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.