Death (#38)

“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, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15, ESV)

Jesus partook of flesh that he might die in victory.  The Bible states in many ways the purpose for which Jesus “came” and took on human flesh: “to destroy the works of the devil,” (1 John 3:8) “to seek and to save the lost,” (Luke 19:10) and “to take away our sins.” (1 John 3:5) All of these purposes are summed up in Jesus’ death on the cross. Each of us was born to live; Jesus alone was born to die.

When scripture says that he destroyed the devil through his death, it does not mean that he annihilated him. A paraphrase might be that he “rendered him powerless.” Another version paraphrases it this way:

“For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.” (NLT)

How did Jesus break the power of the devil? In three ways: By recovering man to his rightful Lord and Maker, God; by reconciling man to himself in taking away his sin; by restoring man’s supremacy over nature that was lost in Adam. The devil would have us estranged from God, ashamed of sin, and afraid of death. By his death and resurrection, Jesus restored man’s relationship to God, man’s relationship to nature, and man’s relationship to himself. Death has no power over one who has already been dead, and yet returned.

We remember Jesus’ death when we take the bread and wine of Communion. The Scriptures warn against commemorating his death flippantly or irreverently, but if we come forward in knowledge of his death and acknowledgement of our sin, we have no reason to be afraid to approach the Communion table.

Thomas Boston, when he read the Scripture’s warnings about the Communion table—along with an ounce Scottish overseriousness towards religion—felt that he could not “worthily” take up the bread and the cup. He struggled for some time to understand what Paul meant by taking the cup “unworthily.” He thought that he could not take the cup because of his many sins; but soon the light dawned on him, that he must take up the cup, not in spite of his sins—but because of them!

We reenact Jesus’ death in baptism:

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4, ESV)

Baptism is an experience that proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus as something that we experience personally and transformingly.

We reinforce the results of Jesus’ death in our lives by a moment-by-moment consciousness of our renewed state before God. The King James translation has a sweet ring of truth in it:

“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:11, KJV)

The word “reckon” is closer to the Greek meaning because it has two possible meanings. It can mean that we should “consider ourselves” dead to sin, in our minds; but it can also mean that we should “judge ourselves” to be dead to sin and alive to God, in reality and true fact. In reckoning ourselves dead to sin, we actively deny the power of temptation in our lives. Christ’s sacrifice offers us a new life, and everyday we choose to remember that sacrifice of love.

Jesus, thank you that your death and resurrection enable us to live dead to sin and alive to God. We count the world crucified to us, and ourselves crucified to the world today. We thank you, Jesus, for making the greatest sacrifice for us, and for rendering the devil powerless in our lives.

Amen.

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