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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Good News! The Death of Death in the Death of Christ
Text:LD 16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Preached:2013
Added:2013-08-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 3:1-2
Psalm 18:1,2,6
Hymn 3:3
Hymn 1
Hymn 3:5

Scripture readings:  Romans 6:1-14, 1 Corinthians 15:50-58
Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 16
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

We’re all different people.  We come from different families, we have different personalities, and some of us come from different cultures.  But there is one thing that we all have in common:   unless Christ comes back first, we will all die.  There will come a moment when we take our last breath and our brain thinks its last thought.  Our heart will pump one last time and then stop.  While it’s not nice to think about it and while people don’t like to talk about it, death is a reality that we all have to face.  We have to face the death of loved ones and we will have to face our own death.    

Bronnie Ware is an expert in the field of palliative care.  This is an area of medicine that deals with suffering.  People who work in palliative care are often confronted with death.  Bronnie Ware is an Australian who’s worked in this area for many years.  She’s drawn up a list of the five most common regrets expressed by dying people: 

1.      I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2.      I wish I hadn’t worked so hard (expressed by every male patient).

3.      I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. 

4.      I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5.      I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Obviously these regrets come from worldly people and their worldview is reflected in what they say.  However, some of those regrets could be said by Christians too.  But it does make you think:  if you were on the last day of your life tomorrow, and you knew it, what would you regret?  Having worked too hard, not spending enough time with your kids, not saying “I love you” enough? 

One thing I hope that will not be on your list of regrets is failing to listen when you heard preaching about death.  If you’re conscious and aware as your life draws to a close, I hope that you’ll be thankful that you paid attention as you were prepared for that moment with the Word of God.  The Puritans often spoke of the importance of dying well.  What they meant was that people should always be prepared to die with their eyes on Christ.  Your loved ones should be able to find comfort in the gospel promises after your departure, knowing for certain that your hope and salvation were firmly fixed in Christ alone. 

In the Christian faith, we have a distinct view of death.  It is an enemy.  It is not natural.  Death hurts and it breaks relationships.  Death is not good.  But at the same time, for Christians death is not to be feared.  Death is not the end.  All of this is true because of the gospel.  It’s true because we have the death of death in the death of Christ.  This changes everything.  This afternoon we’ll see how in his death we have the death of: 

1.      Spiritual death

2.      Physical death

3.      Eternal death

In the Garden of Eden, in the beginning, God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The penalty for eating would be death.  Adam and Eve ate – they sinned against God’s express command.  Someone might be inclined to say that after eating, they didn’t die.  God didn’t carry through with what he threatened.  It might be tempting to say that, but that would fail to understand that the Bible speaks about death in different ways.  Death is more than just physical death, the death where your heart stops beating.  The Bible also speaks of spiritual death.  When Adam and Eve sinned against God, they died spiritually at that very moment.  They introduced spiritual death into the world with their sin.

What is spiritual death?  The best way to answer that question is by going to Ephesians 2:1-2.  Paul says there, “As for you, you were dead in transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”  Spiritual death is when one does not have a relationship of fellowship with God.  Spiritual death is when one is at enmity with God.  Instead of following God and walking in his ways, the spiritually dead follow the ways of this world and the ways of Satan.  Scripture describes those who are spiritually dead as blind, being in horrible darkness, subjected to futility, having perverse judgment, wickedness, rebellion, stubbornness in will and heart, and impure in affections.  The spiritually dead are children of wrath, incapable of any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in sins, and slaves of sin.

Why is spiritual death such a big deal?  If we look around us, it might sometimes appear as if the spiritually dead have a lot of fun.  These spiritual zombies, the walking dead, they live life to the max.  The author of Psalm 73 made that same observation.  Asaph observed the spiritually dead and he became jealous of what they had.  He saw people who had it all together, while he was a broken and hurting person.  However, Asaph had a light-bulb moment when he went to the temple.  In the sanctuary of God, he suddenly saw the big picture.  He saw why being spiritually dead is a problem.  It had to do with the blood and death he saw in the sacrificial system in the temple.  As he saw the animals dying and their blood being spilled, he realized that ultimately the wages of sin is death.  While the wicked may prosper in this life, there will be a day of reckoning.  The spiritually dead will face the judgment of God. 

All people come into this world saddled with spiritual death.  Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, we have a nature that is at war with God.  Those who are at war with God have no hope of victory.  God is an enemy that cannot be vanquished.  You cannot conquer God.  You cannot fight God and expect to win.  You fight the law-giver and the law-giver wins, every time, all the time.  This nature that is spiritually dead and at odds with God – something needs to be done with it.  For us to have any hope of heaven, this sin nature needs to be conquered. 

