The Death of Death
April 9, 2023 | Michael Foster
An Easter Reflection by Michael Foster – 2023
“It was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24)
Death. The unrelenting oppressor. The undefeated rival. The undisputed champion. All who dare to look him in the eyes eventually blink and bow in anguish. No one’s presence is more intimidating. No one’s purpose is more destructive. No bully has won more battles, no persecutor has caused more pain, no foe has injected more fear into the hearts of those left helpless – and hopeless – in his shadow.
So long as Death seems distant, his targets get by well enough. So long as he seems still, we have some chance of peace. But one glance by Death in our direction sends a shock through our system. When Death lifts a finger, we freeze. Each step he takes toward us steals more of our breath away. His company is suffocating.
We are driven, by Death, to our knees. We are utterly defenseless. Good health at best slows him down. On our strongest days we are no match for his many strategies. His accomplices are too diverse and determined. Disease, his right-hand man, can be trusted on any mission. Disaster, on his left, preys on the unsuspecting. Murder is his most malicious assistant. Addiction, his most deceptive. Depression and Despair, Hatred and Greed, Envy and Pride – all are happy to be kept on Death’s payroll, readily available for service. Even Time, who masquerades as a friend to us, is in the end an instrument of Death.
He plays no favorites, this dark and indifferent demon. He cannot be bribed with money. He smirks at status. He flinches not at age. He is completely unregulated. He does not care about how helpful you have been to others, how promising your future might be, or how many people love you. In this way, as certain as Death is, he remains eerily unpredictable. While he has patterns of operation, he also relishes the random. He is sadistic and incurably mad. He is sinister and opportunistic, and all things are possible for him.
Or, so it can seem…
But as it turns out, Death has a few skeletons in his closet. In the BC centuries, Death was bothered by several blemishes on his record, all strangely having to do with a couple of Jewish prophets, with similar names, on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. The dead son of a widow began breathing again after a certain Elijah prayed for him. Another dead boy opened his eyes after a hug from a man of God named Elisha. And after that prophet died, his bones gave life to another dead man. Still, even these who escaped Death once eventually succumbed to his will. They were little cause for real concern. After them, Death’s resume was untainted for 800 years.
But then, in that same area of the world, another Jewish prophet took aim at Death. First, in an act Death had seen before, he raised a widow’s son. Then, he returned the spirit of life to the daughter of a prominent leader. Death did not appreciate the attention the prophet was getting. It was urgent for Death to fight back, and he struck down the prophet’s good friend, a deeply personal blow. At last, the prophet seemed paralyzed, for he did nothing for four days. And when he finally arrived at the funeral, he wept like everyone else. But then, with no respect for Death, he approached the tomb and spoke: “Lazarus, come out!” It was not a plea for mercy, the kind of request Death always enjoyed scoffing at. This was a command, and Death had no choice but to release his grip. The prophet’s friend walked out of the grave. Even worse for Death, on that day the prophet provocatively announced, “I am the resurrection and the life, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
Death had to act quickly, and he did. Within weeks, he had the prophet in his hands. Death planned to squeeze the life out of him, as he had done to a billion other men. He left no room for confusion, nailing him publicly to a Roman cross and thrusting a spear into his side. Strangely to Death, though, it seemed life could not be taken from this man until he was ready to give it. Nevertheless, Death added a tally to his win column. While the prophet’s followers mourned in agony, Death reveled in victory. For two days.
The prophet’s body lay cold and colorless in a tomb guarded by soldiers. Blood circulation and respiration had ceased for about thirty-six hours. Internal organs would soon begin to decompose. Within a few years, at most, he would be nothing but bones and eventually, like all of us, just dust.
But then, on the third day, out of nowhere, the heart in that lifeless body went thump THUMP. And with that first heartbeat, the entire earth quaked. Jesus inhaled, and his lungs filled again with oxygen he created. Jesus exhaled, and a tomb possessed the breath of God. Jesus opened his eyes, and the brightness of his glory flooded the tomb. Darkness could not bury Light. Death could not hold on to Life. It was impossible!
“Death has been swallowed up in victory! Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting? Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
Death is dying and has been exposed. He is a menace, but no champion. A Wizard of Oz, not a god. His stinger is stuck on a cross, rendered powerless by the King of Life. Death is remarkably terminal. His days are numbered. He had a beginning, and he will have an end. He will be flung into a lake of fire where he will drown, never to torment again.
Life, on the other hand, still smiles and enjoys his victory lap. He has invited everyone to his eternal parade. Life is not a number of days, but a Name. A Name above all names, the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the Life-giving Vine: JESUS, the Love of God and the God of Love who crushed Death to death. Jesus, risen with keys to free his brothers and sisters from the fear of Death. Jesus, risen to give life, and hope, and courage, and joy, and peace. Jesus, alive forever to say, “Come! Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life!”