What Happens One Minute After You Die? – Program 7

By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©1998
What lies on the other side of the grave? What will we see and feel one

minute after we die?

Is God in Control of How and When You Die?


Dr. John Ankerberg: What will happen to you one minute after you die? Today on The John Ankerberg Show, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois, says:
Dr. Erwin Lutzer: John, the simple fact is that someday all of us will die. The Bible says that, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after death the judgment.” [Heb. 9:27] Death awaits all of us like the concrete floor awaits the falling light bulb. It WILL happen. And you know, God has created within us the knowledge that there is something that exists beyond the grave.
Ankerberg: The desire of many people to find out what lies on the other side of the grave is so great that some have turned to alternate methods such as channeling, reincarnation, and near-death experiences to gain a glimpse of what is coming after death. Today, you’ll hear what the Bible says will happen to you one minute after you die. You’ll also learn why the information coming from channeling, reincarnation, and near-death experiences, which attempt to peek behind the curtain of death, is not to be trusted. We invite you to join us for this edition of The John Ankerberg Show.

Ankerberg: Welcome. Today we’re going to discuss one of the most interesting topics in our whole series. Does God watch over how and when you die? This is a very serious question and it affects many practical areas of our lives. My guest today is Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. I’d like you to listen as he opens our discussion about this topic.
Lutzer: John, today we begin with a fable that comes to us from the Middle East. The story goes that a Baghdad merchant sent his servant to the marketplace one morning to run some errands, and while there, the servant met Lady Death, who startled him. So the servant came back and said to his master, “I met Lady Death. I’m so afraid. Please give me a horse so that I can ride all the way to Summera tonight to get away from her.”
Well, the master gave him the horse and then later that afternoon the master himself went to the marketplace and met Lady Death and said, “Why did you startle my servant this morning?”
And Lady Death said, “Well, I couldn’t help it. I was so startled because I don’t know what in the world he’s doing here in Baghdad because I have an appointment with him in Summera tonight.”
Well, whether it comes in an auto accident or a disease, however, death will come to us. It is absolutely certain. But I want you to know today that Christians die within the context of God’s providential care and love. For example, in John 11, Lazarus is sick. And the Bible says that Jesus stayed away two extra days to give Lazarus time to die because Jesus wanted to use Lazarus as proof of His resurrection power. But here’s what it says: Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. [John 11:5] Isn’t that wonderful to know that Jesus loved them and yet Lazarus died? The fact that somebody dies does not mean that God has ceased loving them. Indeed, God loves His people all the way to the end.
Paul says that, “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities can separate us from the love of God.” [Rom. 8:39]
But what’s interesting in that story is this. You remember, Martha comes out of the house and she comes running and she said, “If you had been here, my brother had not died.” Mary comes out saying the very same words. Obviously, the sisters had been talking about this. “If you had been here our brother had not died.” [John 11:21] If, if, if, if only!
Ankerberg: Let me stop right here and ask you, “Are you like Mary and Martha who are saying, ‘If only I had done this! If only I had not done that!’ and you feel guilt?” What is God’s answer? Dr. Lutzer talks of what he has said to others just like you who have asked the “What if I had only” questions. Listen:
Lutzer: I remember knowing a woman who convinced her husband to go to a concert one night that he didn’t want to go to and en route they were in a car crash and he was killed. Do you know that for 14 years every morning that woman went to the grave of her husband to bemoan the fact that she had convinced him to go where he did not want to go and therefore felt responsible for his death?
My friend, that is foolishness. That kind of guilt comes from the devil! It does not come from God! Haven’t we all at times convinced our mates to go to places where he or she did not want to go and we could have been in a car crash? We are, after all, only human beings.
Another woman, her little four-year-old daughter looked up and said, “Mommy, can I cross the street now?” The mother thoughtlessly said, “Yes.” The child darts across the street, hit by a truck. If you are suffering from that kind of guilt today, I want you to know today that is a false guilt. That’s not laid on you by God. You are laying that upon yourself.
Here’s what I want to emphasize. As believers, we die within the context of God’s providential care. Perhaps some of you in the news heard of Scott and Janet Willis. That was way back in 1994 when they were on I-90 going up to Milwaukee with six of their nine children. A piece of metal falls from a truck; Scott is unable to avoid the metal and he drives over it, punctures the gas tank, the whole van is in flames. All six children die, five at the scene of the accident and the sixth died later.
We had them at the Moody Church as they explained to us the awesome sense of God’s presence. Do you know what Scott said to his wife as the van was burning? He said, “This is the moment for which we have been prepared.” Wow!
Isn’t it possible for that piece of metal to have fallen a half mile further along or a half mile before or to skid into the ditch rather than on the highway? What about my nephew killed in that car crash in Canada because a truck hit some ice? Could not that ice have been in a different part of the highway? Or if my nephew and his friends had begun that trip five minutes sooner or five minutes later they would not have hit the truck at that particular time? If, if, if, if only!
