The Bible is a Big Book – it’s one of God’s greatest gifts to us – but in reading the Bible it would be a shame to miss the wood for the trees. It would be possible to be a Bible reader and not realise what God really wants us to take note of. Thankfully, the Bible itself makes things clear:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared…” (1 Corinthians 15)
The life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are of first importance. At Cliff Skelley’s funeral, I was struck afresh by what a remarkable thing it is for Christians to be able to contemplate death with joyful confidence. There is a sadness at the parting but there is no anxious wondering about what happens next, because…
The decisive battle has taken place.
“He is not here; He has risen!” said the angels. Jesus had already been showing people His remarkable power over death: Jairus’ little girl, the widow’s son and Lazarus were all brought back to life. They were astonishing miracles, yet they were just signs of His power; the resurrection was the reality. Jesus Himself went through death and came out alive on the other side. He stepped into the ring with the great ugly giant called Death…and knocked him flat. The power of Death has been defeated.
It is true that we all still face the prospect of dying; something of the victory remains for the future, which is why Paul can say that ‘Jesus must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death has not finally been eradicated. We still have funerals. Nevertheless, JESUS REIGNS! Which is why, as Christians, we now call dying falling asleep, because we wake up again in the presence of Christ and He will one day raise our bodies in exactly the same way as His was raised.
And so the fear of death has been removed.
Jesus shared in “humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” This is why we can experience joyful confidence at a funeral and why at a funeral it is good to sing songs of triumph. Jesus really has changed our hell to heaven.
I like to imagine myself as one of the Israelite soldiers who was a member of the army facing Goliath and the Philistine hoards. How would I have felt? – terrified, hopeless, full of fear and dread. But then one day David turned up and against all odds he knocked Goliath down. Imagine being a member of the Israelite army now… David staggers back towards us holding the sword with which he has just cut off Goliath’s head and in the other hand the head itself, which he is now holding high in triumph. The army must have roared in victory!
It must have been a very similar sort of scene as Jesus returned to heaven holding high the head of Death – and all heaven’s hosts roared!
That’s the victory we celebrate at Easter. Let’s not underestimate the difference Jesus has made.
These things are of first importance.