December 7, 2021
Scripture: 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. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 ESV
Observation: As Paul concludes this first letter to the Corinthians, he argues that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (verse 50). In other words, our Father created our bodies so that we might become eternal, spiritual beings. He then adds that when Christ returns, there will be no warning but a glorious voice (like that of a trumpet blast) that will call forth those who have died before his return to rejoin their spirits with their new, imperishable bodies. While this is not certain, it appears Paul is referring to the thousand-year reign described in John’s Revelation (Revelation 20:1-6). Nevertheless, Paul’s last words of encouragement are that personified “Death” has no grip on us.
Takeaway: All of us can be gripped from time to time by a fear of death. When we brush up against cancer or a close call from an accident, these sobering moments can lead us on a downward spiral of fretting about the future. Here, Paul candidly reveals the basis for this sting (fear) of death: sin. Whether we realize is it or not, sin provokes an overwhelming fear of death.
In February of 2021, during a podcast interview, the host asked the Rev. Dr. Timothy Keller about his biggest battle with pancreatic cancer. Expecting Keller to talk about physical and emotional pain and suffering, he summed his most significant challenge in one word: sin. Keller was most concerned about winning the battle of his mind over recurring thoughts of the future that left God out of the equation. In those moments, he and we succumb to fear of death resulting from wobbling in our faith.
The good news is that God has given us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has given us victory over the penalty of sin (that otherwise leads to spiritual death). His Spirit is giving us the “victory” over the power of sin (to overcome our temptations to fear death). And our Savior and Lord will provide us with the victory over the presence of sin (when he returns and swallows up “Death”). Indeed, for those who know and love Jesus, while we will have our weak moments, “Death” has no grip on us.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your faithful Son who swallowed up death in his body and rose to new life, setting us free from sin’s grip. Would you please help us walk out our faith confident of what lies ahead: victory in your Son? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling