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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, February 9, 2003

"There is but a step between me and death" (I Samuel 20:3).

Eight days ago the space shuttle Columbia exploded during re-entry to earth's atmosphere over the state of Texas. The seven astronauts on board died instantly in a fiery blaze only 16 minutes before the craft was scheduled to land. Last Tuesday, President Bush attended a memorial service for them at the Johnson Space Center. They were all very young, those seven astronauts; David M. Brown, Rick D. Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael P. Anderson, William C. McCool, and Ilan Ramon. Thousands of people world-wide grieved over their deaths. One minister said, "How fragile life is - how much we all take for granted."

King Saul tried to kill David three times. Soon afterward David met Saul's son, who was his friend. David knew that King Saul would try to kill him again. He told Jonathan, "There is but a step between me and death" (I Samuel 20:3). David had become aware that death could come to him at any time, that "there is only a step between me and death."

Young person, that is true of you also. You are only a step away from death at all times. That is a truth that we all know, but we tend to put it out of our minds. As that minister said when the astronauts died, "How fragile life is - how much we all take for granted."

If there is only one thought that you remember from this sermon when you go home today I hope it is this - your life is very fragile. Don't take it for granted. There is only a step between you and death. And that's why you need to be prepared. The prophet Amos said, "Prepare to meet thy God" (Amos 4:12). And I am going to speak about that this morning - how to prepare for death, how to prepare to meet God face to face when you die. How do you prepare for death?

I. First, you must be awakened.

The Bible says:

"Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Ephesians 5:14).

"Awake thou that sleepest." You are spiritually asleep now. That is the natural state of every person. You are like those ten young women that Jesus told about in the 25th chapter of Matthew - "they all slumbered and slept" (Matthew 25:5). You are asleep spiritually, just like those young people. You never think about what will happen to you after you die. And if someone mentions it to you, you say, "I don't want to think about that. Death is a long way off. I don't need to think about it now."

I'm sure that every one of those seven astronauts felt that way. They would soon be home. It would only be another sixteen minutes until they would be back on earth. Now they are gone forever. "There is but a step between me and death" (I Samuel 20:3). But they weren't even thinking about death.

The Bible says, "Awake thou that sleepest." You must awaken from sleep if you hope to get saved and be prepared for eternity.

And then it says, "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead." The Bible tells us that the whole human race is asleep, sleeping the sleep of death. That's why you don't think about God. That's why you don't pray. That's why you think that your life will go on and on. You are asleep. You are not thinking about eternity. You are not thinking about what will happen to you after you die.

And like a sleeping man, you want to sleep on. You don't want anyone to disturb you or waken you. You know how it feels when the alarm clock goes off, but you want to go on sleeping. You reach up and grab the alarm clock, and turn off the ringer - and go back to sleep. That's the way you treat a preacher. The preacher is ringing an alarm clock in your ears, saying, "Wake up! Wake up!" But you tune him out in your mind and go to sleep again.

But when the Spirit of God begins to work in your heart, you will think differently. When God begins to awaken you, then you will think, "The preacher is right. I am going to die and I could die from an accident or a sudden illness at any time - even today! There is but a step between me and death!"

I have conducted funeral services for people of all ages. I conducted the funeral of a little boy, only about 12 years old. He was running and playing - without a care in the world. Suddenly they discovered that he had leukemia. I went to see him several times in the hospital. I tried my best to explain the way of salvation to him - but I'm not sure he was able to grasp it and understand it - he was so heavily medicated. His parents didn't take him to church. They should have, but they thought he would live for many years. Suddenly he was gone, like those young astronauts. "There is but a step between me and death."

A woman I know had a daughter who wasn't saved. The women did her best to get her daughter to church. She got her to come to a Thanksgiving banquet. She heard me preach the gospel once. I think that may have been the only time in her life that she ever heard a preacher speak on how to be saved. Suddenly she was very ill. Then she died. I sent Dr. Chan, our deacon, to explain the gospel to her three times in the hospital. I hope she listened. I hope she got saved. But we can't be sure. She waited so long. The years went by quickly. She was in pain. We can't be certain that she was converted. She was so very young. Now she is gone. "There is but a step between me and death."

Young person, you are a fool if you put off your salvation. You are a fool if you think you have plenty of time to come to Christ and be saved. The Bible says:

"He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy"  
      (Proverbs 29:1).

If you harden your heart against Christ, you may be cut off from life without being saved by Jesus Christ.

You think that you have plenty of time, but the Bible gives you a warning:

"Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth" (Proverbs 27:1).

There's a warning in that verse. Don't brag about having a long time to live. It says you shouldn't even boast that you will live tomorrow, "for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth."

One young man heard me preach. He rejected it. Two days later he was dead. I can never forget the angry look on his face as he listened to my sermon. Little did he know that he had only two days left to live! Little did he think about those words, "There is but a step between me and death." He thought that he had many years of life ahead of him - but he only had two days left! When they told me how he died I was filled with sadness. Those words of Scripture flashed through my mind:

"Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth" (Proverbs 27:1).

That young man heard the gospel of salvation only one time in his life - when I preached one evening. It was his one and only chance to be saved. But he left the service angry - and undoubtedly went to meet God unprepared for death. He did not realize the importance of my text, "There is but a step between me and death."

You must be awakened by God if you hope to be saved. And you must be awakened soon.

