Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Death of Death

The following is a sermon, not my words - not even a Catholic's words.  As many of you know, I am a former Lutheran, and every so often I happen to be in my car listening to the radio and "The Lutheran Hour" comes on.  Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, was one of those times.  Sometimes I marvel at just how close to the truth Lutherans can be - but just lacking the fullness I found.   Anyway, Pastor Klaus gave this sermon and it's really quite good, so I thought I would share...

"The Death of Death" #80-29
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 24, 2013 (Palm Sunday)
By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:God's Plan?)
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Today the Christian world prepares to remember the passion, the suffering, and the death of the Christ. It is a sad story, a powerful story, and if it ends at the cross and with a dead body in a borrowed tomb, it is an incomplete story. Today we invite you to come and see the Savior who gave His life to defeat death and save you. By God's grace may you know the living Lord gives life eternal to all who believe. God grant this believing to us all. Amen.

A reading from the Bible, from the 15th chapter of Paul's 1st letter to the Church in Corinth: "'O death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." During my years in the parish I conducted well over 300 Christian funerals. To the best of my memory those words were read at every one of those services. Because of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made in winning our forgiveness and salvation, St. Paul is almost taunting as he challenges: "Death where is your victory; death where is your sting?"

Those words are appropriate at Christian funerals, but they are quite out of place at the memorial service of someone who had no use for Jesus or the redemption which He won on Calvary's cross. As a friend of a mourning family, I have attended a number of those non-Christian services. The message of comfort that Christ alone can give is replaced by a eulogy of the dearly departed.

You know how it goes...the eulogy usually begins with a recap of the deceased's birth and early years. Time is spent in telling what that person had done in life, who they had loved, and, if the speaker is being honest, a little bit about the individual's sins and shortcomings. Normally, the majority of the message centers on how the deceased affected those around him. The last part of a well-rounded eulogy shares some information concerning the individuals last days and hours and how his or her departure has changed our outlook on life. This is the pattern this Lutheran Hour message is going to take as I, at the beginning of Christianity's Holy Week, give a funeral message for death.

Yes, you heard correctly; today we preach a funeral message for death. You are acquainted with death, aren't you? No, I'm not going to imply that he is your best and dearest friend. For most of us he is hardly that. Still, in humanity's history, he has been a force to be reckoned with. Although it's hard for us to imagine, there was a time when death and its influence was unfelt in this world. After God had finished His creation, He looked around and pronounced everything "very good." That means there was no death. Indeed, there never would have been such a person as death if it hadn't been for a dalliance which took place between the devil and disobedient humankind.

Search as you will, you will never find a hospital record recording death's weight and length at birth. Even so, we do know when death drew his first breath. After Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit, God plainly told them, "for you are dust and to dust you shall return." (Gen. 3:19b) Even as a newborn, death gave an indication of his future abilities when the Lord slaughtered animals to clothe His fallen children. These animals, once Adam and Eve's friends, possibly their pets, were killed for their pelts. Each day's wearing would remind the humans of what they had done. Of course, Death didn't stop with such minor conquests. He grew, he became stronger, more efficient, and within a short time, Cain murdered his brother, Abel.

Parents know that children grow quickly, and as they grow, they like to challenge their boundaries and abilities. It was no different for Death. In no time at all, Death considered the entire world to be his playpen. He found himself adept at activities like Hide-And-Seek. Hide anywhere you wanted, he would find you. Run as fast as you could, Death would catch you. He never tired of his endless game. He never napped; he never rested. He just grew stronger.

