Well we are continuing in our message series LOST & Found, which is based on the 23rd Psalm. And let me just read to you where we have already been. The Lord Yahweh, the Lord, the creator of the universe, He is, He’s the one who is my shepherd. Not just any little wimpy shepherd, but the God of the universe, He is my shepherd.
So what else do I need? What else do I want? “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name sake.” And here’s where we are today. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” That’s our verse today. Another translation for valley of the shadow of the death is the valley of deep darkness. Some of you know what it is to be in a valley of deep darkness. Brady Boyd told you about the deep darkness that his entire church had to go through; a deep darkness. It might be a deep darkness of depression, a deep darkness of loss, the deep darkness of grief. But it’s a valley and every valley has an end. Some of you feel like you’re stuck, you’re never going to get through this valley, but it says you will get through the valley of the shadow of death. You will get through the valley of deep darkness. It is not a dead end. God has not forsaken you. He is there with you. He is walking beside you, if you want Him to.
The Psalmist David says this: when I walk through the midst of trouble, You preserve my life, because you see when you’re in the valley of the shadow of death, you are in the valley of deep darkness. You are in peril. You are in danger. What is lurking in the shadows to jump out at you? You might even be facing the end of your life there in the valley of the shadow of death. But the Lord says, the Lord God through the Psalmist David says, you do not need to fear. You do not need to even fear death itself, for I have victory over death, says the Lord.
Today’s message is on death. You probably wouldn’t have come today if you’d known it was that. You would have said why do I want to go hear a message on death? You know I didn’t pick this topic. We’re going through the Psalm 23 and its right there in the middle of it. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” No one likes to talk about dying. Even Christians I know don’t like to talk about dying. People have a lot of questions and a lot of fears. Even people of religious beliefs, they do not like to talk about dying because they’re afraid of death for many, many different reasons. One of the reasons they’re afraid is they think well what’s the process going to be like? Is it going to be painful? I’m afraid of the pain that I will have to go through when I die. Some of you fear death because you’re not sure what awaits you once you do die. Is heaven really real? Is there really life after death or when I die and I breathe my last breath will that be it? Will that be it?
Some of you are afraid of death because you’re afraid of punishment. You’re afraid you’re going to have to face the great judge and you’re afraid of what He will say and what you will face for eternity once you die. Yes, you will die. I guarantee you today one thing, you will die. I will die. Everybody knows that that we all die. That’s the one thing you can be sure of that you will die. However, Psalm 23 tells us that when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you don’t need to fear it because death is only a shadow to those who walk in the light of the Lord. Let me say that one more time. Death is only a shadow to those who walk in the light of the Lord.
Now I don’t know how many of you had slide projectors. Anybody still do slide shows at home where you take the screen and you pull it up, you get out the projector and you turn it on. Do any of you guys do that anymore? I mean most of us we look at our photos on our I-phones or on our I-pads or whatever else we have electronically, right? Or PowerPoint projections, but dad loved to take pictures and he loved to have slide shows at home. And out would come the screen, and out would come the projector. I wasn’t too crazy about seeing all of dad’s slides, to be honest with you. I thought they were kind of boring, but I liked to play shadow play with my friends, and my brothers and sisters. You know once they put the light on, and the screen was there, we would jump in there and we’d use our hands to try and make a shadow of a dog or a cat. Any of you ever done that? Had shadow play? Its fun, is it not? I loved to do shadow play. Dad didn’t like it. He wanted to get to the slides, I liked the shadow play. But one thing I learned in doing shadow play was this. Shadows can’t hurt you. I could do a shadow of a dog, but that shadow, even if it bit me, wasn’t going to hurt me. A shadow can’t hurt you. The shadow of a bear can’t attack you. A shadow can scare you. A shadow can be very frightening, but it can’t hurt you. It can’t hurt you. So if death is only a shadow, you don’t need to fear that it will hurt you.
The other thing I learned about shadows is they’re fleeting. They’re fleeting. Our hands would go in and then they’d go out. They go in and they go out. And when you look at shadows around here, they’re constantly changing, are they not? Shadows are always changing. Even the time of day, even the time of the year, the shadows change. Shadows are fleeting. They do not stay forever. When you go through the valley of the shadow of death, you go through it. You go through it, and it is fleeting and it will not hurt you. But the most important thing I learned about shadows is you can’t have a shadow without a light source. You have to have a light source in order for you to have a shadow. And so when the Psalmist David says here, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, it means that there’s a light source. There’s sunlight. S-O-N. The son of Jesus is the light who lights our way through the shadow of death. And that’s why we can say death is only a shadow to those who walk in the light of the Lord.
