The Day Death Died (Easter 2017)

There in the grave you will find not a dead Savior.  You will find the death of Death. Beneath the shadow of the Living Christ lies the corpse of a conquered foe.  The day Jesus rose is the day death died.

One time there was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant out to the market to buy supplies. After a while the servant came back.  Clearly something was wrong.  His face was pale and his body trembled.

He said, “Master, when I was in the marketplace just now someone in the crowd bumped into me.  When I turned around, to my dismay I saw it was Death that bumped into me. He looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Now, please, lend me your horse so I can ride away from this city and avoid my fate!  I will go to Samaria and there Death will not find me.”

So the Merchant lent him his horse.  The servant mounted it, dug his spurs in, and as fast as the horse could gallop he rode off to Samaria.

After his servant was gone, the merchant went down to the marketplace.  Seeing Death standing in the crowd he went over to him and said, “Why did you threaten my servant when you saw him this morning?”

Death said, “Oh no, that was not a threatening gesture.  It was just my surprised reaction. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad because I had an appointment with him tonight in Samaria.”

 

Humanity has demonstrated remarkable advancement when it comes to the condition of life. Technology has brought our world  more comfort and convenience than at any other time in history. From TV, to refrigerators, to microwaves, to air conditioning, to the internet, texting, mobile devices, did I say air conditioning?

But there is one area where we have had no advancement. Despite our progress in almost every other area of life, we still have not gained an inch in challenging that ancient Thief of Life.  Death comes to us all – and even Samaria is no safe space from Death. Sure we may delay his coming through better medicine and healthier living; we may make the last days more comfortable through end of life care; but not one human in history who has walked in the warmth of life has escaped the chilling hand of death. With a deep personal awareness Jean Cocteau said, “Since the day of my birth, my death began its walk.  It is walking toward me, without hurrying.” 

We face a relentless and tireless foe in Death.  Proverbs 27:20 says, “Death ..[is] never satisfied..” And yet, as relentless as He is, neither does Death discriminate. You have to admire his fairness. He will not be bribed or bartered with; we have nothing he wants –  except the breath in our lungs. The Roman poet Horace said, “Pale Death beats equally at the poor man’s gate and at the palaces of kings.

Historian Peter Kreeft tells about the Latin burial rite of Austrian emperors. The people would carry the corpse of their revered leader to the door of the great monastic church. Then they would strike the door and say: “Open.” The abbot inside would say: “Who is there?” “Emperor Karl, the king of…” The response from inside would be: “We know of no such person here.”

So the people would strike the door again. “Who is there?” the abbot would ask again. This time they shorten the title to: “Emperor Karl.” “We know of no such person here.”

So for the third time they would strike the door.   “Who is there?” asks the abbot again. Humbly the people would simply say: “Kar.”  It was then that the door was opened. (One World, May, 1982)

Endowed with unmatched wisdom King Solomon spoke in the book of Ecclesiastes a fitting commentary for this scene, “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand

There are none of us who have not been touched in one way or another by death; most if not all of us have lost a loved one – and at such times we have been reminded of his coming for us too someday.  Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 7, “death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.” And it was the writer of Hebrews who said, “It is appointed for man to die once and then face judgment.”

Question:  What are we to do with death? How are we to deal with this looming foe? What can we do? The answer is nothing. There is nothing that we can do with death except to die.  And that is what people are doing everyday.  Everyday about 151,000 people slip away from this world.  Every day.  In the 5 minutes I have been speaking approximately 500 people have died.  For 151,000 people today will be their day.  When is your day?

Or perhaps, on behalf of mankind we ought to ask:  Is there a day for Death?  Will he ever meet his own match?  Is there a Champion for us who could meet him, overcome him, and bring upon him what he has brought upon all men?  Where is our David to go out and meet our Goliath?

And here is where we come to our focus this morning. It is this day, this historical 3rd Day, where in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, death has been met. The invincible life of Jesus Christ rose up and conquered the otherwise invincible Death. And on this Resurrection Sunday we erupt in joyful praise at the empty tomb of Jesus Christ.  His empty grave – discovered by the women, where Peter marveled in wonder, where angels declared His triumph, where God declared Him to be His Son, where our justification was won, where the seed of the woman crushed the serpent’s head – there is where eternal life has been born. There in the grave you will find not a dead Savior.  You will find the death of Death. Beneath the shadow of the Living Christ lies the corpse of a conquered foe.  The day Jesus rose is the day death died.

 

So in heavenly song we respond with 1 Cor. 15, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Your destiny is now the lake of fire Revelation 20 tells us. First Corinthians 15 lets us know that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death

 

Here are 2.5 reasons death died.

 

#1 – Death Died because Jesus Died.

Our first point is this:  The day Death Died came because Jesus Died.  In order for Death to be done away with Jesus had to die.  First Corinthians 15:3 says, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins.”  Romans 4:25 says “He was given over to death for our sins…”  

 

We don’t celebrate the Resuscitation of Jesus Christ.  We celebrate His Resurrection.  His resurrection is the proof of His death. You can’t be resurrected from the dead if you’re not dead in the first place. Jesus truly died. He died and the proof is that he was buried.

 

One theory to deny the Resurrection is called the swoon theory. It says that Jesus didn’t die, He just swooned, or fainted. He was unconscious. And rather than being resurrected He was revived in the tomb. Problems with this theory are abounding.  Here’s a few:

 

First, Roman soldiers were paid, professional killers. Some people design cars.  Some people perform surgeries.  Some people grow food.  Some people balance accounts.  Some people build houses.  These guys killed.  That was their professions.  And they knew what they were doing and they were good at it.  They crucified more than 30,000 people. They knew when someone was dead.  We’re told this when they broke the 2 thieves legs to hasten their death but they didn’t break Jesus legs because they saw He was already dead.  Jesus didn’t faint.

