Sunday, April 01, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "Death"

Palm Sunday
April 1, 2012
Hebrews 2:14-15

I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently, and Palm Sunday always seems like a good Sunday to talk about it.

If you were hoping for something a little more cheery, then you’ll want to come back next week, because the sermon title next week will be, “Life!”

But this week, it’s just “Death.”

As, I said, I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently.

Not just because we had a death in our church family this week. Mr. Dobash, Sr. died on Wednesday and yesterday was his funeral.

I talked there about death, as well.

I’ve also been thinking about death just because it’s that season of the year leading up to Resurrection Sunday, and I always think more about death during what is sometimes called “Lent.”


Probably the biggest reason why I’ve been thinking about death recently is that I’ve been reading an outstanding little book on the subject of death.

It’s called, “The Last Enemy: Preparing to Win the Fight of Your Life” by Michael Wittmer

It is simply the best book I’ve ever read on the subject of death.

And I’ve read a few.

This book is one of those books that rises to the top of the pile.

It has short little chapters full of Bible and theology. Lots of stories.

And it’s really just a little book to get you ready to die.

I recommend everybody reads it at some point, but especially if you’re just realizing that you are going to die.

I talked yesterday at Mr. Dobash’s funeral about how we tend to forget that we’re all going to die.

 But we are.  We are all going to die.

Even if you live for 92 death-defying years like Mr. Dobash did, you will still die.

This is how Mike Wittmer starts his book, chapter 1, first page.

“You are going to die. Take a moment to let that sink in. You are going to die. One morning the sun will rise and you won’t see it. Birds will greet the dawn and you won’t hear them. Friends and family will gather to celebrate your life, and after you’re buried they’ll return to the church for ham and scalloped potatoes. Soon your job and favorite chair and spot on the team will be filled by someone else. The rest of the world may pause to remember–it will give you a moment of silence if you were rich or well known–but then it will carry on as it did before you arrived. ‘There is no rememberance of men of old,’ observed Solomon, ‘and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow’ (Eccelsiastes 1:11). You are going to die. What a crushing, desperate thought. But unless you swallow hard and embrace it, you are not prepared to live.”

That chapter is called, “Shock.”

And sometimes we need to be shocked back to reality.

The person on each side of you is going to die and so are you.


How does that make you feel?

For me, it raises fears.

And it raises questions.

Some people try to deal with death by telling themselves that “death is normal and just a part of life.”

Wittmer deals with that lie in his book, as well.

He says in chapter eight, a “shrug of resignation is the best our world can offer. Read any book or serious reflection on death and you’re almost certain to find these words: Death is a natural part of life. It isn’t good or bad, it’s just the way life is. Death is normal, a necessary step in the circle of life. We need to pass on to make room for the younger generation. Consider the logjam if no one ever died!”  (He’s funny in this book.)

“This standard line is intended to comfort those who are dying, but how much does it really help? Imagine coming home to find that someone has stolen all of your belongings and set your house on fire. You frantically call 9-1-1 only to hear the dispatcher respond, ‘Calm down. We’ve been getting a lot of these calls lately. Burglary and arson are the new normal.’ ‘Normal?!’ you shout into the phone. ‘I don’t care how normal you think they are! Send the police and fire department! Do something!’”

“Or imagine you’re cruising over the Pacific Ocean when the pilot’s voice comes over the loudspeaker. ‘Folks, it looks like our engines have failed, which to be honest is not surprising for this make and model. It’s typical for them to give out after 150,000 miles, but hey, they had a nice run. Brace yourselves for impact, and remember, we’re not the first plane to crash. It’s more common than you think.”

He goes on to say, “The worst part about this death-is-normal view is that it leaves us in despair. If death is a natural part of life, then nothing can be done about it. If it’s natural, then nothing ought to be done about it. All that’s left is to make the best of a situation that is much worse than we’re willing to admit.”

Wittmer even brings Star Wars into the book:

He quotes Episode One and says, “Yoda thought he was doing better when he told Anakin, ‘Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force.’ What Yoda failed to mention is that the divine Force is an impersonal power, so you can only join when you as a person slough away. Yoda’ Eastern pantheism sounds like a compliment–you are God!–but it turn out that you are actually the problem. Whatever makes you a unique individual has to burn off so the impersonal force buried within can drop and dissipate into the ocean of deity.

