By Brad Hicks
Easter 2022 just passed not long ago. For a couple of weeks leading up to Easter, I had been reading about and meditating on the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and pondering the meaning of those two most important events in human and redemptive history. I want to share a few personal reflections, opinions, deep thoughts, and fervent hopes about why the Death of Death matters for me and for you in 2022, nearly 2,000 years after The Cross and The Empty Tomb.
I’ll be quoting a few Bible verses, but I encourage you to do yourself a favor and re-read Romans, chapters 5-8, First Corinthians, chapter 15, and Hebrews, chapters 2, 9, and 10. No literature or letters have ever been written in all human history that so clearly explain the purpose and meaning of the Messiah’s death, resurrection, and ascension. The Bible — the Old and New Testaments — is the only revelation of God to man that has been graciously preserved throughout posterity to instruct, encourage, and record mankind’s most important events and the only bases for our hope of glory or, in other words, our hope that one day all things will be redeemed and restored (including our dead bodies).
Do you remember me saying a while back in one of my teachings that there is no such thing as a natural death? Without going into lengthy detail about this idea, just know this: Sin, and only sin, is the cause of all death. Human bodies would never die if they weren’t infected with sin, which is simply man’s transgression of God’s Law. The decay of life in all of creation, in fact, is the direct result of man’s sin.
I’ll take this thought a step further and claim that even time and space and, think about this — even the property of gravity — all exist in the universe today because of the transgression of Adam and the sin of his progeny. Adám (the Hebrew word for “man” or “mankind”) was not intended to be bound in his body by any of these earthly limitations; we have hints of this fact in gospel accounts of the body of Jesus when he appeared to his disciples in the weeks after his resurrection. His body had been redeemed and restored to its perfect, celestial, spiritual form, and, thus, it could appear, disappear, and take any form that he (and the Father) needed it to be. And the scriptures teach that, at the resurrection, our bodies will be like Jesus’ glorified body after he was raised from the dead. Remember the words of the beloved apostle, “Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
In another place, Paul wrote to the newly established church at Corinth, “(At) the resurrection of the dead, the body … is raised imperishable … in glory … in power … it is raised a spiritual body.” He explained to them that, “as is the heavenly man (the risen Lord Jesus), so also are those who are of heaven (those in Christ),” and that at the resurrection, we shall bear the image of the risen Christ. Paul went on to instruct, “We will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. … then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”
Never, NEVER, has there ever been uttered more hopeful and encouraging words for Adam’s descendants. Humankind’s existence, from Adam through the year AD 2022, has been motivated, dominated, and acted out by fear, more specifically, by fear of death.
With the advent of Jesus, the prophet exclaims: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” This isn’t a proclamation for Christmas only, it’s a herald for all time, for all ages! Jesus has liberated all who would believe in him from not only the one who held the power of death, the devil, but from death itself.
Friends, this is not a fairy tale, not an allegory of the power of good over evil. This is real life! These events happened! Jesus is alive today and he has made us fully alive. A forever life with our Creator and with the Lover of our souls began the moment we believed and answered his knock on our heart’s door. We who have put our faith and trust in Jesus, Spirit-led persons whose allegiance has been turned from the powers of darkness to the Kingdom of Light, are awaiting by faith and assured hope for the fulfillment of all of God’s promises at the return of our King.
And yet …
Today, in the year 2022, we, the people of God, suffer. We sometimes lose heart. Our faith wavers. We lose jobs. We don’t have enough money to pay our bills. We lose our homes. We watch our children go without basic needs. Our bodies get sick. Our minds and emotions get sick. We can’t overcome the same sins and addictions that we struggled with years ago. Our loved ones die. Saints of God die too young. Terrible accidents happen. Sometimes we feel like failures, like we’re doing something very wrong. We feel like God is punishing us for something we did or didn’t do. We begin to think that we’re out of God’s will.
How do The Cross and The Resurrection of two millennia ago matter at all to the suffering I am facing today?
