The sting of death is sin.
Perhaps it seems a distasteful subject on which to spend eight successive posts and all the thought behind them; but death is an unrelenting common denominator to all people of all eras, nationalities and stations. Death is the unbending end. It is the unchanging destination to which all of us travel. We do not change our minds about the unspoken final entry into the universal journal. So, why should we not spend time thinking about its ramifications? And why should such a natural passage be so very uncomfortable to approach in conversation or writing?
It’s because what lies beyond it is universally unknown. No one that you know today can tell you about what is on the other side. You will never have lunch with someone who can tell you about a trip beyond death. You will not read a best-seller by someone who has returned from the land beyond death (though there have been many claims). So death is shrouded by mystery. It scares us and we prefer not to think much about it. We certainly don’t like to discuss it, and especially, we like to avoid discussing our own impending deaths.
It’s only the Christian who has, by faith, a glimpse into the world that is already a reality for those who have left this life. And, for the Christian, that glimpse of faith should not be scary. Faith, after all, is not the substance of the the things we dread. It’s the “substance of the things we hope for,” (Hebrews 11:1). Truly, we are the only people who can, but we should be able to “look” over there with great anticipation and be ready for the transport of our lives when we leave this earth!
The sting of sin is death (I Corinthians 15:56). In this marvelous chapter about the ultimate resurrection, we find these words that encompass all the other hurts of death. Death makes us regret only because of sin. Death makes us sad and lonely because of sin. Death makes empty chairs and hearts because of sin. Death makes its victims suffer pain because of sin. Death exists because of sin. Its introduction coincided with and resulted from the introduction of sin into our world (Genesis 3). It affects me, personally, because of my own sin (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23). Death is the figure on the payroll for my work of sin.
Further, there is no answer for sin, but the gospel. Only the gospel—the good news—can make something good out of physical death. That’s what I Corinthians 15 is driving home to the Christian. The law of works (or the law of the Old Testament) only confirmed and defined sin. It made sin, sin. Men learn how to sin by looking at a perfect standard—a law. Man could not transgress against the law of God until that law was given. Romans 7:1-14 is a deep discussion, by Paul of sin and death, in which he tells us that the law makes sin “exceedingly sinful.” It’s the law that gives death its vigor…its sting.
Nothing—no sacrifice, no piety, no law of God—could give us any ability against the ultimate formidable enemy which is death. Only the gospel—the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus— could give us the victory over death. It’s ironic that one single death (and subsequent resurrection) could provide the victory over all other deaths prior to and following that one single death. Only a death followed by a permanent resurrection could conquer the enemy that had stung every human since the dawn of time. Only that good news could make Cindy Colley have a prayer against that venomous sting.
And so the gloom of death—the pain, the horror the fear, the pallor—has all been eliminated for the Christian. The grave has no holding power; no victory. Death’s sting has been neutralized by the resurrected Savior.
How foolish it is for any one of us—so weak, so affected by sin, so unrealistic in any bragging rights of strength or power against death—how foolish, I say, for any of us to reject the gospel, for it is the only strength we have against the sting of death. But the gospel is complete and total conquering victory over it. The grave is not the terminator for people of God. Why would smart people quibble over the simple requirements of such a gospel. Why, on earth, would people argue to their own eternal undoing about whether baptism really does put us into his death (Romans 6:3,4)—the only death that has ever held any power, any victory over the blackness of the “other” death that comes to all men. I want to be deeply buried in His death where there is no sting. When and if I lie in some hospital bed in my final moments, I want to claim the victory. I want to be able to welcome those angels. I want to hear my children singing “Be With Me Lord” because of their assurance that I am in Christ—in His death, in His victory.
That’s why we should all spend some time contemplating death: because it is in our power at this moment to choose to subjugate death to a foe on which we trample because of the blood of Christ or to exonerate death to its ultimate victory over eternal salvation and happiness. If I choose the latter I give death the power: to sting, to enslave, to horrify, to torment forever. But why would anyone do that?