DEATH & SOCIETY: A Tragic Inconsistency

DEATH. Nobody really likes the word. In fact, many actually fear it. Life is precious and valued while death is shunned. My grandma once told me a story of how, when I was very young, she was explaining death to me. She said I put my foot down in defiance and proclaimed, “I refuse to die!” While it still brings a smile to my face thinking about it, it’s not a healthy outlook for the Christian. While we are to embrace life on this earth, we also look forward to eternal life (John 3:16). Yet, this eternal life comes through death. We first experience the death of our carnal nature that gives birth to our regenerated nature. At some point, we will experience physical death which gives birth to our eternal state of glory (Hebrews 9:27-28). Death can be scary but it doesn’t have to be. By no means am I advocating for one to eagerly await death in anticipation, but we should be eagerly awaiting our future dwelling with God in heaven, in His own timing.

While I could go on and on about the nature of death, that isn’t my intent. Instead, I’d like us to ponder the inconsistent views held by society when it comes to the subject. If you were to poll random strangers on whether they thought killing others was good or bad, I don’t think we’d be shocked to find most feel the latter. While you may hear a variety of justifications for their answer, the common theme would be that murder is wrong. If we all seem to be in agreement on this fact, why is there so much disparity when it comes to practical implementation?

For instance, as of today, 25 states have the death penalty, 22 do not, and 3 have it on the books, though there is a temporary governor-mandated moratorium. This means our nation is split exactly down the middle on whether or not the death penalty is justice in cases of homicide. According to a recent article, Virginia is looking at abolishing the death penalty as well. This would mean those who support it would be in the minority. How can this be the case if nearly everyone agrees that murder is injustice? Just as the answers to why people believe murder to be wrong will vary, so will the answers on why people believe the death penalty to be unjust. One objection I have heard is that killing isn’t a valid response to killing. On the surface, this seems to make sense. After all, I think most would agree more injustice isn’t an appropriate solution to resolving injustice. Yet, such a view first necessitates the preconception that the death penalty is unjust. To that, we must turn to Scripture.

Whoever sheds human blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made mankind. – Genesis 9:6, NASB

It’s not some arbitrary reason why the death penalty exists. Truth be told, it’s not even negotiable. It exists because human life is inherently valuable due to us being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Chapter 4 of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 states:

After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, rendering them fit unto that life to God for which they were created; being made in the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness and true holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts,

– 2LBCF, 4.2

According to that statement, it is the very image of God that enables us to live the life to which we were created. By our very ability to reason, and our obligation to worship the Creator, we are distinct from the rest of creation. The image of God is not just something we possess. It makes up our entire being and is what gives us our identity. Though we may be in a fallen state, our identity is still rooted in us being the very image and likeness of God. It is because of this that I argue a denial of the death penalty is a denial of God and His righteous statutes. At this point, while many advocates of sin love to reference Matthew 7:1 and Matthew 5:38-39, they fail to provide the proper context. While we are not to take up vengeance or judgment into our own hands, we have a justice system as a part of our government. The government bears the sword for a reason (Romans 13:4). Ironically, claiming sanctity of life as the basis for rejecting the death penalty, is actually demonstrable of devaluing life. After all, advocates promote capital punishment because of the inherent value of the person who was killed. Opponents to the death penalty give lip service to the man’s inherent value while treating it as less than when put into practice.

Another area of inconsistency is when it comes to abortion. According to one poll, roughly 77% of Americans support the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. As a nation whose citizens will proudly stand united when it comes to opposing murder, we fall woefully short when it comes to putting it into practice. For 50% of our states opposing the death penalty, 100% allow for the legalized murder of the most innocent class of humans to ever exist: the preborn. Sadly, we have a society of people who oppose murder while proudly wearing a “pro-choice” pin on their lapel. It’s an ever-growing movement of erratic and inconsistent behavior on a downward spiral of self-destruction. The only consistency within the movement appears to be consistently shifting the goalposts while being consistently inconsistent. Instead of addressing the subject at hand: the inherent value and dignity of human life, the pool has become flooded with red herrings and the field littered with strawmen.

As with all things in life, we need to approach this subject from a biblical perspective. While death may only be a result of the Fall, there can be a certain sense of beauty to it. However, when God is rejected, everything else tends to be corrupted in the process. My hope is that this short article has given you something to think about in regard to this often avoided subject.