I’m not here to sugar-coat the pain of your or my suffering. Suffering is a reality of the authentic Christian life. I honestly believe that the most faithful, the most spiritually mature among us, often suffer more intensely than the rest of us.
Our suffering has the power to persuade us to curse God or to sidle up closer to him. Our suffering has the power to make us believe that God does not love or care for us or to trust that he understands exactly what we’re going through and that he’ll get us through our pain to a better place. Our suffering has the power to cause us to lose our faith in God and his Word or to seek his face and his will even deeper in his Word. Our suffering can lead us to isolate ourselves and disassociate with believers or it can lead us to deeply depend on, confess to, and confide in the prayers and love of our family in Christ.
Where will I allow my suffering to lead me? Where will you allow your suffering to lead you?
God could rescue us from our difficulties and problems. Why he doesn’t, we don’t always know. I have remained in Christ for 45 years, and many of God’s ways and much of his wisdom are still mysteries to me. If it were up to me, I’d do many things differently than God does them.
Here are a few words about my own suffering and struggle with sin that come to mind as I try to remember what I’ve learned over the years.
• After I’ve gone through some difficult situation in my life and come out okay on the other side, I can then more effectively comfort others who are in the midst of dealing with a similar issue.
• My suffering and struggle with overcoming sin have made me more compassionate, understanding, patient, and empathetic toward others.
• I better understand what Jesus endured as a human being when I suffer. More importantly, I more clearly see that Jesus understands the pain that I feel because he experienced the same and incalculably more suffering than I will ever know.
• I’ve learned that all my heroes, both the ones I’ve known and the ones I’ve only read about, went through periods of their lives in which they severely suffered. They are my heroes because they suffered and endured and became better people for it: better writers, better athletes, better reformers, better preachers, better teachers, better role models, and better friends. Because of the example of these men and women who suffered and endured, I want the people who are observing my life to feel about me the way I feel about my heroes.
Suffering and pain and struggling with sin. Why am I taking this fork in the road in my message about Jesus’ conquering of death and why it matters for us today? Here’s why.
Because suffering, pain, and sin prevent the most basic emotion (or state of being) that all people of all times have ever truly desired: Joy. Think about it. Is there anything you desire more than joy, for yourself, your loved ones, and your friends? Is there anything God desires more for his children than for them to know and live in joy?
Joy is not the feeling of happiness, necessarily. Rather, it is a state of being in which one is content, confident, and assured that all is well in spite of his or her circumstances. The Cross, The Resurrection, The Ascension of Christ to his rightful place in heaven, the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh … all of these are for the pleasure of God and the joy of mankind and all creation.
Scripture fully bears this out.
Hear Jesus to his disciples: If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
Hear Jesus in prayer to the Father: I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.
Hear Paul: We work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.
Hear Peter: Though you have not seen Jesus, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
And in Hebrews, it reads: For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Yes, you heard this correctly. For the joy set before him, Jesus allowed himself to suffer one of the most heinous and brutal deaths imaginable. Jesus understood that there was only one way — through his own bloody death — that the power of sin and death could be destroyed, and that men and women could live forever free, with clear consciences, and with inexpressible joy. All of this is ours now, today, in 2022, in this dark, imperfect world, that is hell-bent on robbing us of joy and keeping us from experiencing the blessings of God. It is truly up to us whether we will believe, trust, and allow the joy of the Lord to be our strength.
Our Father in heaven, the Creator of all things, is a God who takes great pleasure in our joy … in the “now but not yet.” All things have not been redeemed, restored, and made perfect yet. We live in the in-between time. But we know our promised future and we know the end of the story. Sin and death no longer have power over us. We have Jesus himself living in us by his Spirit.
We, more than all people, have every reason to rejoice in all situations and to allow our suffering to have its proper effect. “Consider it pure joy,” James, the brother of the Lord, wrote, “whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Friends, go in peace, go in love, and go in great joy today. Our brother, friend, and Lord, Jesus, has done everything — everything — possible and necessary, no matter our dire situation, for us to take heart because He has overcome the world.