The death of Robin Williams has merited a lot of attention over the last few days. It was tragic in every way, and since he was so famous news splashed all over instantly. Facebook and Twitter were flooded with quotes, clips, and tributes to Robin Williams, and the subject of depression was discussed and even debated at length. Yet one touchy subject was never brought up. What comes next? What happened to Robin Williams when he died? Oh, sure, there was that touching tweet “Genie, you’re free,” which was debated in certain circles, but reviews and tributes focus pretty much solely on the legacy he left behind. Few people in modern society want to think about what really happens after a person dies. But let me ask you this- if you were to die tonight, do you know what would happen to you?
Let me introduce you to another man who died recently. If you don’t live in the area you’ve probably never heard of Wilbur. His death didn’t go viral on Facebook or Twitter. It didn’t make national news reports. His obituary was in the local paper and that’s about it. He had been in hospice and was in his 90’s, so his family knew his end was near. They were sad, of course, but his funeral was a beautiful mixture of hope amidst the grief, for, you see, they knew where Wilbur was, and they knew they would someday see him again.
Wilbur was a skilled craftsman who made beautiful cabinets and did wonderful woodwork. We have a clock he made and gave us for a wedding gift. He was a kindhearted man, a man who loved his family, and a man who had his share of hardships in this life. His obituary mentioned his baptism and confirmation dates, showing that he was brought up in a Christian home. A lifelong member of the church, he was even privileged to receive Holy Communion the day before he died. But church membership wasn’t what got him into heaven, nor did he merit eternal life because he was a “good guy.” No, Wilbur gained heaven because of the death of yet another man.
Let me introduce you to Jesus. You’ve probably heard of Him, perhaps even know Him intimately yourself. But let me tell you what He did for Wilbur. You see, Jesus knew that Wilbur could never get to heaven on his own merit. So Jesus, the Son of God, came down to this earth as true God and true man. He lived the perfect life Wilbur could never live. He was crucified on a crude Roman cross for sins He didn’t commit. He hung there for Wilbur, taking Wilbur’s place. And He died on that cross. But guess what? It wasn’t just for Wilbur that Jesus died. He did it for you too. His sacrifice on that cross was the punishment for all the sins of everyone in this world who has ever lived and ever will live. That one sacrifice was enough to cover every last sin. His death was for Wilbur and His death was for you.
But it can’t stop there, for there’s more to the story. Jesus didn’t stay dead. He came back to life again three days later, defeating even death. That victory was the reason Wilbur’s family had hope even in their grief. They knew Wilbur believed that. They knew he was rejoicing with His Savior even as they wept on this earth. Read what Paul says about Christ’s resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17, and 20- “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” If Jesus is the “firstfruits,” that means that more would follow. And indeed that is true. Even now Wilbur is rejoicing with all those other believers like Abraham, David, and Peter, and someday, dear Christian, you as well.
Death is not easy to face. But for a Christian, it isn’t the end. There’s so much more. Our hope rests in the assurance that Jesus has already won the victory for us. Let me leave you with the words of verse 2 of LSB 486, If Christ Had Not Been Raised from Death, my all-time favorite hymn, based on the words of 1 Corinthians above.
If Christ still lay within the tomb then death would be the end,
And we would face our final doom with neither guide nor friend.
But now the Savior is raised up, so when a Christian dies,
We mourn, yet look to God in hope- in Christ, the saints arise!