“O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” 1 Corinthians 15:55 [NASB]
Sometimes the scripture passage above is tossed out to grieving families as an exhortation to grieve no more. With a victorious gleam in their eyes some will subtly rebuke in ignorance, “Take hope, rejoice, death has been defeated, it has no sting!” Indeed there is truth in what they say, but oh what unnecessary shame and pain can be inflicted by failure to present scripture in context. Proper context includes the preceding verses that reveal this bold proclamation of complete victory will be shouted at the final trumpet, when Christ returns and the last enemy, death, is completely and finally abolished.
“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will 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 will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have 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?'” 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 [NASB]
Death is already eternally defeated through the shed blood of Christ, but it is not yet abolished. Death has no eternal sting. Death has no sting for our believing loved ones who have gone before us. In the blink of an eye they were liberated from the momentary grip of death to glorious Life eternal. With the rest of the saints in glory they can shout the victory cry over death. Death is powerless against them for all eternity. Likewise, we Christ followers who remain should have no fear of death. We can each confidently face impending death as a defeated foe through the victory granted in Christ Jesus.
Death is eternally defeated, but until it is abolished at Christ’s return it still possesses a temporal sting. For we who remain, death’s most potent sting is that of separation from our loved ones. In addition, it can bring with it countless other stings as well, such as the sting of unfulfilled longing, the sting of shared grief, the sting of regret, the sting of isolation, and the sting of loneliness, just to name a few.
Within the walls of our home five people have been individually impaled by the temporal sting of death. Five people trying to learn to live with the ever present absence of a person deeply loved by each of us. Five people who know with certainty that our precious Sarah is living, yet we can not get to her, we can not see her, hear her, hug her, talk with her or laugh with her. We are separated from her by death, and its sting is excruciatingly painful. Every time we feel that piercing sting, we are reminded that this is not what God intended. The searing pain pulses as a testimony to the grave consequence of sin, the sting of death.
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;” 1 Corinthians 15:56 [NASB]
It is so easy to think so little of our sin, to dismiss or excuse it as minor. It’s not “big sin,” after all. But as I bear the magnitude of the pain of the sting of death in my soul I am reminded it is proportionate to the magnitude of my sin. “The sting of death is sin.” There is no clarification of the type of sin that gave death its sting, because all sin is sin, and according to James we are guilty of it all. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). My sin deeply grieved the heart of my Heavenly Father. My sin separated me from Him. My sin required the atonement provided through the death of my precious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 [NASB]
I am convicted we as believers would do well to readily acknowledge the very real and painful temporal sting of death. We are misguided if we imply or pretend it does not exist. Instead we should readily acknowledge the wretchedness of death this side of heaven, and the heartrending pain of the separation it brings. We should allow the reality of the pain to serve as a powerful reminder to guard our hearts and minds from losing sight of the magnitude and ramifications of our sin. Our sin birthed death. The greater our understanding of the magnitude of our sin and its consequences, the greater our celebration will be in appreciation of the victory we have been given through Christ Jesus.
“but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 15:57-58 [NASB]
While we acknowledge the agony of the temporal sting of death as we grieve our separation from those we love, we should simultaneously rejoice that though we grieve, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. (1 Thess. 4:13). We confidently hold to the certain hope that in “just a little while” the separation will be no more, “he who is coming will come and will not delay” (Heb. 10:37). Armed with this blessed hope we can and will persevere, steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our toil is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58). Be it through our deaths or His return we will soon see Him, and our precious loved ones along with Him, face to face, O glorious day. Come, Lord Jesus.
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 [NASB]
Artwork: Sarah Harmening