Sermon Illustrations on Life After Death
Awakening into the House and Gate of Heaven
This prayer, written by the great British pastor and poet John Donne, anticipates the new heaven and new earth that we will one day experience with our Lord:
Bring us, O Lord, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginning, but one equal eternity; in the habitation of thy glory and dominion, world without end.
The Biggest Question
My question—that which at the age of fifty brought me to the verge of suicide—was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man…a question without an answer to which one cannot live. It was: “What will come of what I am doing today or tomorrow? What will come of my whole life? Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?” It can also be expressed thus: Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?
A Cause for Rejoicing
An old legend tells of a merchant in Bagdad who one day sent his servant to the market. Before very long the servant came back. White and trembling, and in great agitation said to his master:
“Down in the market place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd, and when I turned around I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Master, please lend me your horse, for I must hasten away to avoid her. I will ride to Samarra and there I will hide, and Death will not find me.
The merchant lent him his horse and the servant galloped away in great haste. Later the merchant went down to the market place and saw Death standing in the crowd. He went over to her and asked, “Why did you frighten my servant this morning? Why did you make a threatening gesture?
“That was not a threatening gesture/ Death said. “It was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
Each of us has an appointment in Samarra. But that is cause for rejoicing—not for fear, provided we have put our trust in Him who alone holds the keys of life and death.
Chapter One of the Great Story
In the epic conclusion to the Narnia Chronicles, C.S. Lewis attempts to express the absolute joy that will come as our earthly lives come to an end and we are reunited with our God for all of eternity:
The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Did He Throw Him Back Down?
A father was at the beach with his children when his four-year-old son ran up to him, grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore, where a seagull lay dead in the sand.
“Daddy, what happened to him?” the son asked. “He died and went to Heaven,” the dad replied.
The boy thought a moment and then said, “Did God throw him back down?”
Do You Know Who I Am?
In a story circulated among an ancient monastic community, a vicious warlord intimidated whole villages, sending it’s entire population into the hills to hide in caves, waiting for the ruler to move on. One day the warlord entered a small village and asked, I presume all the people have fled by this time?” “Well, all but one old monk who refused to flee,” the aide answered. The warlord was beside himself.
“Bring him to me immediately,” he snarled. When they dragged the old monk to the square before him, the commander shouted at him, “Do you not know who I am? I am he who can run you through with a sword and never even bat an eye.” And the old monk gazed up at the commander and replied, “And do you not know who I am? I am he who can let you run me through with a sword and never bat an eye.”
Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Joan Chittister, Between the Dark and the Daylight, 2015, The Crown Publishing Group.
The Glory Being Revealed To Us
In Romans 8:18, Paul describes the future of those who persevere in the faith: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” in The Lord of the Rings: J.R.R. Tolkein provides a stirring image of this glory at the death of the great king Aragorn (that is, after his life-long struggle against the evil forces in Middle Earth, and his own personal demons):
Then a great beauty was revealed in him, so that all who after came there looked on him in wonder; for they saw that the grace of his youth, and the valour of his manhood, and the wisdom and majesty of his age were blended together. And long there he lay, an image of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.
The idea here is that the same thing will happen to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ. We are, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “no mere mortals.”
Stuart Strachan Jr. , Source material from J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of the Lord of the Rings (New York: Ballantine, 1955), 378.
Leaving It Behind
A wealthy plantation owner invited John Wesley to his home. The two rode their horses all day, seeing just a fraction of all the man owned. At the end of the day the plantation owner proudly asked, “Well, Mr. Wesley, what do you think?” After a moment’s silence, Wesley replied, “I think you’re going to have a hard time leaving all this.”
Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity: A Comprehensive Guide to What the Bible Says about Financial Stewardship, Generosity, Materialism, Retirement, Financial Planning, Gambling, Debt, and More, Tyndale Press, 2011.
A Phone Line to the Grave
I hate to admit it, but there is actually a minister in a city in America who has a phone line connected from his wife’s grave to his office because before she died, they had agreed that if she was privy to any inside word that Jesus’ second coming was imminent, she would call him so that he would be the first to know.
The Plane Crash
Picture 269 people entering eternity in a plane crash in the Sea of Japan. Before the crash there is a noted politician, a millionaire corporate executive, a playboy and his playmate, a missionary kid on the way back from visiting grandparents. After the crash they stand before God utterly stripped of MasterCards, checkbooks, credit lines, image clothes, how-to-succeed books, and Hilton reservations.
