Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

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.

I Corinthians 15:55-57

O Death! Thou fearful monster with thy deadly sting!

We and our dear ones live all our lives in the awareness of thy presence.

A mother takes her newly born infant in her arms, holds it close to herself, and is immediately aware of a tremendous responsibility placed upon her. Her child must not be too hot or too cold, must have enough food but not too much, must be covered at night but very carefully.

As the tot grows older there are new threats on its life. Drafts, germs, diseases seem to hover all around. The little tyke is warned, “Don’t do this,” and “Don’t do that.”

As he goes out to play or is sent off to school, other dangers threaten his life. He must learn to look both ways before he crosses the street, and must be alert for automobiles and for all sorts of dangers everywhere.

Actually the threats on our lives only increase. As we grow older, health problems increase, sicknesses and diseases threaten our lives. In one word, we live in the midst of death, for sooner or later the grim reaper takes us as its prey, and soon our place knows us no more.

O Grave! Thou hungry receptacle of the dead!

A father and his children stand beside you grieving over the loss of a wife and mother. A mother pours out her sorrows over you in the loss of a precious daughter. Many come to visit you, but find no comfort here. No one can fill the empty spot left by the loss of a dear one. I know.

Here lie the dead of all the ages, for it is appointed for all men to die, and afterward follows the judgment. The grave is the portal, as it were, to hell, for accursed is every one who does not abide in all that is written in the book of the law to do it.

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the things done in the body, according to that he hath done, whether good or evil (II Cor. 5:10).

Dying we all die!

“The sting of death is sin!”

I was conceived and born in sin. The guilt of Adam was my guilt from the moment of my conception. Therefore I am by nature incapable of any good, depraved, corrupt, inclined to hate God and my neighbor.

How readily I adjust to sin round about me. I adapt myself to the company of sinners and willingly I set myself in the company of the scornful (Ps. 1:1).

The trouble is that sin breeds sin. One sinful deed occasions another, even worse than the former. There is no turning back. It is impossible to call a halt. He who sins becomes the slave of sin and falls into the bondage of death, according to the righteous judgment of God. For the soul that sins must die. “The strength of sin is the law.”

God is God, the righteous Judge of heaven and earth. He is our Creator, our Sustainer, sovereign Ruler of our lives. He justly demands of us: Love Me. Serve Me with your whole being, heart and mind and soul and strength. God blesses those who love and serve Him with eternal, glorious blessings of intimate fellowship and life.

But, on the other hand, God justly condemns all those who transgress His commandments. For “accursed is every one who abideth not in all that is written in the book of the law to do it.”

The righteous God punishes sin already in this life, but not only in this life, even in everlasting condemnation of hell fire.

God’s justice demands that the soul that sins must die everlastingly under His consuming wrath.

Left to ourselves we can only cry out:

In Thy wrath our spirits languish,

Sinful ‘neath Thy searching eye;

All our days are passed in anguish,

In Thy wrath we pine and die.

“O death! Where is thy sting?”

God is merciful! O yes, His mercy is a just mercy! He has in the far reaches of eternity chosen unto Himself in sovereign good pleasure a people whom He takes unto Himself, saying, I will be a Father unto them, and they shall be My sons and My daughters to dwell with Me in My house forever.

To make this possible, God was willing to sacrifice His most precious possession to redeem His people from the power of sin and death. He chose His Son, the Christ, to be their Redeemer. And the Son willingly surrendered Himself unto the curse of everlasting divine wrath to bring His people to glory. The Shepherd was willing to lay down His life for His sheep.

Therefore in the fullness of time God sent His Son into the world, born of the virgin Mary, born under the law, to bear the curse of the law and deliver us from the bondage of sin and death into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

Who will ever fathom that great love whereby the Father cast the Son of His bosom from Him, cast Him away in wrath, declared Him accursed to utter desolation for your sins and mine? Who will ever comprehend the love of Christ that He manifested all His life in bearing the curse that should have fallen upon us, and that while we were still sinners?

Why should God have done that for me? Do not ask: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” But rather confess through your tears: “I was there as part of a fallen human race when we cried: ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ And we still make ourselves guilty of rejecting Him with our sins!”

Yet God was in Christ reconciling us unto Himself, not counting our sins against us. Christ died in our stead. For as in Adam all died who were in Adam, so in Christ all those are made alive again who are included in Him. Amazing grace! Boundless love!

Up from the grave He arose

With a mighty triumph o’er His foes.

He arose a Victor over death’s domain

And He lives forever with His saints to reign.

He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

By Christ’s resurrection our salvation has become an accomplished fact. When He suffered agonies of hell, we suffered those agonies in Him. When He died, we died. When He arose, we arose! And now we are seated with Him at the right hand of God in His glory (Eph. 2:4-6).

“O Grave, where is thy victory?”

“But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

Law! You cannot touch me, you cannot condemn me, for there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Through faith in Christ we are as completely righteous as if we in our own bodies had atoned for all our sins. God sees no sin in Israel, no transgression in Jacob, but deems us worthy of eternal life and blessedness.

Sin! You no longer have dominion over me. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made us free from the bondage of sin and death. We are new creatures in Christ, born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God that liveth and abideth forever.

We are washed, sanctified as saints in Christ Jesus, dedicated to our God, to live unto Him even as we live through Him. In our hearts we have the beginning of eternal joy, a joy unspeakable and full of glory! No sorrow, no pain, no loss of dear ones can deprive us of that joy.

We can confess with our fathers of former times, “The eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … is for the sake of Christ His Son, my God and my Father, on whom I rely so entirely, that I have no doubt, but He will provide me with all things necessary for soul and body: and further, that He will make whatever evils He sends upon me, in this valley of tears, turn out to my advantage; for He is able to do it, being almighty God, and willing, being a faithful Father” (Heid. Catechism, Lord’s Day 9).

It may not seem so now, yet it is so very true that the moment of our death is better than the moment of our birth. In fact, it is the greatest moment of our lives, for it is the realization of God’s eternal purpose with us. Great day! Glorious day. For this is our coronation day!

Besides all that, we have the blessed hope that when this earthly house of our present tabernacle collapses, we have a house, not made with hands, but eternal in the heavens. Christ is there preparing a place for us. When that place is ready and we are ready for that place, He is coming to take us unto Himself, that we may be with Him in His glory.

And, as if all that is of minor importance, our bodies will rest in the grave in anticipation of the coming of the Lord. When He appears, this mortal will put on immortality, and this corruptible will put on incorruption. Death will be swallowed up in victory!

More than conquerors are we, through our Lord Jesus Christ!

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? I thank God in Jesus Christ our Lord!