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Sunday: Facing Death with Hopeful Joy
How the resurrection of Jesus changes everything!
You have heard it said that the only things that are certain in this life are death and taxes.
I trust that most of us will survive paying our taxes.
What about death? So far, if you are reading this, you have survived. Congratulations! However, according to recent statistics, the mortality rate among humans still stands close to 100%.
If you are in reasonably good health, it is easy to kick the idea of death down the road into the future. But we know all about “untimely” deaths, and if you were to ask people on the brink, most would say that death has arrived sooner than they imagined.
I never thought much about death until I turned fifty. For some reason, that birthday caused me to understand what automobile side mirrors mean when they say, “objects are closer than they appear.” Death is that way for me now. It feels closer.
And among those things that we tend to fear things like public speaking, snakes, and having a photo of us chewing a mouthful of food appear on Facebook—death is right there at the top of the list.
If we are honest, we fear death—at least to the degree to which we attempt to avoid it with supplements and surgeries would indicate our natural resistance to dying. What if we didn’t fear death? What if we could face death, not with paralyzing fear, but with hopeful joy. If we can face death hopeful joy, then we will be able to face life with hopeful joy, too!
How we view death has a direct correlation with how we live. In 1 Corinthians 15:50-57 the apostle Paul gives us three reasons we can face death with hopeful joy.
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
THE CERTAINTY OF RESURRECTION
In verse 52, in no uncertain terms, Paul writes, “In the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet... the dead will be raised.”
He describes this more fully in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, "For the (risen) Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise..." Just like the tomb was not the end for Jesus, neither is the grave the end for us.
Paul is not forecasting the weather. He is not speaking in terms of possibilities or percentages. He is stating a conviction about a future event with absolute, apostolic, under the inspiration of God certainty.
Embracing this certainty of resurrection gives us the ability to face death, not with paralyzing fear, but with hopeful joy, and in turn, enables us to live with hopeful joy. The second reason we can face death with hopeful joy is the glory of transformation.
THE GLORY OF TRANSFORMATION
In verse 53, Paul uses the words “imperishable” and “immortal” to describe the glory of our own bodily resurrection. Whatever the resurrection body will be, we know that it will not be capable of breaking down and that it will last forever in a condition perfectly suited for the new earth to come.
This past week as I was walking into my house using the side door and I noticed a very large butterfly attached to the exterior wall of the house. Actually, it was a moth—a Luna Moth, which is classified as a “Giant Silk” in the moth world. They are beautiful creatures!
A Luna moth's glory is revealed to an even greater degree when you see it in its pre-transformation larvae form as a caterpillar before the creature is transformed from a semi-translucent leaf crawling insect into a silken floater of the air.
We call this change "metamorphosis." The word metamorphosis comes from two Greek words, "meta" (great) and "morph" (change). Put them together and you get a meta-morph, or a “great change.”
In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul writes, that as we "contemplate the Lord's glory, we are transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory." The Greek word Paul uses in that verse for transformed is metamorphoo, or metamorphosis--a word that indicates how we, like earthbound caterpillars, will be transformed into something beautiful and glorious! I don't know if we’ll be able to fly with our resurrection bodies. But I like to think we could.
Whatever it is about your present body, mind, or physical makeup that you wish you could change, it will be changed in ways beyond your wildest dreams. But it is not just physical perfection that we will experience. You also will be made morally perfect, unable to sin in any way.
Can you imagine? A body and mind without deterioration and a soul that is perfectly in tune with the heart of God? The glory of transformation is a powerful reason to face death, not with paralyzing fear but with hopeful joy. A final reason is the security of redemption.
THE SECURITY OF REDEMPTION
In verses 54-57, Paul celebrates the vicarious victory Jesus secured for his people through his death and resurrection, exclaiming, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
You know that when a honeybee stings, it releases its stinger and becomes harmless. It can't sting again.
That is the way condemnation is for those who look to Jesus. Because he received the sting of judgment for us on a cross, there is no penalty left for us to fear.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, Paul encouraged the believers,
"9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."
Like them, with Jesus as my sin-substitute, I can now face death, not with paralyzing fear but with hopeful joy.
THE LAST BATTLE
While many folks are familiar with C.S. Lewis’s children’s book, TheLion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, some are not aware that there are seven books in the Narnia series, which describe the history of and adventures that take place in the parallel universe of Narnia.
In many of these stories, characters from Lewis’s home of England travel unexpectedly to the fantastical realm of Aslan, the Great Lion. In the final book in the series, The Last Battle, seven characters who have come to Narnia and gone back to England on multiple occasions are again in the presence of Aslan. The last battle has been won. Yet the friends of Narnia are not celebrating.
To this, Aslan speaks.
"You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be."
"We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan,” replied Lucy. “And you have sent us back into our own world so often."
"No fear of that," said Aslan. "Have you not guessed?"
Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.
"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly.
"Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream has ended: this is the morning."
As He spoke... the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us, this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them, it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
How can we face fear with hopeful joy? Now we know.
What are some common fears people have about death, and why do you think those fears exist?
How does our view of death affect how we live our lives?
What does the passage from 1 Corinthians say about our hope in the face of death?
What does the passage from The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis tell us about the nature of death and heaven?
How can the idea of bodily resurrection bring hope and joy to those who fear death?
You have given us the gift of life, and for that, we are truly grateful. We know that we will all face death one day, and it can be a scary and uncertain thought. But we take comfort in knowing you have promised us victory over death.
Help us to hold onto this hope with joyful anticipation.
In Jesus' name, we pray, Amen.