“He Will Swallow Up Death Forever”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Psalmist says, “Blessed in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints,” (Psalm 116:15, ESV). That is not because death is good. No matter how much we might desire to see the suffering of our loved ones end, death itself is never good. Remember: death is the wages, the payment, the consequences of sin (Romans 6:23). Death is an intrusion on God’s good creation. Death is an enemy of God’s people. It is something to be conquered and done away with.
Our sister Nita had struggled for a long time with this enemy. It took her parents, her husband, two of her siblings, and it had been sapping her strength for years. This past week, it took much of her movement, it took strength from her lungs, and it took most of her ability to eat. Finally, death separated her body from her soul, and it may seem that death has finally won the battle. But appearances can be deceiving. Before she died, I had the opportunity to visit her in her hospital room a few times. And what I found there gave evidence of her faith: the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). She confessed her sin and I absolved her, as the representative of Christ. I spoke the Apostles’ Creed, and she repeated a part when she was able. I read Romans 8, and she smiled at the words about the Holy Spirit helping us in our weakness, interceding on our behalf before the Father, and praying with groans too deep for words. Nita knew that because God had claimed her in her baptism, because God had put on her His own Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and because she had eaten and drunk the life-giving Body and Blood of Jesus, she had nothing to fear from her enemy death. “If God is for us, who can be against us?…For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31, 38-39 ESV).
But how can this be? How can the children of God go peacefully into the jaws of death? It is because they go, like Nita, in the steps of their Savior. Jesus has already defeated death. He came out of the tomb and made death lifeless. He took the life out of death. “We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Romans 6:9, ESV). So those who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus go toward death as a conquered enemy. One early Christian said it this way: “Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Savior on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, “O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting” (St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, V:27 [http://www.orthodoxonline.com/incarnation.pdf]). Christ has conquered death, and because Nita is in Christ, she, too, has conquered death. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5, ESV).
And now her soul rests with Christ in Paradise. But that’s not the end! There is a day coming when Nita’s body, which lies here before us, will be raised from its resting place and God will reunite her body and her soul in blessed perfection. Then death will finally be no more. God will gather His people on His holy mountain and “he will swallow up…the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 25:7-8, ESV). The jaws of death can no longer swallow those who are in Christ, because Christ has broken its jaws and, one day, Life will swallow up death forever. This is the promise for all who have been baptized and to whom God has given faith in His Son Jesus Christ. Nita heard and believed the words of her Lord Jesus: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:1-4, ESV). Nita knew the way: “Jesus said… ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6, ESV). This afternoon, as we face the work of Nita’s enemy and ours, our hope can only be in the same place as Nita’s: in Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection. “It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation'” (Isaiah 25:9, ESV).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/21/07