I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 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 shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
"Death is swallowed up in victory."
"O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)
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Friday of Epiphany 3
29 January 2016
When I was a child I feared death. I wasn't taken to funerals or into funeral homes. I wasn't afraid of death because I was afraid that I would die. I was afraid of death because it was an unexplainable mystery; something adults hid from children. My lack of experience with death and its rituals was frightening to me.
Perhaps there was something to that childish fear; something basic coming out of the fall of Adam and Eve and their banishment from the garden where there was not and could not be death. Our fear and revulsion of the mystery of death also sounds an echo of its opposite, namely life. Death is so utterly shocking still to us humans despite millennia of experience with people dying (Genesis 5), because we were created by God for perfect and unending fellowship with him. Death does not belong here in God's creation. Yet it is here through the power of the law and the strength of sin.
God in Christ restores to us the fullness of that which we experience only as a faint echo. To do so He permits death and life to clash upon the tilting yard of Calvary. The harrowing and devouring power of death struck and swallowed down Life and could not hold Him. Invincible life and eternal righteousness are ours when sin and righteousness, death and life clash over the person of Christ. He is the decisive Victor. Only life and righteousness are ours when we are in Christ, for He is death's death. He brings a life that is not an echo.
"Now let us see how two such extremely contrary things (sin and righteousness) come together in this Person. Not only my sins and yours, but the sins of the whole world, past, present, and future, attack Him, try to damn Him, and do in fact damn Him. But because in the same Person, who is the highest, the greatest, and the only sinner, there is also eternal and invincible righteousness. Therefore these two converge: the highest, the greatest, and the only sin; and the highest, the greatest, and the only righteousness. Here one of them must yield and be conquered, since they come together and collide with such a powerful impact. Thus the sin of the entire world attacks righteousness with the greatest possible impact and fury. What happens? Righteousness is eternal, immortal, and invincible.
"Sin, too, is a very powerful and cruel tyrant, dominating and ruling over the whole world, capturing and enslaving all men. In short, sin is a great and powerful god, who devours the whole human race, all the learned, holy, powerful, wise, and unlearned men. He, I say, attacks Christ and wants to devour Him as he has devoured all the rest. But he does not see that He is a Person of invincible and eternal righteousness. In this duel, therefore, it is necessary for sin to be conquered and killed, and for righteousness to prevail and live. Thus in Christ all sin is conquered, killed, and buried; and righteousness remains the victor and the ruler eternally.
"Thus also death, which is the almighty empress of the entire world, killing kings, princes, and all men in general, clashes against life with full force and is about to conquer it and swallow it; and what it attempts, it accomplishes. But because life was immortal, it emerged victorious when it had been conquered, conquering and killing death in turn. About this wondrous duel the church beautifully sings: 'It was a great and dreadful strife when death with life contended.' The Prince of life, who died, is alive and reigns. Through Christ, therefore, death is conquered and abolished in the whole world, so that now it is nothing but a picture of death. Now that its sting is lost, it can no longer harm believers in Christ, who has become the death of death, as Hosea sings: 'O death, I shall be your death' (Hos 13:14)!"
O Lord, You have given me rebirth into Christ through baptism. In it I have victory and eternal life. Grant that I might live my life in Your Life, that death might never plague or disturb me. Amen.
For President Thomas Winger, of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, that God the Lord would strengthen him in his office for the good of the church
For all those awaiting the outcome of testing following cancer therapies, that the Lord Jesus would watch over them and grant them the news they need
For France Stenberg, that she might recover from back problems
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias The Crucifixion (c. 1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2016