In an obituary, it is right to speak of an individual's good qualities. Death had some attributes which might appear, to some, as being admirable. For example, it can never be said that death had any favorites. In a global flood he managed to destroy all of humanity, with the exception of eight who were rescued by God's intervention. Similarly, it must be confessed that Death was not awed by wealth or rank. Equally, and efficiently, he came to all races, all places, and yes, all ages. True, there were times when certain age groups received special attention. In Egypt, the Hebrew baby boys were killed; in Bethlehem, the little ones didn't escape Herod's henchmen. As we list Death's attributes, we have to say he was never a "here today, gone tomorrow" kind of guy. On the contrary, constancy was his middle name. Oh, and we dare not forget creativity when we list Death's qualities. He was unpredictable in his visits. He might turn a woman into a pillar of salt or open the earth to swallow some serious sinners. You just never knew what he would do. We do know over the years Death became capable and competent, efficient and effective.

Which is not to say he was perfect. Although Death's success rate was impressive, his record was not flawless. Enoch managed to walk with God and got away from death. Elijah was given a chariot ride which took the prophet beyond Death's clutches. But these were the rare exceptions and not the rule. Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego, Jairus' daughter, a young man from Nain, and Lazarus, might, by Divine intervention, elude him for a while, but Death was patient. Eventually he would have them all.

And so the centuries passed. Strong men's strength would wither and waste away when Death approached. The powerful love of a mother or father could not keep Death away from their children's bedside. His arrival at a sickbed was occasionally welcomed, but most often his appearance was dreaded by human eyes. Death was, at one-and-the-same-time, the immovable object and the irresistible force. To all who watched him at work, it appeared as if he was and always would be undefeatable, unstoppable, inescapable, and unconquerable.

But then, as Scripture says it, in the fullness of God's time, another Baby was born into this world. Death readily, and quite rightly, recognized this Child as God's Son, his Competition. Death could make this identification because the two had met before. Jesus had been there at the fall when God offered words of hope and salvation to Adam and Eve. The two had met when God shut the door on Noah's Ark. They had met when the Lord pulled Lot out of condemned Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus and death had met in the fiery furnace of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Yes, they had met before, but Jesus' birth put a new spin on things. Death could never bring down God's Son as long as He stayed in heaven. But when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, He became fully human. And that meant, for the first time, Death had a chance to bring down the ultimate Prize, the Son of God. He knew that human beings were many things, but most of all, they were earthly, they were temporal, and they were terminal. Although Death knew the prophecies about how God's Son would die on a cross, he felt he had nothing to lose and everything to gain. That's why he tried to derail God's plan of salvation right at the start. It took little effort to have jealous king Herod dispatch his soldiers to slaughter the newborn King. Although death missed his Mark, it was hardly more than an inconvenience. He would try again. He did try again when he encouraged Jesus' old neighbors in Nazareth to throw Him off a cliff. He tried again when he suggested to the religious establishment that they ought to have the Savior stoned.

Repeated failures to eliminate Jesus did nothing more than strengthen Death's resolve. "Perhaps," he reasoned, "I might be more successful when Jesus is carrying the sins of the world. Those sins will crush Him into the ground. That's when I'll get my chance." And so it was. As Jesus fell, face forward, in the dirt of Gethsemane's garden; as He sweat, as it were, great drops of blood; as He shouldered the sins of every one of us, Death came. If you had been there, you could have seen the torches of the High Priest's henchman; you would have seen the Savior's disciple betray Him with a kiss; you would have seen the Lord of life, the ultimate Passover Lamb, bound and led away to die.

Knowing Jesus was guiltless, Death snickered at the ridiculous lies which were told about Jesus when He was railroaded at a trial before the Jewish' Sanhedrin. Death smiled when Pontius Pilate protested Jesus' innocence and then caved in the face of public opinion. Death stirred up the crowd as they shouted for the crucifixion of the Christ and he celebrated when Pilate conceded and said, 'Take Him away. Let Him be crucified.' Memories of past frustrations and failures were set aside as death saw the great, square-headed iron nails being hammered into the wrists, and the ankles, of the Savior. He rejoiced as the cross was set into place and Jesus began the process of dying.