Now when God's Spirit begins to awaken you, you will then see the tremendous importance of preparing, of making sure of your salvation in Christ. Most people don't think that a young person like you should have gloomy thoughts about death. They may tell you not to come back here to church. They may say, "Don't let that preacher scare you." But you should realize that people who say things like that are the enemies of your soul. You must decide not to listen to them. You must decide to harbor thoughts of your own death until they sink down in your heart and trouble you.

The Psalmist said:

"The sorrows of death compassed me [entangled me], and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the Lord …"
      (Psalm 116:3-4).

The same thoughts are recorded in Psalm 18:4-6:

"The sorrows of death compassed me…The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented [or confronted] me. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God…" (Psalm 18:4-6).

Those two verses show what happens when you are awakened, at the beginning of conversion. You will then think about the sorrows and terrors of death, and "the pains of hell" (Psalm 116:3). This is awakening, the beginning of conversion. When you are full of "trouble and sorrow," and are in great "distress" over the fact that you are not prepared to die, then, and only then, will you cry "unto the Lord."

If you are a person that God is showing favor to, God will make you very uncomfortable with thoughts of your death, thoughts of your sin and other highly distressing thoughts. This is not bad. It is just the opposite! It is good! It is good for you to be honest and wise in thinking about death and Hell, and sin, and Judgment. You must think those dreary thoughts and be deeply troubled by them in your own heart if you hope to get saved.

II. Second, you must come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sin
and full salvation.

No one will do that, however, unless God has made that person deeply frightened by the thought of his death, and deeply troubled by his sin. No one will wholeheartedly come to Jesus Christ for salvation from sin until he has a heart full of fear, trembling and sorrow.

That is what you should be looking for. You should be looking and praying for God to make you fearful of death and the coming judgment of your sins.

John Newton, in his world-famous hymn, "Amazing Grace," wrote, "'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear." It takes the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit to make you see and feel that "There is but a step between me and death" (I Samuel 20:3).

When this work of awakening has prepared your heart - and it can happen in a few minutes - or it can take much longer - but when your heart is thoroughly distressed and frightened, then, and only then are you ready to surrender your heart to Jesus Christ. Ask Kelly Lui. Ask Dara Sem. Ask Aaron Yancy. Ask Dr. Chan, or Mr. Griffith, or Dr. Cagan. They know from personal experience that what I'm telling you young people is true to the Bible.

You must do all you can to agitate your heart, and make it frightened and sorrowful, and ready to surrender to Christ the Saviour.

You may say, "My heart is too hard." But I doubt that you are right. I doubt that your heart is as hard as the heart of three former Communist generals in the feared Khmer Rouge of Cambodia. These men were literally responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people on the "killing fields" of Cambodia. These men were cold-blooded murderers. Yet God was able to make them fear death. God was able to make them greatly distressed over their horrible sins, including mass murders. These three former Khmer Rouge generals include General Tith Voeum, once a top military advisor in Pol Pot's army, General Ang Em, and General Chea Visoth. These men are now preaching the Gospel of Christ in Cambodia. Men who once served the murderous dictator Pol Pot are now serving Jesus Christ as pastors!

No, your heart is not too hard. It is not as hard as these Communists who murdered millions in Cambodia. They were awakened. They said to themselves, "There is but a step between me and death." They realized the guilt of their sin. They turned to Jesus Christ.

First, God makes you see that you are going to die. He makes you see that you are a guilty sinner - that you deserve Hell.

Second, God draws you to Jesus Christ. And when you fully trust Jesus your conversion is complete. Jesus said:

"I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" (John 11:25-26).

When you are awakened to your sin and misery, you are given eternal life - you are converted from a state of death to a state of life! Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gives you eternal life. The Bible says:

"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life" (John 3:36).

"There is but a step between me and death." If you should die suddenly, you have many sins on your record. You are not prepared to meet God. When you die you will be judged for your sins and sent to Hell. God must awaken you to the danger of your condition. You must be drawn to Christ. You must be converted. Then you will have everlasting life in another dimension, in a place that the Bible calls Heaven. If you know Christ, death is done away with! The Bible says:

"Jesus Christ…hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (II Timothy 1:10).

The Greek word translated "abolished" is "katargesantos," an aorist, active participle, which means "to make inoperative, to make inactive, to do away with or annul" (cf. Walter Lock, International Critical Commentary, T. and T. Clark, 1966, note on II Timothy 1:10).

When you are converted, Christ makes death inoperative. He makes death inactive. He annuls death and does away with it.

"Jesus Christ…hath abolished death…through the gospel"
     (II Timothy 1:10).

Christ died on the Cross to pay the penalty for your sins. Christ arose physically from the dead on the third day. He ascended into the Third Heaven. He is alive right now, seated next to God's throne. And when you are awakened to your sin and misery, you will strongly desire to come to Christ. Your sins will be washed clean by His Blood. You will have eternal life!

That's why we say, "Why be lonely? Come home - to church every Sunday!" Come home to church! Come home - to Christ. Be cleansed from your sins by His Blood!


Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan:

Psalm 18:4-6; Psalm 116:3-4.

Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"Saved, Saved!" (by Jack P. Scholfield, born 1882).



by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.


"There is but a step between me and death" (I Samuel 20:3).

(Amos 4:12)

I.   You must be awakened, Ephesians 5:14; Matthew 25:5;
Proverbs 29:1; Proverbs 27:1; Psalm 116:3-4; Psalm 18:4-6.

II.  You must come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sin
and full salvation, John 11:25-26; John 3:36; II Timothy 1:10.

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."