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People don’t usually like going to funerals. They say that they are uncomfortable, people are crying, they don’t know what to say to comfort them, or they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. But is that the real reason? Isn’t a lot of the discomfort you feel at a funeral due to the fact that it reminds you of your own mortality? The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that all people by nature are held in slavery by their fear of death. As you are busy with your life every day you don’t often think about death. But when you attend a funeral the reality of death is inescapable, you can’t avoid thinking about it.
The fear of death enslaves us in a number of ways. It might prevent us from going to certain places because we are told they are dangerous. It’s part of the reason behind the arguments over shutdowns, masks, and vaccines. It’s often used by Satan to keep us from giving witness to the truth of God’s word. It’s an excuse we might give for not helping someone – we aren’t willing to risk our lives for them. Some people become so controlled by the fear of death that they won’t fly in an airplane, or they become germophobes, or they don’t ever want to leave their home. I’m guessing that subway ridership in New York has gone way down since the shooting in the subway a few days ago. The fear of death affects a lot of our decisions in life.
The worst fear that anyone could ever have is the thought that when they die they will face a second death, be slaves of Satan and live with him in the fires of hell forever. No matter how hard people try to allay this fear by trying to ignore it, or denying the existence of Hell and Satan, the nagging voice of conscience continues to be heard by them. It asks, “but what if there really is a Hell?” It says, “if there is, that’s where you are headed for sure.”
Jesus came into this world to destroy death and free us from the slavery of the fear of death. In order to do that he had to die.
Lots of people die, but their death doesn’t destroy the power of death. How is it that the death of Jesus can destroy death?
The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus shares the same flesh and blood that we do. He is truly human. It was necessary for him to be truly human because he was acting as the second Adam, as a representative of the whole human race. It was necessary for him to be truly human so that he could be tempted just as we are, so that those temptations would be real. It was necessary for him to be truly human so that he could taste death for everyone.
Unlike us, he resisted every temptation and remained without sin. Unlike us, because he had no original sin, and because he never committed a sin, he would not have had to die. Death had no power over him. Death is a consequence of sin, Adam’s and ours. So that’s what makes Jesus’ death totally different. He was not enslaved by a fear of death. Threats of death didn’t keep him from speaking the truth or deter him from serving God perfectly. He chose to die. He chose to go to the cross even though he did not deserve to die. The Jewish leaders, Pilate, the soldiers, not even the cross could kill him. No one could take his life from him, but he chose to give up his life. We hear him say tonight, father, into your hands I commit my spirit. We are told that he gave up his life.
Because his death was a voluntary, holy death, not a result of his own sin, his death destroyed the power of death. Paul says that the power of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but by his sinless death Jesus was able to pay for sin. He allowed sin to be punished in his body on the tree. He allowed the Father to dole out the punishment our sins deserve on him. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
We know hell and Satan are real, but they can no longer enslave us with threats of death. When the devil says, “because of your sins you deserve to die and spend eternity with me.” We can say, “yes, that’s what I deserve, but Jesus took that punishment for me. He died my death. He was forsaken by the Father so that I never will be.”
When the devil says, “be silent, don’t talk to others about your faith or I might have to get those who serve me to persecute you or even kill you.” We can respond, “you can do nothing that my loving Father doesn’t allow, and whatever he does allow he will use to strengthen my faith and bring me closer to him, and maybe to take me from this world of suffering to himself in heaven. For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. Because Jesus tasted death for me and rose again, you are defeated Satan. I know that my sins are paid for in full and that, because of Jesus, when my body dies, my soul will continue to live. Then, on the last day, when Jesus ends your reign of terror for good by throwing you into the lake of burning sulfur, I will live body and soul with Jesus forever.”
Going to a funeral. Talking about death. These things make us uncomfortable. Who would have ever thought that God would destroy the fear of death with death? But he did. The death of his Son, Jesus, who could have escaped death because of his sinless life, chose to die our death. Because he did, Satan’s power to enslave us by the fear of death has been nullified. Because Jesus died our death and rose again, we don’t see death as frightening or enslaving, but as the doorway to eternal life with Jesus.