count calories and you can pump iron and you can take vitamins and you can add a few more years to your life but eventually we're all going to die. As one Washington, D. C. undertaker signs all of his correspondence, instead of Cordially, or Gratefully Yours; Eventually Yours, because he knows it's coming.
Now the Bible teaches us that we live and die by appointment not by accident. It is appointed unto every man once to die. It's an appointment that everyone will keep. Now that's not fatalism, it's providence. The years of our birth, life, and death are all in the hands of God. We could all echo Psalm 139 where the psalmist writes, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book."
Now some people read the text that we just read, they have sort of a problem with it. The problem they have is the age of Sarah. It's a commonly asked question: How can a woman live to be 127 years old? That's not really my heart issue by the way, my issue is, "How did she look so great at ninety?" That's probably a more applicable question. But nonetheless the question is raised; How could she live to be so old? And understand that Abraham was even ten years older at this time. But there are others with even longer ages. For instance, Adam the Bible says lived to be nine hundred thirty years old, Seth 912, Methusaleh the oldest 969 years old. Can you imagine how hard it was to blow out the candles on their birthday cake? (that's just my mind thinks that way) Well first of all understand something and I'm just going to touch on this, reports of longevity are not just found in the Bible, they are found in some of the most ancient texts including that of Egypt, Greece, Persia and India. And scientists who have studied this and written on it have noted that the age in the antedeluvian era, antedeluvian meaning before the flood upon the earth, that people lived to these great levels of age, nine hundred years plus in the antedeluvian times because there was this canopy, this vapor canopy that covered the entire earth that prevented all sorts of radiation and ozone poisoning, prohibited that from getting into the human body and they tell us that that is one of the great factors for age. And even the Bible shows this sharp dropoff in age after the flood to eventually where man becomes, the average age as stated in Psalm 90 which is age 70. They've done experiments where they've exposed living cells to both ozone and radiation and after the exposure these cells showed a downward curve in longevity and then eventually stabilized. So that would account in part for the longevity that we read about here. The greater point is this: God knows the day of your birth, the day of your death, and every day in between and you can rest your head safely on the pillow of God's sovereign providence. You might look at it this way, the future is your friend when Jesus is your lord. It doesn't matter how old you are, you're going somewhere and death is inevitable. There's a second truth that this text shows us, mourning is essential. Look at verse 2 with me. "So Sarah died in Kirietharba that is Hebron in the land of Canaan and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her." There's two words that are used, the first word is mourn, saphad is the Hebrew word, it means to lament, to wail. Picture somebody strongly crying out rather than just sniffling with a Kleenex, to lament, to wail. The second word weep is the word bakka, it's used 98 times in the Old Testament, it means to shed tears and to embrace. So can you get the picture of Abraham? He's been with his wife a long time, he has been a strong support to his faith though it wasn't always perfect but it kept him going on his journey through life and he as he embraces her weeps and laments over the death of his wife. Solomon again in Ecclesiastes 3, "A time to be born, a time to die," and he said this, "there's a time to weep, and a time to laugh, there's a time to mourn, and there's a time to dance." In other words, according to the Bible grieving is normal and healthy. There is such a thing as good grief. The Hebrews grieved typically at the death of a loved one for thirty days, a month. Egyptians did it for seventy days. And if you know anything about the Middle East, if you've ever traveled to places outside of America or England where you see very demonstrative grief. In those days they would put sackcloth on, oftentimes put ashes on their heads, rip their garments, beat their breasts, even hire professional mourners to make lots of noise because they felt it was natural, normal and healthy.