So much for Star Wars theology.

No, death is not natural, and it’s not good.

The Bible calls it “the Last Enemy” for a reason.

And God hates it.

Yesterday, I was reading John chapter 11 and the story of Lazarus. And it was so obvious reading about Lazarus’ death and Jesus’ reaction to it.

Remember, “Jesus’ wept,” shortest verse in the Bible?  Why did he weep, because He hated what death had done to His friend.

And He snorts at death and says, “Lazarus Come Out!”

And He defeats death.

Death is an enemy.

One more quote from Mike Wittmer.
He says, “I once attended the funeral of an infant who had died in a tragic accident. The pastor offered the usual words of comfort ‘We can rejoice, for this child is better off than we are. He isn’t really dead. He is more alive than he’s ever been, safe in the arms of Jesus.’ There is precious truth in these words, though they seemed to skate past the grief of the numb parents. Couldn’t we acknowledge that something horrible had happened?

“I appreciated even more the words of the grieving father, who with quivering voice declared that no parent should ever have to bury their child. He pointed out that every death is ultimately the result of sin, and that when he held his dead son in the hospital, he thought he saw the face of sin. The mask of sn had been ripped away and he saw sin for what it is, the enemy that will one day steal from us everything and everyone we have ever loved.

“The father didn’t try to make us believe that all was well, but from the depths of despair he raised a fist of defiance. ‘People tell me that someday I will make peace with Jack’s death,’ he said. ‘I will never be at peace with death. Scripture tells me that one day I will be at peace, but only when death is no more. I will not be at peace until I see my son again.’ That is the Christian view of death.”


So, death is coming for each of us, and it is not natural, not normal, not good.

It is an enemy.

But, praise God, it is a defeated enemy.

Turn with me to the book of Hebrews chapter 2. 

Your Bible might have opened to Acts.  Turn a few more book to the right and find Hebrews chapter 2.

Now, I’m going to read verses 5-18, but instead of explaining all of it, I’m just going to draw our attention to the parts specifically about death.  Especially verses 14 and 15.

It’s all good, but we’re going to stick with our theme today.  Death.

Hebrews chapter 2, starting in verse 5. The letter writer is making an argument that Jesus is greater than the angels:
5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.
 6 But there is a place where someone has testified: "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
 7 You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor
 8 and put everything under his feet." In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.
 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
 10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.
 11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
 12 He says, "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises."
 13 And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again he says, "Here am I, and the children God has given me."
 14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-- that is, the devil--
 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants.
 17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Someday, we’ll go all the way through Hebrews together and we’ll unpack the author’s argument about angels.

But the main point that’s being made here is that God did not become one of the angels to bring salvation, God became one of us to bring salvation.

In fact, he became (v.14), flesh and blood.  Look at verse 14.

“Since the children have flesh and blood [that’s us], he too shared in their humanity.”

That’s the miracle of Christmas. That’s the incarnation.

There is no Holy Week without Christmas first.

He shared in their humanity.

And one of the biggest reasons why Jesus had to become human was (look up at v.9, at the end of v.9).

“ that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

What a phrase, “taste death.”

Jesus tasted death.

This is the same word for taste as “taste and see the Lord is good.”

It’s a true experience of all of the flavor.

Jesus tasted death.

Verse 9 says that He “suffered death.”

“Pathyma.”  Passion. That’s where we get the phrase, “Passion Week.”

Suffering Week.

Our adult Sunday School has been studying Passion Week for the last two months.

Jesus suffered death.
Jesus tasted death.

I know that this is Palm Sunday and normally that’s a high day, a happy day.


And I like that.

But we don’t have a separate service for Good Friday, and I always try to use Palm Sunday to get us to think about what happened to Jesus on that Good Friday.

Jesus tasted death.

And it’s flavor was overwhelming to Him.

Just look at Him in the Garden of Gethsemane begging His Father to take away the cup of His wrath.

Just look at Him crying out to God, sweating drops of blood, asking His disciples to stay awake and stay with Him.

