Pastoral Exhortation

Departed for Far Better Things Above

Written by Rev (Dr) Prabhudas Koshy Sunday, 14 July 2013

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On last Lord’s Day (7th July), Preacher Dominino dela Cruz Jr, our missionary in Bogo, the Philippines, was called home to be with the Lord. He was only 46 years old. For about three years, he had been battling with a rare form of cancer around his stomach, which finally brought about his death. Our departed brother was a very industrious and dedicated servant of the Lord who established two mission churches in Bogo and San Antonio, and a children’s outreach in Libjo in a short period of 1 year. He was also an able and faithful expositor of the Word. His demise is a painful loss to his dear wife, Sis Sharon and their young son, Nehemiah, and to the young churches he planted, and to all of us who loved him and co-laboured with him in the Lord’s vineyard. It has pleased the Lord, his Saviour and Master, to call him to His glorious presence. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

While we were preparing to travel to the Philippines to attend the burial of Preacher Dominino, on last Tuesday (9th July), we received the news of the home-going of Mr Lim Ming Tin (husband of Mdm Took Ah Quee, member of our Chinese Service, and father of Bernard Lim and May Ling of our English Service). Mr Lim came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ on 3rd November 2011 when Preacher Daniel Lim and I visited him in Tan Tock Seng Hospital and told him about our Great Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. The same day, we baptized him on his hospital bed. Since then, though Mr Lim was not well enough to come to church for worship, he always showed great enthusiasm when our preachers and brethren visited him. During every pastoral visitation I had made, Mr Lim would eagerly and very reverently listen to the reading of the Scriptures and the short exhortations I gave. He would also readily join me to pray, spontaneously repeating after me with earnest devotion of heart. Mr Lim’s childlike faith expressed itself as it instinctively joined in to pray, and also through his bold statements to his non- Christian relatives about his Christian faith and his decision to have a Christian burial.

 

These two deaths in our church have driven my heart to search His Word for His consolations and counsels that I might bring them to the hearts of believers who are bereaved. I prayed and the Spirit of God led my thoughts to the words of Paul in Philippians 1:23-24 – “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.”

In the heart of God’s servant, Paul, there were two powerful desires at work. It is most intriguing that those desires were extreme on opposite ends. So he found himself “in a strait betwixt two”. What were those strong affections of his heart? Firstly, “to depart” from this world, and secondly, “to abide” in this world. Both of these desires are found in the heart of every true Christian. While he is eager to be in heaven, he is also most willing to remain in the service of the Lord here on earth. So Paul confessed, “To depart was far better, to stay was more needful.”

Every Christian must be ready to depart from this world. Death is a parting from everything on this earth. We depart from our earthly family, friends and all other familiar things. We even part with our earthly body. In death, our souls go “to be with Christ”, while the body shall return to dust. We cannot stay here for long; away we must. We are “strangers and pilgrims” who journey through this earth just for a short time (Hebrews 11:13). Christians have another place to go to. All Christians, when they depart from this world, will go “to be with Christ”. This was what Jesus told the dying thief, who repented and trusted Him, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Just as Paul had said, to depart from this world and to be with Christ is “far better” (Philippians 1:23).

We know for sure, therefore, that all our departed brethren are now in Paradise where Christ is seated with His Father. There they have far better experiences than in this world. Jesus will lead them to rejoice in His resplendent glory. Jesus declared this truth in His prayer recorded in John 17:24 – “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me.”

So when we die, our souls are delivered from the corruption and pain of our earthly bodies, and are ushered into the presence of Christ to experience “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). Because heaven is such a wonderful place (“far better”), its attractions draw the heart of Paul to long for heaven. Our blessed Saviour is there. There is glorious, endless worship of God rendered by a great multitude of saints and angels. Heaven is filled with glorious music of worship. Life reigns there enshrined in the blessing of God. There is no sin or sorrow. There is no sickness or death. There is no night, no withering cold or scorching heat. Heaven alone can fully satisfy the desires and passions of a redeemed and sanctified soul. So Paul said that he was “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better”.

Only in the presence of Christ, in that celestial glory land can our highest hopes and holiest affections be fully realized. So every Christian who has become weary in his life and ministry on earth is able to look for his most solemn and unhindered rest in the bosom of His Saviour and Lord. The labourer who has been maligned and persecuted looks forward to the boundless worship surrounding the throne of God. He yearns to leave this world of sadness for heavenly gladness. There he has no opponents but the company of Christ, His saints and His holy angels. O the joyous expectation of every Christian, His heavenly abode!

However, the desire to be with Christ does not make life unhappy because it is driven by the pleasure of working for Christ and His church. The desire to co-labour with the Lord and to fulfil His good pleasures on earth enables every Christians to say, “Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful” (Philippians 1:24). So we, who now remain alive on this earth, continue to thrust forward to carry out all things needful for the Lord’s church.

Truly, “Life is more our business than death”. This truth is well illustrated in the following story narrated by J.L. Nye. “At a private meeting of friends George Whitefield, after adverting to the difficulties attending the gospel ministry, said that he was weary with the burdens of the day, and declared it to be his great consolation that in a short time his work would be done, and he should depart and be with Christ. He then appealed to the ministers present, and asked if they had not entirely similar feelings. They generally assented, with the exception of Mr Tennent. On seeing this, Mr Whitefield, tapping him on the knee, said: “Well, Brother Tennent, you are the oldest man among us; do you not rejoice to think that your time is so near at hand when you will be called home?” Mr Tennent bluntly answered that he had no wish about it. Being pressed for some opinion more definite and decided; he then added: “I have nothing to do with death. My business is to live as long as I can, and as well as I can, and serve my Master as faithfully as I can until He shall think proper to call me home. It proved a word in season to the great evangelist, helping him more calmly and patiently to hold on his way”.

So brethren, as we rejoice that our dear brethren in the Lord have gone to a better place, let us delight ourselves in the opportunity that is now given to us to live and serve Christ and His church. So as we wait for our glorious day, let us labour for the good of the brethren.