Now Almighty God designed you with a variety of emotional responses to correspond to a variety of life experiences, whether it's laughing, the ability to laugh, make jokes, smile; or the ability to weep. See God put something in the corners of your eyes called lacrimal glands and lacrimal ducts, they produce tears. That's how he designed you. And to shed tears, every health professional will tell you is cathartic. To suppress emotion is unhealthy. One doctor noted, "Suppressed sorrow can wreak havoc on the nervous system." One patient that he had died of ulcerative colitis because he suppressed grief when his father had died. And yet with all of that, well-meaning but ignorant people will put their arms on friends and relatives at a time of grief and say, "Don't cry," and that's wrong advice. It's wrong advice. You are denying your design. If God designed you with the ability to cry then God must expect you to weep at the right time. But for some reason we have bought into the ancient Greek stoic philosophy, especially among men that "Stoicism is next to godliness. You're a man, don't weep." "You're a boy, boys don't cry. Big boys don't cry." And if you feed that stuff, eventually by age ten or twelve that boy is going to think that tears and masculinity don't mix. Well then what do you do with Jesus Christ? Who at the funeral of his good friend Lazarus, the very shortest verse in the Bible in John 11 says, "Jesus wept." And what did the crowd say? "My, how he loved him." They associated the weeping with the love. Now if somebody around you is grieving due to the death of a loved one, brace yourself, you can expect a wide variety of emotions. And I should say expect it, be prepared for it. There are typical emotions, I've watched them in many catastrophic situations including ones I've gone through. The first typically is denial, "No, this didn't happen, it couldn't happen. God wouldn't let this happen." And after that comes anger, "I can't believe this happened. I'm so mad at God. I'm so mad at that person or everyone else or myself." There is often a bargaining stage. Often with God, "God if you just please change this or don't let this have happened, I will..." Or, "If you bring them back I promise I'll..." Another stage is depression, it lasts usually longer than the other phases. It can be long, it can be deep. But eventually, eventually as time goes on if it's dealt with right, if the grief is good grief, there comes acceptance. And the final stage, hope. And I think we see that here even with Abraham. So if you're dealing with somebody who's going through times of grief, expect it, be prepared for outbursts, for listlessness and withdrawal. And you just sit there and don't put your arm on them and say, "Oh, don't cry." Just be there. Just the ministry of presence. And then share a scripture of love, keep it short, walk softly around a broken heart. Graham Scroggy writes these words, "Let grief do its work. Tramp every inch of the sorrowful way, drink every drop of the bitter cup." Listen to his advice. To see things that our loved ones once left behind will give us daily pain. The clothes they wore, the letters they wrote, the books they read, the chairs in which they sat, the music they loved. But what would we be without those reminders? Those who truly love will say they have found sorrow but in sorrow a new joy, a joy which only the brokenhearted can know. Oh by the way, what we just read in chapter 23 is the first recorded incidence of tears in the Bible. It's the first time we read of anybody crying in all of the scripture. This is where it begins and it continues and it continues throughout the biblical history, Old Testament, New Testament, into our own time and it will continue until Revelation chapter 21 when it ends and he will wipe away every tear. That's the lot of fallen humanity.
So death is inevitable, mourning is essential. There's a third truth that we learned, moving on is vital. Look at verse 3, "Then Abraham stood up from before his dead and spoke to the sons of Heth saying, 'I'm a foreigner and a visitor among you, give me property for a burial place among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.' And the sons of Heth answered Abraham saying to him, 'Hear us my Lord you are a mighty prince among us, bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places. None of us will withhold from you the burial place that you may bury your dead.' Then Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land and the sons of Heth and he spoke with them saying, "If it is your wish that I bury my dead out of my sight, hear me and meet with Efron the son of Zohar for me that he may give me the cave of Macpella which he is which is at the end of his field. Let him give it to me at the full price as property for a burial place among you.' Now Efron dwelt among the sons of Heth and Efron the Hittite answered Abraham in the presence of the sons of Heth who entered at the gate of the city saying.". and I won't read any further. Go back to verse 3, it's a beautiful phrase. It says, "Then Abraham stood up." Or as the New Century version renders it, "After a while he got up." After a while he got up, the phrase in Hebrew is constructed in such a way that one commentator says, "This signifies a squaring of the shoulder, a lifting of the ey, a firming of the step and a facing of life again." In other words, here's a man whose wife died and he grieved and he mourned but now it's time to get up, to make the necessary arrnagments and to move on with your life. And that's what he does. You cannot mourn over the dead forever, that too is unhealthy. There comes a time where acceptance is appropriate and you move on. So he does. He secures a burial plot, he pays for it, he buries his wife there. In the next chapter he goews out and he finds a wife for his son. In the following chapter, he himself even remarries another, his second wife Kiturrah. So mourning is essential but moving on is vital. Yes there is good grief but prolonged grief or should I say unresolved grief is wrong and unhealthy.
