AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH February 4, 2007
Hosea 13:14, I Corinthians 15:55
A CONTINUATION OF THE THRUST
AND BASE OF THE
OF AUSTRALIA ON BIBLICAL LINES …
For the Christian, Death is not Haunting
but a Highway
1. Death without Design is Depth without Space
Often does the cry come: O that this body, once so fair, this mind, once so robust, this spirit, earlier a summit of consciousness and a peak of stability, should now no longer find cover in the earth, that this detached case of bones should now become the unkempt remembrance of what was once so grand an exhibit of life!
Death avaunt! in your callowness and clay! Be gone, stay no more!
Such is the lament of mind at funerals, or sudden loss of life, or the horror in the hearts of many, though they may repress the feeling or the thought, when death makes its clamour and the grave engulfs the residue that once man used, the body deceased.
While however there is certainly ground for sorrow, yet the depth of the matter in unbridled sorrow, goes too far (Philippians 1:21, I Thessalonians 4:13), ignoring that constructive masterpiece, the resurrection of the body, founded on that triumph in Christ which rocked an Empire and is set in the foundation of the Church, as the sun in the sky for heat, the stars for multitude in the heavens. On the contrary, however, for those who reject salvation and in it, the kernel and core of the resurrection, perhaps such lament does not indeed go far enough! (cf. Ezekiel 31-32). Its unspeakable horror cannot be tamed where truth has been dismissed (John 3:36).
Thus in Ezekiel is Egypt prophetically viewed, cut down like a great tree, and there in the realm of hell is its Pharaoh seen in helpless detachment from life, in a sort of mockery of former honour, devastated in death by the wickedness of misused life. Life without love, and love without power, and power without truth, it is merely a Mockery Symphony. You meet the Master of Life and serve Him, Jesus Christ, or you mock your own life (Proverbs 8:35-36). What mockery is worse! (cf. Proverbs 1:31); for that food is just, and justice without mercy, fits but ill with any sinner.
It is the spirit of man which has made him great, and not the mere mechanics, like so much super-sophisticated farm-machinery, of his body. It is the ploughman and not the plough, who is in view. Many make much from a little, while others with the greatest machinery, but spoil the soil.
It is the morality of man which distinguishes his 'kind', in the sub-category of those who know the Maker and His righteousness. As with a car, an aircraft or even a computer, there is what is designated right, what fits, is apt, is appropriate, fulfils the intention of the one who makes and buys, and there is what is a mere covering in some shed of disuse, or ruin in some wildness of misapplication, left bereft in the wilderness.
Life is a test and a display, and it is God who is the judge. It is a triumph such as the flight of birds so well illustrates, and their aerial dances at times of wonder, so aptly depict. The test does involve fortitude and grace and power and strength; but this is not enough. The powerful make a practice of losing power, or mind or sanity or becoming pivots of vanity manipulated by some egregious passion or artful fashion. In his desolatory contrivances, man becomes his own captive, willingly consenting to evil and calling it good, whether in self-sufficiency instead of spiritual valour, in vanity instead of virtue or in moral self-congratulation instead of godly delight in the dynamic of the deficit in the wonder of the Saviour.
What is enough is obedience to the call, the design and above all to the Designer who is no mere inventor as is man, but the maker of what man cannot make, though in his educational sorties he is often acting as if he could. Man in his mindless spiritual folly (Romans 1:22, Ephesians 6) would bend and amend and discipline and draft, he would indoctrinate and activate, he would mould and he would make of the child some prodigy of passion, some example of cultural ideology, some fodder for war, some flotsam for chance. This, however, by no chance is mere chance; rather is it the absence of the loving control for good of those who forsaking God, find the seduction of the sod, the clamminess of clay, or the aerial dooms of those who flying fearless in the storm, become as significant as gnats for their vanity.
There is an interval between birth and death; and it is called life.
