“Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death… But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54-56, NLT).
We all live in and observe the same world. We all see and experience the same basic things. The world isn’t as it should be. It’s broken. In the words of Bob Dylan, “Everything’s Broken.” Bad things happen to good people. People who should love each other hurt each other. The spiritual, moral, emotional, physical, and environmental landscape of this world is horribly broken.
Though we all live in and observe the same world, we interpret the data differently. There are countless explanations and interpretations for what’s broken, why it’s broken, and how it can all ultimately be fixed. But even the brightest optimist, the person with the best life imaginable, has to come to grips with the one thing that inescapably says that something’s horribly wrong: death!
In this fallen world the majority of men and women think of death in a very small, personalized way. They think of it as an event.
Death is something that happens to someone who’s living. “They died.” They think of it as an inescapable outcome of existence. You have a birth certificate and a death certificate. The first records your entrance into the world, and the second records your exit. Everyone gets both of those certificates.
Everyone welcomes birth. When a baby is born, cigars and “congrats” are handed out. Colorful helium-filled balloons abound saying, “It’s a____!” We celebrate the date of our birth. Loved ones gather and celebrate the day their loved one was born. We have a name for it: “birth-day party.”
People don’t celebrate when a loved one dies. No cigars, no “congrats,” no balloons. There’s no such thing as a death-day party. People grieve and ache and have to find a way to deal with the gaping hole that someone’s death has left in their world.
Others view death as the termination of life. There was life, and then it was terminated. Death looms as the great terminator of everything they don’t want to end, the loss of everything they worked so hard to gain and don’t want to lose.
Death is surely not less than those things. But death is far greater than than all of that. Death is a “something” that came into a world that only knew life! The world didn’t always look like the News at 10 AM or on our web browser.
The Bible tells us that when God finished creating the world, preparing it for man, and then creating man, God said it was “very good!” Man lived in a perfect world. It was environmentally perfect. Everything was organic! Nothing needed to be labeled as “sustainably grown.” It was socially perfect.
No need for marital counseling. No need for police. It was biologically perfect. There was no need for health insurance because there was no such thing as sickness. There was no such thing as life insurance because there was no such thing as death.
So where did death come from? What is the ultimate “cause of death?” What happened to usher in this inexorable power which now holds sway over what was once a world of life? The Bible informs us that death entered into that perfect world by way of sin.
“For sin is the sting that results in death…” (1 Corinthians 15:56).
“When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone” (Romans 5:12).
God had warned our first parents that sin would do that (Genesis 2:17). The New Testament tells us that sin has an outcome: “the wages of sin,” is “death” (Romans 6:23).
While fallen man processes the problem of death on one dimension, the Bible informs us that this thing we call “death” exerts its power on three levels. There’s spiritual death, there’s physical death, and there’s eternal death. To help us understand the nature and workings of death, and what it is we’re celebrating on Easter, let’s start with the one dimension of death that fallen man does understand: physical death.
First — The power of death does something to the body. A dead body can’t stick together. It’s falling apart. Death causes someone who was once beautiful to look ugly. When someone is dying of an aggressive form of cancer, you see death at work while they’re still alive. The complexities of anatomy lose all sense of integration. The body falls apart — and the person begin to waste away. When we bury someone, the corpse begins to dis-integrate. There’s no such thing as a beautiful corpse. Death makes once beautiful things ugly.
Second — A dead body can’t respond to stimuli. We have five senses. Those five senses make us fully aware of what’s going on outside of us. I’m aware of what’s outside of me through my eyes, nose, ears, mouth, and skin. I’m aware. I can see, smell, hear, taste, and touch. Death brings an end to the senses. It doesn’t respond to visual, olfactory, auditory, gustatory, or somatosensory stimulation. No more senses. No sensation. It doesn’t respond to stimuli.
Finally — A dead body can’t exert itself. It’s powerless — it can’t move.
A dead body doesn’t possess the desire to move, or the power to move.
Such is the power of death, the grip of death.
Man has no remedy for it.
He’s powerless to overcome physical death.
The Bible *informs us* that physical death was preceded by, and *followed from, *spiritual death. Before death impacts a person’s body, death impacts man in his relationship with God. God told Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed Him, they would die. They disobeyed, yet they didn’t immediately experience biological death. They did immediately experience spiritual death. Sin brought death into the realm of their relationship with God. Even though our first parents were physically alive, they were spiritually dead. They were the original “Walking Dead.”
First — The wages of sin makes us spiritually ugly because we’re no longer fully integrated. God, who is triune, said, “Let us make man in our image.” God made man body, soul, and spirit. Fully integrated. The body and intellect/emotions were designed to be subordinate to, and influenced by, man’s fellowship with God.
