“O death where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Death . . . . grave!
Double misery for the mortal!
The very thought arouses a deep sigh.
Death! Our last enemy, the monster whose razor teeth draw the flow of life from mortal veins. The very word spells tears. Look at that babe, torn from the womb by untimely birth; and the parents search the heavens for understanding; O death, what a sting! Many a little casket is moistened by the tokens of sorrow, for it is not easy to part with a little one who is yet in the flower of youth. A father’s sad heart aches till it nearly breaks as he clasps the dying hand of his dear wife. How many widows are there not, who groan beneath added burdens, when the loneliness of death blankets their pathway. Even when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, it is still so hard for us to say good-bye.
Death is so absolute from an earthly point of view. The body collapses and the struggle is finished. Death draws a curtain between this life and the beyond. Once we could speak, and there was an ear to hear; but not after death. Moments before we could touch the hand and a slight movement would respond; now in death the body is cold, the eyes see not, the tongue does not move to speak. No longer a heart beats, only silence.
The cruel reality of death needles its way into our numbed brain when we gather at the grave. Suddenly we stand on the edge of the pit. The mortician may be very kind and place a carpet of fake grass over the hole that has been dug, yet the naked walls lurch beneath in silent testimony. Even while the preacher reads and prays, the caretaker stands behind the shrubs with shovel in hand. We don’t stay to watch, but we know. We turn away and leave behind a grave, a place of stench, of rotting, of dry bones.
Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.
O misery, what a monster death is!
What helpless victims we are.
Our text seems an empty dream.
A challenge, mind you! We frail creatures of the dust, stand before the monster called death and look him in the eyes and say, “O death, where is thy sting! O grave, where is thy victory!”
What brave words.
You understand the imagery. Death is pictured as a monster with a large stinger through which passes the poison that kills. Like an insect that stings a man, the sting is the point of contact. In our text, the sting of this monster called death is described as sin. Sin brings on death. Sin is what makes death what it is, a fatal blow that brings separation from God.
This sheds a great deal of light on the valley of the shadow. Death is not a natural element in the creation. It is not true that creation evolves through a series of macro- and micro-mutations and that in this process of “being born” the inferior fall by the way under the power of death. When God created the world, He did not include a monster called death. In the Garden of Eden there were no forces that made death even remotely possible. There were no extreme temperatures, no drought, no hatred among men, not even a beast that roared for the kill. All was brought forth from the Creator in perfect order and death was no part of it.
This monster originated with the first sin of Adam. God had warned Adam of this possibility, “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” Death is God’s curse upon the sinner. This means that God punishes all those who miss the mark of the high calling. This punishment includes spiritual separation, by which the sinner loses the favor of God and is subject to His everlasting wrath, as well as physical separation, by which the sinner is banished from His presence. Through sin, man makes himself worthy of death; he turns his back upon God and directs his attention to the way of rebellion against Him.
God in righteous indignation kills the sinner. He calls upon death to cause separation to come between Himself and the sinner. God cannot stand to look upon the sinner as he is in sin, He must cast him out of his presence. Thus God calls upon the monster to come and sting.
That sting is deadly.
The reason is found in the next part of our text; “the strength of sin is the law.” The potency of death’s sting is determined by the law of God. That law makes sin so lethal and death so final.
That law of God says, “Love me, with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength and thy neighbor as thyself.” That law binds every man. God made man able to keep it, and God expects him to keep it. Disobedience must be punished with death.
Here we see the complete picture. The law of God gives sin the right to have free exercise in the fallen man. God does not restrain sin in the human race, sin is like a fire that grows in intensity all along. Man under the impulse of sin grows in iniquity and incurs more and more guilt. The more man sins the more potent is the sting, and so much more man is brought under the dominion of death. Death claims the sinner both in body and soul, for time and all eternity.
Man without God is so helpless. Sin has free sway in his life, and the monster death has every right to dominate his life and bring him unto destruction. Man in himself can do nothing to lift himself from the clutches of the monster death. We cannot free ourselves from the dominion of sin. The sting keeps going deeper and deeper into our flesh. The more we sin the greater measure of condemnation passes over our heads. The monster hones in upon our bodies to bring them into the grave. Try all we want, we cannot prevent the flower from withering; and soon we too are cut off, and we fly away.