Here are the politician, the executive, the playboy, and the missionary kid, all on level ground with nothing, absolutely nothing, in their hands, possessing only what they brought in their hearts. How absurd and tragic the lover of money will seem on that day—like a man who spends his whole life collecting train tickets and in the end is so weighed down by the collection he misses the last train.
The Soft Curtain Between This Life and the Next
The life which we are living now is more aware than we know of the life which is to come. Death, which separates the two, is not, as it has been so often pictured, like a great thick wall. It is rather like a soft and yielding curtain, through which we cannot see, but which is always waving and trembling with the impulses that come out of the life which lies upon the other side of it.
We are never wholly unaware that the curtain is not the end of everything. Sounds come to us, muffled and dull, but still indubitably real, through its thick folds. Every time that a new soul passes through that veil from mortality to immortality, it seems as if we heard its light footfalls for a moment after
Phillips Brooks, Sermon on Revelation 20:12
N.T. Wright on the Possibility of Hell
It seems to me… that if it is possible … for human beings to choose to live more and more out of tune with the divine intention, to reflect the image of God less and less, there is nothing to stop them finally ceasing to bear that image, and so to be, as it were, beings who were once human but are not now.
Those who persistently refuse to follow Jesus… will by their own choice become less and less like him, that is, less and less truly human…I see nothing in the New Testament to make me reject the possibility that some, perhaps many, of God’s human creatures do choose, and will choose, to dehumanize themselves completely.
Nor do I see anything to make me suppose that God, who gave his human creatures the risky gift of freedom and choice, will not honour that choice…This, I think, is the way in which something like the traditional doctrine of hell can be restated in the present day.
The Place of the Dead
When the New Testament speaks about “the dead,” it has a specific background, one that affirms “the [place of the] dead” as a location containing the disembodied souls of both the righteous and unrighteous (albeit in separate compartments). This lends credence to the idea that when the NT writers and later the creeds speak about Christ’s resurrection “from the dead,” they mean not only from the state of being dead but from the place of the dead and from among the dead ones (disembodied souls).
On the final page of the final book of The Chronicles of Narnia, some of the children who have been to Narnia lament that they once again must return to their homeland—the Shadow-Lands. But Aslan (the lion who represents Jesus) has the best news of all for them:
[Aslan spoke to the children,] “You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.”
Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”
“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”
Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.
“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream has ended; this is morning.”
And as he spoke he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Introduction by Chris Stroup, C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle.
That Future Life
As he reflected on his life’s work, the famed author of Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, and many others, Victor Hugo describes what he believed about life after death, that heaven would actually entail a continuation of his life’s work:
I feel within me that future life. I am like a forest that has been razed; the new shoots are stronger and brighter. I shall most certainly rise toward the heavens the nearer my approach to the end, the plainer is the sound of immortal symphonies of worlds which invite me.
For half a century I have been translating my thoughts into prose and verse: history, drama, philosophy, romance, tradition, satire, ode, and song; all of these I have tried. But I feel I haven’t given utterance to the thousandth part of what lies within me. When I go to the grave I can say, as others have said, “My day’s work is done.” But I cannot say, “My life is done.” My work will recommence the next morning. The tomb is not a blind alley; it is a thoroughfare. It closes upon the twilight, but opens upon the dawn..
Thinking about the Life to Come
The manner in which Christians have thought about life after death, or about the world to come, has varied considerably from century to century and from place to place. It is easy enough to understand why. Christians who have few of this world’s goods or who face the stress of perennially threatening persecution are more likely to long for the “home” of the new heaven and the new earth than are Christians who live remarkably secure and comfortable lives.
Christians who think about these things at a period in history when talk about “end times” is all the rage are more likely to stretch their imaginations into eternity (though how accurately is another question) than are those who focus on other doctrines.
The Two Orders
There is an old story about a florist who mixed up two orders one busy day. One arrangement went to a new business that was opening, and the other went to a family who had a death. The man with the new business came in ticked off: “The flowers that got delivered to my opening day, “Rest in peace.”
The florist said, “You think you’re mad; you should have seen the family who just left. A bouquet was delivered to their family’s funeral that said, “Good luck in your new location.”