And then being abandoned.
Being betrayed.
Being arrested.
Being judged.
Being spit upon.
Being flogged.
Being mocked.
Being crucified.

And that’s a taste of death that we can never truly understand.

We cannot comprehend what kind of death crucifixion is.

And we cannot begin to comprehend what crucifixion of an innocent God-Man is!

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus tasted death, and it was the worst thing He ever ate.

That’s why God the Son became a human like you and I.

To die like you and I die.  Death.

Verse 14 again.

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

Today is a communion Sunday.

I love that this year, Palm Sunday lands on the first Sunday of the month when we normally eat the Lord’s Supper.

In 1 Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul says, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (v.26).

You proclaim the Lord’s death when you eat and drink this meal.

Because Jesus’ death was special.
Jesus’ death was death-defeating.

When Jesus tasted death for everyone, He was defeating the last enemy.

It was the death of death in the death of Christ.
Hebrews 2:14 and 15 give us two major points of victory over the last enemy.

What Jesus’ Death accomplished.

There are others, but these are the two I want us to meditate on today as we head to the communion table.


That’s in verse 14.

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil...”

It’s a strange way to destroy someone.

When Jesus hung on the Cross, it looked like He was being defeated, like He was being destroyed.

But that’s not what was happening.

The devil was being defeated.

Colossians 2 says that Jesus was disarming the powers and authorities and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

You see Satan?  He is defeated now.

He held the power of death, but that is broken now.

By his death Jesus might destroys him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil.

How does that make you feel?

Let that truth sink down into your bones.

The devil is defeated by the Cross.

The devil feels powerful.

Temptation, Oppression, Accusation.

But When Satan Tempts Me to Despair and Tells Me of the Guilt Within,
Upward I Look and See Him There Who Made an End to All My Sin.
Because the Sinless Savior Died, My Sinful Soul Is Counted Free,
For God the Just Is Satisfied to Look on Him and Pardon Me

In your face, Satan!

The devil is defeated by the Cross.

And so, we ought to live like it.

This is a table of destruction.

The devil was destroyed at this table.

Of course, he’s still running around making trouble, and he’s still powerful, and we still have to watch for him.

But he’s a defeated enemy.

And he’s going to spend eternity in the lake of fire.

Jesus’ Death Destroyed the Death-Powered Devil.


That’s us, and it’s verse 15.

“ his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

Are you afraid of death?

It’s okay to fear death a little.

It’s a scary thing. It’s an enemy.

It’s the “undiscovered country from whose borne no traveler returns.”

Even Jesus feared death some, I think.

But it’s not okay to be in slavery to the fear of death.

Where the fear of death grips you and holds your head under water.

Where you’ll do anything to escape death including sell your soul to the devil (or to the doctor.)

It’s not okay to be in slavery to fear of death.

Because Jesus’ death has defeated death.

Not just the devil. Jesus’ death defeats the devil.

But it also defeats death itself.

So that death cannot hold us.

And that gets us into next week’s message.


Resurrection Life.

Where nothing can stop us, not even death.

Jesus’ Death Freed the Death Fearing Slaves.

Last Summer, I was talking with a young mother who was deathly afraid of death.

She was preoccupied with death.

Instead of pretending that it wasn’t coming, she morbidly dwelled on the subject.

She fell into the other ditch.

If you’re pretending it’s not on the way, you’re fooling yourself.

You might escape taxes, but you won’t miss death unless you’re part of the generation alive when Jesus returns.

But she fell into the other ditch of preoccupation and absorption with death.

And this is where I took her in the Bible I gave her.

Hebrews 2:14 and 15.

This is why Jesus came. This is why Jesus became one of us. This is why He tasted death.

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

That’s what this table means.

It means that we don’t have to fear death any longer.

We no longer need to be enslaved to that fear.

This is what we proclaim when we eat and drink this meal.

The devil is defeated. Our sin is paid for.

And we need fear death no longer.

Because we know that after Jesus returns, death itself will die.

Revelation 20:13 says that death and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.

Even death will die!

I don’t know what that means.

I don’t know how that can be.

I don’t know what a world without death would even be like.

But I can’t wait to find out.

“Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

The death that defeats the devil.
The death that frees the slaves.