Today, Easter Sunday, I am once again uniquely and acutely aware of death’s sting. Today marks my fifth Easter Sunday without my third child, Sarah. It was with both great joy and great sadness that I celebrated the resurrection of my Savior, Jesus Christ, today.
The prominent focus of Easter is the awe inspiring truth that through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, death no longer holds any eternal power or sting over those who believe upon His name.
“…Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 [ESV]
1 Corinthians 15:54-55 (above) is commonly quoted at Easter. But if not handled carefully context can easily be lost. Some who misunderstand proclaim death destroyed and already “swallowed up in victory.” Going back to the text, however, we are clearly reminded that this will happen in a marvelous day yet to come.
“52 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. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 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.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:26, 52-55 [ESV]
At the last trumpet, when perishable has put on imperishable, when mortal has put on immortality, THEN shall come to pass that saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The last trumpet has not sounded and my frail mortality has yet to be replaced with immortality. But most assuredly both will happen. And likewise, death’s destruction is certain and impending.
Through the finished work of Jesus Christ death is defeated, the victory secured, but death has not yet been destroyed. Death is an enemy with a sealed fate, it will be destroyed, but not yet.
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” 1 Corinthians 15:26 [ESV]
In the meantime, death has a sting that still lingers for me and others much like Paul’s thorn. My heart aches for my child, I am continually reminded every day of the reality of death and the sting it holds.
Death has no eternal sting for us who believe on Jesus Christ, but its temporal sting of painful separation from those we love has yet to be removed.
As I worshipped this morning with an aching heart and tear streaked face I was reminded of Psalm 126:5-6, “5 Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! 6 He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
If you, like me, worshipped God with an aching heart and tear streaked face this morning, find comfort in this promise. As we persevere in faith, there is coming a day when we “shall reap with shouts of joy!” A day when our faith will become sight as we see not only our beloved Savior face to face, but our precious loved ones with Him.
I am convinced those who intimately know the excruciating sting of separation that death still holds will celebrate with loudest shouts of joy in that day. I’m confident we will be among those shouting most exuberantly, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
In the meantime, the remaining painful sting of separation brought by death can serve us like Paul’s thorn. Each piercing pain of longing serving as a constant reminder that God’s grace is sufficient and that His power is more perfectly displayed in our surrendered weakness.
“9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 [ESV]
The sting also serves as a continual reminder that this world is not our home. We are aliens and strangers here, sojourners in a land not our own. May we allow each pulsing pain to be used as a refining and sanctifying flame, fixing our hope ever more firmly on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober [in spirit,] fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13 [NASB95]
Whether He returns or we go, we are nearer to seeing Him today than yesterday. We will see Him in just a little while (Heb 10:37). And on that day, with a perfected eternal perspective, we will joyfully recognize and acknowledge these years of stinging sorrow as light and momentary affliction powerfully used to prepare for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor 4:17).
Praise God, Jesus Christ is risen indeed, and He is returning “in just a little while.”
Come, Lord Jesus!
“8 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 25:8 [ESV]
“3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be [any] death; there will no longer be [any] mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4 [NASB95]
“He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20 [NASB95]