The past week has been hemmed in with death. First, there was the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti. In a matter of moments, with the shaking of the earth’s pillars, more people than my country’s entire population were sent to their eternity.
On Monday morning I went to the office and the first two emails I opened contained news from two sisters in the church, one had lost her father and another her mother. They’d watched their once strong parents slowly decline to disease to hospice to death. As I was announcing these deaths at Wednesday night Bible study, a young college student raised her hands to say that an hour before coming to Bible study she received word her beloved grandmother had died. Then last night, while doing a few things on the computer, my family and I heard a loud crash. My daughter came in to say she’d also seen a bright flash. We knew it was a car accident; we didn’t know that two of the men in the car were brothers to a young man in the congregation. One of the men in the car didn’t make it.
We’ve seen death on scales small and grand. And it doesn’t matter which angle we take, nothing about death seems “normal” to us. It is a curse. And it is found far and wide. Sometimes in the sudden panic and terror of earthquakes and tsunamis and floods–“natural disasters” we call them. But they are so diabolically unnatural. Sometimes death comes by man-made instruments–bombs, guns, knives, and even automobiles. It’s not natural because the hands of men created the tools for it. And death by “natural causes” isn’t any more natural. It’s abominable; it’s a curse. No one who watches their parents slowly seep into the darkness of death thinks the “cause” is natural. Cancer isn’t natural–it’s the unnatural rebellion of cells. Heart attacks are not natural–it’s the deadly “attack” of an organ meant to sustain life. We can’t normalize death with labels. Very unnatural is death.
So, death must be conquered. We must be set free from our fear of it. But neither the conquering of death or courage in its face comes from self-help maneuvers. The grip of death is too strong, our hearts are too weak. To defeat it we must be delivered, rescued, liberated, saved. We need a strong man stronger than all men.
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15).
“But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:8b-10).
Because Jesus has decisively ended the demonic reign and terror of death, bringing life and immortality to light through the gospel, we who are Christ’s may triumphantly sing:
“Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54-55).
If Christ is our portion, we may state as emphatically as the apostle, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).
The fact that death exists in no way overthrows the love of God who gave His Son to bear our death and bring us life.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
Death was His curse for our sin. Christ His antidote for our life. In Jesus we look down upon death from the hallowed halls of heaven, and we see God cast death itself into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14). The naturalist makes life random and claims that “death is a natural part of life.” (have you every thought about that phrase at length?) The atheist makes life meaningless, except where he/she borrows categories and ethics inherent in a God infused world. Only the Christian sees the beginning, middle and end of death. Only the Christian sees the meaning and purpose of death and life as it zooms toward eternity. Only the Christian has a narrative and a God big enough begin life, end life, and begin life again–the same life.
How many look at Haiti and the death of loved ones and only see tragedy? How many miss the proofs? That life ever existed is owing to God who is the Author of life. That life ceases demonstrates the reality of God’s holy judgment against sin. That we yearn for unending life shows that we were made for eternity. That Christ promises eternal life–which we may have through faith in Him–demonstrates that God is love.
Beneath the rubble of Haiti is the Savior bleeding to end death for all who call upon Him. Next to the dying cancer patient sits the Savior moaning in sorrow to bring an end to all sickness and disease. Inside a mangled automobile the Savior accepts piercing and wounds and stripes that bring everlasting healing.
In all the tragedies–small and great–“we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). He tasted death for us because He loves the Father, He loves to do the Father’s will, and He loves His people. Indeed, God is a God of love… and Jesus proves it.
D.A. Carson, “The Love of God” (The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World: 2006 Desiring God National Conference)