 

Second, these same skilled soldiers shoved a spear into his chest. I’m not a doctor but I think that causes death not fainting.

 

Third, it was common for someone to die during a flogging. If someone survived that, as Jesus did, do you think they would survive being crucified and then speared in the chest?  No.  And Jesus didn’t.

 

Fourth, Pilate had His centurion confirm Jesus was dead.

 

Fifth, His disciples prepared His body for burial. It was the custom of the Jews to anoint the bodies of the dead with spices and aloes. With the time it took to take Jesus down from the cross, bring His body to the grave, anoint Him, wrap Him and place Him in the grave, not to mention the time taken to grieve – there is no way He could have been alive and they didn’t know it. You can’t hold your breath that long!

 

If you still believe the swoon theory after those points you need to be resuscitated.  The fact is He was dead. He did not faint.  You’re thinking, “So what?  Fainted, swooned, who cares?”  Here’s the point:  you needed Him to die.  Not faint, not pass out, not go into a coma.  Die.  You needed Him to die because your life depends on it.  He was making the payment for our sins.  “And without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb. 9:22).  Death is the price-tag for sin and we all have sinned and therefore we are all have to pay the price.  “For the wages of sin is death…” (Rom. 6:23).  “Sin when it is full grown gives birth to death…” (James 1:15).  

 

But Jesus is inserted into the equation and becomes our substitute so that while yes we have committed the crimes He did our time.  Our time on the cross and in the grave.  It wasn’t His own sins He died for – He didn’t have any.  Isaiah 53:5 says, “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”  Jesus paid the penalty so we could be pardoned.  He took our sin so we could be saved:   “God made Him who knew know sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21).   

 

Do you see?  Without the death of Jesus you are left all alone, all by yourself before God with nothing but your sins to keep you company.  You need Him to have truly, actually, really died.  You need Him to have paid your price – to have taken your sins from you.  Otherwise you they’re still with you and you have to pay for them.  This is what Paul was getting at in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “For if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”  

 

As God He truly became a man so that He could come and truly die on behalf of all men. The death of Jesus was not arbitrary. It was not unplanned. It was not the tragic end to a life well lived. His death was planned by God before the creation of the world.  His death was God’s plan to redeem us from our sins.  His death was going to bring about the day that death died.  Now you can live.

 

#2 – Death Had to Die to Make  Way for Eternal Life

The day death died is also the day Jesus Made the Way to Eternal Life. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one goes to the Father except through Me.”  Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  

 

You do not have to take a dead Jesus seriously.  Go on with your life.  Yesterday’s news.  What’s for lunch?  But a living Jesus?  A “live” Jesus must be dealt with. Only Jesus died and came back from the dead. Everyone else has died and stayed dead. Jesus said in Revelation 1:18, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!” Only Jesus has carried our sins into His death and only Jesus could not be held down by death. I love how Peter says it in Acts 2:24, “But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.”   We just sang the song Christ the Lord is Risen Today.  The second verse says:  “Love’s redeeming work is done, fought the fight the battle won, Death in vain forbids Him rise, Christ has opened Paradise”.  

 

SInce Jesus is the only one in history to come back from the dead He is the only who can save us from death.  He’s reaching out to you – all you have to do is grab hold of His hand and you’ll find His grip is far stronger than Death’s!  In John 11:25 Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”  No one else can give us eternal life.  Personally taking our death,  He alone can give us new, resurrection life.  He has put death in the grave that you might come forth alive by His power!

 

#2.5 – Death’s Day Came because of God’s Love

Point number 2.5, our last point, is this:  Death’s Day came because of God’s Love.  His love for us.  Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” First John 4:10, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

 

Raising Jesus out of the grave was a demonstration that Jesus was His Son – yes.  It was a declaration of His love for His Son – yes.  But, God brought death down to the grave because He loves us.

 

Conclusion:

A recent article in the New Yorker was titled “Silicon Valley’s Quest to Live Forever”.  The author described a high-profile symposium in a California mansion with people like Goldie Hawn and Sergey Hinn the co-founder of Google.  The purpose?  To explain the scientific pursuit of how to prevent death, referred to as life-extension research or the science of longevity.  The goal is not only to push death out a little longer and get a few more quality years , but, to put it off indefinitely.  Hopes soar to bring about the end of aging, extend youth and health and vitality in humans forever.

 

How might this vision be realized?  Good old-fashioned code-cracking.  Doctor, health care hedge fund manager and longevity researcher Jun Yoon says:

 

“I have the idea that aging is plastic, that it’s encoded,” “If something is encoded, you can crack the code.”If you can crack the code, you can hack the code!” “thermodynamically, there should be no reason we can’t defer entropy indefinitely. We can end aging forever.”

 

Hoping for eternal life to be produced in pill form, what scientists call “the God pill”, the hope is that all the effects of aging can be eliminated.  Without a Biblical view of the world it is amazing what resources, time, and energy and hope man will invest in.


I get the feeling reading an article like that that Silicon Valley – like Jean Cocteau quoted earlier – is sensing Death’s approach.  He is on the horizon now.  

 

But victory over death is not a problem of science.  It is a problem of sin.  It’s not a man in a white coat that can save us, rather it is a man clothed in perfect white righteousness.  If only they knew the only Person who truly can defer entropy indefinitely and end aging forever.  If they only knew that death can’t and won’t be overcome by science but it has been by a Savior.  His name is Jesus.  Jesus has made the breakthrough for life everlasting.  It didn’t happen in a lab, but in a grave.  It didn’t happen from scientific research, but through the Son of God’s Resurrection.

 

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