The Bible states that we have an enemy that plagues everyone—death. Though we may avoid this enemy for a time, we cannot escape it. Death is certain. No one can avoid death.
And Death is cruel. At its heart, death is separation. Death separates our bodies from our souls. It separates us from this earth and all that is on the earth that we love.
For much of our life we can make ourselves forget this enemy. We busy ourselves with the various aspects of life, never considering that life will end. Perhaps your life will be long, but perhaps yours will be short, like many others before you. However, there are times in our lives when we can no longer forget our enemy, death. We come face to face with it, in all its gruesome reality.
It is as though death stands before us, taunting us: “What is the value of your life? What is your purpose? What have you gained? What do you treasure? No matter what it is, I will take it in the end. You think you are fine now, but one day I will have the victory.”
And so often death does have the victory. Often people do lose all they have lived for at death.
Why is death so cruel? In 1 Corinthians 15:56, Paul explains what makes death so destructive.
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”
The Bible is clear that death is a result of sin. Death is not a natural part of the world, but is an intruder that has entered because of sin. Paul pictures this intruder as a hideous creature with a venomous sting. It is a dangerous enemy.
The heart of sin in the Bible is not allowing God to be God in our life but trying to replace Him. Perhaps we try to replace God with other things—other gods, famous people, family, wealth, work, etc. Often we simply make ourselves to be god—we decide how we should live our lives. In so doing, we go against what we were created for and find cheap substitutes that will never satisfy and will only end up hurting ourselves and others.
Sin ultimately hurts us most by separating us from God. Our greatest good and greatest joy comes in knowing and serving God—doing what we were made to do. But our sin has separated us from God. By our sin we have brought God’s righteous wrath against us.
Sin is magnified by God’s law. We may think that we can determine what is good and what is not, but God is the only one who has that right and the ability. God is the only true lawgiver.
God’s law is written on our hearts. Yet we do things we know are wrong. We do things that we know will be harmful to ourselves and others. And we fail to do things we know would be good, things that would be helpful to others. Thus, we willingly violate God’s law. This transgression magnifies our sin, giving even greater poison to death’s sting.
We rightfully feel as though there should be judgment against sin. We believe in our hearts that wrongs in this world should be dealt with. The problem is, when we are honest with ourselves we are forced to recognize that we deserve judgment for the wrongs we have done.
And the judgment for the wrongs we have done is death. We experience spiritual death in this life because we are separated from that which is truly life—the life found in Christ. One day, we will face physical death, the separation of our bodies from our spirits.
If we have built our life on anything other than God, we will be separated from what we built our life on. Our fame will fade, our possessions will decay, our careers will have ended, and our loved ones will be lost.
We will ultimately face eternal death—eternal separation from God. Instead of seeing God’s face, we will have His back turned to us and will experience all the horrible consequences that entails.
There is no greater enemy than sin and death, and yet we are powerless before them. We possess nothing with which we can fight against death. But are we left to cower before this gruesome enemy? Is there some way by which we can defeat death? Paul goes on to offer the glorious answer in verse 57:
“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Unlike every other person who ever lived, Jesus perfectly obeyed God. He always loved God and loved others. Because Jesus never sinned He did not deserve to die. His death was not for His sins, but for ours. He paid the penalty so that we would not have to.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'” (Gal 3:13)
Jesus defeated death—demonstrating that He is God and that He made an acceptable sacrifice for sin. Jesus did not remain dead, but after three days he rose from the grave with a glorified body, declaring to all the world that He is who He said He is—the Son of God. And He did what He said He would do—pay for our sins.
“And was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:4)
“Who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Rom 4:25)
How do we enjoy the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection? Paul hints at it in verse 57. We give thanks to God, for He is the one who has done all the work. Paul does not say that we thank God while congratulating ourselves on what we have done. We can do nothing for our salvation, because God has done it all. When we turn from our sin and trust in Christ, we are given a new heart that now wants to serve God.
We can do nothing—it is only grace. Of course there is a cost with any gift, but Jesus paid the cost, so there is no cost to us.
Through Christ our sin is removed so that we can have the true joy found in a relationship with Christ. We can have the satisfaction that only comes from knowing Jesus Christ.
With our sin removed, death no longer has any power. Through faith we are united with Christ, and his resurrection guarantees ours. No other religion or worldview has this claim. Only Christ has conquered death, and only Christ can offer the victory over death. For those in Christ, death is no longer loss—it is gain. For the Christian, death is not death.
So death is an enemy for the Christian, but it is a defeated enemy. Though it may appear as a hideous creature, ready to strike its prey with a venomous sting, Christ’s victory over death swoops in and swallows death up. (“Death is swallowed up in victory!”)
So now, when we come face to face with death, it is we who can stand taunting death: “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?”