Now, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to take, as it were, in your mind a piece of chalk and take all of the “if onlys” and then draw a circle around those “if onlys” and the circle represents the providential care of God for His people.
You know, you may be acquainted with the song, “Day by day and with each passing moment”? Did you know that song was written by Lina Sandell Berg whose father was on a ship with her and the boat lurched, a sudden gust came, and he fell overboard and she watched him drown? But listen to one of the stanzas. Isn’t this beautiful? Doesn’t this represent the kind of faith that honors God? “The protection of His child and treasure is a charge that on Himself He laid; ‘as thy days your strength shall be in measure,’ this the pledge to me He made.”
Did her father die within the providence of God’s care in that accident? Obviously. Could not that gust of wind have come earlier or later? Could he not have been in a different part of the boat? Yes. But, my dear friend, a man who is walking in the Spirit and walking with God, that was his time to die.
You know, death is the chariot which God uses to take us to heaven and He’s got all kinds of chariots that are available.
Ankerberg: Now, think for a moment. Did you know that God’s unique and special providence for His people, including God’s care for how and when we die, is most clearly illustrated in the life of Jesus Christ Himself? Dr. Lutzer explains:
Lutzer: John, what I’d like to do in next few moments is to use the life of Jesus Christ as an example of our own death and to show all of God’s providential ways in the death of Christ. And those, as we shall see, apply to us as well because we can also ask the “if onlys” when it comes to the life and death of Jesus.
For example, let’s begin by pointing out that He died with a right attitude. The right attitude. What kind of an attitude did Jesus have? Well, a proper mixture, actually, between joy and grief. You look at Him there in Gethsemane. He is agonizing. “Father, if it be possible, remove this cup from Me.” [Luke 22:42] He was thinking almost as a man, “Please, if there’s another way to do this, get me out of this.”
Well, that often happens when a Christian is dying. A Christian wonders, “Oh, God, is there no way that I can be healed? Oh, God, is there no way that I can get out of this?” But nevertheless, Jesus added the words, “Thy will be done.” [Luke 22:42] And that’s what we have to do as believers, too.
But that’s the sorrowful side. There was also joy. It says in the Book of Hebrews, “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now set down on the right hand of the throne of God.” [Heb. 12:2]
So, on the one hand we do not anticipate death. It is fearful. On the other hand, we know that we can enter into life and therefore we anticipate meeting Jesus and that’s the good side. Because remember, death is not the end of the road, it is simply a bend in the road. And we go from this life to the next without a break of consciousness right into the presence of Christ.
Ankerberg: Now, think about this, when Jesus was murdered by crucifixion on the cross, do you think He died at exactly the right time in His life? Did He die under the providential care of God? Of course He did. Dr. Lutzer explains:
Lutzer: One day I did a study in the New Testament of the little phrase, “His hour had not yet come.” You know, you read the text and it says, “And they sought to take Him but His hour had not yet come.” [John 7:30] The “hour” that is being spoken of is the hour of His death, the hour of Gethsemane and the hour of the cross. And there was no way in the world that they could take Jesus until God’s hour struck.
A Christian man said one time, as he was dealing with his enemies and they were after him to kill him, he said that, “There is no combination of men and demons that can take somebody’s life if God thinks that man still has some work to do.” I like that, because everything is in God’s hands.
How accurate was God’s planning of the death of Christ? Well, in the Book of John, you know, it tells us that when Jesus Christ died, it was at the very hour when the Passover lambs were being slain. God wanted Jesus to represent the Passover and so Jesus dies on the Passover at the very time that the lambs were slaughtered. Can it be any more specific than that? And you see, God is the one who arranged that. You may say, “Well, human beings did it.”
Yes, I know human beings did it. But even there the hand of God was seen. They did it at the time that was appointed. So He died, you see, at the right time.
You say, “Well, what about the death of a child?” And we talked about that in a previous broadcast but I can’t help but think of the words of Jim Elliot who said one time – he, of course, was martyred as young man, as a missionary – he said, “God is peopling heaven. Why should He limit Himself to old people?” Yes, God is peopling heaven and the believer dies at the right time.
Now, of course, it’s possible for us to hasten our death by doing silly things. I understand that. But at the same time, let us bear in mind that if we walk in the Spirit, we are being led of God and our death will happen as God wills it to.
Let me say also that Jesus Christ died in the right way. Could He have been stoned to death? No. Because God predicted that He would hang on a tree. It says that in the Book of Deuteronomy: “Cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree.” [Deut. 21:23] He had to be crucified.
You know, John, maybe this is as good a place as any to comfort ourselves in the fact that believers just don’t die willy-nilly. You know, recently a woman came to me because of a book that I have written entitled, One Minute After You Die, and she said, “Pastor, you delivered me from something.” She said, “My husband was murdered.” And she said, “When I read that Jesus Christ was murdered and that He died within God’s providential care,” she said, “It helped me to accept that fact that my husband was murdered within the scope of God’s loving care and providence.”
And I said, “Lady, you’re right! You’re right!” Nothing can separate us from the love of God and even a Christian who dies because he is murdered can accept that as God’s providential will.
Ankerberg: Now, what if you’re relatively young and you have contracted a life-ending disease? Is there a purpose in your early death? Dr. Lutzer explains, yes, there is. Listen:
