The Day Death Died
George Bernard Shaw, a philosopher and an atheist, once said, “The statistics on death are quite impressive, one out of every one person dies”. To follow up with some recent statistics on death: three people die every second, 180 every minute, almost 11,000 every hour, about 260,000 every day and around 95 million a year. When we think about these statistics they are at the least very sobering though some might say morbid. Death is the last taboo subject. Mentioning it is still the best way to break up a party.
It hasn’t always been this way. Victorians, who are today regarded as sexually repressed, had what seems to us a morbid fascination with death. Our culture is the polar opposite of Victorian times. We live in a culture saturated with sex and one scared to death of death. If the 19th century culture tried to conceal the “facts of life”, our culture tires to conceal the “facts of death”. We use many euphemisms for death, saying that a person has passed, kicked the bucket, is taking a dirt nap, gone, expired, flatlined, bodily functions have ceased, etc. Rarely will anyone say he is dead or she died last night. It seems too blunt and too final. In the Middle Ages skulls were placed on desks as a reminder of mortality. One undertaker signed his letters “yours eventually”, and said when parting with someone “see you soon”. We hide death and try to hide from it. Woody Allen claimed, “It is not that I am afraid to die, I just don’t want to be around when it happens”. Even jokes can’t hide the fear of death. Earnest Becker in his book “The Denial of Death” stated, “The fundamental thing behind human motivation and all its activity is the constant struggle against annihilation and death. It is absolutely stupefying in its terror and renders anyone’s accomplishments meaningless”.
We fear not merely the process of death but also the uncertainty that lies behind it. If death is the end, then our few fleeting years on earth will soon be passed and forgotten. It only takes a couple of generations before no one will remember us. H.G. Wells said, “If there is no afterlife, then life is a sick joke braying across the centuries”. Perhaps this explains the rise in belief in reincarnation and cryonics. The fear of death is not surprising because the Bible describes death as an enemy and intruder. It was not a part of the original creation but is the result or wages of sin.
Jesus is the great rescuer who has come from God to undo the effects of the Fall and to introduce the kingdom of God. This kingdom is best understood as the ruling and reigning power of God to restore the world from the way it is now to the way it ought to be in an ultimate sense. In order to accomplish this, Jesus had to deal with the fundamental problem, our sin and God’s righteous anger against it. He resolved that problem on Good Friday at the cross. But how can we be sure that the death of one man over 2000 years ago really was the key turning point in history and solved man’s dilemma? Why should we believe that He accomplished a great victory there which changes everything? The Bible points us to the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Death, the great sign of the judgment of God which spoils this world has
been defeated. We no longer need to fear death, instead we can have a sure and certain hope as we face the future. Our hope is not based on wishful thinking that is rooted and grounded in a real space and time historical event. That event is Easter, the day death died. Christ’s resurrection is decisive for our general understanding of Christianity and has implications regarding the nature of Christianity, the person of Christ, the work of Christ and the nature of the Christian life.
First, what are the implications of the resurrection for the nature of Christianity? Christ rose not in the minds of His followers but in verifiable space/time history. Christianity is not an esoteric philosophy of life but has its foundation and roots in history. The resurrection also underlines the fact that Christianity embraces the material world. It expresses God’s commitment to its redemption, first in the body of Christ, then the bodies of believer and finally the whole cosmos. The resurrection reveals the truth that Christianity is a religion of cataclysm. The empty tomb does not evolve out of anything which has come before. It is a divine perforation or inbreaking into history. The resurrection is also God’s verdict of ‘well done’ upon the Son’s work for our justification.
The resurrection is also a significant statement regarding the person of Christ. It means that in His present state He possesses a full humanity. He did not return to a preincarnate state of being only divine nor does He exist in an incorporeal (bodyless) state. He is still a man and His manhood is both physical and spiritual yet is is not the same state as prior to His death and resurrection. He is risen, glorified and perfected. His risen body has a new might and majesty. The resurrection has close connection with the divine sonship of Christ. In Romans 1:4 He is appointed to be the Son of God with power. The contrast is between a time when He was the weak and humiliated Son of God and a time when He became the Son of God in full majesty and authority. The Resurrection ends His time of poverty and self emptying. It was His coronation, not His adoption.
The resurrection is no less significant for the work of Christ. The interval between His first and second coming is filled with redemptive activity. The book of Acts, Luke’s second volume, speaks of what the risen, ascended Lord Jesus Christ continued to do and teach. He pours our the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, apprehends Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, and opens Lydia’s heart to the Gospel, and directs Paul’s missionary journeys. After the resurrection He embraces all three aspects of His work as Priest, Prophet and King. As Priest His work of atonement for sin is finished, however, His intercession continues. As Prophet He is the source and substance of the apostolic Gospel. As King, He has all authority in heaven and earth over an international kingdom. Jesus leads His people by the gift of the Spirit and governs the world.
Finally, His resurrection is the foundation of the Christian life. Christian living, mine and yours, flows from our organic union with the living Christ, drawing our very life from Him. We are His temple, body, branch, bride, etc., etc. Transformation is not only possible but a guaranteed reality because we are in union with Him.