What fills it ? In man, this is the eternal question, and the Eternal is the answer: but not some chalice of drunk philosophy is this, but Almighty God; nor some mere verbal symbol of power, but the personal God who makes persons as an author makes characters, but leaves them - as in exalted art forms may occur in fiction - to develop themselves, yet in His presence, if by any means they might seek Him with whom they have to do, like it or not.
Life, it is not unlike breathing: whatever you think of, it is there. It must be met. It is neither given in inattention nor received back witless and regardless: all is judged, and only mercy makes the light, nor does any find it, but by faith, nor does this help, except in Him who is Faithful (Revelation 19:11,13,16).
2. The Significance of Death in the Design
All this the more attests that spirit of man which in its fancies can act as if a god, and in its calamities, like a sod of earth, mere inanimate illusion. The one surely leads to the other, like the pulses of the heart, the impulse and the result, the cause and the effect. Without God, it is not rest, but merely the next conceptual contrivance, philosophic folly, religious vanity, that knows no rest, and provides none. Where this is the mischief and mistake of life, there death remains, and the curse continues without the light without which within, man hides, but is not hidden; for though it excluded from a man's heart , it is all about him, and his deeds are well-known to God.
Man is often so like a
disoriented child: he has been insolent, atrociously self-willed and sought
every grabbable thing; and then comes Daddy home. WHY this disorder of no tea,
discipline ? It is atrocious! the child might exclaim.
The eminently wilful child might even, perhaps helped by the modern educational system, brood in rebellion. That is mankind in general, for if anything goes ‘wrong’ in his bill of wrongs kind of life, in ever new inventions on always old vaunting follies, then God is to blame; but if it all works, then man treats himself to a banquet as a god! The words are not too strong. ‘Science’, which is merely codified knowledge ostensibly gained by a method of happening and test and verification, launches just such attacks on God through many of its exponents, and seeks to imagine that ‘dad’ is not there. Indeed, even in SA recently we had one eminent scientist making it appear that moving from the visible to the invisible is in some way unscientific – if by invisible you mean beyond material format (cf. It Bubbles ... Ch. 9, Little Things Ch. 5, Tender Times for Timely Truth Ch. 10, Deliverance from Disorientation Ch. 8).
Similarly, in education and to some extent political change, there is the concept that nothing is wrong but what is inconvenient; and with such ‘vision’ vice abounds! The latest is to make rejection of such vice to be deemed illegal! This seems to have been the sort of attitude in Sodom, a social connivance with unconstraint and licence which make the place apt for the judgment which has ever since been an historical example. If it wrong even to say what is right, how wrong is the unruliness that rules!
Then without truth or mercy, death is merely the summary of evils, and the forfeiture of any further liberty towards self-government. In that, you come either to God or to His absence, once and for all. He knows His own and misses not one of them (Ephesians 1:4). Bleak indeed is death in explicit and conscious detachment from the Lord’s Christ, the pinnacle of performance and the mountain of hope, yes the exhibit of resurrection and the One who makes the Grant of Redemption. It is only then that the text applies. Which one ? that which follows: Hosea 13:14 and I Corinthians 15:55.
3. Death where is thy sting ? Grave, where is thy victory ?
In Hosea, where is first found in these words, this triumphant thought, there is the account of the prophet who is called to marry a harlot. This was a living example for Israel to see: it is made a charade, in which Israel is the harlot and the prophet plays the part for the Lord. Despite the kindness of elevating the sinful woman (Israel the sinful nation) from degradation, in marriage, in her, there is not even the gratitude of remaining faithful to him: thus she reverts to her former follies. Hence the prophet has go go and buy her back (signifying redemption for believers, in Israel), and settle her at last. This is the parable in action of the history of Israel, and to no mean extent, that of many nations, though they do not always so precisely conform to the outline.
Often throughout Hosea, you see the loving concern of the Lord (as in that delightfully tender passage in 11:1ff., and in 7:1ff.); but “they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind” (8:7) as if to be insufferably unspiritual, ungrateful and unfeeling were a species of vocation, an anti-divine calling! In the end, God acts once and for all.
