(I wrote this in early 2016, and it remains one of my favorite articles that I’ve written.)
by John Ellis
Assuming normal physiology, humans don’t begin to taste deeply of physical death until sometime in their twenties. The day to day existence of children is punctuated by life. The brain is awakening – new sounds, new smells, new tastes, and new experiences; life itself is flooding into them at such an accelerated rate as to often render their young brains incapable of appropriately filtering out all the incoming information. With life-filled sensory overload, they crash into walls, overturn tables, and wage loud battle with imaginary-yet-not-imaginary Dragons and Serpents. With their whole being, children desire justice and the defeat of the evil that they are yet unable to fully comprehend. And their bodies are growing, developing, coming to life, and becoming more and more capable of accomplishing wondrous things.
The teenage boy eyeballs the basketball rim taunting him from its lofty ten-foot throne. But as the teenage boy eyeballs his enemy, his gaze is filled with hopeful defiance. No matter how many times he is defeated by the rim; no matter how many times he painfully clanks the ball off the front of the unforgiving rim, the teenage boy, deep within himself, knows that his body is not done. There is more power, more dexterity, more grace still to come to life in his body.
The forty-year old man, however, begrudgingly eyes that same basketball rim as one eyes an opponent once defeated in individual battles but who is now winning the war. Nostalgic resentment frames the overblown regaling of past tales of conquests told to the smirking youngsters who still have too much life coming to life within them to appreciate the tale of the battle with Death. Death has yet to rattle them.
Tragically, though, Death will rattle all of us. There will come a day when ascending stairs will be a reminder that Death is coming. Growing memory lapses signal that the mind’s light is being extinguished. The gentle scolding at the doctor’s office about things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and scary spots on the skin all point to the reality that Death has a smug foothold in this world.
The thing is, though, humans gave Death that foothold through sin. Thankfully, Death’s foothold was splintered apart by the nails that tore Jesus’ hands and feet. One day, King Jesus will return and finish his victory over death and sin, and life will reign anew for all eternity. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore (Revelation 21:4).”
Please come quickly, King Jesus.
This morning my prayer for King Jesus to return is much less rote than it sometimes sadly is. You see, this morning, I found my sweet six-year-old son lying awake in his bed, crying.
Most mornings, as I sit on the couch, reading my Bible and drinking my coffee, I look forward to the not-so-subtle creeping down the stairs of my son. I hear him before I see him. And I watch. Some mornings, it takes longer than others. But it’s always worth the wait. Eventually, a tussled head of blond hair sitting atop curious blue eyes tentatively peeks around the corner. He waits until I smile at him, and then his little-boy energy comes to life and he bounds down the rest of the stairs and over to me to give me my morning high-five and hug. Not this morning.
I waited. I looked. I strained my ears. But my son never filled out morning’s meaning. I knew why. Two days ago, his beloved teacher died unexpectedly, and my wife and I told our confused, sad son the news of Death and Sin last night. I knew why my son didn’t come down this morning, but I was still unprepared for the sight of my son curled up in his bed, clinging to his favorite teddy bear, weeping.
I sat down beside him, took him in my arms, and asked, “What’s wrong.”
He whispered, “I’m never going to see Mr. Kevin again.”
And that made me angry. Angry at Sin and Death. Angry that the Serpent has brought his lies and his unholy war on Life and his rebellion against God into my son’s life.
Lest you think I’m naïve, like all children, my son was born under the curse. The Fall and the Serpent are still working their black magic in his young life. Born as a rebellious child of the first Adam, my son is often an ally in the coupe on God’s throne.
However, the intrusion of Death into the lives of children is a poignant and deeply painful reminder of sin’s curse. In children, we see the Kingdom in ways that are often unnatural in adults. And that’s because we see life in children. We see the type of faith that Jesus told his disciples was necessary to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3). And when Death intrudes into the lives of children, we see Death’s unnaturalness in all its vile starkness.
The world, though, would have us believe that Death is natural. “Death is a natural part of the world,” they drone, repeating the lies of the Serpent. Except, Death is unnatural. It’s the most unnatural aspect of life. Death doesn’t belong. Death is always an intruder. The belief that Death is natural is a damnable lie from the pit of hell designed to drag humans into hell. If Death is natural, then it’s not something to be pushed back on; it’s not something that should have war waged on it. And if Death is natural, then Jesus came to fight and defeat Sin and Death for no reason.
As Christians, as subjects of a King who waged war against Sin and Death, we are called to be angry at Sin and Death. We’re not called to be angry at God because of Death. We are called to be angry at Death for God as His sons and daughters who have the inheritance of Life. And having been called to do battle against sin and death by our King, we have been placed on the front lines; carnage wrought by sin and death is strewn around us. However, whatever good is accomplished in and through us; whatever victories are carved out in and through our efforts are none of ours. The Sovereign God over all the earth is all our power, our strength, and our might. And that gives us the courage to wage war against Sin and Death.
Make no mistake, our King has ordained that we engage in battle against Sin and Death. And our King’s primary tactic that we’ve been commanded to obey is the Great Commission. The preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is how God is extending the victory over sin and death that Jesus won at the cross into the interim age between the first Advent and the second Advent in which we live.
Long ago, as light was still revealing life, our first parents made an unholy alliance with the Serpent-Satan. Together, they tried to make themselves God. Together, they wanted to rule and reign as God. And together, God cast them down off of the steps of His throne and pronounced awful curses, including the just punishment of Death. But God is kind; God is merciful, and in His mercy, while in the middle of pronouncing curses, God promised to provide the victory over Sin and Death. He promised to send a Warrior to crush the head of the Serpent. God promised to win His children back from Death and give them new Life that is eternal.
Generation after generation labored under the curse of Sin and Death, looking ahead to God’s promised Warrior. Many looked ahead with great faith because they knew that God’s promised Warrior was God Himself. One night, as promised, God “made himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man (Philippians 2:7).” The writer of Hebrews explains that “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).”
Jesus became man in order to die. God’s promised Warrior waged war on death, and we know he won because Jesus is no longer dead. Through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)”
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, be angry at Death. Wage war on Death by proclaiming the Good News of Christ crucified and resurrected. Do not allow your unbelieving friends and family members to lie to themselves about Death. Do not give feet to the Devil’s deceit that Death is natural. Stand bold against the destruction of Sin and Death while holding out the Life that is offered through repentance and faith in the life, death, and resurrection of King Jesus.
It is not okay that Death has intruded so unnaturally into my son’s life. It’s not okay that a family is mourning today over the unnatural death of a son made in the Image of God. And I will not lie to my son and tell him that it’s okay that Mr. Kevin is dead. By God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, I will continue to tell my son about Jesus; by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, I will continue to hold out to my son the promise of eternal Life won by King Jesus’ victory over the enemy of Sin and Death. And by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, and as long as God gives me breath, through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I will wage Holy war on Sin and Death. I am angry this morning, and I praise God for that.
Soli Deo Gloria