How to Smile at Death
A little lady had walked with God for many, many years.
She was a saint by every measure of the word.
But her body grew weak and frail, her life was fleeting away and she was on her death bed.
Her loved ones were around her and they were wringing their hands and crying and weeping.
She looked up at them and said, "Now go ahead and cry if you must, but donít cry for me...
Because I am tickled to death to die."
Thatís pretty good, huh?
Tickled to death to die.
I want to talk to you today about how to smile at death.
How to be tickled to death to die.
I know death is not a popular subject.
As a matter of fact, when you mention death, people will change the subject like they do on TV.
Weíve done everything we can do to avoid thinking about death.
Man is the only creature who knows that he is going to die.
And he is trying desperately to forget it.
Even the grave, the burial places, we try to make look like a memorial park or a garden of some kind.
We donít like the idea of dying.
But death is a very real fact.
And itís something that we ought not be afraid of really...itís something that we ought to anticipate.
I believe that David had this in mind when he wrote this beautiful Psalm, especially verse 4.
He spoke of a valley called the shadow of death.
And there is such a valley in the land of Palestine.
There is a valley called the shadow of death.
It starts between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Up about 2700 feet above sea level.
And there is a spring that comes out of the hillside there.
Sometimes there is a creek that flows and sometimes itís just a trickle.
But through the centuries itís cut a ditch, a little Grand Canyon in those hills.
And it flows down to the Dead Sea.
And this canyon is called the valley of the shadow of death.
Because it is so narrow at some places...at the bottom itís only about 12 feet wide.
And even at high noon itís always full of shadows.
And in Bible times there were bears and leopards and hyenas there.
There were steep places and it was a frightening place for sheep or men.
So the shepherds had named it the valley of the shadow of death.
Now in the winter the shepherd would take the sheep down in the lowlands around Jericho.
But in the spring when the grass would come out, the flowers would bloom.
The shepherd would lead the sheep up that valley to green pastures in the highland.
This must be what David had in mind when he wrote this beautiful Psalm.
Because David himself was a shepherd and he had led sheep many times through this valley.
The valley of the shadow of death...
And David said, "The Lord is to me what I have been to my sheep."
The Lord is my shepherd. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
David had learned to smile at death.
And we need to learn to smile at death.
And I am going to give you three principles to help you.
#1 Ė I want you to accept death as a decided fact.
It is a fact.
Notice how the verse begins:
Even though...not if or maybe, but...even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
As I said, many people donít want to face this and they want to change the subject.
The Bible says in Hebrews 9:27: Itís appointed unto man once to die.
That is an appointment you have.
And the Bible says in Romans 5:12:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.
The only exception as to whether you might not die is if Jesus comes first.
But if Jesus does not come first you are certainly going to die.
So death is a stubborn fact.
There is a new statistic out on death...one out of one people die! Ok?
Not only it is a stubborn fact...it is an uncertain fact.
Because you donít know when you are going to die.
Even though I walk through the valley...
He doesnít know from one minute to the next what is going to happen.
The Psalmist said, "There is but a step between me and death...we donít know when..."
Sometimes old men die...
But sometimes mothers kiss their helpless babies goodbye.
Even sometimes a little child must drop his little toys and take hold of the iron hand of death.
This may be the last sermon Iíll ever preach.
It may be the last sermon youíll ever hear.
I donít know.
Many times I have preached the last sermon a person heard before they died.
Look in James 4:13:
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and take money"...
(Verse 14) Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
(Verse 15) Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lordís will we will live and do this or that."
You see, God doesnít have to take your life...
All he has to do is stop giving it.
You see, life is a gift from God.
If it is the Lordís will, we will live and do this or that.
Your life is like a breath on a frosty morning.
Here for a moment and then gone.
Accept death as a decided fact.
It is a stubborn fact...
It is an uncertain fact...
And it is also a personal fact.
Even though I walk Ė I walk...
Not they walk, I walk.
You are walking in the valley of the shadow of death.
Just like David was.
When a preacher talks about getting ready to die.
Do you know what happens in the human mind? The human mind says...tell Ďem preacher.
Tell Ďem their gonna die...
Tell Ďem to get ready...
Tell Ďem they may die at any moment.
And you may die at any moment.
But you say, "Iím healthy right now."
You may not be as healthy as you think.
You know cars run over healthy people also.
Death is a stubborn fact...
Death is an uncertain fact...
And death is a personal fact.
Step #1 is learning to look death straight in the face.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...
Look death straight in the face and think about it.
And say with David, "Even though I walk through the valley..."
Now there is something else...#2...
Not only do we need to accept death as a divided fact, but also to acknowledge death as a defeated foe.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
There are some wonderful things as we talk about death as a defeated foe.
First of all he talks about a valley...
Now there can be no valley without mountains.
Itís impossible for there to be a valley without mountains.
And this is the valley psalm, between two mountain psalms.
Psalm 22 is a mountain psalm, it deals with Mount Calvary.
