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The day death died

• Apr 7, 2019 at 10:00 AM

There’s a great story that goes like this: Once upon a time in Baghdad a merchant sent his servant out to the market for supplies. Later, he came back pale and trembling. Clearly something was wrong.

“Master,” he said with fear in his voice, “when I was in the marketplace someone in the crowd bumped into me. I turned around and to my dismay saw that it was Death! He looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Now, please, lend me your horse so I can flee this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samaria and there Death will not find me.”

So, the merchant agreed and gave him his horse. Mounting with haste and spurs dug in, he raced to Samaria as fast as the horse would go.

After his servant was gone, the merchant went down to the marketplace. Seeing Death in the crowd, he asked, “Why did you threaten my servant this morning?”

Surprised, Death said, “Oh no, I was not threatening him. Seeing him in Baghdad surprised me since I had an appointment with him tonight in Samaria.”

We’ve come a long way when it comes to the condition of life. We have far more comfort and convenience than at any other time in history. Yet, for all our technology, we still have not gained an inch in challenging that ancient Thief of Life. Death comes to us all — and even Samaria is no safe space from him.

Sure, we may delay his coming through better medicine and healthier living; we may make the last days more comfortable through end of life care; but not one person who has walked in the warmth of life has escaped the chilling hand of death. “Since the day of my birth,” Jean Cocteau reflected, “my death began its walk. It is walking toward me, without hurrying.”

We face a relentless, indefatigable foe. Proverbs 27:20 says, “Death (is) never satisfied.” And yet, as diligent as he is, neither does he discriminate. You have to admire his fairness. He will not be bribed or bartered with; we have nothing he wants — except the breath in our lungs. The Roman poet Horace said, “Pale Death beats equally at the poor man’s gate and at the palaces of kings.“

Before Horace, Solomon spoke on the same point: “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.” (Ecc. 5:15)

Few have gone untouched by Death; we’ve all lost someone. Perhaps even in that grief we also found ourselves feeling eerily unsettled. The death of another can be a reminder that one day we too will ride into Samaria. “Death,” Solomon said again, “is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.” (Ecc. 7:2) Hebrews sobers us up with, “It is appointed for man to die once and then face judgment.” (9:27)

Question: What are we to do with death? How are we to deal with this looming foe? What can we do?

The answer: nothing.

There is nothing we can do with death except to die. And that is what people are doing every day. Every day, about 151,000 people slip away. In the minute you have been reading, nearly 100 people have disappeared. For 151,000 people, today is their day. When is your day?

Or perhaps we ought to ask: Is there a day for Death? Will he ever meet his own match? Is there a champion for us who could meet him, overcome him and bring upon him what he has brought upon all men? Where is our David to go out and meet our Goliath?

Now we arrive at Easter. On this day, this historical Third Day, Death has been met. The invincible life of Jesus Christ rose up and conquered the otherwise invincible Death. On Resurrection Sunday, we erupt in joyful praise at the empty tomb of Jesus Christ — where the women discovered him gone, where Peter marveled in wonder, where angels announced his triumph, where God declared him to be His Son, where justification was achieved, where the seed of the woman crushed the serpent’s head.

That empty grave was the womb where eternal life was born. There you will not find a dead Jesus. Instead, you will find the death of Death. Beneath the shadow of the Living Christ lies the corpse of a conquered foe. The day Jesus rose is the day death died.

“Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting? ... Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” -(1 Corinthians 15:55, 57)

About the writer: The Rev. Justin Smith is pastor of Emmanuel Free Church, 17737 West Spring Lake Road, Spring Lake Township. The church’s website is at www.efcspringlake.org.

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