“I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin.” John 8:21
Some years ago, I came to know a man who had emigrated from England to South Africa. He came to the church I served in London while he was visiting his elderly mother. She was in a nursing home in the area. The old lady had lost her memory and hardly knew who he was.
One day he called me from South Africa, “My mother has died,” he said. “Could you take the funeral? I really can’t afford the expense of coming again. If you could do this for me, I would be really grateful.”
“Someone from the nursing home will come, and perhaps you could invite some friends from the church. There won’t be anybody else. But I should tell you that I have a daughter. She’s on the road working her way round the world. The last I heard, she was in Europe and if I can get word to her, she might be able to come. She is a bit different, you’ll see.”
Sure enough when I arrived at the cemetery, there were about half a dozen friends from the church, a lady from the nursing home, and the man’s daughter—in torn jeans and spiky hair like a punk rocker. We had about a half-mile walk to the graveside. I was wearing my dark suit and we must have looked like a rather odd couple…
“It’s good you could come,” I said, trying to strike up a conversation.
“I didn’t have much choice!” she said.
“Did you ever meet your grandmother before?” I asked.
Talking about family wasn’t getting anywhere, so I decided to ask her about her tour, “You’re traveling round the world—tell me about it.”
Suddenly her eyes brightened. She told me about diving on the barrier reef, trekking in the Himalayas, and hitchhiking up the Khyber Pass. She had visited places of unusual danger and explored them alone, sleeping rough, and finding temporary work long enough to pay for the next ticket.
“When will you get home?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, “Maybe some time next year.”
“So, what motivated you to do this?”
“I want to see life!” she said, with conviction.
“Well, I guess in a way you’re seeing a part of life today,” I said.
I’ll never forget the change that came over her as we got near the graveside. She’d never been at a funeral before, and something about it seemed to make her freeze. She grabbed me by the arm, as if confiding in me, “This really freaks me out—I’ve never had to face anything like this!”
It struck me as surprising that a woman who had the courage to travel through the Khyber Pass alone would find the funeral of a relative she had never met so disturbing, but death has a way of making us lose our nerve.
How to Look Death in the Face
It’s a good thing to take your children to a funeral of someone they don’t know well, and to use the opportunity to talk to them about death. When they’re old enough to talk about sex they’re old enough for you to talk with them about death. And it’s very important that you do.
Your son is becoming aware of his strength. He lifts weights to develop his body. He needs to know that one day this strength will be gone, and his body will lie in a grave.
Your daughter is becoming aware of her looks. She puts on make-up. She learns to smile for the camera. She needs to know that one day these looks will be gone and her body will lie in a grave. Help your children see that caring for your body is important, but caring for your soul matters more.
Every person should attend a funeral at least once a year. Going to a wedding reminds you that the marriage bond is sacred. Going to a funeral reminds you that life is a vapor and one day yours will be gone. When I hear an announcement in church that someone has died, I try to remember that one day someone will make that announcement about me.
Our culture has devised many ways to keep us from thinking seriously about death. People make a spoof of it at Halloween. Hollywood sentimentalizes it with weepy movies, and the card companies follow suit with empty slogans.
Even Christians commonly say “she passed away,” which neatly avoids using the “D-word.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but I prefer to look this enemy in the face and name it, knowing that Christ has conquered it. “My grandma died… and she is with Christ.”
Death is the great reality towards which all of us are moving. If your pastor does not regularly speak about this from the Bible, then he is neither faithful to the Bible nor helpful to you.
Face the ultimate reality of death
Some time ago, I came across a message by Martyn Lloyd-Jones on John 8. The year was 1960, and the whole world was in fear at the prospect of nuclear holocaust. This was just before the Cuban missile crisis. There were many marches in major cities around the world on the theme of “banning the bomb” and so forth.
Lloyd-Jones made this observation: Here are thousands of people on the streets protesting about the danger of death coming through a nuclear bomb. They’re concerned about this mode of death: “We cannot have people dying through a bomb.”
