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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
 www.stalbertcanrc.com
 
Title:In his Death we Live
Text:LD 16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Preached:2005
Added:2006-10-26
Updated:2013-08-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 118:1,4

Reading – Matthew 27:45-66; Romans 6:1-14

Ps 18:2,3,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 16

Ps 30:1,2,3,5,6

Hy 2

Hy 6:1,2

 

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


Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, among the enemies arrayed against us, death stands very tall. Death is relentless, and death is impartial. It takes away the very young, the very old, and many in between. It snatches both the sick and the healthy. Sometimes it arrives suddenly and unannounced; at other times it approaches slowly. Death employs different methods and weapons, but only rarely does it capture its prey without inflicting pain and terror.

Many religions and cultures have made death into a god, a fearsome deity who greedily demands human flesh. The Bible of course doesn’t deify death, but it does personify it, portraying it as hungry in its desire and crafty in its snares: "The grave enlarges its appetite and opens its mouth without limit" (Is 5:14); "Death has climbed in through our windows and entered our fortresses" (Jer 9:21).

Despite death’s great power and hostility, even death is subject to the sovereignty of God. For from the beginning God decreed that death would be the ultimate penalty for disobedience to his commands. He said to Adam and Eve, "You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (Gen 2:17). And, just as God had said, when sin entered the world, death entered close behind. The genealogies of Gen 5 bear ample testimony to God’s just judgment on rebellion. Adam and Eve died. Their children died. Their children died. On and on, even up to today, sin has constantly and without exemption paid out its cruel wages: Death (Rom 6:23).

But though it was our God who justly imposed death on those who sin, it’s also our God who mightily battles this enemy of life. Already in the Old Testament, He promised to take away all the face coverings of death: all the mourner’s veils, and all the coverings for corpses. "[God] will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever" (Is 28:7-8).

God always vowed to put death in its place, yet death is an enemy that must be beaten fairly and squarely. Its sting must be endured, and its power must be withstood. And so the Lord God has sent someone great to do battle with death. In ch 2, the writer to the Hebrews speaks of this warrior who was sent to front lines; a warrior who wrestled with the final enemy; a warrior whom death even covered with its dark shroud.

Jesus struggled against the last enemy, and by every appearance death did him in. Indeed, "he suffered death" (Heb 2:9) – but this was no defeat for the God of life. For, we can read, Jesus died so that others who deserve death, can live. The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way, "Jesus… suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (Heb 2:9). That’s our theme,

"By the grace of God He might taste death for everyone."

    1. in Christ’s death is our death
    2. in Christ’s death is our life

1. in Christ’s death is our death: In Lord’s Day 15 we look at the crescendo of the sufferings of Jesus Christ, as his journey of 33 years from Bethlehem to the cross reached its end. The humiliation of Jesus as God-in-the-flesh came to a climax in the last few days of his life, and arrived at the place of its conclusion on Golgotha.

Crucifixion was designed to have two sure outcomes: Pain and death. There’s no need for us to speak further about the pain of the act of crucifixion, about the severed nerves on nails and the ribbons of flesh against the wood, about the slow suffocation and the wrenching of limbs.

And though no Roman soldier would’ve wagered on a prisoner ever coming down alive from a cross, it still must be confessed with our creed: Jesus Christ died. From different angles and with different emphases, the gospel writers all underline this one plain fact. It could even be confirmed the by others who stood there – just ask that Roman centurion. The man on the middle cross was dead.

First though, came the darkness: "From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land" (Mt 27:45). Sometimes we’ll close our eyes to avoid looking at a scary sight or a terrifying event – yet the darkness that filled the eyes of Christ was no relief from the horror that approached.

Rather, the darkness meant He would see no more the light of day and the light of life. Jesus knew this was the blackness of desolation, the gloom of God’s heavy hand of judgment. Long ago God had described his day of wrath in this way, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight" (Am 8:9). Now that dark and dreadful day had come, when the God who demanded death for sinners was holding out his hand.

After three hours of darkness, death advanced with another crushing step. Jesus cried out with Ps 22, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" (Mt 27:46). With this cry He announced that He could endure no more than those few hours of "unspeakable anguish, pain, terror and agony" (Q&A 44). With this cry He showed that now his spirit was completely broken, and the end would not be long.

For indeed, how could Jesus keep living if God had forsaken him? As a man, He needed God for life itself. He knew the Old Testament confession, "The Spirit of God has made me, the breath of the Almighty gives me life" (Job 33:4). If God would forsake me, if He would take away my breath, I would have nothing left.

And so Matthew writes that in those dying minutes on the cross, Jesus "cried out again with a loud voice" (Mt 27:50), a cry recorded by John: "It is finished" (Jn 19:30). This simple statement is full of significance: "It is finished – " says Christ, "my obedience, my presentation of sacrifice, the years of my suffering, and the task for which I was anointed by God." The great work of salvation, the final act of atonement, was finished, but only because something else very basic was nearly at its end: the physical life of Jesus Christ!

