Three Reasons the Saint’s Death is Precious in the Sight of The Lord

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” Psalm 116:15

What is precious to you? If your house caught fire, what would you brave the flames to save? Your spouse and children, of course. Maybe a beloved pet, family photo, or treasured heirloom? That word, “precious,” is used throughout the Old Testament to describe costly jewels like the one upon the brow of David’s crown (2 Samuel 12:30). David employed the same word in Psalm 116:15 to describe God’s valuation of the death of a Christian: “Precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of his saints.” But how can that be? The Bible calls death “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23) and “the last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death is so tragic that Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. How then can death be precious in God’s sight?

We must be careful to note that the Psalmist is not speaking about death generally. “As I live, declares the Lord GOD,” in Ezekiel 33:11, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” David is speaking exclusively of the death of saints. What is a saint? Some say saints are the best of the best believers; the cream of the Christian crop. But the Bible says that a saint is anyone “loved of God” (Romans 1:7), “sanctified in Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2), who trust in Christ’s love (Ephesians 3:18) and belongs to his church (Ephesians 2:19). Saints are those who belong to God by grace through faith in Christ. Thus, they are “his saints” (Psalm 116:15). How then is the death of a saint precious in God’s sight?

The death of a saint is precious in the sight of the Lord because it marks the end of their suffering. Many of us know the heartache of watching a loved one decline. Many simply fade away with old age. Some are eaten from the inside out with disease. Others get lost in the cruel fog of dementia.

Days before the Lord took her home, we to see my grandmother in her nursing home. She was strapped into her wheelchair to keep her upright. If she recognized me, she couldn’t say so because she lost the power of expression and speech. She could only squeeze my hand as we recited the 23rd Psalm for her. Witnessing the end of a woman who had been so strong and vibrant the whole of her life was brutal. I cannot imagine how dreadful it must have been for her to live through it. Nor can I imagine her ecstasy when, upon taking her last breath and giving up the ghost, the clouds in her mind cleared like that Galilean storm long ago. Her frozen memory thawed like a flower breaking up through snow. Her soul’s strength renewed and, like a bird loosed from its cage, she mounted up “with wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31) and flew to heaven, never to know pain, sadness, or loneliness ever again. The saint’s death is precious in the sight of the Lord because it marks the end of their suffering.

The Saint’s death is precious in the sight of the Lord because it marks the end of their sin. “The dying thief rejoiced to see that see fountain in his day.” As he watched the strength, dignity, and love that marked Jesus’ passion, as he considered the blameless life that Jesus lived and the injustice of his crucifixion, as he came to terms with his own guilt and the death he’d merited, as he realized that the man on the middle cross was suffering, not for Christ’s own crimes, but for his, he said with a dying breath full of living faith, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). For that simplest plea, Jesus opened to him the gates of Zion, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43); saving one last soul before breathing his last.

But into what paradise was that thief delivered? Not into a physical paradise for the senses of the body left behind on Golgotha, he entered the spiritual bliss of sinlessness. As he crossed the threshold between sanctification and glorification, the dross of every evil attraction and affection was burned away in purifying flame. He snapped into instant conformity to the likeness of Christ, mirroring his Savior’s own holy hatred of sin and love for righteousness. The reservoirs of his love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control were filled to the brim. Basking in the ecstasy of the completed good work which God began in him (Philippians 1:6), the former thief relished the full joy of his faith that had been perfected by its blessed author (Hebrews 12:2). As the Westminster Larger Catechism states, his soul was “made perfect in holiness, and received into the highest heaven” (WLC 86). You see, the saint’s death is precious in God’s sight because it marks the end of their sin.

Finally, the saint’s death is precious in the sight of the Lord because it marks the end of their separation. Scripture crowns the deaths of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with the most tender words: “gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8, 35:29, 49:33). Years ago, I arrived late to a family reunion in Myrtle Beach. It was sunset as I drove between the row of houses along Ocean Avenue. But one in the distance caught my eye. The balcony over the street was filled with people waving at me. As I got closer, I realized, it was my family! I didn’t know it, but my wife Jordan, who’d arrived days earlier, was tracking my progress via GPS and as I drew near, gathered “my people,” to receive me. I stepped out of my car and into a sea of loving embraces and faces I hadn’t seen in so long. In the midst of that scrum, Jordan found me and with tears in her eyes said, “This is what it will be like when we go home to heaven.” She’s right.

Saints don’t “die,” you see. Saints don’t kick the bucket or pass away or push up daises or feed worms. When a saint’s mortal life ends, they are gathered to their people. Their soul is engulfed in the perfect love of beloved friends and family who all died clinging to Christ in faith. Mystery of mysteries: though bodiless, they were recognizable to the patriarchs and will be for us as well. But the saints will not only recognize “their people” loved and lost and now reunited. They will recognize him whom they have only seen through the eyes of faith, maybe among their people, maybe beyond them, maybe standing as he stood for Stephen, maybe seated high upon his throne of fire at his Father’s right hand; Jesus Christ, the King of Glory, lover of souls, and friend of sinners. The writer of Hebrews describes it so well: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb12:22-24).

For these reasons and more, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

Jim McCarthy is the Senior Pastor of Trinity PCA in Statesboro, GA.