First Thoughts

Death Hath Confronted Us

In the last week, I have had two significant conversations about death. A friend suddenly lost his wife from Covid as he was in the hospital recovering from his own case. As we visited, we discussed the truths of 1 Corinthians 15. We cried. We reminisced. We talked about the importance of family, and we hugged. Most importantly I prayed for my friend as he grieved and appealed to Yahweh to comfort him. We thanked the Lord for the hope we have for eternity.

Then came one of the most difficult conversations of my life. A friend was dying of cancer and asked to speak with me. In the past, I have been with people when they passed into eternity (and right after) but rarely have I talked with people who knew time on the earthly side was very limited. We cried. I helped him and his wife write some thoughts for his children. We prayed but again we turned to Scripture. You guessed it—1 Corinthians 15. As of the publication of this article, he will probably be in the presence of Jesus and the saints.

In my 41 years of ministry, while common in world history, death has never been this prevalent. Illness and death have confronted us and often we have been powerless. Of course, there have been times of startling reality like the Virginia Tech massacre, or 9/11, but those were sudden spikes on our death radar. These were quick reminders that things are not right but soon we forgot and returned to “normal.” With Covid, we are two years into a constant reminder. I’m sure there are readers that have lost loved ones—and I grieve with you.

Covid has shown Americans (and the world) that we are not in charge. Just as tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes remind humans of our weakness, Covid has been a reminder of our frailty.

Biblical compassion should be saying to us that we need to put to death our timidity and tell our neighbors the hope that is found in the gospel by becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15 is a key passage of hope for today.

The timeless truths of the resurrection chapter give volumes of hope during these troubled times and need to be spoken to a nervous world.

Four Truths from 1 Corinthians 15

We shall change (verses 50-51). If you are a follower of Jesus Christ and have acknowledged Him as Lord by turning from yourself and sin and asked for forgiveness your body will be changed. As Paul says, “the perishable will put on the imperishable.” In other words, our frail, sick, disease-prone bodies will be no more. John Newton said it well as he was dying, “I am leaving the land of the dying to go to the land of the living.” Hallelujah!

We are eternal people (verses 52-53). This is not the end! Paul says that we shall put on immortality. There will be no more constraints of being earth and time-bound. Therefore, let your gaze breakthrough to eternity when you are feeling the pressures of this life; the present circumstances look bleak, but the future is incredibly bright for followers of the Lord. You will have to fight with your soul to do so, but it is worth the fight.

The sting of death has been removed (verses 55-57). Sin has a horrible sting called death (Romans 6:23) but since sin has been defeated and Christ arose the sting has been obliterated for the Lord’s followers. We no longer need to fear death (Hebrews 2:14-15). As one scholar termed it, there’s been a death to death in the death of Christ. Speak truth to yourself that death has been swallowed up in victory and absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).

We can be steadfast (verse 58). Paul ends this crucial chapter for the days in which we find ourselves by saying, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” We as believers can be confident amid a culture in crisis. How? These are living principles and therefore, when we choose to believe them, they unleash their power within us, in our minds, and in our souls, which reverberates into our attitudes and, ultimately, our lifestyles (see also Ephesians 1:18-23 and 3:20-21).

A Final Challenge

Our country (and the world) is living in fear and is on edge. This has always been true but is amplified now. This is a teachable moment in world history. Here at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, we recognize this is our historic moment to speak God’s truth into a needy, fear-filled world. May the love of Christ constrain us to overcome our timidity and boldly speak the beautiful message of hope to a dying world (2 Corinthians 5:14). Love is more powerful than fear, so pray for love for your neighbors to overcome your fear of sharing the gospel (1 John 4:18). Ultimately, you must settle the issue in your soul of whether or not you are so convinced that this is the truth the world needs to hear that you are willing to put to death your fear. Will you join me in telling others?

Ernie Baker

Pastor of Counseling and Discipleship

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