Monday, July 8, 2013

Death Has No Sting

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?
- The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55

I need to be honest - until recently I have had a very hard time understanding this Scripture. And while I'm being honest I must confess - it didn't make sense to me. Yes, death DOES hurt. Why does the Bible imply that it doesn't?

Does it mean nothing to leave those you love? Is there no pain when a wife, mother, aunt, and friend dies? Is there no pain when death comes suddenly and leaves a family in shock? Should we not weep or mourn or question what God has allowed to take place when we prayed and believed, yet there was no healing the way we asked for?

Of course death hurts! Don't tell the family and friends of someone who has died that death isn't painful. Death is painful, always.

So does that mean that Scripture is misleading us? Is God oblivious at best or deceitful at worst when it comes to the feelings that surface when a loved one dies?

Honestly, for awhile I wondered about that.

Until I thought about this verse in light of the whole message of the Bible. I considered how Jesus wept when His friend Lazarus died. I thought about many other instances in the Bible where death brought about feelings of fear and anxiety for those who walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

And I studied 1 Thessalonians 4, where we learn about Jesus-followers who have died. In verse 13-14 we read this instruction:

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.

Ah, there it is. Two words that help us understand why death cannot sting us: HOPE and SLEEP.

For those who trust in Jesus Christ for eternal life, our hope is not wishful thinking. It is a confident assurance that we will, without a doubt nor any hesitation, be in the presence of Jesus Christ the very moment life on earth ends for us. For those we love who also believe in Jesus, we know we will be with them again - this time for eternity - in Heaven. Not only will we be reunited with our loved ones who trusted Christ and have gone before, but we will be with God Himself for endless ages.

Talk about a great and true hope! And once you have that hope it cannot be taken from you. Not pain, heartache, or even death can steal that hope from you if you trust in Jesus. He will keep your hope secure until the day you "fall asleep in Him" - until you die.

Jesus conquered death on that first Easter morning, and by doing so He changed death for those who trust in Him: He made death a transition into something better. He removed fear by dying and rising again, making death a doorway to Himself. He removed regret by giving us a reason to live. He removed the sting by dying for our sins and by doing so, ensured a forever home in Heaven. Jesus changed death from being a final assault to simply falling asleep. In sleep there is no pain, no suffering, no fear, no worry, and no shame. Sleep is not permanent but it is essential to enjoy a new day.

So for a Christian, death should not be seen as an unwanted enemy but as a necessary friend who lets us sleep in Christ and wake up in our Home in Heaven. For those who are left behind when a Christian dies, death hurts - but it doesn't sting. The sting has been removed by Jesus, and in place He has provided a peace that surpasses all understanding as we embrace an eternal truth beyond ourselves.

Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we have the hope of heaven and of being with Christ. And we know that one day we will sleep in Him, then we will wake to join our loved ones in a place where Jesus will "wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4 NLT). That promise is why death hurts, but has no lasting sting for those who trust in Christ.