YOUR WORST ENEMY: DEATH!
(A sermon by Jack Cottrell — October 2014)
We all know about villains: Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, Freddy Krueger, Godzilla, the Joker, the Penguin—to name a few fictitious ones. In real life we could name Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and Sadam Hussein. The worst villain of all, though, is DEATH!
The event of death may be defined simply and briefly as the loss of life. As a state, death is simply the absence of life (where life is the normal state). It is a state of separation from the source of life. We speak of a battery that has lost its life or power as being dead. An electrical wire that is connected to its source of power is a live wire.
In the Bible there are three kinds of death as it applies to human beings. One is spiritual death, which is the state of the unbelieving, unregenerate sinner whose soul is dead to God. This state is described in Ephesians 2:1, 5: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins . . . when we were dead in our transgressions.” See Colossians 2:13 also. The second form of death is physical death, which happens in the moment when the soul or spirit leaves the body. As James 2:26 says, “The body without the spirit is dead.” The last and most devastating kind of death is eternal death, in which both body and soul exist in a state of separation from God forever (Matt. 10:28). See Revelation 20:14: “This is the second death: the lake of fire.” Revelation 21:8 says that sinners are condemned to “the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” See also 2 Thessalonians 1:9.
Why should we want to think about death? Because this is what our salvation is all about! Jesus came to save us from this enemy! He tells us in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life”! What follows here is, first, BAD NEWS; then, GOOD NEWS.
I. THE BAD NEWS: DEATH IS OUR ENEMY.
Why do we say this? Why should we think of death as our enemy? We say it for five reasons. First, death is our enemy because it is contrary to our NATURE. Human beings were created to live forever. Genesis 2:7-9 tells us that when God created the first man, Adam, he breathed into the man’s nostrils “the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Then he placed him in the Garden of Eden, in the midst of which was “the tree of life.” This shows that, contrary to evolutionary theory, human beings were not intended to die. There is no such thing as dying from “natural causes.” Human death is unnatural. Even old age is unnatural!
The second reason death is our enemy is because it is the result of SIN. The whole human race dies physically because of Adam and Eve’s sin. In Genesis 2:17 God warned our first parents not to eat from another tree in the Garden of Eden, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God said, “In the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” And this death penalty referred not just to Adam. Romans 5:12 says, “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned”—in Adam. 1 Cor. 15:22 sums it up: “In Adam all die.”
Death comes not just from Adam’s sin but also from personal sin. In Romans 1 and 2, Paul affirms that all human beings are sinners. In chapter one, after naming a long list of sins, in verse 32 he declares that those who sin “know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death.” He then states in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” And in Romans 8:10: “The body is dead because of sin.” James 1:15 adds, “When sin is accomplished it brings forth death.” 1 Corinthians 15:56 says, “The sting of death is sin.”
The third reason death is our enemy is because it reigns as an alien KING who has usurped power over the whole earth. In Romans 5:14, 17, talking about the effect of Adam’s sin, Paul uses the Greek verb basileuō, meaning “to reign as king.” He says, “Death REIGNED AS KING from Adam to Moses, even” over little children. “By the transgression of the one, death REIGNED AS KING through the one. Here death is personified as a tyrant having everyone under its power. It controls how we approach life as such. Life becomes just the effort to avoid or delay death. Consider our preoccupation with health care and safety. In 2014, 28.5% of our federal budget has been devoted to health care expenses.
Here is a fourth reason why death is our enemy: it a tool of SATAN. Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” Satan and his evil demons devote most of their energy trying to lead us into sin, which as we know leads to the penalty of death. Thus we are slaves to the fear of death until it overtakes us, for the reason named in the next point.
Indeed, and finally, death is an enemy because it is the door to the FINAL JUDGMENT, as Hebrews 9:27 says: “It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment.” This is a main reason why many live in fear of death—not so much because of death itself, but because of what we know lies beyond it.
No wonder we hate death so much! No wonder we try to put it off as long as possible! No wonder, as we get closer and closer to it, we feel more and more haunted by fear and dread! Death is our enemy! BUT – this is not the end of the story. There’s more – and it’s good news!
II. THE GOOD NEWS: DEATH IS A DEFEATED ENEMY!
Death is not just OUR enemy; it is also GOD’S enemy! This is indeed good news! Though God Himself imposed the penalty of death upon us, this was not his deepest desire. From the beginning, God planned to personally confront this enemy and destroy it! This is why God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ! Jesus came as the SUPERHERO to confront and conquer the villain that has laid waste to God’s creation. This was the purpose of his death and resurrection. See Hebrews 2:14-15 again.
Here is the bottom line: Jesus has defeated the enemy, death! One word that sums up Jesus’ work: VICTORY! Victory over all his enemies, and ours: sin, death, and the devil! All these villains were defeated by our superhero, Jesus Christ! See 2 Timothy 1:10: God’s purpose “has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” My fantasy is that if Jesus lived among us today, the only shoes he would wear would be NIKE! That’s because the Greek word for “victory” is nike (pronounced NEE-kay.)
Here is the essence of the good news: because of Jesus, if you are a Christian, death has been, is being, and will be defeated in YOUR life. This is true of all three kinds of death. First, spiritual death has already been defeated in you. In your baptism you were raised from the dead: God, “when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5). Colossians 2:12-13 says specifically, “Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God. . . . He made you alive together with Him.” You have thus “passed out of death into life” (1 John 3:14; see John 5:24).
Second, it is also true that eternal death – condemnation to hell, the lake of fire – has already been defeated for you – by Jesus! In your baptism you were forgiven; you were justified by the blood of Jesus (Acts 2:38; Rom. 5:9). See especially Romans 8:1: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” To be justified means that the Judge is saying to you, “NO PENALTY FOR YOU! No condemnation for you! No hell for you!” As long as we continue to trust in the saving death of Jesus, the eternal death of the lake of fire is not in our future.
But what about the third form of death, physical death? We still have to die physically. Does that mean that death wins after all? No! Consider this: our Superhero, Jesus, died and was buried. Was that the end of him? Did death win over Jesus after all? NO! Jesus died, but death does not have the last word! LIFE does!
On resurrection morning, Jesus our Superhero defeated the villain of death. He came out of his grave! He fought the enemy death, and he won! He delivered the death blow to death itself! In Revelation 1:17-18 he announces his victory: “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”
This victory over death will also be ours. When Jesus returns, there will be a resurrection of the dead. (See 1 Cor. 15:25-26.) Our assured hope is well stated in 1 Corinthians 15:52-57 – “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. . . . Then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ . . . But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” As Revelation 21:4 promises, in the final heaven “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will no longer be any death.”
In conclusion, how shall we face our coming death? Here is my counsel: feel free to HATE it. Feel free to face it with reluctance, sadness, and mourning. But DO NOT FEAR IT! Death is a DEFEATED enemy. Declare with David (Psalm 23:4): “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.” We are facing this enemy death with Jesus our Superhero at our side. BRING IT ON!