Death appreciated what was happening and applauded the efficiency of the Roman death squad. Later on in history some doubters would suggest that those executioners didn't do their job that day. They say that Jesus blacked out or went into a coma and He revived in the coolness of His borrowed tomb. Death knew better. Those Romans were some of his most adept assistants. They crucified tens of thousands of men, women, and children and nobody, nobody ever escaped the finality of the Roman cross.

Death took great pleasure in watching Jesus die. He watched as Jesus writhed upon the cross. He listened as Jesus forgave those who had murdered Him; provided for the mother who had borne Him; spoke comfort to the thief who turned to Him; called out to the Father who had left Him. Around the sixth hour, Death started to pay closer attention. The earlier beatings, and yes, yes, our sins, had weakened the Savior's physical constitution. Death knew the signs which always heralded the end. Jesus was fading; His breathing was failing; His heart was racing. In the final moments, Death came right up to the Savior so he would see the closing moments of Jesus' life. Yes, He was somewhat surprised when Jesus, right before He died, loudly stated, "It is finished," but it made little difference. Jesus was dead. The Roman spear into Jesus' heart was icing on the cake. Death had won, God had lost and Jesus was finished.

And so were many other things. For example, man's hope was finished. Man's salvation was finished. Man's future, finished. Man's redemption, finished. Man's atonement, finished. As far as Death was concerned, it had been a good day, an excellent day. Jesus had been defeated and humanity was damned. Death knew, if he lived for more than a million times a million years, he would never again see another day as good as that Friday almost 2,000 years ago.

Death rejoiced, but he was not alone. The High Priests would have been laughing, smiling because Christ was dead, and the Danger they had feared had, well, it had passed over. Herod would have turned to his lackeys, his cronies, his entourage and shown his pleasure. He had managed to get rid of another crazy Prophet, this One worse than the Baptizer. But this time, Herod had managed to do the deed without getting his hands bloody.

Of course not everyone was glad. That first Good Friday night, Pilate would have been busy trying to mend the broken bridges between himself and his wife. He would have had to explain the necessity, the political expediency, of letting Jesus die. It would take some time, though, if ever, before she forgot the fact that her husband had ignored her good counsel and had a man crucified whom he knew to be innocent. Jesus' disciples, they spent their time cringing and cowering. They had seen their world crumble, their dreams of ruling kingdoms die alongside their Master. Now they had to make themselves so small, so insignificant that they would be forgotten. That first Good Friday night, Jesus' most faithful followers, the women who had followed Him from Galilee, who had seen where His dead body had been buried, with quiet tones and through tears made their plans to make sure Jesus would be given a proper burial. That first Good Friday night everyone knew Death had won. One more Man had died. His passing would not change the world. In a very short time, people would remember Jesus no more.

That first Good Friday night, everyone knew that Death had been victorious. Everyone knew it, except for Death, himself. Something was wrong. Something was tragically, terribly wrong. Death received reports from hell and Satan. The demonic dancing had, all of a sudden, stopped. Jesus had appeared to them. But the Jesus they were seeing was not a defeated Jesus; He was not a dead Jesus; nor was He a damned Jesus. In front of them was standing a Jesus, no longer limited in His power. Before them appeared a Jesus fully armed with all the attributes of God. In victory, Jesus came to them, stood before them, extended His nail-pierced hands toward them; let them see His spear-sliced side, and they knew. They knew they had lost and Christ had won. Death no longer was a one-way ticket to the terrors of hell. That first Good Friday, you see, is the day that death died. This is his eulogy. Death no longer has a sting. The grave no longer has a final victory. Everyone who has Jesus as Savior, has a bridge... a blood-bought bridge between earth and heaven. They know Death's strangle-hold on humanity has been broken and whoever believes on Jesus as God's Son will not perish but have everlasting life.