Lutzer: Well, also, Jesus Christ died for the right purpose. How did He die? He died, of course, on the cross and the purpose was, He said, “That I might glorify the Father.” You know, “Now is the judgment of this world…. The prince of this world shall be cast out…. Unless a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; but if it die, it bear much fruit.”
Well, I don’t want to suggest for a moment that our death is as important as the death of Christ. I’m not saying that. But what I am saying is that we also die for the same purpose and that is, to give glory to God and in giving glory to God that we might be able to witness to others of His faithfulness.
Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret about myself, and I don’t normally share this but I feel led to do so right now. I have often prayed to God that I will not die of a heart attack or in a car crash. Personally, I would like to be told that I have six months or a year. And it’s not because I’m so brave. When the moment comes, I am sure that I shall have the same fears as anyone else because it is quite a thing to face that curtain called death. But I really do believe that Christians who have the privilege – and notice, I’m calling it a privilege – the privilege of knowing that they are to die and in attesting to the peace of God and the promises of God and the providential care of God bear a tremendous witness of the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I remember a young woman saying her father was a very godly man and she said, “You know, before Dad died, sometimes he spent more time already in heaven than he did on earth.” And understandably so, because he already was in heaven. You know, because I happen to have Canadian citizenship I can get across the border without a hassle because I’m a citizen and I have a passport. Now, in the very same way, when I die, I don’t expect a big hassle at the border. I really don’t, because I cleave to the righteousness of Christ. I believe that He is my Savior, He is my passport, and I’m going to die at the appointed time. And I believe that I will even die in the right way, whether it is a car crash or whether it is some disease that I will know about. Jesus died to glorify God.
Now, most important. Jesus died with a right commitment. His last words: “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” [Luke 23:46] Father, this is your hour, this is your moment. The princes of darkness were putting Him to death, but even that was God’s providential will. Jesus said, as recorded in the book of Luke, speaking of those who came for Him, “This day, this hour of darkness is yours. I concede this to you.” [Luke 22:53] But, of course, He is the One who outwitted them and in the end, solved the problem of death for us because He was raised powerfully from the dead; He is seated at the right hand of God the Father today; and He had committed Himself to God and to His will.
You know, I’m sure that I speak for you when I say that it is wonderful indeed to know that we have a Guide who is qualified to take us to the other side. One day I was in the city of Jerusalem and we were in this huge cave which actually exists under the city of Jerusalem, sometimes known as “Solomon’s Quarries.” And we were with a guide who was leading us in these caves. And we were afraid that we would get lost. And he said, “No. You won’t get lost because I’ve been here at least 40 times.”
Well, the fact is, he did get lost. And some of us are just very glad that we had a flashlight so that we could find our way through those tunnels and finally find the exit. Well, I want you to know that when you put faith in Christ, you are trusting somebody who is entirely trustworthy and your life is in God’s hands.
Someone has said, you know, “If you’re to be hung, you’ll never drown.”
Now, that doesn’t mean that we can do foolish things, of course. What it does mean is that no believer dies unless God says the time has come. It’s like sitting in a concert and you’re enjoying the concert and suddenly, somebody comes in with a message that says, “You must leave the concert because you’re wanted at the information desk.” When God calls our name, I hope that you and I will be ready.
Ankerberg: Some of you today have a lot of pain and you may be slowly wasting away from some disease. What word of encouragement would God have for you today? Listen carefully:
Lutzer: John, as you know, John Calvin was a very famous Reformer who lived in the city of Geneva and he has so many illnesses. One day I found a list of all the things that he had wrong with him physically, including headaches and back pains and the list was so long, I thought that he should have died much sooner than he did. But he was experiencing all of this and he said on one occasion, “Thou, Lord, bruisest me, but I am abundantly satisfied since it is from thy hand.”
And I speak to you today, my friend, and you are suffering and you know your mother, your father, a relative is suffering. And you see them slowly dying of cancer or some other disease and you cry up and say, “How long, Oh Lord!?” Listen to me carefully. If they are believers in Christ, it’s okay to say they are being bruised by God and soon a chariot will come to take them home.
You know, I’ve often thought of the thief on the cross. You know, the one to whom Christ said, “Today, you shall be with me in paradise”? [Luke 23:43] Have you ever thought of the faith that he had? Here he is. Jesus is in the middle. He’s on one side; another thief is on the other. That thief is railing on Christ and saying, like some people say today, “If you’re the Son of God, then get us out of this mess!” But he says, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” [Luke 23:42]
Now, what content did that thief have to believe? I mean, here he’s trusting a man who is in the same predicament as he is. Jesus has blood running from His hands and His side eventually and His feet and it’s dripping to the ground and He is writhing there in agony just like the other two thieves are. But there was something about this dying man that made the thief on the cross say, “I believe in Him and believe He has the authority to save me.” Cowper, when writing about that man dying on the cross, said, “The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day, and there may I as vile as he, wash all my sins away.” What a Savior. What a Savior.

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