Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so*
But, for many people, death might as well be proud. Because death does seem “mighty and dreadful.” People do fear death. They dread their own deaths and the inevitability of their loved ones’ deaths.
The Christian gospel addresses this basic fear.
The book of Hebrews, speaking of our Lord’s incarnation, says 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14, 15).
I think we need to distinguish between fears associated with dying and those associated with death. Some fears are normal, given us by God for good. It is good to shy away from a hot stove, healthy to avoid an icy footpath over a ravine. To fear dying and its various pains and diminishments seems normal and human.
But the fear of death, v. 15 says, actually enslaves people. It is this kind of fear that is truly evil - devilish, in fact, according to v. 14. This short passage reminds us that Jesus became fully human, with real flesh and blood, to join us in our trials and pain, and to deliver us from the fear of death by overcoming our enemy the devil.
I’d like to talk about what that means in the next few posts.
What specifically do we fear when we fear death? I think there are at least five fears that enslave people, and Jesus frees us from each one. We fear death because:
1. We fear the unknown.
2. We fear loss of control.
3. We fear separation from loved ones forever.
4. We fear the end of earthly joys and pleasure.
5. We fear punishment for our sins.
In my years as a pastor I’ve seen many people deal with death. I’ve presided over funerals of little children, teenagers, people who have taken their own lives, young mothers and fathers, and godly older people who were more than ready to go home.
Death is disruptive. It crashes like a wrecking ball, and in its wake brings grief, regret, and drastic change. But one thing I can tell you: Christ defeats death. When He is preeminent, death loses its sting and the gospel of hope and heaven brings comfort, peace, and joy.
I quoted John Donne to begin. The last line of his sonnet is
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Jesus’ death and resurrection is the death of death, and our freedom from fear.
Next time I’ll talk about how Christ overcomes our fears of the unknown and of loss of control. Until then, all glory to Him.
*from Holy Sonnet 10