One of the blessings of knowing Christ is resting in the knowledge that this life is not all there is to our story. We have the promise through faith in Christ of an eternity with Him, walking constantly in the light of His glory with no more pain, no more death and no more sin and suffering (Revelation 21).
This thought is captivating in a world filled with sin, suffering, pain and death. As we face the issues before us each day, even when we celebrate the goodness of God in our lives, all of it pales compared to the greatness of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and the promise of eternity with Him. We sing about it, praise God for it and God’s Word testifies to it. But our faith in it, our convictions are only truly tested when we face death. At times, death comes upon us when we least expect it. But at other times, we get the news that death will come at a later time. We discover either by issues of health or old age, that our time on earth is short.
How will we respond to this knowledge? Will we respond with a measure of joy that soon we will see our Savior or will be respond with grief and sorrow as there is still far too much on earth we desire to experience or see. Some in this world talk of a “bucket list” or a list of things we desire to do before “we are gone.” Others fight back against death, and fear what is to come. But some, who are confident in the promises of God, take this knowledge peacefully and with a measure of joy. Certainly, the idea of death and leaving loved ones is grievous, but the knowledge of heaven and the capacity to live on with loved ones who also walk by faith in Christ brings peace that passes all understanding. Therefore, the greatest revelation of the depth of our faith will always be found in realization of impending earthly death.
Pastor Nikolai is another faithful, small-church missionary pastor supported by SGA in Belarus. He has served our Lord for many years, but recently was given difficult news.
I still continue my ministry . . . but every time I do it becomes more and more difficult due to my health. I recently spent a week in the oncological hospital, where I was diagnosed with cancer of the descending colon. Metastases from it severely affected my liver and partially my lungs. The doctor said: “Unfortunately, no treatment can be applied anymore. Death can come at any moment. Get a disability support group, and when the pain starts, call us, we’ll start injecting painkillers.” When I heard all this, not one nerve twitched, as if it did not concern me at all. We had anticipated that I had something serious. I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Even though my life is not that long, I have done the most important thing in my life. I confessed my sinfulness and humbled myself before God. The Lord Jesus freed me from judgment, and my conscience is free. I have no material possessions, and nothing earthly holds me back. I only feel sorry for my wife. She often cries and says, “How will I be here without you . . . ?” Not surprisingly, I understand her, because we have lived with her in love and harmony for 46 years. We gave birth and raised our children in a Christian spirit, in the midst of an atheistic environment. God kept us and supported us in difficult times.
Such terrible news is hard to take. It is an end to one’s dreams about the days ahead. Yet for Nikolai, the news of terminal cancer was taken with peace. Nothing earthly is holding him back. There is thanksgiving to God for his 46 years of marriage, his family, and most of all, his salvation in Jesus Christ. As he processes the news, his eyes only look upward. Nikolai was not moved to despair and fear, but instead begin “packing his bags for heaven.”
In showing concern for the church, I suggested that they elect a helper for me, that is, a deacon. My younger brother, Anatoly, had long been this helper. He is 17 years younger than me, has a family, and four children. He is currently out of work as the company has closed and all the employees have been laid off. He and I worked together a lot, and I will say that he is my apprentice. He has the knowledge, but I would say he does not have much experience. The church unanimously elected him to the ministry and now he helps me even more and continues to learn and gain the necessary experience. So, in the event of my passing, the church would not be without a leader. I don’t know, my friends if this will be the last letter I write to you, God knows. I have one last favor to ask of you. Please friends, please don’t forget the church in your prayers, and also, support Anatoly in his ministry.”
Rather than turning inward, Nikolai turns outward, praising God for His life and preparing for his trip to heaven.
Out of love for God’s church, he wants to make sure all is in order. Out of love for his wife and family, he wants to make sure that they are cared for. But most of all, he is preparing for this special trip, his entrance into heaven. And in Christ he can do this with peaceful confidence knowing that the best is yet to come. God be praised for the hope we have in His Son Jesus!