DEATH SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY

But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” – 1 Corinthians 15:54

As I write these words I am looking out the window past the porch at a fruit tree full of blossoms.  The door to the porch is slightly ajar and I can not only see the bees crowding around the branches but also hear a din of buzzing as they pass from flower to flower.  While the calendar still says it is winter, plants are waking up to spring. Tyla and I are at the coast for a couple of days of rest. Cell phones don’t work here. It truly is a beautiful day.  The sun is shining and we can see the ocean from our room. This, to me, is life at its best!

Yet for all this comfort, beautiful surroundings and the blessing of being with my very loving and loveable wife, I know that this world is cursed by sin and death.  As wonderful as life may be, especially for someone in the circumstances I am currently enjoying, it will not last.  Pain, loss and suffering in any number of forms will no doubt find me and us all as we progress through our time on earth.  This is Monday and just yesterday we celebrated the life of a very dear member of our church whose pilgrimage on earth recently came to a close.  Elsie Corbin certainly had more than her fair share of those things we hope we will never experience.  Yet we watched her bear them with dignity, grace and cheerfulness. This was related by many, young and old, who were present at her memorial. No doubt the legacy of Finnish stoicism she received from her parents contributed to this but above all her faith in Jesus Christ and the hope of eternal life gave her the strength to bear many a trial, including her last.

We are approaching the time when Christians throughout the world annually celebrate the sufferings, death and resurrection of one whom we believe to be God incarnate, truly human and yet also fully divine. These holy days comprised of Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are an accommodation to the human desire for special commemorations and dramatic reenactments, but the simple truth of what happened almost two thousand years ago is so great, so stupendous, so amazing that truly, no amount of time could suffice to do it justice!  For what Jesus went through and accomplished so long ago has turned this world into another place than it would have been.  Now, instead of being a vale of tears which, having tantalized us with sublime joys then wrenches them from our hearts and tramples them in the dust, life has become instead a valley of hope through which we pass to joys “unspeakable and full of glory.” Of course, this transformation of life’s meaning is only accessible to those who believe.  Thankfully, God has given more than sufficient grounds on which to base our conviction that the good news of Jesus Christ is also the truth.

I was stuck by this recently as I read Luke the physician’s account of Paul’s missionary journeys in his book, The Acts of the Apostles.  Here we read the history, as reported by eye witnesses, of the earliest days of the Christian Church when the Apostles and their associates were spreading the gospel to Asia, Africa and Europe.  Among the witnesses to these strenuous, self-sacrificial labors is none other than Luke himself.  Next time you read through the Acts, take careful note of the “we” passages where Luke  is obviously relating what he personally experienced.  He was a friend of the Apostles, and of Paul in particular.  He saw the miracles, he heard the words and witnessed many of the scenes he describes.  Although he probably did not see the events of Jesus’ life since he was a Gentile convert to Christ after Christ’s ascension to heaven, he did live with those who had lived with Jesus, including Peter, John and members of our Lord’s family, such as his half-brother, James and possibly even Mary, His mother. Modern historians and archeologists have gained increasing trust in Luke’s accuracy and reliability as a steady stream of fresh evidence has only served to confirm the details of his accounts.

With these and so many other evidences of the truth of the good news of Christ’s victory over death on our behalf, why do many people still refuse to believe?  Do they really want to believe that life is a cruel joke on us, that all our yearnings for meaning, purpose and lasting joy are ultimately pointless?  I don’t think so, but perhaps they have been disappointed so many times that they have become cynical. They adopt the adage that if something appears too good to be true it probably isn’t true.  But here we are, on the edge of spring and witnessing the miracle of new life bursting out all around us.  Can we really believe that all of this came by a huge series of immensely improbable accidents, with no one to thank for it?  Or, if one believes that God did create life and the conditions for its renewal, how can one then deny that He could and did raise Jesus from the dead?  Be that as it may, we who do believe will rejoice and revel in the hope of eternal life secured for us by God through His Son, Jesus Christ!   --James Healton