As He hung on the cross, He knew the hungry grave was now opening wide its mouth. The loss of blood, the excruciating pain, the hours of darkness, the realization that He was completely on his own as He ended his life’s work – all these had taken their toll. "It is finished…"

And then, with a bow of his weary head, "He gave up his spirit" (Mt 27:50). As he researched his own gospel account, Luke found someone at the cross who remembered those very final words of Jesus. Ever mindful that all the Scriptures testified of him, and knowing that the distant Father would yet be pleased with his perfect sacrifice, Jesus prayed the trusting prayer of Ps 31:5 as He gave up his spirit, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46). And so, as Mark would say it, "Jesus breathed his last" (15:37).

That Jesus was truly dead is clear from his words, and from those who saw him bow his wounded head. But Matthew records some his death’s immediate and radical consequences.

Jesus was dead – therefore "the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom" (27:51); for through him, believers could now go directly into the presence of God.

Jesus was dead – therefore "the earth shook and the rocks split" (27:51); for this one moment would shake mightily the foundations of the old order.

Jesus was dead – therefore "the tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life" (27:52); for through death, death itself would be conquered. All in all, it was a moment dizzying in significance: The Son of God was dead.

The Roman soldiers were terrified at all these goings-on, and probably also a little surprised that this strange man had expired already. There’d be no need to break his legs, but just to be sure, John tells us that "one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water" (19:34). Says John, "I was there, I saw this tell-tale sign of death, and I will testify that it’s true" (cf. v 35).

With Pilate’s permission, Joseph of Arimathea recovered the body. He wrapped it in a linen cloth, placed it in his own new tomb, and rolled a big stone in front of the entrance. And so it wasn’t really necessary for the Romans to put a seal on the tomb the next day, for the final seal on the death of Christ had already been stamped: "His burial testified that He had really died" (Q&A 41).

Again, to any observer, there was no doubt that a crucifixion would end in death, or that a crucifixion would end with a broken body being heaved into a grave. But the Scriptures and our creed linger on that moment, for God wanted exactly this: a death. Only one who was man could die for men, and only who was God could bear the wrath of God. To satisfy God’s justice and truth, it took the death of the Son of God (Q&A 40).

And because of that one, indisputable moment in which He died, the Scriptures continually and emphatically urge us: Be united to Christ in his death! As the writer to the Hebrews already said, "Jesus… suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (Heb 2:9) – everyone, that is, joined to Jesus Christ with a true and living faith. Beloved, the Scriptures call us to put our faith in Christ as our only hope in a dying world!

In a similar way as in the letter to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul speaks of being baptized into his death, even being "buried with him" (Rom 6:3-4). We are baptized into his death; that is, we share in his death and all the blessings that it brought about. Yes, we are even buried with him, for our burial testifies that with Christ we have really died for our sins. Beloved, we sinners are dead and buried – in Jesus Christ.

As He hung there on the cross; as dark gloom approached and then settled over him; as his life slowly ebbed away; as He felt complete rejection from his Father; as He took his last few breaths, announced that He was finished, and then gave up his spirit; as his battered body was laid to rest in a tomb of stone – in each of these moments we share by faith.

And so, that death on the cross has freed us. We are freed from the grave that is payment for sin (Q&A 42), and we are freed from the doom that never ends. For throughout his life, but especially at Golgotha, Jesus suffered an "anguish, pain, terror and agony" (Q&A 44) that was hellish in every way.

The Bible describes hell as a place of darkness (Mt 22:13), and it was darkness that settled over our Lord. The Bible describes hell as a place "shut out from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thess 1:9), and it was God-forsakeness that our Lord experienced.

In Christ’s death, we sinners have gone through death. In Christ’s hell, we sinners have gone through hell. And this means today we should have nothing to do with sin. Paul says, "[In Christ] we died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Rom 6:2). Sin belongs to the old order of things – to the order whose foundations have been rocked to their core. Sin belongs to the life we lived before Christ! Sin is part of the life we need to live no longer!

Sometimes children will play in nearby graveyards: running through the rows, hiding behind the tombstones, enjoying the peace and quiet. But once they gain a certain understanding, the graveyard is no longer a play-field of choice. They know now a little of what that quiet spot is, of what those tombstones mark. And so the graveyard is left alone as the resting place of the dead. Why go to such a sombre place?

Yes, "We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" Why should we remain in the graveyard of sin, now that Christ has completely freed us from that way of life? There is nothing there for us – there is nothing in the gloom of bars and clubs; there is nothing in satisfying our evil lusts; there is nothing in endlessly chasing material goods; there is nothing in anger or bitterness or gossip. About every such thing we must declare with Christ: "It is finished!"

