Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints
~Psalm 116:15 ~
God has given His people immeasurable consolation as we endure the sorrows of this present age. Eternity will resound with wonder as the redeemed host renders their endless praises to the High and Lofty One, who graciously looks “on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit” (Is. 66:1-2). Astonishingly, although He is enthroned in glory, the Lord closely regards the death of His saints, even calling their ends precious (Ps. 116:15). This line from the Psalm provides both a window through which to behold the character of God and ample comfort for His death-bound saints.
This world’s tyrants and despots care nothing for the death of their subjects. Not so with the everlasting God. Why is this? The white robes of the martyrs are not impersonally woven or haphazardly issued, but each is made and bestowed with singular care and love. If each sparrow dies with the eye of the great God upon it, then surely the ones for whom He has given His Son can hope for at least the same attention. God has promised never to leave nor forsake His people, an assurance by no means invalidated in death’s cold visitation. The saints shall not—cannot—die alone, unguarded, or abandoned by Him. Their heavenly Father beholds the groaning, grieving, agony, sorrows, tears, and tremblings of the soul. In the death of saints, He does not turn away in wrath, nor recoil in horror. Even though death has no place in His living presence, He still draws near to the deathbed and bottles up tears, all the while counting the wanderings and sighs of His beloved (Ps. 56:8). The tenderness with which He loves makes the most affectionate human sympathy seem as cold as a stone. This is precisely what the mourners noticed about the Savior’s tears over the death of His friend Lazarus: “See how He loved him” (Jn. 11:36).
Man spends his handbreadth of life gathering wealth to himself. Our treasures, those things we regard as precious, enrich us and bring us profit. But does the death of the saints profit God? The word for ‘precious’ here is frequently associated with the costly stones that our Creator has scattered throughout the world (1 Kn. 5:17, Job 28:16). Their colors, rarity, and clarity dazzle the eyes and adorn the jewelry of many. Yet it is the last breath of the enfeebled saint that catches the eye of the Almighty. Even though the gleaming stars do His bidding, it is the time of departure from this life to the next that shines brightest before His radiant face. Why does the living God regard the death of His saints as precious?
First, the Lord counts the death of His saints precious because He has tender affection for them. Could we expect anything else from the One who calls His people the apple of His eye (Ps 17:8)? Only the cruelest Father remains unmoved while watching his children suffer. Death rends asunder what God has joined together—body and soul, husband and wife. Its prospect and its process can fill the heart with dread, even as it did our Lord in the lonely garden (Matt. 26:37-38). Precisely in this season, He draws near with tender lovingkindness. The One who has promised to wipe every tear from our eyes surely comforts His saints while those tears are being shed (Rev. 7:17).
Second, the Lord regards the death of His saints precious because of what He spent for them. A cheap trinket easily obtained bears little value, but that for which much is given is another matter. Our God gave all for His saints, and how valuable must we be to the One who spent so lavishly to obtain us. Paul prayed that the saints of Ephesus would see the riches of the glory of Christ’s inheritance in the saints (Eph 1:18)! Christians were redeemed not with corruptible things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18). His blood flowed freely, and in so doing, He showed that redemption cost Him dearly. Here is the glory of the gospel of our dear Savior. Not for the righteous, noble, elegant, or worthwhile, did Jesus die. Far from it. The Godman died for the unrighteous, the weak and worthless, for the hopeless sinner. That priceless propitiation, infinite in glory and perfect in scope, secured an eternal redemption and bestows endless worth in the sight of God for His beloved children.
Third, He considers the death of His saints precious because of the victory He accomplishes through it. Satan’s malicious schemes are here irreversibly turned upside-down (Ps. 146:9). The curse must give way to the gracious covenant. The sorrows of death shall be dispelled by the joys of life. The dark hole of the grave and all the terrors that attend it shall not drag the redeemed down to utter loss and ruin. Whence this glorious hope? Christ Jesus destroyed him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and has secured blessed release for those who through fear of death were once in a bondage worse than anything Pharaoh ever contrived (Heb. 2:14-15). Christ’s own resurrection illumines our dark trek through death’s valley, proclaiming victory and securing hope. Death’s sting is blessedly confiscated by the King of kings. Hades’ victory has been revoked, trampled underfoot by the Savior. Jesus lives, and though we die, He shall not be deprived of a single lamb for whom He laid down His life.
Fourth, and closely related to the preceding, the death of the saints marks the culmination of God’s work in them in this life. The skilled carpenter cuts, smooths, sands, and joints pieces of wood. He does not do so aimlessly, but intentionally, and with the end in view. When he completes the project, he may assign a value proportionate to the labor and material involved. In the case of God’s saints, He furnished the material, creating us according to His good pleasure and in His likeness. He exerted the labor, fashioning new life and refining us into holiness. He also had the goal in view, which is nothing less than glory (Eph 1:4, Phil 1:6).
Finally, our Lord finds the death of His saints precious because of the communion into which death grants them entry. Westminster Larger Catechism 85 says that God employs death for the saints “to make them capable of further communion with Christ in glory, which they then enter upon.” In this way death becomes the final stroke that ushers us into the realization of our Savior’s prayer, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold my glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). Day by day, the Father has been answering this prayer as saints stream into glory. This can be painful for us as we say ‘goodbye’ to our loved ones here, either when leaving or—perhaps most painfully—when being left. Through it all, however, God graciously repurposes death to be the doorway to our heart’s desire: laying hold of that for which Christ Jesus laid hold of us, namely, eternal life.
Eternal life to the glory of God is the great end and consummate purpose of the death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord. This does not mean mere endless existence, for that will be the duration of the miseries of those in Hell. Eternal life is defined not by quantity of time but quality of presence (Ps. 16:11). We must long for unbroken, endlessly satisfying, ever-blessed communion with the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. We await the resurrection and renewal of all things. On that endless day, Jesus will see the labor of His soul and be satisfied. We will see both the scars from which sprang His cleansing blood and the face of the One we love but have not yet seen.
The Lord sees the deaths of each one of His saints. To Him this is exceedingly precious, for death will bring them into full possession of grace, pulsing endlessly with glory, and filled forever with love, adoration, and praise.