According to Romans 6, this is what Christ has done for us in his death.  Romans 6:6 says that our old self was crucified with Christ.  QA 43 of the Catechism paraphrases this passage.  When Christ died on the cross, that nature at war with God was put to death with him.  You see, our spiritual death was put to death with Jesus on Golgotha.  Our spiritual death was buried with him in the tomb.  If something has been crucified, it’s dead.  If something has been buried, it’s dead.  It no longer has the power to control us or determine our destiny when we die. 

However, this is not something that happens automatically.  The question in QA 43 describes this as a benefit of Christ.  How does one receive this or any of the benefits of Christ?  The Catechism gives the biblical answer to that question back in Lord’s Day 7.  You have to be grafted into Christ with a true faith and accept his benefits.  In other words, to have the assurance that your old nature is dead and buried with Christ, you need to rest and trust in Christ alone.  You need to again hold on to him as the one who has done everything for you that you could not do for yourself.  Brothers and sisters, let me urge you to continue doing that.  Believe that through Christ’s death, your old nature is dead and buried.  Through Christ, you can now live to God.  Through Christ, you are not a slave to your evil desires.  Through Christ, you can now offer yourself as a sacrifice of thankfulness every day.

Adam and Eve introduced spiritual death with the fall into sin.  But physical death did also follow.  Adam and Eve are no longer living on this earth.  Though they lived much longer than we do today, their bodies eventually did deteriorate and they died.  Physical death was the result of the fall into sin; it’s part of the curse.  Seen in that light, physical death is not natural and we should never say that it is.  It’s typical and it’s usual, it happens all the time, but death is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Physical death is more than just the ceasing of certain biological functions.  It’s more because we are more than our bodies.  Physical death is not just the moment when your heart and lungs stop doing what they’ve been doing your whole life long.  It’s not just the moment when your brain stops sending signals to the rest of your body.  Physical death also involves a breaking apart of who you are as a person.  As a human being, you are made up of a physical part and a spiritual part.  There is a material part called a body, and an immaterial part called a soul.  At death, these two parts are separated.  They are ripped apart and this is not natural.  We were created to be whole people, but death separates what God put together.  When you die, the part of you called your body goes into the grave, but your soul goes elsewhere – to heaven if you’re in Christ, to hell if you’re outside of Christ.  Body and soul remain separated until the resurrection of the dead at the last day.

For us who believe in him, Christ’s death transforms the way we think about all this.  Our Saviour went through death’s veil.  He bore the curse of death that had fallen on us.  Through his death, he made satisfaction for our sins.  Jesus was our substitute on the cross, dying in our place.  Because this is all true, his death signifies the death of physical death for us.  Not death in the sense of being dead and gone, but death in the sense of it no longer having power over us.  We’re speaking about death here in the same sense as someone might say to an estranged family member, “You are dead to me.”  Physical death is dead to us because of Christ’ death.

Since Christ is our Saviour, we can be defiant in the face of death.  We can say with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 that “Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Christ has removed the sting of death.  As we face our own physical death, then, we can know that we will not be passing through the veil to pay for our sins.  We are not dying because of God’s wrath.  Instead, because of Christ, our death is the doorway into the blessed presence of God in heaven.  Death is a doorway to life for Christians.  For those left behind, death still hurts, and we still will grieve.  This is appropriate.  However, we grieve as those with a hope. 

We have the hope of the resurrection.  Death could not have the final say over Jesus, and death will not have the final say over us.  It does not have the power to rob us of our fellowship with God.  Physical death does not have the power to end our existence as human beings.  Because we have the crucified and risen Christ as our Saviour, death has been swallowed up for us. 

People can face physical death in several different ways.  They might fear it with horror.  They don’t know what will come afterwards, and so they’re afraid.  People can try to ignore death with denial.  They can just try to put it out of their minds and not think about it.  People sometimes cling to false hope.  They have this idea that all the good people get to go to heaven, and their good deeds in life have definitely outweighed their bad deeds, so it should all be okay.  This is false hope.  They underestimate their own sinfulness and the holiness of God.  But for us as Christians, there is only one way to face physical death.  We face it with confidence, knowing that in Christ our death has been conquered.  We have nothing to fear from death.  Whether we die young or old, the gospel promises that if we are holding on to Christ as our Saviour, death is a conquered enemy.

