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TEXT: Hebrews 2:14-15
SUBJECT: The Passion of Jesus Christ #40: Free Us from the Fear of Death
Compared to most people in most times and places, our lives are fairly safe. Not long ago, forty was old and sixty was ancient; but today, people between forty and sixty are 'middle-aged'. While the flu and measles used to kill people by the thousands, now they keep us in bed a week or ten days, and then we're fine. We have our share of crime, of course, but Fremont is one of the safest cities in America. As for war-only the dead of seen the end of that-but the nuclear threat that hung over us like a black cloud for nearly fifty years, has, mostly, cleared up. Our lives are fairly safe.
Yet our fear of death is worse than ever. You can see it in the hysterical campaigns for seatbelts or against smoking; you can see it polls that show people willing to give up their freedom in the vain hope of stopping terrorism. And, of course, bring up death at a party and you won't be invited back! People can ignore it, call it by other names, make jokes about it, and discuss it for hours as an abstract thing. But when it becomes concrete-when it's not the thing we call death, but my death, your death, the death of someone you love or need or can't live without, then we get nervous. Because we're scared of death.
If death comes at the end of life-maybe a long and (mostly) healthy life, the fear of death affects a great deal of one's life. It worries nearly everyone, and it scares others to death-long before they die!
The writer of Hebrews has two names for this fear: He calls it a bondage (or a slavery) and he calls it the power of the devil (by which, I think he means the power Satan has over us).
THE SOURCE OF DEATH AND ITS FEAR
Where does death come from? It comes from sin. Adam and Eve were created immortal. Had they stayed obedient to God, they (and presumably) their descendants would be immortal to this day. We would have no fear of death because there would be no death to fear.
But the first promise made to Adam was, In the day you eat thereof (i.e., the forbidden fruit), you shall surely die. When he did, he did. And not only Adam fell into death that day, but so did all the people who came after him. We are born mortal-and though we may fend off our mortality longer than others-it will get us in the end. Because there is no life apart from God, when man fell away from God, he also fell away from life. This created fear.
Had there been no devil, this fear of death might have been, on balance, a good thing. It would have made sinners seek the Lord and His mercy; and it would have gotten us up and doing it now, because being mortal means our future is unsure
But there is a devil and he turned this fear of death against us. He used it to rob life of every God given joy; with it, he bred despair, and with that, spiritual laziness and a bitter grudge against the Lord.
THE END OF DEATH AND ITS FEAR
The fear of death is an awful thing and it cries to be gotten rid of! Some have tried to do that, to rid us of our fear. Their efforts may have been kindly meant, but the results are evil.
Some deny the existence of death, and yet, like the rest of us, they cry at funerals. Others say death is a natural thing, a part of life, like birth and childhood, puberty and middle-age. But if it's part of life why don't they talk about in the same voice they talk about other parts of life, such as work or weddings or holidays?
Well-meaning Christians come along and put a good spin on it. Knowing believers go to heaven when they die, they say death is not a bad thing at all. Yet Paul, who was never more than a step away from it, called death the last enemy. Death is a bad thing.
But God has done something about it! That's the promise of the Gospel! The writer of Hebrews tells us what God did about death. First: He joined a mortal race, our race, the human race. Then, as a mortal, He submitted to death. Had He remained in death, it and its fear would have been stronger than ever, in fact, they would have been almighty!
God did not stay under the power of death! On the third day, He rose from the dead, and, in so doing, He destroyed the power of death over His people, exposed the devil's every cheat, and took away the ground of our fears.
Thus, He did not manipulate our fears. The Gospel is not a drug to make us feel better on our way to the cemetery! The Gospel is Good News! It says death has been defeated!
And not just says it has, but shows it has. There was a Man who used to be dead, but He isn't anymore! Unlike Lazarus and others who, after dying, went back to their old lives, this Man didn't go back to the life He had, but on to a new life-not a new lease on old life-but to a new life, which is sometimes called eternal life, the fullness of life, and the life of heaven!
The Resurrection put the lie to Satan's every word. Materialism says there is no life beyond the grave, but the Resurrection says there is too! Plato says life beyond the grave is disembodied life, but the Resurrection says, Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Handle me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have. Skeptics says there's no reward for the righteous, but the Resurrection sticks it in their faces! Scared Christians wonder if they'll see God when they die, but the Face of the Resurrected Man makes it certain He did and we will.
FREEDOM AND LIFE NOW
While our Lord's Resurrection is in the past, ours is still in the future-maybe tonight, maybe a billion years from now-but that's no business of ours.
Our business is to live now in the hope of the Resurrection. And-according to our text-this means not living in the fear of death. Not fearing your own death and not fearing the loss of Christian loved ones.
Why shouldn't we fear death? I just told you that! Because, for the Christian, death does not have the final word. Christ does! And He says, Because I live, you live!
What does death mean for the believer? If you think of his soul (or inner man, or maybe 'personality' is the word), death means going to be with the Lord, which Paul says-
Is far better.
--Not the best that God has for us (that comes later), but a million times better than the best things we've known in this life. The happiest moment on earth would be hell compared to the saddest moment in heaven (if there were any). Because of this, C.S. Lewis said Lazarus was the first Christian martyr!
But what about the dead believer's body? Some think it doesn't matter, but that's the old heresy of Gnosticism revived and baptized into the Church. In fact, the body does matter, because it too was created and redeemed by God. What happens to the Christian's body? It decays and finally turns back to the dust from which it was made. But that's not all that happens! I Thessalonians 4:14 says the believer's body,
Sleeps through Jesus.
John Murray, who was the least imaginative and sentimental preacher I ever heard (and also the most boring), waxed almost poetic on the verse,
You know the tenderness, the love, and the care with which a mother puts her infant to sleep. The infant may not want to go to sleep, but that does not detract in the least degree from the love and gentleness, the love and the care with which the mother puts the infant to sleep. And it is just this that is true on a supereminent degree and on a transcendent plane with respect to Christ and His people. It is He who puts them to sleep, who attends their departure. When their time is come according to His own appointment and mediatorial Lordship, He puts them to sleep.
The Lord loves and keeps an eye on the believer's dead body, no less than his living body.
And, as for those we leave behind? We don't leave them behind, but to the tender mercies of the Lord. If Joseph watched over the interests of his people in life, as he lay dying, he said, I die, but God will visit you.
Objectively, both death and its fear are broken by the Resurrection of our Lord.
Faith makes His objective victory our own possession. If we really believed our Lord rose from the dead and with Him, we did too, we would not live in the hysterical terror even with the gnawing anxiety of death. We would be what the author of Hebrews said Christ died to make us-free from the fear of death.
Thus, I want you to meditate-long and hard and every day-on the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. I also want you to think on His present state-the Lord is still alive, and as young and strong and vigorous, and immortal as He was that Sunday He shook off the chains of death!
I also urge you to say no to the devil's pesterings! I chose that word carefully-these fears of death are nothing more than a pestering, or a nuisance-because they have no substance to them! Except what you give them by brooding on death and wondering what will happen to you when it's your time to go. The short term future is cloudy, but for the Christian, the long term future is bright and clear! Life awaits us on the other side of this life, and it's a life that should be capitalized, because while it resembles the good lives we live here, the resemblance is something like my drawing of the Mona Lisa compared to the real thing! Or maybe, your singing of the Alleluia Chorus compared to a professional choir's.
When all else fails, simply obey your Lord and Master, who said over and over while He was with us-and still does-fear not!
Why did our Lord suffer and die?
Christ suffered and died to free us from bondage to the fear of death.
What He said to that dear lady in the synagogue, He says to every Christian,
Woman, thou art free!
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