Take your sins, and in the power of Jesus Christ, nail them to the cross. Hammer them there, and leave them there until they finally stop twitching. And then, rip them down and bury them forever, never to be exhumed. Like Paul tells us in Gal 5, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful natures with its passions and desires" (v 24).

In Christ we have died to sin – why should we go back to the house of the dead? As Paul says in another place, "If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if… you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live" (Rom 8:13). Let us crucify, put to death, bury far away whatever belongs to our life before Christ. For in his death is our death, and in his death is our new life.

2. In Christ’s death is our life: As we see our Saviour suffering on the cross under death’s relentless approach, we might be moved with pity. How awful it must have been! Misery we cannot imagine! And that is true. Yet when we read how our Saviour "tasted death" in all its bitterness, we must remember that this was his choice. He "tasted death," but only because He accepted the frothing cup of God’s judgment, and himself drained it right to the dregs.

He was a man, yes, who trembled in fear at death’s advance, yet this was the path of his own choosing. Death enveloped him, but at the same time He covered himself with that shroud. See how He presented himself, to the Jewish authorities, to the Roman soldiers, and to Pilate, the earthly judge. See how He stayed on the cross when He could’ve taken himself down. See how death did not snatch him away when He wasn’t looking, but how Christ gave up his spirit, in his time, and in his way.

He was the Passover Lamb. Yet He was no helpless victim of circumstance, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Christ was a willing sacrifice, who made sure He died meeting all of God’s terms. By his death, Jesus wanted life to come to many. As He said in Jn 12, speaking of his coming sacrifice, "Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds" (v 24). Through death, Christ knew, would come abundant life.

This was seen already in that moment right after his passing, when "the tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised" (27:52). The power of death was broken, the seed of new life had been planted in the earth. With that dramatic and miraculous sign, it could be seen that the last enemy was put in its place. The power of death, long thought unbreakable, simply could not hold the righteous in the grave.

And no less miraculous is the power of Christ’s death today. Appealing to the cross of Christ, we dead sinners may gain the life that is truly life. In our sins, we may turn to Christ. In our greatest sorrows and temptations, we may turn to Christ. In our anguish, we may turn to Christ. We may pray in his name, we may find refuge in his cross, and we may do so in a confidence that nothing in the world can shake, in a trust that will never be denied, in a faith that – though it is weak and imperfect – will always receive its reward.

Our comfort is so certain, because it is so certain that Jesus Christ died – everyone saw it, the foundations of the earth testified to it, dozens of holy people once-dead-now-alive spoke of it. It is certain: Because of the death of Jesus Christ, God will spare our lives. Because of the death of Jesus Christ, God will welcome us into his presence. Because of the death of Jesus Christ, our Father in heaven will never ever, forsake us or abandon us.

Earlier we saw that being "dead to sin" means we must put to death the misdeeds of the body. And we should all know those specific sins in our lives that must be killed and buried away. But once dead, something must take their place.

For the church must not resemble a graveyard, full of the bodies dead in sin. Nor should the church look like a fallow field, empty of anything, whether good or evil. But we must now be temples, filled with the Holy Spirit and dedicated to God. "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life" (Rom 6:13).

Consider the joy of those who’ve been released from the sentence of death, even a sentence fully deserved. Before they were consigned to unending sorrow, debilitating fear, heart-wrenching regret as they pined on Death Row. But suddenly there is release, there is freedom, there is life fully restored. What happiness must fill us!

It is happiness in freedom: Freedom to serve God in every way, with every day of our new lives. Beloved, what will you do with the life God has given you in Christ? What are you doing with the life God has given you?

It’s true, for as long as we live on this earth, the fight against sin will continue. God has told us the battle even continues to that day when the last enemy shows up at our window. And when death draws near, fear might still arise in the Christian’s heart. Because for us, death remains an enemy; hungry and crafty, unrelenting and cruel. Maybe we fear not dying so much as the process of dying, yet often there is still fear as death comes close. We worry for those we leave alone. We mourn to leave behind the good things God has given. We are scared because of past sins or even nagging doubts.

But even on our dying day, Christ will grant us life. For there is no day that we don’t belong to him! There is no time when He won’t be there for the ones He loves. Even when the darkness of death fills our eyes, even when the last breath is taken and the spirit is released – even then, we can be confident that we’ll be all right. We won’t be going to the place of the "second death" (Rev 21:8), because in Christ, we’ll never die again. Because Christ suffered hell, we’ll live in God’s presence forever.

Jesus declares, "Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life" (Jn 5:24). Beloved, incline your ears to this wonderful gospel. Leaving sin behind, and holding onto Jesus, cross over – from death to life! Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2005, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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