“The last enemy to be destroyed is death” 1 Corinthians 15:26
I pray that the title of this will not sound too dark, so as to dissuade would be readers. As I write this the concept of death is on my mind. A friend and colleague just died after a long battle with cancer and his family is struggling with the usual questions. A close friend and his wife buried their 24 year old daughter just after this past Christmas. And my wife and I are in the 8th year after the death of our son. There are always two days in the lives of parents who have buried children when they need extra grace: their child’s birthday and the day of their death.
Indulge me for a moment while I get a bit exercised. I virtually never hear anyone—either inside the church or outside the family of God—referring to the fact that someone “died”. It’s usually, “they passed”, or “they passed away”. Where did we get such terms? My wife and I watched our son die after 5 weeks on hospice. It was nothing that could be described in gentle terms. It was ugly and horrible. The only beauty in this was behind the veil and inaccessible to our eyes, knowing that Andrew was being ushered into the presence of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But the process is not pretty and it should be called what it is—death. Jesus announced to His disciples in John 11:14 that Lazarus was dead. Neither Jesus nor any of the writers of Scripture ever make an attempt to sanitize death. And neither should we. It is the final enemy as Paul states so succinctly in 1 Corinthians 15:26. The church should understand this better than the world.
Knowing the Enemy
Death is the final enemy because it is an intruder. God made man in His own image to live eternally in fellowship with Him to His praise and glory. Sin & death disrupted this, not by catching God off guard, so to speak. Death is the common human experience and the challenge for the believer is to keep death in proper perspective in light of God’s grand purpose. When asked why God permitted sin & death to enter the world my answer is always the same: I do not know. I do not know because God has chosen not to reveal the answer to us. It lies in the courts of heaven, far beyond the realm of human comprehension. Much of the Christian life is about trusting Jesus now and understanding Him later. This is why Paul reminds us that we walk by faith not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). This does not remove the grief & pain we feel as a result of the death of a loved one. In the introduction to C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, the death of a loved one is referred to as “an amputation”. What a proper description. The death of our son amputated from us one of God’s greatest gifts to us.
Through tear-stained vision we do see the promises of God to one day bring about restoration of all that was ruined by the fall, including a joyous reunion with Christ and our son. As I reflected on the pain of our loss this morning, I found comfort in God’s Word, specifically Isaiah 9:6, 7—“For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, and on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time and forever more. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
Our Only Comfort in Death
What comfort we take in knowing that His kingdom is forever. Knowing that our son dwells with the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, provides the hope & peace we need to endure the journey which God has placed in front of us until He either returns or calls us home. Martin Luther expressed it beautifully in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”: “The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever!” The path of grief as the result of death is one that we cannot travel by ourselves. The Author of our salvation says, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). Only the perfect Pioneer could lead us out of the domain of death and into the presence of the Father. All you have to do is put your hand in His nailed-scarred hand and He will lead you from one side of death to the other. Then you can say with the apostle Paul, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” ( 1 Corinthians 15:55).
This is true for me and I am certain that it is true for my wife: What really matters nearly 8 years after the death of our only son is what we are doing with our lives in response to our great pain. Those outside of Christ cannot understand the reason for our hope. But they can see our joy even in the midst of unhappiness and sadness. And it is our prayer that they might inquire as to how we can have such joy. And it is the occasion to tell them the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10) and that Jesus conquered death through His resurrection. And He speaks His promises with great clarity: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25, 26).
We must not miss the question Jesus poses at the end this great declaration: “Do you believe?” If you do, Jesus has destroyed the final enemy for you.
Yours in Christ,