Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Life That Killeth Death

The last few days I have been mourning the death of a friend.  Our friend Amanda, after a long fight with cancer, died a few days ago.

This was all the harder for many of us because we had been praying earnestly for Amanda, hoping she would be healed.  Yet our Lord did not heal her.  She died, leaving behind her a husband and twelve children… some so young they will never have known their mother.

I know few people who had the depth of faith this woman had.  On one occasion she made Job’s words her own:  “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”  So let me repeat what I said, this time more accurately.  Our friend lost a battle with cancer.  But she won the victory of faith.  For, she held her faith in Jesus to the end.  She died in faith.

In fact (again more accurately) Amanda didn’t actually die.  She fell asleep in Jesus.  This is not just a euphemism.  This is the way the apostles referred to believers who had passed on (1 Cor. 15.6,18).

For, to those who believe in Jesus, the power of death has been broken.  Jesus Christ has “abolished death” (2 Tim. 1.10).  The word translated abolished is a very strong word in the Greek.  It is katargeo, which is made up of three parts: kata-a-ergeo.  Kata is a prefix which is often used as an intensifier.  This is followed by a, which in the Greek is the negative (as in a-theist).  And then the stem ergeo, which means to work.  And so Paul proclaims that what Jesus Christ did on Calvary’s cross resulted in death being made totally unable to work.  For those who believe in Jesus, death totally does not work; death absolutely does not work anymore, is of no effect anymore… for those who believe in Jesus.

And Paul goes on to say that this is something that the Gospel is supposed to make manifest—not just tell us about, but actually make manifest.  Christ has “abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (2 Tim.1.10).

So… this is the shape my mourning has taken the last few days.  Yes, I mourn for my sister, but more than that, I am mourning for the reality of this powerful Gospel—the Good News that manifests, that shines forth as light, the victory of Christ at Calvary.  Those who know the Good News ought to be walking in a Life that is totally triumphant over the whole kingdom of sin and death.  Is that the case with you?  With me?

Just today the lines of the poem that inspired the title for my blog came again to mind:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast,
Such a feast as mends in length,
Such a strength as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move,
Such a love as none can part,
Such a heart as joys in love.

(The Call by George Herbert, 1593-1633)

What’s this—a life that killeth death?  It’s ingrained in our thinking that death always triumphs over life, that death kills life.  And so we fear death.  But no, there is a Life that kills death, a Life that triumphs over death…

…Because it is a Life that leads in the Pathway of the Cross.  Jesus, walking in the Pathway of Life… this Pathway led Him to the Cross, where He accomplished the greatest thing that has ever happened in the universe.

He Hell in hell laid low;
Made sin, He sin o’erthrew;
Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,
And death by dying slew.

Samuel Whitlock Gandy, 1780-1851

What paradoxes.  The Lord Jesus Christ manifested the Life “that killeth death.”  This Life led Him to the Cross, where He “death by dying slew.”  Eternal paradoxes.  And entirely scriptural.  By dying, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ destroyed (there’s that same word again, katargeo) him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil (Heb. 2.14).  He slew the Devil with His own weapon (as David did Goliath), and delivered those who “through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

For, He became sin for us—He who knew no sin.  And that is what causes death—sin. It’s there in the whole family of Adam, from the tiny baby to the ancient man.  Sin.  The poison of sin is at work in the whole family of Adam.  It’s the sting of death.  “The sting of death is sin” (1 Cor. 15.56).  In other words, when somebody sins they have been stung by death.  Sin is the sting of death.  But Jesus took the sting out of death.  He became sin for us—your sin and mine—and died, taking sin down into the grave with Him.  He died unto sin.  He died for our sins.  He died for our sins—and rose again for our justification.  What a revelation!  Paul says that if Christ has not risen from the dead, “your faith is vain (futile), ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15.17).  The implication is that if Christ is risen from the dead (and He is), we are not in our sins.  If Christ is risen from the dead, this is evidence that the sting of death (sin) has been removed, and so we who believe in Him are no more in our sins.  And, therefore, what hold can death have on us?  And so Paul concludes:

Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15.57).

What is that victory?  Yes, it’s the triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary.  But thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  That’s what the Gospel is all about—or ought to be.  It ought to be a shining forth in our lives of the truth and victory that Christ wrought at Calvary, and which enables us to walk in Life even as He Himself walked.