Keep a marker here and would you turn with me to Deuteronomy, the last chapter of Deuteronomy, chapter 34. This is Moses' funeral. Verse 7, Deuteronomy 34, "Moses was 120 years old when he died. (good long life, you think it's about time) His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished. And the children of Israel wept for Moses for thirty days. So the days of weeping and mourning for Moses ended." We're done now, we wept, we paid our last respects, let's move on with life. Turn the page if you have to over to Joshua chapter 1, "After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun Moses' assistant saying (so even God is moving Joshua on and notice verse 2, Moses my servant is dead, now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all of this people to the land which I am giving them, the children of Israel." This is known as the construction stage in grief. It's where the person that's left rallies his thoughts or her thoughts together and sees hope, acceptance, decides to make new plans and forge a new journey for the future, new patterns for living. I remember when my brother died, how difficult it was for me personally, how shocking it was for my family. I remember driving, it was a long trip from where I lived at the beach to where my parents lived. And walking in the door and just that grief that hung in the air, not knowing what to say, it was awkward. We all looked like we had aged within hours. We buried him, we made arrangements for his belongings, we had long evenings of talking about his past. But I'll never forget the evening my brother Rick, gently yet firmly and definitely said, "You know we can do this and it's good gut there comes a time where we have to move on with our lives." And just the tone of his voice, it was encouraging but firm, we kind of looked at him and each other and we said, "He's right. We've got to move on now. We can't let this hold us back. We have to move on with our lives. Because some people will even have this hopeless despairing feeling after months after their loved one has gone. The sort of give-up attitude. And that's why someone who could come along and encourage them, maybe encouraging them to look at life differently, to seek employment, to take up a new hobby, just some certain things they could get involved in: volunteer, enroll in school again. Chaplain Phil Manley from USC Medical Center said, "There's great evidence that one fourth of all the patients hospitalized are there because of unresolved grief in their lives." Wow. We must grieve but we must move on. And notice how Abraham does move on, notice what he says in verse 4, he makes a statement of faith. Go back to Genesis where we began. Genesis 23 verse 4 (listen to him) "I am a foreigner and a visitor among you. Give me property for a burial place." That's a statement of faith. These are the words of a man whose roots are elsewhere, not just this earth, he knows that he's traveling through. In fact, listen to the commentary on the New Testament on this, Hebrews 10 verse 11, "For he waited for a city that has foundations whose builder and maker is God." That's what's implied in this statement, he waited for a city that has foundations whose builder and maker is God. It's a statement of faith, "I don't belong here, I'm just passing through, I'm a stranger, my roots aren't here." He moves on.
I think this in part is what Paul meant in I Thessalonians 4 when he said, "I'm writing these things to you lest you sorrow as those who have no hope." He's not saying Christians don't sorrow, he's saying the Christians sorrow differently from hopeless people. We mourn and we grieve but mixed with that is the hope. And here is Abraham sorrowing, grieving, but in hope he looks beyond the grave to the place, the city that has foundations, heaven, whose maker and builder is God. Especially when your wife's 127 years old. I mean this is good news honestly, for her, this is coronation day for her. I mean she has lived a good long life, she's 127, time to pack it up, mourn for the dead, and move on. This is why I don't get reincarnation. I mean that is the worst possible belief system you could have. Who would want to come back and redo a lot, who would want to go through diapers again? Or high school English? Or first dates? Or taxes? There's a lot of things we'd like to avoid. She has paid her dues, she has lived her life. And here's a man who makes a statement of faith, "I'm a foreigner, I'm a stranger, I'm passing through." So, death is inevitable, mourning is essential, moving on is vital. And there's a fourth and we'll close, preparation is crucial. Preparation is crucial. I want you to skip down to verse 19, the last two verses of the chapter, "And after this Abraham buried Sarah, his wife, in the cave, in the field of Macpella before Mamre, that is Hebron, in the land of Canaan (that's the land he just bought). So the field and the cave that was in it were deeded to Abraham by the sons of Heth as property for a burial place." Okay, in other words, the guy made arrangements, secured the plot, paid for it in advance, buried his wife. When you get to the end of Genesis, that same tomb is mentioned, but at the end of Genesis it's full, Sarah is there, by that time Abraham is there, by that time Isaac is there, by that time Rebecca is there and Leah and Jacob. So it's a family plot that this guy paid for in advance suggesting that Abraham, this man of faith, was very practical and made preparations, not only for his death and his wife's death but for his sons and grandchildren, etcetera. The cave of Macpella. In ancient Canaanite context this man was prepared, physically. But also in a spiritual context he was prepared spiritually.
Now let me just give you as we close some suggestions, practical suggestions for you and your family on being prepared. Number one, get comfortable with the idea of death. "Oh I could never." Well, it's going to happen. Learn to talk about it. Don't avoid it. You know, you sit down and the kids say, "Hey dad, let's talk about when you die." And you go, "Well why would you talk about that! That's not a good subject." Well, it's going to happen. Learn to be relaxed with the subject, allow it to be broached within the home, develop healthy attitudes.
