Monday, May 23, 2011

When Death Gives Way to Resurrection

As I was studying the Sunday School lesson for this week I thought how appropriate it was to be covering 1 Corinthians 15:53-58,

(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. (58) Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

I found out yesterday that a good friend of Hannah’s and mine passed away. She was 22. I mourn for her family; her husband, infant daughter, parents, siblings… but I don’t mourn for her. If this life was all there was or all we could look forward to, I would mourn for her. Instead, she is rejoicing with the angels and all God’s people who have “fallen asleep”.

I believe strongly in the sovereignty of God. Jesus says that not even a sparrow falls to the earth apart from God’s plan and purpose (Matt. 10:29). A few verses later He reminds us, “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Ashley Cottle died because God designed it. There wasn’t a fluke, a mistake. It isn’t as though God removed His hand of protection. No. He took her by the hand and led her into His presence. Long before the creation of the world God purposed that Ashley’s life would come to this moment. Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

I take comfort in the loving and sovereign purposes of God. And I take comfort in 1 Corinthians 15:53-58. Reading over these verses I am reminded of some difficult but reassuring truths:

1)      There must be a transition

Our bodies are marred by sin, disease, and death. We need new bodies, and we are limited in how we can obtain them. Through faith in Christ, we will either receive one when Christ returns, or when we die. We cannot remain as we are and inherit the Kingdom of God.
2)      Death stings now, it will not later

Verse 54 says, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable… [it] shall come to pass…” We who remain after the passing of a loved one have not gone through this process. We are still clothed with the perishable. Death stings. It hurts. It does us no good to pretend that death is good. For believers, what happens after death is good, but death itself is not good.

But when we are transformed, death will have no power over us. It will have no sting because we will be free from sin in every way. We cling to the promise of the future hope in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."
3)      Death appears victorious now, but it has been defeated

Death has an air of finality to it. But this is false. We have victory over death through Christ’s resurrection. Christ was sinless and he fulfilled the law, and through faith in Him, our sin is forgiven and His righteousness is imputed to us. Because Christ is raised, our hope—and victory—is assured.
4)      We must remain steadfast, our faith is not in vain

Verse 58 begins with the word therefore. That means, “in light of the aforementioned…” Therefore is weighty. In light of the need for transition, in light of a stingless and defeated death, in light of a victorious Christ and His promises, we are to remain steadfast. Immovable. Firm.

Our faith is not in vain.
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly trust in Jesus’ name.

When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood, support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound, oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

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