~ Travis W. Rogers

GLORY: From Death to Life

Last week (CLICK HERE), I wrote about the birth of Christ. We went back to 650 years prior when it was prophesied, and continued on to His death. We learned that the whole reason Christ came to this Earth was to die in obedience to the Father so that we might live. While we covered the timeline of His life to death, for this article, I would like to cover his death to life.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. (Matthew 27:50, NASB)

And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. (Mark 15:37, NASB)

And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.” Having said this, He breathed His last. (Luke 23:46, NASB)

Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:30, NASB)

I think it’s safe to assume we all know the basics of the story of Jesus. We hear of His birth every year at Christmas. We all know He was sinless and that He died for our sins. While I don’t plan on beating a dead horse, I would like to get into a few more details that are often overlooked by your average Christmas and Easter churchgoer.

Have you ever stopped to ponder the method of capital punishment known as crucifixion? It was a brutal form of death. Nails were driven into your wrists and feet. You would be forced to support your body weight on either the nail in your feet or hang by the nails in your wrists. After a little while of hanging by the arms, cramps would begin to occur. The cramps would cause your chest muscles to go numb. It would be possible to breathe in but breathing out would be next to impossible. The cramps and flaming of the muscles would make it difficult to even use your legs to alleviate some of the breathing difficulties. The buildup of carbon dioxide would finally ease the cramps which would then make it possible to lift with your legs using nothing but the nail in your feet as leverage. While the pain was unbearable and it was a challenge just to breathe, this alone was not what would normally kill the person. After some time, a guard would come up and break the legs of the person hanging. This would extinguish his ability to press up with his legs so that he could breathe. While already dealing with muscles on fire and scourged flesh, he would now have to endure the pain of broken legs and the thought of knowing he would have no way to breathe. He would hang by his arms until the cramps came back. He would breathe in but not be able to breathe out. He would then die of asphyxiation.

Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. (John 19:31-33, NASB)

While the thieves hanging on either side off Jesus both had their legs broken, Jesus was already dead. There was no need to break His legs to speed up the process. As we covered last week, this was a fulfillment of prophecy that no bones would be broken (Psalm 34:20). However, we also see that Jesus apparently had enough energy to speak in a loud voice and speak His last important words. They were not mere whimpers or whispers. They were loud and bold so that everybody could hear. Why then did He die so much faster than the other two? Was He weak? Not at all! If anything, it’s because He was stronger than anybody could ever be. While the thieves were at the mercy of the soldiers and the cross, Jesus was at the mercy of no one but Himself.

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:51-54, NASB)

“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again This commandment I received from My Father.” (John 10:17-18, NASB)

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. (Matthew 27:50, NASB)

While Jesus died on the cross, it didn’t have the power to take His life. According to Scripture, no man took His life, but He laid it down on His own authority (John 10:18). He alone chose His time of death. Jesus was only on the cross because He knew what had to be done. He could have called more than twelve legions of angels to put a stop to it. To get a better idea, a legion was roughly 6,000 soldiers. In other words, Jesus said He could have instantly called more than 72,000 angels to use at His disposal. However, that was not His purpose for being on this Earth. We know from Matthew 26:38 that He was deeply grieved and had the fear of the pain He was about to go through but this did not stop Him. He had a mission and there was only one way to accomplish it: death by crucifixion. Again, we see Jesus telling His disciples that nobody could take His life from Him. The Father had given Him the authority to lay down His own life. Matthew 27:50 aligns with this perfectly as it says Jesus yielded up His spirit. He laid down His own life and yielded up His own spirit. He did not die before the others due to being weaker. He died before the others because He chose the time at which He would yield His spirit. He fulfilled the Scripture by going to the cross, fulfilled the Scripture by speaking His final words, and yielded up His spirit at a time of His choosing to finish the fulfillment of Scripture regarding His death.

There were some during the apostolic age who rose the dead (Matthew 10:8; Acts 24:21). They were given this authority by Christ Himself. While being miraculous, the resurrection of Christ was very different. While the other resurrections were performed by another person under the authority of Christ, He didn’t need someone else. He resurrected Himself (John 10:17-18). So what exactly took place during the resurrection?

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NASB)

First, we see He appeared to quite a few people. At one point, he even appeared to 500 people at once. If over 500 people came up to you declaring they saw Skillet at a concert, would you not believe that there was a Skillet concert? It only stands to reason that if so many people make a claim and testify to being eye witnesses to this claim, it probably happened. Why then did so many people still not believe?