I have to say that this is all too often not the case among us Christians, and so, as I said, I have been mourning for this.  I believe that if the Life of Jesus were more the reality we are walking in, my friend Amanda would still be with us.  I simply cannot accept that the present state of worldliness and weakness and sickness that is plaguing the churches is the will of God.

However, I know that my friend Amanda died in faith, and so, regardless what death seems still able to accomplish, it is faith that triumphs.  Death may be boasting over yet another of its victims, but faith has the last word.  For even though we see not yet the final victory over this the last enemy, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” (Heb. 11.1).  Yes, the world is full of sin and sickness and death.  But faith is the victory.

…This is the victory that overcame the world, our faith (1 Jn. 5.4).

And this is why Amanda is not dead.  She is asleep… and waiting to be awakened.

See you later, Amanda.

Here is George Herbert’s The Call set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

A People With A Destiny

I am reading through my Bible again and am in the book of Joshua.  This is very timely, for there is an urgency in my spirit, a renewed emphasis, on apprehending our salvation—our spiritual heritage.

We Christians, whether Jew or Gentile, have a spiritual heritage unto which we have been predestined, just as Israel of old was predestined to the heritage of Canaan—even before they were born.  They were predestined to an earthly inheritance because of the promise God made Abraham long before they were born.

And their inheritance was marked out beforehand for them; it was given them by lot.  They didn’t cross the Jordan and then have some sort of land rush, hoping to grab the best parcels of land before anyone else.  Rather, Joshua divided their inheritance to them (Josh. 1.6), and he did it by lot (Josh. 13.6, 14.2).  In other words, it was not actually Joshua, but God Himself who decided what portion each one was to possess.  This assured that every Israelite, the small as well as the great, the weak as well as the strong, received a portion in the land.  Ezekiel confirms this in what I believe is a prophecy foreshadowing our inheritance in the Spirit.

And ye shall inherit it, one as well as another… (Ezek. 47.14).

What an encouraging hope.  Oh how we admire the great saints, and wistfully wish we could be like them.  But this wondrous heritage in the Spirit is not just for the great saints; God will not be satisfied, God will not rest, till each and every true Christian, the small as well as the great, has apprehended his or her inheritance.

And so, like the Israelites of old, we too are a people with a destiny.  I think it’s likely Paul is drawing a parallel to Israel of old when he says in Ephesians (which perhaps could be called the New Testament book of Joshua) that God has predestined us “unto the adoption” (Eph. 1.5) and also unto an inheritance (Eph. 1.11).  It is a heavenly inheritance—a realm of abounding “spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ” (Eph. 1.3).  It is also a realm that must be conquered (Eph. 6. 10-20).  Spiritual forces of wickedness “in the heavenlies” must be overcome, just as the Israelites of old had to drive out their enemies in the land God had given them before they could possess it.

And what is this all about?  Why did God bring Israel of old into their inheritance?  Why did He redeem them from Egyptian bondage, bring them through the wilderness, and into the land He had promised them?  Ultimately it was that He Himself might be glorified, that He might make Himself a glorious Name (Ex. 15.11-17, 2 Sam. 7.23, Isa. 63.11-14).

So it does not surprise us to find Paul saying that this same motive is what is back of God’s purpose in eternal redemption and in bringing the redeemed into their inheritance.

It is “to the praise of His glory” that He has predestined us unto the adoption (Eph. 1. 4-7).

It is “to the praise of the glory of His grace” that those who first hoped in Christ are predestined to an inheritance (Eph. 1.11).

And, it is “to the praise of His glory” that this inheritance shall, in the day of redemption, be fully possessed (Eph. 1.14, 4.30).

This I am sure is what Peter has in mind when he talks of a salvation “ready to be revealed in the last time.”  He says this salvation is a living hope unto which we have been begotten, and which he describes as “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in the heavens for you who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pt. 3-5).

That’s so encouraging.  Everything in this world is corruptible, defiled, fading.  This heavenly inheritance is incorruptible.  It can’t be defiled, and it never fades away.  Even after so long a time it’s still there… waiting for you and me.

Notice that word reserved.  There’s an inheritance in the heavenly realm with your name on it.  Reserved for ________.  No one else can have it.  In fact I don’t need yours, and don’t want it; there’s one with my name on it too.

And no, Peter doesn’t mean that when we die and go to Heaven we finally get to keep our reservation.  He says this salvation is “ready to be revealed in the last time.”  It’s for here.  It’s for now… “in the last time.”

