I don't mean to be disrespectful in my treatment of scripture, but this text "O death, where is thy sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55) has been on my mind over the last couple of days, and more-so today as we attended the thanksgiving service for a dear friend, and a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
Since I heard the news on Sunday, when I walk, as I drive, as I go about life, I think to myself, boy, this stings. As we sang part of Psalm 116 on Sunday "Dear in God's sight is his saints' death" it stings. As I think of children and grandchildren without a mum and granny, it stings. As I think of a husband without a wife....
Death stings because we are the ones who are left behind.
Ann was full of life. Ann was full of "the life" - Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life" - this is the life that Ann had living inside of her. And it was easy to see, and it stood the test of time and tribulation. Jesus said "the one who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:13) meaning that one of the tests of our faith is time. There would be those who would initially spring up very quickly, and look like they had faith in Jesus, but they would quickly wither and it would be clear that their faith had no real roots (Matthew 13:20-21). Ann was the opposite of this. As troubles and difficulties multiplied, so did her faith. As trouble comes it provides a real, visible test of our faith, demonstrating if we are true or false converts. 1 Peter 1:6-7 makes it clear that trouble will come, and that this trouble will ensure that our faith "may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed." This is what happened. As Ann lived more vibrantly than ever in her last year, the glory of God was shown clearly. As her illness increased her health declined yet her hope and peace increased. She had "no guilt in life, no fear in death" - a wonderful testimony to all who looked on.
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The ultimate victory of death is gone. The ultimate sting of death is gone. Guilt from sin is removed for those who repent and trust. We can look at death and say "to live is Christ, to die is gain" - how is it not gain to fall asleep, and wake up in the direct presence of the Saviour God? How great it will be to find relief from the troubles of this world, in the place where "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4)
Ann has fallen asleep. She has gone to be with her King. For now we are separated. But the sad truth is that for many who attended the service yesterday that separation will permanent, there is no denying that, because Ann chose a way of life that many reject. Jesus said that the way was narrow, and few find it. He said that many "religious" people would say "Lord, Lord" to him on judgement day, and he will tell them he didn't know them. I want to be one who instead hears the words "well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25). One day I want to stand beside her in the presence of Jesus; her saviour and mine.
As we who remain deal with this horrible sting that we feel, we need to remember that "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1).
Let each of us who remain look to Him as our fortress, our deliverer, our God, our rock, in whom we take refuge, our shield. Ann would want us to honour her memory by honouring the one who gave her life, and life eternal. She would want us to do that by finding our hope in the same place she had hers. Let us do her memory justice by placing our hope in the same God as Ann did.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3 (ESV))
Soli Deo gloria