Death touched the part of us where we are able to know God — to derive life from God! The outcome was *dis-*integration. Separated from the life of God, fallen man is governed by his fallen emotions, fallen intellect, fallen passions.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world….among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Spiritual death makes us ugly. It makes us turn even good things into bad things by making them ultimate things! When good things become ultimate things, they become ugly: sex is perverted, wealth is perverted, and power is perverted. That truth changes the way we explain and interpret the world around us. That truth changes the diagnosis and the treatment of what’s broken!
Spiritual death (that makes us ugly on the vertical axis of our life, causing us to be dis-integrated in our relationship with God) makes us ugly on the horizontal axis of our lives, causing our human relationships to dis-integrate. We no longer image God well. Instead of bearing the image of the giving, servant heart of God, our first impulse is SELF: self-gain, self-serving, self-promotion, self-preservation. No sooner did sin destroy man’s relationship with God than we have the record of the first murder. It was premeditated murder driven by self-concern. Cain was envious and jealous of his brother, Abel.
Second — Spiritual death destroys the capacity to respond to stimuli. When you’re spiritually dead, it means you can’t see beyond the realm of the physical. Everything else is more interesting than God, His Word, and His Wisdom.
For example, how many people in your neighborhood, school, and workplace want to take a couple of hours on Sunday to gather with others to acknowledge God, worship God, and learn of God? For the *vast *majority of them, the newspaper is more interesting than the Bible; playing a round of golf is more desirable than praising God; being in the stands at a football game (or on the couch watching one with friends) is more interesting than being in a room full of people worshipping Jesus.
That’s because spiritual death makes us incapable of perceiving the reality of the love of God, the cross of Jesus, heaven and hell. You’re as aware of the reality of those things as a corpse is aware of the people at his funeral. Your saved spouse talks about the joy of the Lord, and you aren’t touched by it. Your Christian friend tells you how “blessed” they were reading the Bible, and you’re dead to that reality.
THIS IS HUGE — If you see the world wrong, you live wrong. If you see life as all about your story and your glory, you get wrong all of your responses to life.
Finally — Spiritual death has left us powerless — without the power to do anything about our condition. The following verses explain how spiritual death has left us powerless.
“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).
“When we were utterly helpless” (Romans 5:6).
“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8).
Spiritual death leaves us powerless, utterly helpless, in the realm of motive and in the realm of ability. In the physical realm, I have to want to pick up a Bible. That desire has to be connected by way of my nervous system to my muscles, so I can do what I want to do. Spiritual death leaves us without the power to want God and powerless to reach out and grab Him.
Many might say — and I surely used to say and think this — I might not love God as much as I should, I might not have faith in God like I should, but I’m not dead. I have some moral sensation, and I have some moral strength. I’m not dead. You and I might define that as life, but God doesn’t! That’s not life as God defines it. That’s not the life God intended for us to experience. (Think of the TV series “Walking Dead.” Think of how “alive” the “walkers” are compared to real humans). The Bible says that we’re not just sick because of our sins. The Bible says we’re *dead.*
The World’s Diagnosis & Remedy
The world at large has a different diagnosis: man’s not dead, just sick. The world at large has a different prognosis. Give man enough time and he’s going to get better. The world at large offers countless remedies that are the inventions of dead men. Those things are the basis of hope for broken men and women in this broken world. But here’s the problem:
Hope is only real hope if that hope can fix what’s broken.
Think about this: Mankind is obsessed with eliminating the causes of physical death. There are great campaigns against cancer, AIDS, and other diseases. Billions of dollars are spent on medical research and educational campaigns. There are great campaigns against poverty and starvation, substance abuse, drunk driving, and the latest, against guns. (By the way, while countless billions of dollars are funding these campaigns that war against various “causes of death,” a good chunk of a billion dollars is spent by our government every year to KILL nearly 4,000 babies per day. THAT is how ugly and blind sin has made us!)
Every one of those campaigns are against the “causes of death.” But have you noticed that no one has ever just come out and said, “Let’s have a global campaign against dying”? You see, all of those campaigns to cure the various causes of death only prolong the inevitable. One out of every one person born will die.
The Bible’s Diagnosis & Remedy
The Bible has a very different diagnosis: *Ephesians 2 *is the death certificate. Apart from Jesus, we’re all in the morgue. It’s only a matter of time — the body will eventually catch up with us. We NEED to be SAVED.
But the Bible offers real hope. The Bible tells us that God did something to fix the problem of death on every level! God launched a great campaign against death. His great campaign against death began with a campaign against *the *Cause of Death: SIN!
As John Lennox explains, “sin entered the world to wreak endless havoc. So serious is that moral infection that the business of restoring men and women to fellowship with their Creator will involve something much bigger than creation itself: nothing less than the Creator becoming human, dying at the hands of his creatures and rising again in triumph over sin and death.”
