Nobody thinks of Lent as a cheery part of the church calendar. Yes, there is joy to be found in the expectation of Jesus’ eventual resurrection on Easter—but there is much darkness to travel through first. There are the grim events of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and execution. And there is the sobering reality of our own sinfulness—a reality we must accept before we can understand Christ’s grace.
The paradox of Lent, that strange mix of darkness and hope, has felt particularly real in my relatively small church community this year. Since the beginning of Lent, there have been several deaths within my church family.
Grief and sorrow hang over the church, giving the painful Gospel accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death extra clarity. The pain we feel is very real, but we cling to the hope of Easter—that death is not the end of the story. Death is an obstacle that Jesus Christ has overcome for us, and his rescuing hand will pull us out of that darkness.
In last week’s installment of the “An Encouraging Word” devotional, Max Lucado described death as a river that Jesus has crossed for us:
Jesus saw people enslaved by their fear of a cheap power. He explained that the river of death was nothing to fear. The people wouldn’t believe him. He touched a boy and called him back to life. The followers were still unconvinced. He whispered life into the dead body of a girl. The people were still cynical. He let a dead man spend four days in a grave and then called him out. Is that enough? Apparently not. For it was necessary for him to enter the river, to submerge himself in the water of death before people would believe that death had been conquered.
But after he did, after he came out on the other side of death’s river, it was time to sing … it was time to celebrate. — “An Encouraging Word with Max Lucado,” March 11
With all that in mind, and with Easter not far away, it seems appropriate to reflect this week on the Bible’s teaching about death… and resurrection. Is life after death really possible? Was Jesus really raised from the grave, and if so… what does that mean for us?
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. […]
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. — 1 Corinthians 15:3-8,12-28 (NIV)
Questions to Consider
- Have you experienced the loss of a loved one recently? How does your attitude toward death change when you accept that Jesus Christ rose from the dead?
- What does it mean that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death”?
- If Christ had not been raised from the dead, what would our relationship with God be like?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. — 1 Corinthians 15:56-57 (NIV)