When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Cor. 15:54-57, NIV)
In his message on Sunday, on the resurrection, Rudy spoke of this passage as the “taunting of death”. For some reason, that caught my attention and I’ve been thinking about that idea and this passage in the days since.
We sometimes speak of those who do “death-defying” acts. Is that what taunting death is? Or there are those into “extreme sports” where one performs on the knife-edge of athletic artistry and a potentially fatal incident. I would propose that those who do such things may be tapping into something deep inside us–that death is neither to be meekly submitted to nor feared. To do so is to allow death a control over our lives where a part of ourselves has already died. Most who defy death in these ways may see this as the moments when they feel most fully alive.
So, am I suggesting that we all go bungee jumping or go out and scale a sheer rock precipice? No way! Rather, I would suggest that many of those who do this are not taunting or defying death but rather are trying to deny it. To do these things without possessing resurrection hope in Christ is not an act of courageous defiance but one of denial and delusion. It’s like the 90 pound weakling shaking his fist in the face of the big bully before getting pounded into the ground. Now or later, we all will die–the bully will seem to win.
No, Christians join Paul in the taunt, “Where, O death, is your sting?” not out of defiance or denial of death but in the face of death, because we know that death will not have the last word. It didn’t with Jesus. It won’t with us. When Jesus rose, death was defeated. Already, for those in Christ, we believe we’ve been raised to newness of life. And so death is defeated already in each of us. But that is just the beginning. If we are in Christ, we will die, but one day will live again in new bodies subject to neither illness or death. On that day, we will look back and it will be death that looks like the 90 pound weakling. In fact, because of Jesus, it already is. And so we taunt.
What does this mean for how we live? For one thing, it means we stop joining the world in its fear of or denial of death. It means we don’t need to do the crazy mid-life crisis thing of buying the hot car or finding a hot new lover. It means we face death when it happens and stop avoiding funerals. We don’t try to change the subject.
Taunting death doesn’t mean we don’t grieve death. When I watched my mother die and heard her pronounced dead, there was this realization of finality, that I would never speak to her again in this life–and I miss our Sunday phone calls even now, nearly four years later. But I do not grieve without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). She hoped in the Lord and I believe she will be raised to life more glorious and beautiful than I ever knew her.
Taunting death means we honestly face the reality that we will die. It means we “number our days” and realize the precious gift of each one. It means speaking with our families about our death and how we want that to be a testimony to our resurrection hope. And it means we are willing to take risks of faith in this life, knowing we are utterly secure in Christ–whether it is giving generously in an offering, or taking calculated risks to enter urban settings for the sake of the gospel.
I would close with recommending that you listen to the sixth movement of Brahm’s Requiem. The link below will take you to an English version. It is taken directly from this Sunday’s text. Notice especially how the chorus taunts death: “O death, where is thy sting?”
For those at Smoky Row, I’d love to hear your reaction to listening to this stirring piece of music. Did it give you more of a sense of what it means to taunt death and of the wonder of our resurrection hope?
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