Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, died after an extended battle with cancer. What was particularly sad were his last words; before dying he pleaded, “I don’t want to die. Please don’t let me die.”
Death has always been seen as an enemy, a predator that stalks us and ultimately always finds its prey. There is an ancient middle-eastern fable about the merchant who sent his servant into Baghdad to purchase food. Soon the terrified servant rushed back and begged his master for a horse. He said, “Down at the market I bumped into a woman, and when she turned I could see that the woman was Death. She raised her arm to strike me, but I escaped her. Please, I must have a fast horse. I will escape Death by riding to Samarra.”
The merchant gave his servant a horse and then went to the market himself, where he also saw Death standing there. “Why did you frighten my servant today,” the merchant asked Death.
Death replied, “I didn’t mean to frighten your servant. I simply responded in surprise. You see, I didn’t expect to see him here in Baghdad; I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”[i]
Ultimately, we all have an appointment in Samarra. Disney lightens the mood and sings about the Circle of Life, but in plain language, that means everyone dies. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the cross changes everything. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, and because He rose again on the third day, death is no longer something we must fear. Because we are in Christ, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).
Paul says in Romans 6:5: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” And he writes in verses 8-9: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”
In other words, on the cross, Jesus defeated the power of sin and death – not just spiritual death but also physical death. No longer do we have to fear death, because we know that in Christ there is so much more on the other side of the grave. And on that first Easter morning, He demonstrated His victory over death for all to see. That’s why in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul can proclaim: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (vv. 54-55).
Did you ever think about the fact that when Paul talks about death’s sting, he is using a metaphor, comparing death to a bee? After the bee stings once, it has no more power to harm you; the sting is gone. In Christ, death did its worst and fell short; from now on there is no more sting of death for those who are in Christ because we know that we share in His resurrection. As Paul said, we are “united with him in a resurrection like his.”
The cross changes everything, but only because there was also a resurrection. On the cross, Jesus paid the price of sin; at the resurrection, He claimed the victory over sin and death. And when we come to Him in faith and commitment, He allows us to share in that victory. That’s the good news that we are still celebrating 2,000 years later: that Christ invites you to share in His victory over death.
[i] Calvin Miller, Once Upon a Tree, pp. 131-132
Michael Duduit is founding Dean of the College of Christian Studies and the Clamp Divinity School at Anderson University. He also serves as Professor of Christian Ministry. He is the founder and still serves as Executive Editor of Preaching magazine, one of the nation’s premier publications for pastors. His email newsletter, Preaching Now, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences. He is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Joy in Ministry: Messages from Second Corinthians, Preaching with Power: Dynamic Insights from Twenty Top Communicators and Communicate With Power.