Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fear of Death

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 02:14-15, NKJV).

Through death Christ destroyed him who had the power of death and released those who through fear of death were subject to bondage; bondage to sin, bondage to death, and bondage to fear.

This is a powerful statement revealing what is perhaps the most unexpected insight into the surprising realm of Christian paradox. First we must look closely at the introductory declaration here - that because the children (us) were flesh and blood, He (the Savior) became likewise.

There was no other way for God to save. It was known from before the foundation of the world that the Lamb of God would be slain as a sacrifice to redeem His ultimate creature, us. To be subject to the penalty for our sin He had to become like us, flesh and blood… and mortal. For mortal means exactly that, subject to death.

And that Incarnation and sacrifice was the driving force behind all God's interaction with mankind from Creation forward. The curse of sin, the expulsion from the Garden, the pains of child birth, the necessity of work to sustain life rather than receive freely the supply of life from the Father, the institution of sacrifices, the Law, all of Jewish and Gentile history - everything - pointed to that preordained moment when death, by death, would die.

To understand the meaning of death, we need to view it for what it is - the last enemy. Please, enough with this foolishness about death being a natural part of the Cosmic Circle of Life. 

It is, and always has been, an offense; the ultimate offense. Prior to the entrance of sin into the world, no creature with nephesh  (or soul) died (Genesis 1:30). Every child knows this intuitively from the moment he can think his own thoughts until he is brainwashed to think otherwise by the elders and the world around him.

The propaganda is never completely integrated, though. There is a part of every human soul that screams in rage and fear at the thought of death, and until Christ came and defeated it by dying, we were held captive by that fear, as a species and as individuals.

It is no small thing that one of the earliest extra-Biblical descriptions of the infant church was that its members no longer feared death. While they did not seek it, when faced with it, they demonstrated a peace that passed human understanding. Throughout the last 2000 years, Christian martyrs drenched in the marvelous grace of God confronted imminent demise with something very closely resembling joy. Some even sang hymns of praise to their God for deeming them worthy to suffer for His sake.

Of course, modern thought would render this reaction dysfunctional or delusional, but modern thought is far from infallible.

It could be argued, of course, that not just Christians have conquered their fear of death. Warriors and heroes throughout time have been heralded for valiantly going forward into certain death for honor, or a noble cause, or in defense of those weaker than themselves. But that's the point. These were warriors conditioned by training and tendency to enter into such realms. The rest of us with less martial bents, are left trembling in the corner desperately seeking escape.

And for us the conquest of death was not ours but Christ's victory on our behalf. And that too, is the point.

You see, the unbelieving but courageous warrior must steel himself to face this final enemy, and his fiercest purpose is to defeat it yet one more time, and if he fails he is defeated. Death has dominion over him.

Not so with us. Death for us has no dominion because it was defeated by the Lord on the Cross. Our soul may be separated for a time from our physical body in death, but our soul in Christ is forever united with Life Itself, thus the penalty of sin, eternal separation from God, is no longer in force.

And in being freed from the curse of death by the forgiveness of our sins through Christ's loving sacrifice we are truly free. 

Free because we know this world is not our home, but simply a place of sojourn until we reach the place of our true citizenship. 

Free because all this world can do is kill our bodies. It has no power over the life within. 

Free because the enticements of this life are nothing in comparison with the rewards of the next. 

Free because whatever may befall us here is temporary, eventually to be supplanted but something infinitely better and eternal.

But our freedom was not free. It came at an inconceivable cost paid by our Lord and King. We were held ransom by him who had the power of death, that is the devil. Yet our Master paid that ransom without hesitation, and by so doing He set us free, forever defeating the enemy of our souls.

It is worthwhile at this juncture to list some of the eternally powerful paradoxes of the Christian faith. All of these are because of Christ, and while at first blush they appear counterintuitive, the brilliant logic of them can be seen in the light of the current fallen and degrading world system.

The only way to gain your life is to lose it, since he who loves his life in this world cannot retain it in the next; only he who hates this current life has the proper perspective and priority.
  • "He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25, NKJV). 
  • “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25, NKJV).

He who is greatest among you is servant of all.
  • And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35, NKJV).

Only the humble will be exalted.
  • Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:10, NKJV).

The most profound profit to be had in the Christian life is from loss. Only Christians truly profit from trials because it teaches us that the temporal is worthless in the light of eternity.
  • My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4, NKJV).

The best life is that lived by faith, not by sight.
  • while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18, NKJV).

In view of the love that Christ desires to evoke within us, everything else is hate in comparison.
  • “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26, NKJV).

So this conquering of death through death should not surprise us too much. It aligns with much of the rest of Christian truth, and I think it enables us to look a little more deeply into the mind of our God, who seems to delight in ensuring that we can never put him into a conceptual box of our own design. He is only and always utterly unique, and not tame at all.

But He is good, and His love for us, and His majestic care for us, is revealed yet again in this glorious epistle.