Jesus Came to Destroy Sin & Death
The Bible tells us that something happened in history that we can’t ignore. Something happened that changes everything!
In The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis writes, “Once upon a time in our world, in a little stable, there was something that was bigger than the whole world.”
The Bible says that 2,000 years ago there was something inside a stable that was bigger than the world. 2,000 years ago, God came in human flesh. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem. That’s what we celebrate on Christmas!
Death was not inescapable for Jesus. Jesus said, “No one takes my life — I lay it down…” Jesus said that He came to “give His life for a ransom.” Jesus is God come in human flesh for the sole purpose of destroying sin and death. On Good Friday, we gather to remember how Jesus was brutally beaten and then nailed to a Roman cross. 700 years before Jesus died on the cross, the prophet Isaiah told why all of that happened:
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).
Jesus Put Death to Death
Jesus would save us from our great enemies sin and death by His death on the cross in our place for our sin. There on the cross, when the Father laid the sins of the world on Jesus, Jesus experienced separation from God the Father. There on the cross, Jesus experienced biological death. Before He breathed His last, He shouted in victory, “It Is Finished!” Divine justice was satisfied. Our forgiveness was paid for in full. They took Jesus down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb.
Tim Chaddick puts it like this: “The empty cross is not good news without the empty tomb!”
Three days after Jesus died, He rose from the grave — PROVING that on the cross He had truly conquered our great enemies sin and death! The resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantees the final defeat of sin and death.
The Bible calls it a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). It’s a living hope because Jesus is alive! The Christian alone has real hope because their hope — JESUS — fixed what was broken! Jesus put death to death.
“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades (Revelation 1:17-18).
We were hopelessly dead to God. We were powerless to overcome the power of that death. But when we were dead to God, God did what we couldn’t do.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5).
Spiritual death made us spiritually ugly. The glorious resurrection power of Jesus is at work to make something beautiful of my life. Day by day the resurrection power of Jesus takes what was made ugly because of sin and causes my mind, desires, and passions to integrate with the heart and wisdom of God. The things that I once made ultimate ends for my gratification or glory (time, talents, and treasures) I now, by the resurrection power of God, use for His pleasure and His glory. I now have the life and love of God working in me, causing me to look more like Jesus: loving others and serving others, for His glory and my joy!
Spiritual death made me incapable of seeing beyond the physical. But the resurrection power of God enables me to be stimulated by the things of the Spirit, and helps me hunger for the Word and desire to pray. Spiritual death left me powerless. But the same power that raised Jesus from the grave is now working in me to want and do that which pleases God.
“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
The question remains — “If Jesus put death to death, why do I have to die physically?” Again, when we look at death’s entrance into the world in Genesis 3, we see that the power of death first touched man’s relationship with God. Physical death was secondary. The victory of Jesus over death begins where death began — by restoring our relationship with God, who is our life. The final stage of the destruction of death is over the grave.
This is huge. Physical death for the unbeliever is actually the last act in a progression toward eternal death — separation from God for eternity!
But because of the resurrection of Jesus, physical death for a Christian is the last and final act in a progression completely away from death.
I’ll tell a story that illustrates this: There was a Christian man who was dying of cancer. Whenever he was asked, “Do you believe God will heal you?” he said, “Oh, absolutely. I know God will heal me; I’m just not sure if He’s going to do it before I die or after.” In his case, it was after. But what he also used to say is, “If He heals me before, it’s just a temporary thing until He actually heals me after.”
Because Jesus conquered the grave, physical death is the door into a life forever in the presence of God. Death actually has no power over you. None at all. Physical death is actually going to be the last gasp of death in your life.
“Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death…But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-56).
I heard someone describe it like this: “Jesus conquered sin and death so you wouldn’t be defeated by them. Jesus walked out of His tomb so you could walk into life eternal. The resurrection of Jesus Christ means you’ll be invited to the one funeral you’ll want to attend: the funeral of death.”
THAT’S why Jesus isn’t an option; Jesus isn’t a choice among many choices.
Religion can’t conquer death.
Moralism can’t conquer death.
ONLY JESUS CAN!
You can’t rejoice in the empty tomb if you haven’t been to the cross. Repent of — turn your back on — the lie of lies and trust in the cross and resurrection of Jesus to save you from your great enemies sin and death. Faith means that you’re so convinced that Jesus loved you and died for you that you’ll live for Him. You’ll trust, worship, serve, and obey Him.
If you’re alive — you get to be the agent of His life in a dead world! You get to communicate the life of Jesus by the way you live and by the words you say. You’re strategically placed in this world to use all that you are — all that you do — as ambassadors of the One who conquered death!