True, it would take until Resurrection Sunday before the world would find out what hell had already discovered. It would take until Sunday before the world would realize that Jesus would not be forgotten. It would take until Sunday before humanity knew that Jesus had, through His perfect life, managed to defeat sin; through His resistance of temptation, frustrated the devil; through His sacrifice on the cross, had defeated death. It would take until Sunday before this sad, sorry, sinful world would realize there is One Man, and One Mediator between God and Man. It would take until Sunday... and then on Sunday, the world would hear. And what would they hear? They would hear the three, most beautiful words in the world. They would hear: "Christ is risen!"

Death has been defeated.

Audio version of the above by Pastor Klaus

I know it may seem strange to see a Lutheran sermon on a Catholic apologetics site, but I, for one, cannot deny when those in my former faith "get things right," and this is one of those situations.

-------
Addendum, Holy (Maundy) Thursday, 3/28/2013

Well, I posted the complete sermon because I truly enjoyed the overall message, now COULD I have been more critical?  Certainly.  Rather than give the nod to those parts we agree upon, let me focus on some of the points where there may be some disagreement...


Parents know that children grow quickly, and as they grow, they like to challenge their boundaries and abilities. It was no different for Death. In no time at all, Death considered the entire world to be his playpen. He found himself adept at activities like Hide-And-Seek. Hide anywhere you wanted, he would find you. Run as fast as you could, Death would catch you. He never tired of his endless game. He never napped; he never rested. He just grew stronger.


That Death would catch you is mostly true - but not 100% true, even for the people of the Old Covenant, for we have examples of Enoch and Elijah who were taken to Heaven without death.  We also have evidence in the New Testament that those who did die under the Old Covenant were not “dead” but alive in Heaven!  Where you ask?  Well, the most blatant example would be at the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ where Moses, who died centuries earlier, was clearly “alive” with Jesus and the three Apostles who accompanied Him.  Pastor Klaus does recognize Enoch and Elijah later, but not Moses.

Yes, they had met before, but Jesus' birth put a new spin on things. Death could never bring down God's Son as long as He stayed in heaven. But when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, He became fully human. And that meant, for the first time, Death had a chance to bring down the ultimate Prize, the Son of God. He knew that human beings were many things, but most of all, they were earthly, they were temporal, and they were terminal. Although Death knew the prophecies about how God's Son would die on a cross, he felt he had nothing to lose and everything to gain. That's why he tried to derail God's plan of salvation right at the start. It took little effort to have jealous king Herod dispatch his soldiers to slaughter the newborn King. Although death missed his Mark, it was hardly more than an inconvenience. He would try again. He did try again when he encouraged Jesus' old neighbors in Nazareth to throw Him off a cliff. He tried again when he suggested to the religious establishment that they ought to have the Savior stoned.
Pastor Klaus does not mention the Temptations of Jesus Christ wherein Death, if you will, tempted Jesus to give up the mission and follow him.  Jesus resisted those temptations - that would be yet another victory over Death.

Skipping to the end...

True, it would take until Resurrection Sunday before the world would find out what hell had already discovered.
It is Easter Sunday.  This is what Christians have called this Sunday, that glorious day of all days, for nearly 2 millenia.  Yes, it is the day of the Resurrection - but why change the name?  Because it is too “Catholic?”

It would take until Sunday before the world would realize that Jesus would not be forgotten. It would take until Sunday before humanity knew that Jesus had, through His perfect life, managed to defeat sin; through His resistance of temptation, frustrated the devil; through His sacrifice on the cross, had defeated death. It would take until Sunday before this sad, sorry, sinful world would realize there is One Man, and One Mediator between God and Man. It would take until Sunday... and then on Sunday, the world would hear. And what would they hear? They would hear the three, most beautiful words in the world. They would hear: "Christ is risen!"

Death has been defeated.
Yes, Christ is risen - He is risen indeed!  As you can see, I only have some minor points of contention here - and overall, Pastor Klaus’ sermon was and is quite moving.  
AMDG,
Scott<<<

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