Death in Tatters

shreds

Isaiah 25:7-8a “On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife announced that they were donating three billion dollars to try to end all diseases in our lifetime. In his last state of the union address, President Obama appointed Vice President Biden to a task force to try to cure cancer. They want to double the speed of our progress against the disease.

The desire to wipe out leading causes of death is not a new one. In the past, great progress has been made in controlling or eradicating certain diseases. Smallpox, which killed between 300 and 500 million people during the 20th Century, today exists only in a few laboratory samples. Bubonic Plague, or “the Black Death,” killed nearly 100 million people during the 1300’s. That’s almost one fourth of the entire world population. As many as 2000 people around the world may still get the plague in any given year, but now it is treatable with antibiotics.

Just about the time we get a handle on one disease, it seems a new one appears on the scene. Ebola, West Nile Virus, Zika, AIDS–these have all become big concerns during my lifetime. The problem with mankind’s war on death is that we never get to the root of the problem. It’s not a disease, or bad genes, or untamed forces of nature, or unhealthy habits and practices. “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin. And in this way death came upon all men, because all sinned.” “The soul who sins is the one who will die.” “The wages of sin is death.” This is simply beyond the skill of modern science. It is beyond the reach of all human efforts, even religious ones. Only one person, one Being, can do anything about it.

And he has. Isaiah lived and wrote his prophecies in Jerusalem, the city built on the same mountain where 700 years later Jesus was put on trial, condemned to death, crucified, and buried. There he paid for the sins of the world. And when he rose from the dead three days later he accomplished what no doctor, no scientist, no researcher can ever do. He destroyed death. “Swallowed it up,” Isaiah says. He broke it and stomped all over it, and it will never work the way it used to work again. He changed it from permanent condition to temporary condition. He reconstructed what was once the gateway to hell, making it the door to our true home in heaven.

This makes all the difference. Christ destroys “the sheet that covers all nations, the shroud that enfolds all peoples.” Death is like a dark sheet, this shroud of gloom that darkens life. Jesus tore that sheet to shreds, and now the light comes pouring through. Consider the truly Christian funeral. We still shed some tears as we say goodbye. But it is not despair. Underneath the tears there are often smiles, even a note of joy. Gathered with those we love we often find laughter. As we remember those who have died, we consider where they have gone. We celebrate the new and perfect life they have in heaven. Death is in tatters, and Christ has set God’s people free.

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