So fear not, this valley of deep darkness, fear not death, people, if you know Jesus. It says in God’s word, Jesus is talked about as the light all over God’s word. It says in Psalm 36, “For You, You O God, are the fountain of life and in Your light do we see light.” Psalm 27:1 also says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?” Whom shall I fear? I fear no evil when God is with me.
When my father’s mother, my grandma Schuller was on her death bed, when the shadow of death hovered over her, these are the words that were read at her bedside. But now, says the Lord, He who created you, Jenny, fear not for I have redeemed you. I have called you Jenny by name. You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel. I, Jenny, am your Savior. The valley of the shadow of death is fleeting, and you can know that Yahweh, the King of kings, the Lord God, the Shepherd, sent His son to stand between you and death.
Is heaven real? Some of you have your doubts. Why wouldn’t you. Can’t see it, can’t touch it, can’t hear it. They say in the bible, the angels are singing in heaven, but I haven’t heard one yet. But that doesn’t mean they’re not there. That doesn’t mean that heaven’s not real. And there is an interesting book I just finished reading, its called Heaven is for Real written by Todd Burpo. Todd is the father and his little son Colton Burpo, four years old, tells the story through his dad Todd, who’s a pastor. Here is this little boy Colton, who had an emergency appendectomy, he survived it, barely. It was very, very serious. His dad describes how when he was in the hospital, he saw, as a pastor, he had seen the shadow of death on many of his people that he had gone to pray with in hospice, and he saw the shadow of death on the face of his son just before he went in to surgery.
And it was a few months after his son survived surgery that this little boy, four years old, four, started saying things to his dad that his dad thought, what am I hearing from my little boy. A preschooler, not even yet in kindergarten. Think of it. One of the things he said was, “Daddy, you know, Jesus heard you when you were praying in that little room there in the hospital during my surgery.” Todd stopped because he had never told his little boy that he had been praying in a little room. How did his little boy know that he’d been praying in a little room, and he asked him that and he said, “I saw you praying in the room, daddy, I saw you. You were praying for God to save me, and Jesus came to me in heaven and He said your daddy is praying for you. I’m answering your daddy’s prayer. I want you to go back and be with your daddy.” And he said, “That’s when I woke up in the hospital bed calling ‘daddy, daddy, daddy,’ because Jesus sent me back to you. He heard your prayer.”
Let’s look at Jesus and what He said about heaven. He said in John 14, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me. My Father’s house,” heaven, “has many rooms. If that were not so, would I have told you that I’m going there to prepare a place for you?” Jesus tells us that heaven is yes, a place. Heaven is real. Heaven is real.
But it’s not just a place. Heaven is wherever God is. When you are with God, and He’s in you, that is heaven. When you’re separated from God, that is death. That is hell. Hell is just separation from God, not just, and its death, as well. And how can we have union, how can a holy God dwell in us when we are unholy? How can that be? The only way that’s possible, because God wanted that. God wanted to have union with you. He wanted to dwell in you. He wanted you to dwell in Him. He wanted to have you experience Him. Heaven on earth and heaven for eternity and the only way that we, as an unholy children, can have that with a holy God, was for Him to send His son to die on the cross for you and I and atone for us so that we can be saved and cleansed. And we are able to then have that union with God. We are able to have heaven here on earth and heaven for eternity and life abundant.
The valley of the shadow of death is only a shadow to those who walk in the light of the Lord. But you cannot get through the valley on your own. If you think that you can get through the valley on your own and live to talk about it, you are gravely mistaken. It says, it’s very clear in scripture, it says that it’s not how hard you work, it’s not how good of a life you live, it’s not how many homeless people you feed, it’s not how many houses you build. That is not what will earn your ticket to heaven. It is the grace of Jesus Christ alone.
It says in Ephesians, it’s very clear, “You were dead in the trespasses in sin in which you once walked. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loves you, even when you were dead, He made you alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved through faith, not of your own doing. It is the gift, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Psalm 49, the message translation, says it this way. Really, there’s no such thing as self rescue, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. The cost of rescue is beyond your means, but God will redeem you from the realm of the dead. God will do this.