There is one last way in which the Bible speaks about death and that’s eternal death.  This is the form of death most to be feared if you don’t have Christ.  Eternal death is described in various ways in the Bible.  Isaiah 66 says it involves worms that do not die and fire that never goes out.  The idea is that these are worms that eat you and fire that burns you.  In other words, eternal death involves intense physical torment.  Jesus quoted this passage from Isaiah 66 in Mark 9.  In Matthew 22, our Lord Jesus describes eternal death as darkness and a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  In Revelation 20, eternal death is described as a lake of fire.   Basically, eternal death is the opposite of eternal life.  Eternal life is an eternity spent in the blessed presence of God and his love, living in joyful fellowship with him.  Eternal death is an eternity spent in the presence of God’s wrath, being in constant, conscious torment in body and soul.  Eternal death is hell.

With his death on the cross, Jesus put out the fires of hell for all who believe in him.  There is no eternal death for those who rest and trust in Christ alone.  This is because Christ has taken the hell we deserve.  When he was on the cross, he took the hell that we earned for ourselves with all our sins. 

The Apostles’ Creed says that “he descended into hell.”  Sometimes this has been misunderstood in unbiblical ways.  Scripture is clear that when he died, our Jesus went immediately to God’s presence in heaven.  He tells the criminal on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  This is clear.  It should be clear to all of us that when we say “He descended into hell” we don’t mean that he went to a place called hell.  We don’t mean that he went to the same place where the souls of all the wicked unbelievers go when they die.  Jesus did not go to hell.  I want also the boys and girls here this afternoon to understand this.  Jesus did not go to hell when he died.  Your parents can ask you about this later.  They can ask, “Where did Jesus go when he died?”  And your answer will simply be:  “He went to heaven.”  Jesus went to heaven when he died.  He did not go to a place called hell.     

When we say that he descended into hell, we mean that he bore the wrath of God against our sins on the cross.  When he was on the cross, he was experiencing hell in our place.  He was forsaken by God.  He cried out those words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Forsaken here does not mean abandoned.  Jesus was not abandoned by God on the cross.  People are not abandoned by God in hell.  They are not forgotten by God and ignored by him.  That might come as a surprise to some of you, but let me explain.  Hell is not the absence of God.  Rather, it is the very real presence of God in his just wrath.  In hell, God is present to give sinners what they deserve.  Eternal death is a punishment inflicted by God on the wicked and unbelieving.  When Jesus suffered on the cross, he endured this wrath of God against our sins.  He died bearing the full weight of the hell we earned.  This is why we speak about his descent into hell.  The significance of hell is not that it is a place as such.  The significance of hell rests in what happens there and what happens there is the punishment of the wicked by the just wrath of God.  That’s what happened to Christ on the cross and that’s why we describe his sufferings as his descent into hell. 

Because he went through all of that in our place, we have good news.  With Calvary’s cross, we have the death of eternal death too.  We can have assurance that there is no hell waiting for us after we die.  We can have comfort knowing that instead there is eternal life waiting on the other side.  Because Christ’s death is the death of our eternal death, we can look forward to joy in the presence of God forever.  These are benefits that the gospel promises.  These are benefits that we each receive as we look to Christ in faith.

So, brothers and sisters, unless Christ returns first, death is in your future.  You don’t know when, you don’t know how.  These things are only known by God.  You can’t control such things.  But you can prepare for it.  You must be prepared for it – it can come at any time.  The way to be prepared is to believe again this good news you’ve heard this afternoon.  Have it firmly fixed in your heart.  Believe that in the death of Christ, you have the death of death.  Believe that through him, you have the hope of heaven and eternal life in the new creation.  I’ll finish with these words of Christ that he spoke hours before his own death (from John 14:27), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  AMEN.                                  

Prayer:

Our heavenly Father,

Your promises are so precious to us. As we hear your Word, our hearts are stirred with love for you.  You give us so much in Christ our Lord. In him, we have the death of death in all its forms.  We rejoice in this and praise you for it.  We have eternal life and all the benefits that go with that.  We thank you that Jesus bore eternal death and hell for us on Golgotha.  We thank you that because of his payment, our death simply puts an end to sin and brings us into eternal life. Thank you, dear Father, for the good news. Help us all to believe it again today and each day time and again. We pray that you would strengthen faith in all of us with your Word and Spirit. We pray that each one of us would have the grace of your Holy Spirit so that we would not fear death. When our time comes, please help us to die well, in a way that gives you glory and leaves gospel comfort for our loved ones.  Help us all, every single one, to look forward to the marriage feast of the Lamb and live in an appropriate way today and every day.  Lord God, have mercy upon us now and always.                           




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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