He will, He says in Hosea 13:14, become personally involved to the uttermost point. Like a researcher taking the disease in order to show how it may be overcome, HE Himself will be the plague of death. Imagine being a plague to a plague! God, in other words, cancels death’s power, but not freely, on His own part. This delicious freedom is only for those who receive Him, His work and His salvation ! (Isaiah 55, Romans 3:23ff., Galatians 5). Death's sharpness lies in sin, which disrupts, disorders and declaims against God; and that is the sting of death: it is no mere event! It is sham turned into shame, culminating where God is rejected personally in Christ.
What however gives sin its power ? It is the law, the morality of God, the truth of our being and creation and need! It is defined, declaimed and declared. None can escape its impact; only in Christ, can it be borne, and that by Another; for He becomes the substitute of the saved soul (Galatians 3).
God therefore decided to be the plague of death by removing its sting, by accepting that venomous bite for Himself; and thus the power of the law is not reduced, only its point of application. Indeed, this is referred to the Lord instead of to ourselves.
Nor is this freely available as a program, but only personally: for it was personally that each and every man and woman and child has sinned. Sin is not mere volition, but vocation: it is falling short, and the human race is in that place, with only one exit, one exodus from engulfment, the evacuation point in Christ Jesus the Lord. It is He who fulfills in Himself the Exodus of Israel, like a Red Sea of blood, once shed, and making a path by its arising this time for ALL and for ANY who take it.
Hence Christ descended into hell (cf. II Peter 2:19), where, having died and risen (II Peter 2:18) he preached to the ‘spirits in prison’ from the flood in particular. Nothing is too far for the Lord of creation, and never in the Bible are people on earth referred to as ‘spirits in prison’ (cf. those of Jude 6). He received that cutting off which is not only from society, from the body, but in spirit, crying, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me!” as Psalm 22:1 foretold of the crucified Messiah a millenium beforehand.
Everything did He fulfil; and He left nothing to be done (Hebrews 7:27); for He “does not need … to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” Separate from sinners, He has become higher than the heavens (Hebrews 7:26). Indeed, "to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living" (Romans 14:9).
What ‘victory’ then has the grave, as anteroom to hell, without hope and without consolation, to gain ? God has quenched its fires for His own, by bearing their vehemence. Grave, I will be your destruction, He foretells in Hosea, and this Paul applies to His redeemed. Moreover in Hosea God declares that He will not change His mind on this glorious advent and victory, but go through with it to the uttermost. "Pity is hidden from My eyes" - He pitied neither Himself nor His only begotten Son who delighted to do it (Hebrews 10:5ff., Psalm 40:5-7, cf. Psalm 16, 22).
"I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I
will redeem them from death.
O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction!
Pity is hidden from My eyes."
This He has done. We who are His not only can, but WILL go on to the uttermost for He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by Him (Hebrews 7:25), imparting the power to prevail in the life of the Lord, abiding under the shadow of the Almighty, prospering in the secret place of the Most High (Psalm 91:1).
Therefore says Paul, rejoice (I Thessalonians. 5), be steadfast, always abounding in the work of the Lord. Is there darkness ? Ask for the light. Is there weakness, ask for the power (Ephesians 3:16). Is there false ambition ? ask for the washing that cleanses (I John 1). Is there injustice ? See it is not your own (Hosea 10:12-13, 12:6-7): and regard sin as vomit, saturated fat, viral disease of the soul! Love it as you delight in bankruptcy; but rather, in spirit, be at one with the Lord.
Be then as a faithful wife to the Lord, as a willing son or daughter, as a delighted servant, pure in intention, vigorous in service, loving the Lord and a vehicle for love’s expression in truth, attesting the Lord as Israel so often did not, avoiding the inconstancies of convenience and the casuistries of society, as snakes; and in honest integrity: live and speak for Christ with the realisation of the privilege it really is, so to do.
In HIS word, the Gospel, there is power (Romans 1:16) not only to show the life-saving belt, but to effect in His name the very deliverance, salvation itself: for the Gospel is the power of God to salvation. Never let it be further from you than your hand, your eye, or your mind.