You see, when Jesus took your sin and my sin, when He took all of that on Him at the cross, that’s what He did. When He hung on the cross, He took your sin. Suddenly, how could He be in union with His father who was holy? He couldn’t. And so at that point, it says in the bible that Jesus descended into hell, yes? He descended into hell on the cross because He had taken sin upon Himself and He had to be separated from God and that’s why Jesus cried My God, My God, why have You forsaken me? Because God had to pull Himself away from His son, those agonizing hellish moments when Jesus took our sin upon Himself so that we could have union with Jesus, so we could have life abundant here and for eternity.
So I ask you, if it were possible to rescue ourselves, if it were possible to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, if it were possible to live a good enough life, to work hard enough, to be a wonderful, loving person, if that were enough, why would God put His son through hell. God put His son through hell because it was the only way. It’s the only way. Death is only a shadow when you walk in the light of the Lord. Let the Lamb of God, let Jesus be the one to light your way through the valley when you go through the valley, a valley of deep darkness here on earth into the valley of the shadow of death, which we will all face someday.
As a principal, as a teacher, when you work with children, they are your responsibility, and boy did I feel that. I felt responsible for the lives of these children. And it was just after Christmas break, and I returned to the office after a lunch break, and I received a call that I had hoped and prayed I never would have received. I was in my office and my phone rang and it said, “Sheila, there’s a child in the gymnasium and he’s not breathing. We’ve called 911. We need you to come down here.” Well of course I ran down to the gymnasium as fast as I could, and I got just a glimpse of Bobby, a 6th grader, lying on the floor where they were doing mouth to mouth resuscitation on him, CPR. Saw just a glimpse of him, just enough to see that this was serious. They said, “In here, Sheila, in here, in the little cafeteria. The phone, the 911 dispatcher is there. You need to be the one to talk to her.”
I took the phone and I said, “We have a student that’s not breathing. You need to get us help right away.”
We’re sending someone, ma’am. Stay calm. I want you to ask is he breathing?” Now Bobby was out of my sight line at that time, so there was another teacher positioned right between me and Bobby who was still having CPR done on him by a staff worker.
I said, “I’ll check. I said is he breathing?” She relayed the message, “is he breathing?”
“No, no, no, he’s not breathing. Please hurry, what is taking so long?”
“Ma’am stay calm. They’re on their way. Check again, is he breathing?”
“Is he breathing? No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.”
By the time they got there, it was obvious that Bobby, who loved Jesus and had told his parents just the week before, ‘I can’t wait to go to heaven and see Jesus.’ It was obvious that Bobby was with Jesus. He was gone. I didn’t see him, I didn’t check him. The paramedics were there, they were working on him and they were carting him off to the hospital when they said “Sheila, Mr. Polanco, Bobby’s father is on the phone. He wants to talk to you.”
“How’s my son, Sheila? How’s my son? Is he okay?”
“He’s on his way to the hospital. I have to tell you, it doesn’t look good, but I will meet you there.”
I went to the hospital and the paramedics and the doctors continued to work with Bobby behind closed doors, while we paced the halls. The doctors came out, I wasn’t close enough to hear, but I knew, especially when Bobby’s mother, Kim, fell wailing to the floor of the hospital hallway, crying, “my son, my son, my son.”
Somehow in a blur I managed to go over to her and lift her up and hold her in my arms and pray, and whisper with her in her ear, a prayer I don’t remember what I prayed. But later she told me, Kim said “Sheila, you helped me walk my son into the arms of Jesus that day.” The one thing that Colton Burpo, the little four-year-old who claims that heaven is for real, that he’s been there and back again, he says you don’t need to fear death; you don’t need to fear heaven because Jesus is the first one you’ll see. When I prayed that prayer in Kim, she said I walked my son into Jesus’ arms.
Death, death is only a shadow if you let the Lamb light the way. Do you know today that heaven is for real? Do you know today that Jesus is your Lamb? Do you know today that you have life abundant, eternal, right here with Him?
Right now, wherever you are, if you need to, if you have any doubt about whether you are going to heaven or not, if you do not know, if you do not have Jesus in you right now, if you do not walk with Him right now, if you do not have heaven in here right now, I encourage you right now to just to get up and come to the forward, come to the front and say to Jesus, Jesus, I want to know You. Join me down here at the front. Jesus, I want heaven. I do not want to be afraid of death anymore. I want the blessed assurance that heaven is for real.
Lord Jesus, thank You for coming and dying for us. You are holy, oh God. Thank You, Jesus. Oh God Almighty, that You loved us this much, that You sent Your son into the world that we might have life abundantly. Thank You, Jesus.