(The following is an excerpt from the Easter sermon)
Just yesterday, Amy and I went to a funeral and took our daughter with us. It was her first funeral, and, being only 20 months old, she was oblivious to what was happening. While others were somber, grieving, weeping, she was smiling, laughing, exclaiming “Hi pup!” (she loves dogs and says hi to them even when they aren’t present), reading her books.
As her father, I remember seeing her this way – innocently and wonderfully oblivious to the pains and sadnesses of death and suffering – and I wished she could remain like that forever. I wished that I could keep her from grieving and mourning, and keep her always smiling and laughing. But, I knew that as long as she continued on this earth, this would not be her reality. I knew that one day she would experience real suffering; one day she would weep in grief; one day she would feel death’s sting – when it takes those she loves, when she faces her own death. This realization makes me so glad for the hope that the gospel brings into our death- and suffering-filled world.
Death is not just a “natural part of life”. It is not something that we just embrace and welcome. Anyone who has seen it up close knows this is the truth. Rather, it is an intrusion and a disruption of life as it was meant to be. It is a devastating enemy which ruins life as it was meant to be, and so long as it has the last word on our existence, it strips life of any meaning, hope, and purpose.
In fact, Scripture calls death “the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26).” Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we do not have to deny the devastating tragedy of death, nor must we resort to distracting ourselves from it, nor must we simply despair in light of it. Rather, we can face its tragic reality but still have hope, because Jesus’ resurrection defeated death for all those united to him in faith. It provides an incomparable victory, such that we can know that death does not have the last word for us, but that we, like him, will be raised to life eternal.
Perhaps you’ve seen a movie in which there is a bad guy – a real bad guy – who is bringing pain & suffering, and harming and harassing, and keeps getting away with it. As you watch that, if you’re anything like me, it makes you angry and you just want him to be stopped – but sometimes it seems that he never will.
That’s death. Apart from the hope of the gospel, death has the last word.
But isn’t it great when the tables turn? Isn’t it great that just when you think that the bad guy will win, something happens and everything changes and he’s stopped and defeated and prevented from continuing to harass and harm?
That’s the resurrection. Jesus defeats death. And, Jesus’ resurrection is a pledge and foretaste of a world where death no longer wins, and no longer brings pain, suffering, sadness, and tears into life, but instead, life is the way it was meant to be – where the only tears are tears of joy, because God himself has wiped away all our tears of sadness and death is no more for those who place their trust Christ (Revelation 21:1-4).
And so, Jesus’ incomparable victory renders death powerless – so powerless that Paul can call it “sleep” (1 Corinthians 15:18). Sleep is “a word pregnant with the promise of a future awakening at the dawn of a new day.” Death is not the end. It no longer has the last word. It’s sting is gone (1 Corinthians 15:54-57) because Jesus, who deserved no death because he had no sin, took our death upon himself and died in our place to redeem us from the death we deserved – God’s eternal wrath for our sin. But because of Jesus’ resurrection, death has been transformed from devastating enemy to mere gateway which ushers us into fullness of life – the presence of our God and our victorious, gracious Redeemer.