I have had death look me in the face three times. The first was on a beach in the Bahamas as a ten-foot Lemon shark swam up to me with an open mouth (I am alive today only because my Dad was somehow able to throw me onto shore from a distance that, I am still convinced, isn’t humanly possible). The second time was as a ten-year-old. My left leg had gone to sleep, it is still asleep to this day. The pain was sharp and had begun shooting down my back into my foot. After a few weeks, maybe months, I ended up at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. We were placed in a room and told that the doctor would arrive to speak with us in a moment, Spongebob was on the television. A doctor who I remember being the tallest man I had ever laid eyes on came into the room and began talking to my parents, I was preoccupied with the episode of Spongebob on the television until my parents turned it off and told me to listen to what the doctor was saying. “Ewing Sarcoma,” meaningless words at the time, but as the doctor explained I understood two things, I had cancer and I was going to die. To be honest, all I remember from this moment is my immediate reaction, though certainly veiled by a weak mind and twenty years, I remember walking out of that room, hands in face, saying over and over again, “I am going to die, I am going to die.” That realization has never left me and I hope it never does. Why? Because death is a reality with a glorious remedy.
The Reality and The Remedy
Death is a reality. It is horrid, reprehensible, sorrowful, hideous, and unnatural. Yet, it is normal. Scripture speaks clearly on death: it reminds us that it is appointed for everyone (Hebrews 9:27), that it is the consequence of sin (Romans 6:23), and that there is a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:2). My purpose for writing isn’t to remind us of a reality that we are all well aware of, it is to clarify the remedy. Just as we read above death is the true wage of sin, and that everyone is appointed to die once then comes judgment, and that there is a time to die, it is needful in our day to be reminded of the hope of death because there is indeed hope in death. However, this hope is had only by those who have tasted and seen the goodness of God in the Person of Christ. The hope of death is that the death we deserve has already been died. Weird language, but important language. The hope of the Christian life is that the death that we deserve as the wage of our sin has been paid in the person of Jesus Christ. The just wrath of God has been satisfied in the person of Jesus and thus death for the saint has changed in its essence. It is no longer what it once was. As a child saying, “I am going to die,” that reality was weighty because it was heavy with wrath, as it is for everyone who doesn’t know the Lord Jesus whether that reality is accepted or suppressed. Though the weight of death is still everpresent for the saint it must shift to some degree. John 17:3 reminds us that eternal life is “knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ”. For the saint, we are reminded that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. That being said though the body may die eternal life is intact. Eternal life begins as a sinner enters into a relationship with God through the person of Christ. Thus we can understand rightly what Jesus says in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Oh, how we need to be reminded of this truth. We often look to this verse to comfort us as we approach death, but brothers and sisters, this is meant to comfort us in life. Death in its most wretched sense is no longer for the saint, separation from God isn’t a reality for those whose mediator is Christ. Why? Because Christ has died, more than that Christ has raised and that glorious resurrection life has given me life here below and life to come. It is all life for us. It is all grace for us. It is all Christ for us. This is why the apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” The basic premise for Paul is if I live it is Christ if I die it is Christ free from the constraints of sin. He goes on to say that it is better to die and be with Christ, how can he say this? Because Paul knows that death is not separation from the supreme object of his affection, death is a means of greater enjoyment of it.
I said that I have had death look me in the face three times. The final time was at my conversion. At my conversion, I saw my death. More than that, I saw my death die. The just penalty of my sin was carried out in the person of Jesus Christ. God’s wrath for me has been satisfied. How can I know that death has been defeated? By the resurrection from the dead. Christ has defeated death for all those who look to Him in faith. The resurrection is the grand proclamation of Christ Jesus triumph over death. Death is dead, Jesus is alive, and I live in Him. And the life that I live in him is accompanied by one glorious hope. That hope is a future bodily resurrection. Not like Lazarus who would be raised back to his earthly life only to die again either by the sword or natural causes. This isn’t the hope of the Christian life, far past that, it is nowhere promised to us. However, the bodily resurrection at the end of the age is promised and thus we do well to place our hope in the promise that God has made, for it is sure. The resurrection that the Christian hopes for is a resurrection like the Lord’s. It is a resurrection that has seen death defeated not abated. Paul writes concerning this hope and we will give him the final word,
51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Corinthians 15:51-56
Comfort In the Valley
Mercy Hill has just finished preaching through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. During this time I have been reminded of death and its lasting effects. I have been reminded of how it steals family members. I have been reminded of death’s universality. I have been reminded of the sorrow it brings. I have been reminded of its hideousness. What is the comfort then amidst this horrid reality? How do we cope when it comes for us or our loved ones?
We rest in the promises of God.
Saint, when we lay our loved ones down in death or we ourselves are ready to cross those waters we need only remember one thing, our death has already been died. Christ is alive and thus the death we die is no longer what it once was, it leads us to life, and that life is full and free. We must continue to say that death is horrid, reprehensible, sorrowful, hideous, and unnatural. Yet the saints must sing, It is defeated.