2 Corinthians 4:16–5:8
“And he died...And he died...And he died...” (Genesis 5). The repeated refrain reverberates in our ears echoing the dreadful damnation, “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Death is the way of all the earth. Not one of us is free from the talons of this beast. Not one of us shall escape the sword of this last great enemy. Death hovers upon us; we sense its wicked weight upon our shoulders; we perceive its putrid panting upon our necks; we feel its ever-tightening grip around our throats, wrenching from us that which we call life. It matters not when death comes whether in the womb, in infancy, in the prime of life, or in the golden years—the point is, death comes!
In Adam all die (1 Corinthians 15:22). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The wages of sin is physical death: the rot of the tomb, the corruption of the flesh, the stench of decay. The wages of sin is spiritual death: a heart that is hard, eyes that are blind, ears that are deaf. With death—everlasting death—we pay our eternal debt: the satisfaction of the justice of God. Indeed, the sting of death is sharp, the victory of the grave powerful.
Now the outward man is perishing (2 Corinthians 4:16). Now we live in the tent of this body, an earthly house that is being destroyed and will be destroyed (2 Corinthians 5:1). Is not every affliction a reminder that death awaits? Is not every sickness a reminder that there is a sickness unto death? Is not every funeral a reminder of the sting of death? Is not every cemetery a reminder of the power of the grave? One day the sting of death will stab us. One day the victory of the grave will claim us.
We now walk in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). We now live in the midst of death. Yet Paul calls us not to despair, but to hope! “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:1–4).
How can Paul speak of hope in the valley of the shadow of death? How can he speak of life in the midst of death? Because he lives by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). “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). When sight shows us death, faith shows us the shadow of death. What is needed for a shadow but light? The light of the resurrection dispels the shadows of death.
Jesus has entered our death, and in its place He has left life! Consider the cost of the life He gives: He who is the Life must die; He who is the Resurrection must be crucified. How sharp the sting of death! How chilling the power of the grave! Yet death was powerless to hold Him; the grave was unable to keep Him. He looked death in the face and said, “Come death, I will take away your sting!” He entered into the terror of the tomb and said, “Come grave, I will win the victory!” How could death hold Him who is the Life? How could the grave claim Him who is the Resurrection? Death has been swallowed up by life!
All who are in Christ shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22). The wages of sin is death. The wages of sin is physical death; but we have died in Christ (Romans 6:5–11), and our physical death now puts an end to our sinning, and it is our entrance into eternal life (Heidelberg Catechism, Question & Answer 42). The wages of sin is spiritual death; but we have been raised in Christ (Ephesians 2:4–7), and our spiritual death has been replaced with spiritual life: a heart written with the Word of God, eyes that see, ears that hear. Christ's death has paid our eternal debt the justice of God has been satisfied. “Where, a death, is your sting? Where, a grave, is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
For us, the resurrection of Christ means that we do not remain in the valley of the shadow of death. By faith we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, even as our Lord before us. Our resurrection in Christ is our hope and joy. Because of His resurrection we are justified (Romans 4:25). Because of His resurrection our inward man is renewed day by day (Colossians 3:1–4). Because of His resurrection, we do not lose heart. Because of His resurrection we shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27). Because of His resurrection, the weight of glory is upon us (2 Corinthians 4:17).
“Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will rest in hope, for You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:9–11). There in glory, we shall behold the face of Him who lives, who was dead, and now lives forevermore (Revelation 1:18).
“And he died...And he died...And he died...” The repeated refrain reverberates in our ears echoing the dreadful damnation. But Christ has taken our damnation, and in its place has given salvation! “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25–26). Rise up, your Lord is risen!! Death has been swallowed up by life!!
Rev. Brian Vos is the pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church (URC), Grand Rapids, MI.