Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
I’m on the hunt for an elliptical machine. Perhaps it’s a midlife crisis. My most recent birthday, a trip to the doctor, family history, and a future beach vacation have me thinking about my health again. Time to drop a few of the extra pounds, shed the excess winter weight, and stay away from the Easter candy. This is what we do in America. We join gyms. We diet. We cleanse. We purge our pantries. We download fitness apps. We start programs. We eat fresh. We watch our weight. We have operations. And if that doesn’t work, according to the many observed clickbait ads, we create pills and magical potions so that we don’t have to join gyms and diet. We do all kinds of things and spends so much money to make ourselves healthy, to prolong our lives, and to stave off death for as long as we can. This country music lyric rings true, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go now.” We want to stay earthbound for as long as we can; and we will do whatever we can to look good while we’re here. But the reality is, that no matter how healthy we are, we will still die. This is not breaking news, but a harsh, unavoidable reality nonetheless. For all the wonders of science and advancements of medicine and modern technology, the human race has still not been able to solve the problem of death. It still comes for us all.
The Apostle Paul bluntly states this fact too. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a) Death has been an abhorrent and uninvited part of our world ever since the Garden of Eden. So, what can we do about it? Nothing. Bummer, right? This is the undeniable limit of our human ability. We can make ourselves healthier, but we cannot prevent death from coming. No matter how strong and smart we become, no matter how much exercise equipment we purchase—death still eventually calls our name.
The Christian faith does not sugarcoat death. We don’t pretend like it doesn’t hurt. We don’t minimize the grief or the sorrow. We speak directly of it as an enemy. Death is horrible; it is evil. We read about this last Sunday in our Gospel reading, from John 11, and Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. In verse 33, it says Jesus was “greatly troubled.” This is an understatement. Jesus was more than just troubled, he did more than just groan, he was more than just angry at death. A better translation from the original Greek, could say that Jesus 'snorted' with anger at death (literally to snort like a horse). Jesus was so completely agitated and annoyed at death, so angry that it moved him to physically shudder because he was filled with such intense emotion. Standing there beside his friend’s grave, Jesus looks at the havoc, separation, and mourning brought about by the evil one. Then, Jesus, as a precursor to His own resurrection, stares death down and destroys it. He looks at the grave and crushes. He takes the tomb and reverses the curse. Author Chad Bird writes, “At Lazarus’ grave, Jesus did not say, ‘Death is natural, a normal part of the cycle of life.’ No, he wept. Then he kicked death in the teeth.” Death… kicked in the teeth. I love that! Long before Chuck Norris, it was Jesus who delivered the most mighty blow to our greatest enemy.
How beautiful those life-giving, gospel words were that Jesu spoke over Lazarus. “Come out… unbind him.” Death no longer was the winner. Momentum swung. The battle raged on. The Devil was backed into the corner. And with a mighty word, Jesus took away the power that death for so long relished in. Death and the devil no longer had the final word; they were the ones defeated; they had met their match. Theirs was the unfortunate end brought about by the Savior Jesus’ and His powerful, performative word. A new day had dawned. They were knocked over, down and out. No wonder St. Paul later trumpeted, "O death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15)
Death may beat us; but it is no match for our God. And if we cling to God, through our own tears and grief, God has promised to be the resurrection and life to all who believe. Just like Mary and Martha, our sorrow will turn to joy, and we will go from weeping to dancing. This is what we will celebrate throughout Holy Week. The wages of sin may be death, but God delivers us from that permanent peril, “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b). God’s victory over death. Our victory. Come celebrate with us. Hope to see you in worship!
“But God raised [Jesus] from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:24)
“Jesus didn’t escape from death; he conquered it and opened the way to heaven for all who will dare to believe.” (Steven James)
Pastor Steve Vera