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The story is told of a certain man who was walking in his neighborhood when he came face to face with Death. He noticed an expression of surprise on the creature’s horrid countenance, but they passed one another without speaking. The fellow was frightened and went to a wise man to ask what should be done. The wise man told him that Death had probably come to take him away the next morning. The poor fellow was terrified at this and asked how ever he could escape.

The only solution the two could think of was that the victim should drive all night to a distant city and so elude Death. So the man drove to the other city—it was a terrible journey that had never been done in one night before—and when he arrived he congratulated himself on having eluded death.

Just then, Death came up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” he said, “but I have come for you.”

“Why,” exclaimed the terrified man, “I thought I saw you yesterday near my home!”

“Exactly,” said Death. “That was why I looked surprised—for I had been told to meet you today in this city.” ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



An Indiana cemetery has a tombstone over a hundred years old that bears this epitaph:

        Pause, Stranger, when you pass me by,

        As you are now, so once was I.

        As I am now, so you will be,

        So prepare for death and follow me.

An unknown passerby had read those words and scratched this reply below them:

        To follow you I’m not content,

        Until I know which way you went.

The passerby was right, the important thing about death is what follows. Where are you going? ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



It has become fashionable in our culture to hold the view that death is a perfectly natural occurrence. The Bible teaches that it is not, and even those who deny the afterlife witness that God “has set eternity in the hearts of men.” The following extract from Charlotte and Howard Clinebell’s ‘The Intimate Marriage’ serves as a good illustration of this truth:

One of the roots of the for spiritual relatedness is the experience of man as the animal who knows he will die. How can one cope constructively with the dizzy flight of the years, with the knowledge that every tick of the clock brings death closer? How can one confront the brevity of one’s membership in the human family? How cane one deal constructively with the ultimate threat of non-existence? The fact that a man knows he will die colors all of his life…behind the will to relate is man’s existential loneliness and anxiety—the normal, non-pathological anxiety which is a part of what Paul Tillich once called man’s “heritage of finitude.” Erikson calls this form of anxiety the “ego chill.” It slips up on a self-aware human being whenever he becomes conscious of his fragile position in the face of sickness, nature, fate, and, ultimately death.

There are echoes of such anxiety in any depth study of life or time. Consider this line from R.M. MacIver’s ‘The Callenge of the Passing Years, My Encounter with Time: “The deeds of men sink into the melting pot of time, with countless ripples that quickly disappear.” ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



The story is told of a time when the famed philosopher Diogenes looked intently at a large collection of human bones piled one on another. Alexander the Great stood nearby and became curious about what Diogenes was doing. When he asked the old man, the reply was, “I am searching for the bones of your father, but I cannot seem to distinguish them from those of the slaves.” Alexander got the point: all are equal in death. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching



Tom Howard, professor of Theology and Missions at Gordon College, captured something of the way humanity feels in the presence of death in these eloquent words:

Like a hen before a cobra, we find ourselves incapable of doing anything at all in the presence of the very thing that seems to call for the most drastic and decisive action. The disquieting thought, that stares at us like a fact with a freezing grin, is that there is, in fact, nothing we can do. Say what we will, dance how we will, we will soon enough be a heap of ruined feathers and bones, indistinguishable from the rest of the ruins that lie about. It will not appear to matter in the slightest whether we met the enemy with equanimity, shrieks, or a trumped-up gaiety, there we will be. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Death, Sting Removed from

A boy and his father were traveling in a car when a bee flew through the open window. The boy was so highly allergic to bee stings that both he and his father knew that his life was in danger. As the boy frantically jumped around and tried to avoid the agitated bee, the father calmly reached out and grabbed the bee. When he opened his hand, the bee began to fly again, terrorizing the boy once more. The father then said, “Look, son,” holding up a hand with an implanted stinger, “his stinger is gone; he can’t hurt you any longer.”

As a bee loses its stinger when it stings, so death lost its sting when it stung Jesus. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Death, Unbeliever’s Response to

Three “pop” postcards illustrate three aspects of the world’s perspective on death:

Fear: A man is pictured standing directly beneath an enormous, needle-sharp dagger that is suspended from above by a very thin thread. The caption: “It’s very inconvenient to be mortal—you never know when everything may suddenly stop happening.”

False hope: A person is lying in bed. The caption: “Tell the scientist to hurry—I don’t want to die before they discover how to save me.”

Uncertainty: A health enthusiast is pictured jogging. The caption: “I’m doing what I can to prolong my life, hoping that someday I’ll learn what it’s for.” ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Death, Unbeliever’s Response to

For Roger:

        My sister is crying,

        Why can’t I?