There can be no boldness as mere creatures in challenging the monster of death. The natural man must stand silent and condemned before God.
The boldness arises out of faith. Faith that says, “Thanks be to God that giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In. saying that we can challenge death, “O death, where is thy sting, O grave, thy victory!”
There is only one place to stand and utter such bold words, that place is beneath the cross of Calvary. There Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh, faced the monster of death, tore out his sting and disarmed him, and now forces him to serve us rather than destroy us.
The victory was won only through deep and sore trials.
God knew that we could never face the enemy of death and overcome. He sent Christ His Servant into the world to be our substitute and so to take our place in fighting with the monster. To do that Christ had to take the sting that death had upon us, viz., sin. He had to voluntarily offer Himself in perfect love unto the Father and in love bear all the wrath of God that was upon us because of our sins. God transferred our guilt upon His Only Begotten Son, and that too, in perfect harmony with His holy law. That was most important, for the strength of sin was the law. God according to His law gave sin the perfect right to dominate the life of fallen man. If that power of sin was to be broken, then someone had to bow himself under the demand of the law and satisfy the law by bringing complete payment for sin. Only then could the potency of sin and the absolute power of death be broken. This Jesus did when He was born of the virgin Mary. He entered our state, being humbled as a servant, He was born under the law. With our sins transferred to Himself, Jesus our mighty servant set His eye upon the cross. He would meet the enemy of death head-on. He would take the monster and pull out the stinger and disarm him for the sake of His people.
The hope of the saints of all ages centers in the cross.
Hardly do we dare look up, as we stand at the foot of the cross.
We cannot gaze upon Him in curiosity; it is dark.
Only the spiritual ear can hear and discern the struggle, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!”
Everlasting hell borne in moments of time.
For His own, whom the Father had given unto Him.
Our sins had a terrible price. The monster’s sting was deeply rooted.
“It is finished.”
We look up, it is light. Our eyes drink in the vision, our ears thrill at every word, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” He gives up the ghost.
Jesus did not die a victim of the monster of death. The sting was removed and now Christ, The Victor, called upon the monster to take His mortal life for a little while, in order that He might also go to the grave and cleanse it of all corruption. Death served the victorious Christ.
Let’s take a little walk from Calvary to the Tomb of Joseph. At the tomb all doubt is removed, it is empty. Jesus was there, but did not remain. He arose from the dead. There God confirmed that His law was perfectly satisfied; the sting of sin was overcome through perfect payment; and therefore His Servant could not remain in the sphere of death. God called Him forth unto the other side of the grave, the place where death is swallowed up in victory. At the empty tomb we have proof that our sins are gone, for if one remained upon Jesus, who Himself had no sin, God could never have raised Him from the dead. We are cleansed by the blood of the cross. The potency of death’s sting is removed for ever.
What more shall we say? Have we more proof? Yes, proof that is so close to home, it lies in our very hearts. Jesus lives within our hearts. We are not dead, we are alive! The sting of death is already principally extracted. No longer does the law give to sin the right to dominate our lives. We are regenerated; we are called into the blessed fellowship with God. His law is written in our hearts. That law we love, and within its bounds we find our real joy in life and death. We cry out in daily repentance of our sins and plead for God in mercy to forgive. By sovereign grace we desire to live according to all God’s commandments. Death hath no more dominion over us. Already we are spiritually alive.
Now we can face physical death without fear. The boldness arises from the knowledge that Christ’s victory is our victory. The monster must needs come, but not to sting us. Even as he served our victorious Lord by bringing Him through the grave into immortality, so now our living Lord uses the monster to lay aside our earthly tabernacle in order to translate us into the likeness of His glory.
We are not afraid! The sting is gone, death will not take us away from our God, it will bring us even closer.
That is victory!
Let’s conclude with the note of jubilee. Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ! Don’t you see how richly blessed we are. We, who do not deserve a thing, who do not distinguish ourselves in any way from all the wicked who are stung by the monster of death, are blessed with life, merited by Jesus Christ our Lord. That life shall never end.
We may weep a little, our souls are often tossed upon the sea of misery and death.
Our hearts shall not be troubled, for’ in Father’s house there are many mansions. Our Lord is preparing them for us. In death, He will take us unto Himself.
What a God!
Thanks be unto Him, forever.