Notice also that you and I are being kept for this reservation.  We are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Yes, the trial of our faith is very great… and at times, oh, so severe.  But oh, how precious it is, more precious than gold that perishes!  Gold will perish one day, but this inheritance, this salvation, will never perish.

Let us hold fast our faith, then, though it be tried by fire, and thus be ourselves ready for this salvation that is ready to be revealed, this inheritance that is reserved for us.  The time is at hand!  We have an appointment with a destiny!  Let us keep it!

We Are There Unto This Day

Christian teachers for centuries have seen in the old testament story of Israel crossing Jordan a shadow of the true baptism—baptism into Christ, which Paul sets forth in Romans Chapter Six.  It is a teaching that is fundamental to the Christian walk, yet all too often it is unfamiliar territory to believers.  It is left to the theologians to ponder while we do our best to get on with a practical life.

But we will get nowhere in life without what Christ accomplished in the Cross of Calvary becoming not just doctrine, but the reality we walk in.  And this is what Romans Six is all about.

Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Rom. 6.4).

Baptism into Christ makes real in us what is real in Him.  What is real in Him?  First, that He died unto sin.

For in that He died, He died unto sin once (once for all) but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God (Rom. 6.10).

Christ died unto sin.  But Paul continues:

Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God through (Gk. en, meaning in) Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6.11).

Astonishing words!  You and I, dead unto sin just as Christ is dead unto sin?  Paul says we are to reckon it so.  To reckon means to account.  I think it was Watchman Nee who gave the illustration of a man who has a certain amount of money in his bank account.  He makes a transaction on the basis of this; he buys something, reckoning (accounting) on what he has in the bank.  He could not reckon this if he did not know it to be true.  This is why Paul talks about “knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him…” (Rom. 6.6).  We can only reckon on the basis of what we know is true.  It is true, it is a fact, that Christ died unto sin, and that our old man died with Him.  Knowing this we who are baptized into Christ can reckon ourselves to be just as dead unto sin as Christ is dead unto sin.  It is as true in us as it is in Him.  If it is true in Him, it is true also of those who are in Him.

And so going back to the story in Joshua, when Israel crossed through Jordan on dry ground, the Lord commanded that twelve stones from the midst of Jordan were to be set up as a memorial on the Canaan side of the river.  The twelve stones represented the twelve tribes of Israel, that is, the whole congregation, each and every one of them.  And twelve stones were set up in the midst of Jordan as well.

And they are there unto this day (Josh. 4.9).

“Dad,” says a young Israelite, as they walk along the bank of the Jordan, “what are these stones here for?”

“These stones,” Dad says, “are to remind us that the Lord brought us all through the Jordan on dry ground.  Right over there is where it happened,” says Dad, pointing.  “And do you know what else, son?  There are also twelve stones under the water over there, which the Lord commanded were to be set up in the midst of Jordan.  They are there to this day.”

So it is with us, beloved, when we were baptized into Christ.  We were baptized into His death—which is death indeed unto sin.  And we are there unto this day.

Let this truth—this fact—enlighten us with new-covenant light.  In Christ we are not dead unto sin one day and alive unto sin the next.  In Christ we are not still alive unto sin.  On the very day that we were baptized into Christ we were baptized into His death.  We were buried with Him in the Jordan waters of baptism.  And we are there unto this day.  We are dead unto sin.  We are no longer alive unto sin.  We are no longer sinners.  Sin has dominion over us no longer.  We are as dead unto sin as Christ.

In Christ we are dead unto sin.  We are buried with Him in baptism…

…And—if this is not wonder enough—also risen with Him (Eph. 2.6, Col. 3.1).

And therefore we are also seated together with Him in the heavenlies—the Canaan side of the Jordan.  We are in our inheritance now as He is in His inheritance!  We need no longer look behind us fearing some specter of sin might come up out of Jordan to haunt us.  This very day we are to “seek those things which are above,” that is, the things of our heavenly inheritance in the Spirit. This is God’s new-covenant commandment unto which we have been liberated.  With Joshua—Jesus—as our guide, this very day we can explore our eternal inheritance in the heavenlies a bit more.  We are to fix our minds on this, we are to have a one-track mind, and not be perpetually focusing on our sins that are buried (with ourselves as well) back there in the Jordan waters.  We are to “walk in newness of life” through the land of our inheritance a bit further—the length and the breadth of it, the depth and the height of it, overcoming every enemy that would stand against us along the way.

This is His order—His new creation order—for us today… if we will hear His Voice!