        I guess it hasn’t hit me that my brother has died;

        I feel nothing inside

        My brother has died

        It may hit me years from now

        But when I found out

        That he was gone I felt nothing

        So I wrote down

        This song.

        Nothing I can do will bring him back

        Why is it that I have no feeling—

        It’s no act I’m not hurt and I’m not down

        I’m just sitting here writing this song

        It’s not sure it’s not fact

        But I still want my brother back.

        Life ends tomorrow

        Not for me

        Just for my brother

        Not for me

        His life is over

        Not for me.

── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Death, Unbeliever’s Response to

These are the words of a distraught father telling us of his reaction to the death of his son. He says:

The rays of a late morning South Carolina sun struck me full on the face as I stepped through the door of the hospital. The squint of my eyes, however, was not occasioned by the rays of the sun; it was the visible display of the anguish and despair that wracked my very life. I had spent several hours with my sobbing wife. Now I was about to keep the appointment that would prove to be the emotional climax of the day my world collapsed. On my way to the appointment, I stopped at a diner to have a cup of coffee and to bolster my courage. I was oblivious to everything except the appointment that awaited me. Leaving the diner, I made my way to a large white house, located on a corner in Columbia, South Carolina. I followed the owner into a large room, where he soon left me alone. I slowly made my way across a thick rug on the floor to a table on the far side of the room. Upon the table was a white box. I stood before that white box for endless eternities before I finally summoned enough courage to look over the top and down into the white box, at the lifeless body of my son. At that sight my world collapsed. I would have given up all of my academic and athletic awards. I would have given up the prestigious executive training program that I was engaged in with one of the largest international oil companies. I would have given anything. For the first time in my life, I had come to a hurdle I could not clear. My world collapsed.

This is the sting of death that the non-Christian is confronted with—and to which he has no answer. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Death, Unbeliever’s Response to

It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.— Woody Allen


Death, Unbeliever’s Response to

Today, some people’s fear of death is so strong and their confidence in technology so great that they are spending tens of thousands of dollars to have their bodies frozen at the time of death. Their hope is that they might be revived to live again when a cure is found for whatever caused their death. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Death, Unbeliever’s Response to

The story is told of an author, William Saroyan, who had achieved great success in his field. His works had been acclaimed in the literary world, his name was a familiar entry on best seller lists, and he had even been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. But now he lay dying in New York City of cancer, which had spread to several of his vital organs.

One evening, as Saroyan reflected on his condition and what the future held for him, he placed a phone call to Associated press. After identifying himself to the reporter who answered his call, he posed a question that revealed the honest, searching sensitivity that had characterized his career. It was a final statement to be used after his death (which occurred later in May of 1981).

He said, “Everybody has got to die. But I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?” And then he hung up the phone. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Death, Unbeliever’s Response to

Literature is filled with the expressions of fear about death that grip the hearts of unbelievers. Socrates said, “No one knows whether death…may not be the greatest of all good,” but men “in their fear apprehend it to be the greatest evil.”

Francis Bacon wrote, “Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark…”Samuel Johnson told of his horror at the death of a friend: “At the sight of this last conflict, I felt a sensation never known to me before: a confusion of passions, an awful stillness of sorrow, a gloomy terror without a name.” ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Death, Unbeliever’s Response to

A missionary told an old Indian chief about Jesus Christ, describing him as God’s only way to heaven. “The Jesus road is a good road,” the aged chief agreed. “But I have followed the Indian road all my life, and I cannot change now.” A year later, he lay in his hut, deathly sick. The missionary hurried to his side and once more told him of Christ. “Can I turn to Jesus now?” the dying chief asked. “My own road stops here. It has no way through the valley!”

Every road that a man walks in life ends at the grave. The roads of religion, fame, wealth, and success can never take you through the valley of the shadow of death. Only Christ can do that ! And he will if you will but trust him. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching


Search for Immortality

The April 1985 issue of Eternity magazine contained the following news item. It is not known if these plans were or will be accomplished, but they do illustrate that men cannot bear the thought of being dead and forgotten:

The quest for pseudoimmortality took a giant leap forward with the announcement that you can send your remains “to the heavens” when you die. The Celestis Group of Melbourne, Florida, has received federal approval for a privately financed launch of a rocket in early 1987, with a nose cone containing the ashes of 10,330 paying customers. Each person’s ashes will be chemically treated to fit inside a 2-by-5/8-inch titanium capsule. The nose cone will enter an orbit at about 1,900 miles up, and, thanks to a reflective surface, “it will be visible to earth-bound loved ones.” The Celestis group isn’t promising an eternal rest, though. The orbit may deteriorate in about 63 million years. ── Michael P. GreenIllustrations for Biblical Preaching