The point is well made, but here’s the problem: Many of the people who were rightly and passionately concerned about the mode of death seemed to give little thought to the unavoidable reality of death itself. They’re worried about how people might die, but they had nothing to say about the reality that all of us eventually will die.
People die in many ways—some die in war or through an act of violence. Some die through an illness, a heart attack or cancer, others die from old age. The timing of death is different—some die early in life, others live a long time. These things are important, but they’re not the ultimate things. However I die, and whenever it happens, when I close my eyes I will awaken in a world of light, love, peace and joy—in the presence of Jesus.
Here’s what matters most: Whatever the mode of death and whatever its timing, every person dies in one of two ways… Our Lord Jesus speaks here about people who “die in their sins,” and we also read about people who “die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13). We’re going to look at the first this week and the second, God willing, next time.
Follow the Light from Heaven
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
Christ says “I am the light of the world.” You have God to thank for everything good in your life and everything good in the world. Without Him there is no light, no love, no hope, no peace and no joy. Take Him away and everything is darkness.
Then Jesus says, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.” Imagine we’re all in a dark tunnel. One man has a light, and He is coming towards us, walking through the tunnel. If we walk with Him, we walk in His light. But if we refuse to follow Him, His light will get further and further away from us, and eventually we will be left in darkness.
That is true in this life, and of course, it is true in the world to come. Beyond this world, there is a place where Christ is. Because Christ is there, it is a world of light and love and peace and joy. But beyond this world, there is also a place where Christ is not. Because Christ is not there, it is a world of darkness and hate and turmoil and misery.
When Jesus says this, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (8:12), it is immediately obvious that His audience is not with Him.
They try to pick holes in what qualifies Him to speak, “You are bearing witness about yourself,” they say. Or as folks would put it today, “Well, that’s just your opinion!” The debate goes on from verse 13 through verse 20, just as it does so often today.
Why you cannot invite yourself into heaven
“I am going away and you will seek me and you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” John 8:21
They’re sure that they’re going to heaven, as most Americans are today, so they say, “We’re going to heaven. If we can’t go where He’s going, he must be going to the other place—maybe he’s going to kill himself.”
So Jesus says, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (John 8:23). He’s saying, “Earth is your home—you don’t belong up there in heaven. Heaven is my home: I don’t belong here on earth.” There is all the difference in the world between us and Jesus. Heaven does not belong to us.
Suppose someone knocks on the door of your house. You open the door and a stranger is there. You have never seen him before. Before you can say anything, he pushes the door open, brushes past you, walks straight up the stairs and starts unpacking his stuff in one of the bedrooms.
You say to him, “What do you think you’re doing?”
He says, “This is a nice house, and I’ve decided to live here.”
You stand there completely astonished, and you say, “Excuse me, but this is my house, and if you don’t leave right now, I’m calling the police.”
If you invite me to your house, I could stay there as your guest, but I have no right to stay at your house. It is entirely a matter of your invitation. If I stay there at all, it will be at your pleasure. Heaven is Christ’s home and we have no right to it. We are from below. We don’t belong there.
What It Means to Die in Your Sins
“I told you that you would die in your sins. For unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” John 8:24
To die in your sins, means to carry your sins into your death with you. Imagine a man moving from life into death. He doesn’t know what’s happening to him. He is going forward. He is going out. He has no choice in the matter. He knows he can’t go back. He is dying in His sins.
Lloyd Jones gave a compelling description of this…
“He has an awful feeling that he is guilty. Suddenly, the whole of his past whole life flashes in front of him, and he sees that it’s all wrong. All his life, he’s stifled his conscience; acted against it; kept it down. Suddenly it asserts itself and he feels condemned.
Even worse is the fact that he is condemned in the sight of God, and under the curse of God against sin. All this comes to him now. He hadn’t seen it before, but it’s clear to him now.
