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TEXT: II Timothy 1:9-10
SUBJECT: Christ Has Abolished Death
Several years ago, I conducted the funeral of a woman I had never met. After the service, her son pulled me aside to thank me for coming. I told him I was sorry we had to meet under the circumstances. He shrugged and said something I'll never forget,
"Well, it's all part of life".
I didn't say anything to him at the time-but I should have. If anyone here feels the same way he did, let me tell you: he was wrong.
Death is not part of life. It is unnatural to die. That's why we fear it so much. It's why we don't talk about it unless we have to. It's why, when we have to, we use words to soften the blow or to take off the sharp angles of death.
God did not make us to die.
SIN AND DEATH
Yet we do. Everyone dies. Some in old age, but others in the blossom of youth and good health. Why is this? Why do people die?
The short answer is sin. Not that the dead are more guilty than the living. But that's the point: everyone is guilty. St. Paul said,
"All have sinned and come short
of the glory of God".
AN OLD STORY
Human sin has a long and shameful history. Some of it is documented for us in the Bible. Near the beginning of God's Book, we have a story. Some have taken it for mythology, but it doesn't read like that. It looks like history, a straight narrative of things that really happened.
God made a man and woman and placed them in a Garden. They were told to take care of it, to name the animals, and to fill the world with children, laughter, and love.
There was only one catch: they had to obey God. To make it easy on them, He only forbade one thing-
"The fruit of the tree of the knowledge
of God and evil".
As long as they stayed clear of that, they'd live in perfect happiness.
But one day, a talking animal came to the dear lady with a question,
"Has God forbidden you to eat
of all the trees of the garden?"
The Lady said no, He had done no such thing. They could eat anything they wanted, except for that one fruit. He warned that if we do, we'll die for sure.
The talking animal was a snake, of course-a snake in more ways than one! As the conversation went on, he slithered and crawled and burrowed into the Lady's mind and finally talked her into doing his will-supposing it was her own.
Having tasted the forbidden fruit, she wanted her husband to join her in the secret pleasure. He did.
That very evening, God called them on it! When they confessed their rebellion, He was sad. But not only sad; He was also offended-justly offended at their doings. To punish them for their sin, He drove them out of the Garden and posted a Guard to keep them out-for a time.
Though the man and woman were heartbroken, they were not hopeless. For the God who evicted them from their paradise, promised that, He would bring them back some day.
What does their story have to do with us? Christians have always differed on the details, but on the big idea we all agree. What Adam and Eve did so long ago, affected-not only them-but all of their descendants-including you and me.
When New England was Puritan, little boys learned a rhyme in school,
"In Adam's fall
we sinned all".
With that sin came death-death to our first parents-and to the whole human race.
Death is an awful thing-don't let anyone kid you. It mocks every plan, breaks every hope, and poisons the life we have long before it comes. Someone has called Ecclesiastes the truest book in the world. And rightly so. As long as death is there, life is not what it should be. It's
"Vanity of vanity, all is vanity".
Did God foresee the coming of sin-along with the fear, pain, and death it would bring? Yes He did. And He planned to do something about it.
What did He do?
He didn't do what we would have done.
Looking at pain and sorrow and death all around you, wouldn't you love to wave a magic wand and make it all go away? Sure you would-everyone with a drop of humanity in him would do it.
But that's because we lack God's wisdom, justice, and compassion.
Though God could have said the magic words and set everything right by them, He chose to do it the harder way, which is also the better way.
He did it His way.
In Jesus Christ, God joined the human race to wipe out the agony, the horror, and the reality of death.
If you read Science Fiction, you know aliens often come to earth in a human disguise-or they snatch a body to possess for a time. But this is not how God joined us! He came to us-not just looking like a man-but as a man, a real man, as human as you and I are-and equally subject to the pains of life-including death.
If you know the Gospel Story, you know that Jesus Christ died a real death, a human death of unmatched pain, humiliation, and loneliness.
If that were the end of the Story, it would do us good. It's comforting to know that God knows what it is to be a man who must die.
But that is not the end of the Gospel Story. When Jesus Christ died, He was taken down from the cross and put into the tomb of a rich man. There His body lay for three days and three nights.
But on the next Sunday morning-very early that day-He rose from the dead. Not metaphorically or in our hearts. No, I mean it quite literally, A Dead Body Got Loose!
No one was looking for this. Mary Magdalene was a dear friend of His. When she came to spice his dead body, she looked into the empty tomb and wondered who stole His body? When she learned that no one had taken it, but that He was alive, she ran to the men who knew Him best, and they thought she was lunatic! Later, they too, found out the truth. But even then, one of them doubted. He wouldn't believe till he
"Put his fingers into the nail prints and
thrust his hand into His side".
That very night, the man had a chance to do it, but he chose to worship Jesus Christ instead,
"My Lord and my God!"
Mary Magdalene, the disciples, and others were not the superstitious fools they're often made out to be-primitive people eager to believe every bedtime story they're told! No, they were just like we are: whatever they believed about heaven and all that, they knew dead men stay dead.Until they were mugged by reality. Jesus Christ was dead-as dead as any man ever was. Yet this dead man was now alive-as alive as He ever was.
Only more. For the life He now has is the fullness of life and a life that cannot be lost. There's a Bible term for what He had then-and still has: it's eternal life. Eternal both in its quantity and in its quality.
It is this life-not something like it-but the very same thing-that God offers us in the Gospel.
The Gospel is not a set of rules to live by, but a set of facts to believe. In Jesus Christ, God joined the human race, died on the cross in our place, and rose from the dead to give us eternal life.
By His Gospel, God performed two super-human acts:
"He abolished death".
This doesn't mean believers don't die-of course we do. But the uncertainty and the terror of death are broken. Though the power of death is now cut, one day the whole thing will be no more. At the End of the World, believers will be raised to the fullness of life-a life that cannot be lost and only gets better!
"He brought life and immortality to light".
In Jesus Christ, He showed us that life after death is real, that the body will rise from the dead, and that death and pain and sorrow will be no more.
Saying these things is one thing-any fool can do that. But doing them is another. And, in Jesus Christ, God has done them. The life Christ had then-and still has-you can have too. Right now by believing the Gospel story and by trusting the One it's all about: Jesus Christ.
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