Hope in the face of death

9 April 2020

Andrea Williams writes on the hope of the Jesus’ resurrection at Easter

In the UK, we are not used to death being ‘in the air’. It’s all around us. We see it through our screens; we hear it in the empty streets. Coronavirus. The reality of our own mortality. The reality of death.

What do Christians have to offer in the face of death?

The answer is – everything.

In Luke 24:5-6 we are told:

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

That is the central, most extraordinary claim of the gospel message. Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Those that saw the risen Christ with their own eyes and touched him with their hands spent the rest of their lives talking about the resurrection.

In the Book of Acts we see that the early followers of Jesus were persecuted and martyred not because of what they said about his death but because of the resurrection. No one debated that Jesus died. The followers of Jesus were persecuted because they proclaimed that he conquered death and rose victorious.

Jesus is not dead. His death paid the penalty for our sin. The resurrection proves it.

Jesus rose from the grave, against all of Satan’s lies and schemes. His resurrection guarantees the greatest reality in the world. Hope in the face of death; victory over crushing sin and death.

That’s a message worth preaching in the midst of coronavirus.

God defeats death

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

Jesus rose to prove that he had defeated death. Unless this is true, death seems to swallow up every ounce of life and hope.

“For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life.” (Romans 6:23)

This is good news. It helps us to understand how sin leads to death. It helps us to understand a culture where we have made idols of sex and self which often lead to human brokenness, addictions and despair – death. The resurrection breaks the bondage of death and sets us free in this life and for the next.

The reality of death has not changed. What has changed over the last several weeks, at least for many in society, is that we now are consciously considering what will inevitably happen to each and every one of us.

Coronavirus reminds those of us who know the risen Christ of our great commission. We, who do not fear death, must be prepared to take and display our hope wherever it is needed.

Christ is better by far

Anyone who has been given the gift of life has known the fear of death. In my life, I have faced cancer three times and a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. I have been in intensive care and known the relief of coming through.

And anyone who has found the narrow path that leads to true and eternal life has watched Christ turn the fear of death on its head. The apostle Paul, who nearly died many times following in the footsteps of his crucified Lord, declares,

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Philippians 1:21–23)

Times like these test whether we can say the same. It can be easy to say to live is Christ, and to die is gain when living for Christ costs us little and death seems far off.

It is another thing to say the same when disease is spreading and we, or someone we love, might die imminently. Is death really good news for those who love Jesus? Covid-19 presents a new and darker canvas on which God says again, Life after death is better, by far, than even the sweetest life on this earth.

Death itself, of course, is not better. It is a horror and an enemy to be hated. But with Christ, death also becomes a servant — a door into the absolutely beautiful and utterly safe presence of Jesus, forever. Death is gain, not because the experience of death is any less likely, or any less horrid, but because of what death gives us — because of who death gives us. Will we face the uncertainty of these days with courageous love because of what death now means for us?

Free to risk

Paul knew that death was better, by far, than a few more years on earth. But he also knew what to do with whatever days he had left.

“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.” (Philippians 1:23–25)

As much as he wanted to be with Jesus, he still poured himself out for the souls around him, working and sacrificing and risking his life for them and their salvation.

Will the church, at the right moments and with great wisdom, rally to meet the needs around us, and bring others to faith in Jesus? This kind of courage will not be reckless or dismissive, ignoring wise public precautions. One of the most loving things we can do now is limit and slow the spread of the virus. Will we be ready, in the days to come, to step in where needed when few others will?

If such times are ahead, Christians, freed from the fear of death, could be the first to step forward. Will we answer if that call comes, if clinics and hospitals, filled and overflowing, cannot care for everyone?

Now is the time

The gospel is drowned out more easily in times of economic prosperity and societal ease, for people forget fear.

But our voice must be distinct in a pandemic. If we want to see the salvation of men and women; if we love people’s souls we should use every opportunity we can to witness to him who conquered death.

At Easter time let us lift high the cross before the nation’s eyes. Let us tell them of God who became man that we might be lifted to God. Let us tell the nation of Calvary and its painful groans and cries, and sweat and blood.  Let us tell the nation about Jesus their Saviour hanging on a cross to save sinners.

Let us tell them that Jesus saves; tell them that He is able to save even at the eleventh hour, and to say to the dying thief, “you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

God has prepared us for days like these. God makes himself known through simple acts of Christian courage in a world paralysed and consumed by fear.

Jesus rose to prove he would eventually return and make all things right. This last half century in our nation provides evidence that this world is broken and breaking. And this Easter is another statement that our hope is as alive as Jesus. The world will be rid of sin, including all its causes and consequences.

In God’s wise and loving plan, that day is not today. But today is a great day to tell everyone what will be one day.

As we know, the death of Jesus looked like the single greatest defeat God’s people had ever experienced. Instead of ascending to a throne and conquering his enemies, the promised King had been humiliated and crucified. But at the precise moment when it looked like evil had won, God was wielding every ounce of wickedness to accomplish his greatest victory. As Peter preaches to the Jewish officials,

“Jesus of Nazareth . . . delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:22–24)

Jesus rose to prove that God is sovereign even over the worst evil in the world (Acts 2:23). In the ultimate act of rebellion and injustice, God was pivoting all of history, with love, to save and deliver his people.

In the midst of this awful pandemic that is a Love and a Hope and a Saviour worth clinging to.

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