I was with Billy Graham a couple weeks ago and you know he's still going but he's slowing down, he's in his mid-80s. And I recalled something he said to a university when he was giving a lecture there. And one of the students said, "Dr. Graham, what is the one surprising thing you've learned about life?" And his answer was this, "Its brevity." It's brevity, it is so short, put your brain around that, accept that. Suggestion number two, get your house in order. Do you have a will? Or a living trust? Is it updated? Who's going to take care of the kids? The insurance situation. Those are just good practical things, we learn that from Abraham. Number three, clear up relationships. Nothing will complicate death more than anger or unresolved issues or unforgiveness. It just makes it messier. I've watched a lot of deathbed scenes in hospitals. I've walked with a lot of families through grief. And I would say clearly this complicates the dying process more than anything else. So number three, clear up relationships. Number four, build friendships now. Don't be like those people who are so isolated they don't have a support system, you need other people to help carry that load. And number five, most important of all, is spiritual preparation. Are you prepared to meet your God? Are you prepared confidently to stand before God? What if that old bedtime rhyme came true for you tonight, tomorrow, this week? "if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." Where would it be taken? You might say, "Heaven." Are you sure? On what basis are you sure? Can you say unequivocally, "Because I've given my life to Christ I know I am secure eternally because of what he did for me." Or are you going to say, "Well I'm a pretty good guy, I didn't hurt anybody this week." Or, whatever lame excuse you would offer other than Christ and Christ alone? Interesting Gallup poll that I found, they asked this question: How would you describe your own chances of going to heaven? And it gives a few options: Excellent, good, fair, or poor. Only twenty-six percent of Baptists in this poll answered good, twenty percent of Lutherans, sixteen percent of Methodists thought their chances wer excellent. That's a very small amount. You better know, not "Well I think I'm going to heaven, I hope so." You know it's a little too late to find out you were wrong after you die. Ic an stand before you and say, "I know the moment I die I will be in the presence of God." "Well you're so arrogant." "No, I just believe this book. And this book tells me that if I place my faith in Christ and Christ alone I have an e-ticket to heaven." And you can know that too and you better know that. It's not "Well I follow Calvin, well I follow Wesley, well I follow Luther." I hope you follow Jesus and Jesus Christ alone.
I've told you before about that tombstone and in fact, I've read the illustration and someone found it in the East Coast and gave me a photograph of the tombstone. And the tombstone reads, "Pause stranger as you pass me by, as you are now so once was I, as I am now so you will be, so prepare for death and follow me." Someone saw that and wrote their own inscription on a plaque and placed it by that tombstone that said, "To follow you I'm not content until I know which way you went." I hope you're prepared to die because if the Lord isn't coming back it's going to happen. Death is inevitable, mourning is essential, moving on is vital, preparation is crucial. Listen to the words of Moses, Psalm 90, "Teach us to number our days that we gain a heart of wisdom." The grave is not the end folks. In fact, that's when you can really sing, "We've only just begun." Because you will live forever somewhere, it's a grave but true fact. You will live on after death. There's only two things that are eternal, the word of God and the soul of a human being. The body will decay, be absorbed into the ground, but your soul will await a resurrection either to life or to death.
A man went to a doctor for a checkup. The doctor said, "Well I've got bad news and worse news." You know usually they've got good news and bad news. He said, "Sir, I've got bad news and worse news. The bad news is you've got 24 hours left to live." The guy jumped up and said, "Twenty-four hours, I hardly have any time to put my affairs in order, what could be worse than that?" He said, "Well I was supposed to tell you yesterday but I forgot." I guess that would be worse.
Listen, you can't decide your first birth and you can't really always decide the means of your death. But you can decide, you can decide your second birth and you can decide if you will skip what the Bible calls the second death. "He who takes part in the first resurrection will not be hurt," the Bible says, "by the second death." That's eternal separation from God.
So, preparation is essential. Make sure that you are as prepared as this man Abraham and Sarah who looked for a foundation, a city that had them whose builder and maker was God.
Heavenly Father, here we are born into this world. Some of us born again into the next but not all of us. Some of us are living on very slim wires of our own good works or our own religious accomplishments or our intellect or our background and breeding. But we must say, "On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand." Thank you Lord that it was important enough for you to inscribe in the scripture, the whole chapter devoted to arrangement of a husband for his wife's funeral. And what lessons we glean. So simple but so vital. I pray Lord that in being prepared to die we would know then how to live. With a light touch and with obedience to you because ultimately you're the one we're going to stand before. Not our buddies, not our family, not our girlfriend, boyfriend; but you Almighty holy loving God. In Jesus' name. Amen.