And Psalm 24 is a mountain psalm, it deals with the second coming.
So Psalm 23 is a valley between two mountains.
Over here are the blood-drenched slopes of Mount Calvary.
And over here are the sunlit peaks of the second coming...
And we are living in the valley.
What I am trying to say is...
If you are going to learn how to smile at death...
You need to realize there can be no valley without mountains.
I lift up my eyes unto the hills from which comes my help.
Are you down in the valley? Then look up at the mountains.
Look to Mount Calvary...look to Mount Zion.
Now there can be no shadow without a light.
Look at what it says.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Death is just a shadow if you know the Lord Jesus Christ.
Because Jesus has become the death of death.
Jesus pulled the sting out of death.
Jesus took the gloom out of the grave.
Jesus took the dread out of dying.
Jesus has given us a hope that is steadfast and sure.
A shadow may frighten, but a shadow cannot hurt you.
Story of shadows...
There cannot be a shadow without a light.
Story of little girl who lost her mother...
Shadow hid mother Ė truck hit Jesus...
Jesus has taken the sting out of death...the dread out of death.
Jesus has become our victor and there cannot be a shadow without a light.
Isaiah 9:2: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
There is no shadow without a light.
Are you in the valley of the shadow of death right now?
If you are, look to the light.
If you look to the light the shadow will fall behind you and you wonít ever see it.
Look to the light.
There is no mountain without a valley...
And there is no shadow without a light.
And there is no evil without a greater good.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow, I will fear no evil for you are with me.
This time he is comparing the evil with the shepherd.
Who is the you who is with me or the "thou art" in the KJV?
Remember how the psalm began: The Lord is my shepherd.
Remember the word LORD is in all caps. Do you remember what it means?
What was David saying?
He was saying: there may be evil, but Jehovah is with me.
Truth is mightier than error...
Grace is greater than sin...
Our Sovereign God is greater than Satan...
And life is greater than death.
You must understand that.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for Jehovah is with me.
There is a third thing we must learn.
You must see death as a decided fact...
You must see death as a defeated foe...
But you need to see death as a delightful friend.
Pastor, did you say death as a friend? Yes.
In I Corinthians 3:22-23 Paul is telling what we have in Christ.
The Corinthians had been arguing and squabbling about what preacher they liked best.
And this is what Paul said:
(Verse 22) Whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future...all are yours.
The wonderful thing that he says here is that death belongs to us.
Itís one of our treasured possessions...itís yours.
Death is yours.
He thinks of death now not as an enemy, but as a servant to help us.
Did you know what the Bible says in Psalms 116:16?
(Verse 16) Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
Did you know what Paul said in Philippians 1:21?
(Verse 21) For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Physically itís gain, because my body is going to be like Jesus.
Intellectually itís gain, because I will know as I am known.
Emotionally itís gain, because Iíll be able to praise him with my whole heart.
Socially itís gain, because I will be with the saints of all the ages and my Lord face to face.
Spiritually itís gain, because temptation and sin will be behind me and I will be one with my Lord like never before.
Now what brings me in to that relationship is death.
Death is not an enemy if it helps me come into a place like that.
For me to die is gain.
Now listen to why David though it was a friend.
Listen to what he says.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil (now watch) you are with me.
First there is the presence of the shepherd.
You are with me.
Up until this time he has been talking about the Lord.
The Lord is my shepherd...
He makes me lie down...
He leads me...
He restores my soul...
He guides me...
But now that he is in the valley he is no longer talking about him, he is talking to him.
You are with me.
There is nothing that will bring you closer to God than the dark valleys of life.
David said, "I have no fear because you are with me." He is talking to the shepherd.
Friends, Iím not going to have to die alone...
I tell you, our Lord is there with us.
The light is there...
The shepherd is there.
There is the presence of my shepherd...
But also there is the power of my shepherd.
Because your rod and staff, they comfort me.
What did I tell you the rod was for? To protect the sheep.
What did I tell you the staff was for? To lift the sheep.
When you come to die...
I can promise you that the Lord will be with you.
His rod will be there to protect you from evil...
And his staff will be there to draw you close to him.
And there is also the purpose of the shepherd.
And that is to bring us through the valley.
Itís not a box canyon, he kicked the end out of it.
He is going to carry you through.
David knew enough about sheep to know that a shepherd would never lead his sheep to a place like that.
Unless he was leading them to a better place.
Someone asked a man his favorite verse and he said...
"It came to pass".
Why is that your favorite?
He said, "I know it didnít come to stay, it came to pass."
Whatever it is Ė and we are going through.
The Bible says in Hebrews 2 that the devil keeps people in bondage through the fear of death.
Listen friends, you are not ready to live until you are no longer afraid to die.
You say, "With my sins, Iím afraid to die."
"What do I do with my sins?"
I tell you what to do with your sins.
You put your faith where God put your sins, on Jesus.
All we like sheep have gone astray.
We have come every one to his own way...
And the Lord hath laid on him, the iniquity of us all.