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, NASB)

Even with all the eye witness accounts, many still refused to believe it and thought it was crazy talk. Paul, going with their reasoning, tells us that if this is true, we are all to be pitied as we have been teaching a false god. Some had even died for this false god and were cut off for all of eternity. Thankfully, it doesn’t end there. He continues in verse 20 with:

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20, NASB)

Paul says Christ is the first fruits. The first fruits of a harvest was a sample brought to the priest as an offering to the Lord. The farmer was not allowed to harvest the rest of his crops until after this offering had been made. In the same way, there was no resurrection until the first fruits had been brought forth. Christ was the first fruits. He alone made it possible to be raised unto eternal life with the Father. Many people teach of Christ. They say all you have to believe is that He is the Son of God. The movie The Passion of the Christ portrayed the death of Jesus. Catholics wear a crucifix around their neck as a reminder of what He did for them on the cross. Unfortunately, if left at this point, it amounts to nothing. Without the resurrection, there is no salvation. This is why an empty cross is a more accurate symbol and is actually the one used by Protestants. As my old pastor used to say, a hole in the wall to represent an empty tomb would be the most accurate of all. Christ is no longer on the cross. He is no longer in the grave. As important as His death may be, His resurrection is even more so.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27:50-53, NASB)

This is something I missed for the longest time. Although I had read Matthew countless times, I never really noticed it even though it’s a huge event. The dead came out of their graves and went into the holy city. Imagine seeing your dead relatives come up to you one evening to talk. You look around and see your neighbors are being visited by their dead relatives as well. It’s absolutely amazing. I have no idea how I never really saw this in Scripture. How could I skip this part in my brain? While it may look like all this happened upon the death of Christ, we need to carefully look at the text. It speaks of the death of Christ, moves into people rising, and then goes back to speak about the death. This almost appears contradictory to the teaching of Christ being the first fruits. The thing to pay attention to is in verse 53. It says, “and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.” Christ raised himself and appeared to many. In the meantime, there were others who had previously died and were now walking into the holy city. Talk about amazing! One other thing to notice is the fact that all who had previously been resurrected likely died again at some point. They were brought back to life in an earthly sense but this was temporary. At some point, they surely would die again. They had surely been resurrected but not in the same sense as Christ. He was now in a glorified and eternal state that we will all one day see.

One day, there will be a literal changing of the body upon the resurrection. Scripture calls our physical body perishable and mortal whereas our next body will be imperishable and immortal (1 Corinthians 15:22, 51-53). In John 20:26, the disciples were frightened and in hiding behind locked doors. Jesus had just been crucified and the disciples feared they would be next. Nevertheless, Jesus appeared in their midst. There are some out there that teach our glorified body will be able to pass through walls since Jesus somehow appeared inside a locked house. I do not necessarily subscribe to this theory as it is not what the text says. It simply says he stood in their midst. Regardless, the glorified body of Christ was certainly nothing ordinary. While I can’t confidently teach that Jesus could pass through walls, I can say He could do something even greater. First, Luke 24:31 alludes to the fact that He could hide His appearance and make Himself appear differently to others. Second, it says He vanished from their sight. I think a better interpretation of His standing in their midst despite a locked door is that He just appeared. Just as He could vanish, He could reappear somewhere else. He didn’t have to pass through a wall. He just appeared where He wanted to be. According to Philippians 3:21, we will all have this same glorified body upon our resurrection.

Not only do we have a physical resurrection and change to look forward to someday. We also have a spiritual resurrection. The difference is that one happens the moment you become a believer in Christ and receive the gift of saving faith while the other will take place at a later time. I can only imagine what that time will be like!

More important than any speculating over what our glorified bodies will be like, we all need to acknowledge the work that Christ completed as well as what the Spirit continues to work in us even now. Before Christ, we were spiritually dead. After Christ, we have a newness of life (Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17). We once were dead, but we have since become regenerated and renewed (Titus 3:5). It’s not speaking of a physical death but rather a spiritual one. We must die to ourselves and be raised in Christ. This is the symbolism represented at baptism. We go under as if we are being laid in a grave upon death. We come up cleansed as if being resurrected in the new life of Christ. Baptism is a representation of what occurs at the moment of salvation. The day will come when we will experience this in the physical as well but it is only because Christ did it first to make it all possible.

I can think of no better way to close this article than with the encouragement put forth by the apostle, Paul.

but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58, NASB)

We’ve already won and we have something great to look forward to so stand fast in all you do and trust in the Lord!

~ Travis W. Rogers

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