The commandments that he has stifled and kept down begin to speak to him, ‘Thou shall not kill; thou shall not steal; thou shall not commit adultery; thou shall love the Lord thy God and serve him only,’ and he hasn’t done it!
There he is dying and it all comes back. He is dying in his sins, he is surrounded by them, in the atmosphere of them. That’s His position.
He glimpses into the future and he sees flashes of hell and torments and misery. He is filled with a sense of remorse and loathing for the things he has done. He hates himself and feels that he has been a fool. He has lived his life without thinking of this!
He is going out from the present and into an unknown future. He doesn’t know where and nothing he has lived for can help him… And I believe at that point also he is given a glimpse of heaven and of glory, but realizes that he is unfit for it.
It’s clean, it’s pure, it’s light, it’s holy and he knows he wouldn’t be happy there. He hasn’t thought about these things. He has lived for the opposite.
There is God in His glory and all his purity, all this worship. He sees it is wonderful and glorious but he’s unfit and he can’t go there.” 
There is nothing more tragic than this—that you die in your sins. How can I make sure that this does not happen to me? I know that I will die.
How can I be sure that I will not die in my sins?
“You will die in your sin [singular].” John 8:21
One sin—what is it? What is the one sin these people are in danger of dying in? “I told you that you would die in your sins [plural] for unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins [plural]” (John 8:24).
“Unless you believe that I am he…” Unbelief towards Jesus Christ is the one sin that leaves you taking all your other sins into your death with you. Unless you believe… you will die in your sins.
Turn that round and you have the hope of the gospel. Unbelief towards Christ leaves you to die in your sins; but if you believe that Jesus is the Christ you will not die in your sins.
Why is this believing so important? Because faith is the bond of a living union in which you give yourself to Christ and Christ gives Himself to you. Christ becomes your Savior and your friend. Christ becomes your Lord and master, and when you belong to Him, His home is yours.
There’s more: Jesus lived a sinless life. He is the only person who has ever done that, or ever could do that. He lived and died without sin. The Bible tells us that “He bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
Here is the marvelous thing that is true for every person who has faith in Jesus Christ: Christ carried your sins into His death, so you won’t carry them into yours.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, embrace Him, receive Him, follow Him and you will not die in your sins. You will die in the Lord! We will look at what that means next week, but the Bible says, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13).
When death is near
What can you say to a friend or loved one who is not a Christian and is drawing near to death? This is one of the most difficult moments for any Christian. You care about this person deeply. You know that they do not believe in Christ. They have not followed Him. You feel that you should say something, but you don’t know where to begin.
You could begin with these words of Jesus, and say something like this:
- Soon you will be going to another world.
- Jesus said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
- There’s a world that is very dark, because Christ is not there. There is also a world that’s full of love, peace and joy because Christ is its light.
- This is a time for honesty: I know you haven’t followed Christ, but it’s not too late to change.
- Christ died for sinners like us. Ask Him for mercy. Ask Him to forgive you and cleanse you. Christ carried the sins of others into His death, so that you need not carry them into yours.
What about you today? Are you following Jesus? Do you believe that He is the Christ?
Two men die of a heart attack—one dies in his sins, the other dies in the Lord. Which would be you? Two women die in a car accident—one dies in her sins, the other dies in the Lord. Which would be you? If you were to die tonight, would you die in your sins, or would you die in the Lord?
I’m going to end with some words that you can use in coming to Jesus right now. I urge you to use them to embrace Jesus Christ in faith and repentance right now. They speak of Jesus as the Rock of ages…
Rock of ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee
Let the water and the blood, from Thy riven side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure; cleanse me from it guilt and power.
When I draw this fleeting breath; when my eyelids close in death
When I soar to worlds unknown; see Thee on thy judgment throne
Rock of ages cleft for me; let me hide myself in Thee. 
 D. M. Lloyd-Jones on John 8:21-24, Westminster Chapel June 6th 1960.
 Augustus Toplady from the hymn, “Rock of Ages,” 1763
© Colin S. Smith
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