Death haunts our world. Be ready to give it a robust answer.
The resurrection of Jesus is not just a belief taught, but an event announced. Before it ever became formal instruction from pulpits, and topics for Sunday school, it was news—big news. And it still is.
But given our human nature, even the best news in the world can be eclipsed depending on our mood and moment. Look at the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918. It was one hundred times more lethal than what we’re currently going through. At that time, as we looked for cures and desperately tried to implement better health procedures, we wondered, What will God do?
Later came the Great Depression, where one out of every four Americans were unemployed with no government assistance. As we crafted new policies to curb the problem, again, many hearts were wondering, What will God do?
Then there was the rise of Hitler, and a world plunged into moral madness. As we went to war to contain and end it, we asked, What now will God do?
Afterwards for decades, we lived under threat of nuclear conflict. As we made treaties and resigned ourselves to an eventual World War Three, the hearts of the faithful wanted to know, Will God do anything?
Then came the trade tower bombings of 9-11, that introduced terrorism into our public consciousness. As we tried to make ourselves safe, we really wanted to know what God would do.
And finally, this year, we’re dealing with a virus, and all its associated concerns—loss of life, loss of health, loss of money, loss of psychological well-being.
Here we are, asking the same question of God as our predecessors.
But God would very likely say to us, Before you ask what will I do, ask, what have I done? The typical Christian might well respond, “Yeah, I know. I’m thankful Jesus died for me, and it’s wonderful He rose from the dead. But do you honestly mean that a couple of things Jesus did over the course of a long weekend 2,000 years ago, is supposed to somehow answer every situation of life down through history?”
And that’s an audacious answer. It means what Jesus did had to have been phenomenal, astonishing, bigger than anything else that could ever happen, good or bad. As God said through the prophet Isaiah, “I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder” (29:14).
Take a look at the marvelous work and wonder that Christ has accomplished—both the event and the meaning of it.
Heb. 2:14 “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things…”
There are “things” related to flesh and blood–the ability to feel hunger, and fatigue. Frailties of different kinds. And indignities? You bet. Like some newlyweds I know that went on their honeymoon to Cancun. While there, she got a parasite, and spent the whole time in the bathroom. Indignity, indeed. Of course the things of flesh and blood ultimately include mortality. We can die at any moment, with very little warning.
Though the Son of God existed in a state of heavenly immortality, and the highest excellent glory, He chose to set it all aside and partake of flesh and blood. According to 2 Corinthians chapter eight, “Though He was rich, for our sake, He became poor.”
Yet, Jesus didn’t make himself bulletproof. I’ve heard odd things about Him floating around out there—that He didn’t feel pain the way we do, or that he was fundamentally different from us. But that’s not flesh and blood. It’s something alien. As it stands, “feeling” is a part of flesh and blood. Though He did not have a sin nature, He was otherwise subject to the same painful dynamics as we.
Nor did Jesus have to do any of this. Way back in the beginning, we rejected God and chose the world we currently live in, the one that often makes us miserable. God didn’t owe us any bail-outs. He came anyway because He loved you, and me, and all humanity. But why come in the way He did—in flesh and blood? Why not in a bolt of lightning?
The rest of the verse provides the rationale:
“…that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil”
And so the short answer as to why Christ partook of flesh and blood, was so He could die. In doing so, He would be going straight to the core problem of this world, the devil. He didn’t get distracted with traveling around the globe and fixing assorted situations. That would have been like addressing symptoms without treating the cause. Jesus was clear that at the root of all our misery was a malicious personality who had introduced death into the human race. And as long as that enemy was allowed to remain there, no matter what was repaired all around him, he would manage to re-corrupt it.
Jesus therefore dealt with him by entering his playground–the realm of death–and becoming a victim of it. Colossians 1:17 tells us how it worked out: “And he [Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” The entire created order holds together in Christ, meaning it is attached to Him. Where He went, it went. When Jesus therefore went to the cross, so did the entire old creation. When He died, it died.
Jesus took away all the devil’s real estate in six hours on a Friday, and turned him into an emperor with no clothes. Although He didn’t eliminate the devil, He annulled him.
Then on the third day, He rose in the power of new life, in resurrection—the Bible calls it a new creation—a realm in which the devil had nothing and was totally excluded, along with all corruption and death itself. Now every person who gets into Christ also becomes a new creation. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
This is an incredible work—essentially ending one universe and bring another into existence—and dwarfs any problem that could ever happen to us or be caused by us. It’s a cosmic fact in Christ, but there’s also a “felt” component to it, for Christ also sought to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (v. 15).
It wasn’t just death that had us in slavery, but the fear of death. Consider your feelings about your own mortality. Death means loss, irreparable damage, gloom. Death means launching into the unknown all by yourself. Perhaps to many of us it means the uncertainty of standing before God, and the dread of answering for things we’ve done.
Fear of that kind makes us feel that this fallen world is all we have, and that we must party as hard as we can, while we can. But where there’s trust in what Jesus has done, and knowledge of eternal life, human beings no longer need say, as some did in 1 Corinthians, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32).
This doesn’t mean we become cavalier about our physical lives, or careless with that of others. No, it simply means we no longer need to live in the iron grip of fear, controlled by worries and anxieties that the devil loves to amplify.
In the meantime though, what about all the bad things that still go on? Obviously, they didn’t stop just because Jesus died and rose. To be honest, they will continue until the end of this current age, when Jesus comes a second time to wrap up what He started on Easter.
What Jesus did to the devil is like a farmer cutting the head off a chicken. The moment it gets decapitated, the body goes into convulsions, flapping its wings and jumping around, knocking feathers off. It seems as though the bird is still quite alive, unaffected by the axe. But after about fifteen minutes, it’s over.
Well, the Devil gets to have his fifteen minutes as well. As history attests, he’s made a lot of noise since the first century, wildly jumping, flapping, and more than anything else, trying to prove Easter meant nothing, that it is little more than a sentimental religious holiday. “Nothing has changed!” he cries. But we Christians have also made some noise during these fifteen minutes. For a long time, we’ve been telling everybody, “In Christ, everything has changed!”
I remember thirty-six years ago, trying to tell my buddies about meeting Jesus. It was difficult communicating the sheer newness of it all. They asked, “Did you get religion?” I told them I was having a hard time calling it religion, since it seemed so directly related to Jesus. Some of them started making remarks about my being a goody-two shoes, and what a shame it was that I had been cool, and funny, and now, not so much.
And yet that wasn’t what I was about. We’re not trying to pretend we’re perfect. Faith is not a fool’s paradise that we live in, while denying the harsh realities of the world around us. We don’t need to do that. Remember that Jesus Himself was a victim of gross injustice and violence. Our faith has been forged in a gritty, ugly, unfair, real world. That means it is perfectly suited for any moment, and does not need perfect conditions in order to operate.
Jesus rose out of the lowest place, and ascended to the highest. We abide in that fact, an event that really happened, a done deal. It’s a new plain of existence, an eternally new fellowship.
We seem to hear different bad news every week. Thank God, we also have the same good news every week.
Photo credit: Jack Moreh