Wouldn’t you like to be alive when the news comes that the cure for cancer has been found and the disease is now curable? Remember when we learned that we had a vaccine for polio? No more iron lungs and crutches. How we thanked God!
Today we have the greatest announcement that will ever come to humans: Death has been conquered!
Notice this word sting in today’s text, taken from I Corinthians 15. The dictionary defines sting as a wound that causes great pain.
When death comes, it brings a sting Ð first for the person who is dying, then for those who are being left behind. Even though the dying person has the assurance of salvation, there is a hurt that goes with leaving this world. Even Jesus felt the sting when he said, “My God, why hast thou forgotten me?”
Many good things have come to our age that ease the physical pain of death. Doctors can promise to keep a family member comfortable. However, the patient will still experience the emotional pain of leaving loved ones and dreams for the future.
My seminary classmate was experiencing emotional pain. He was to be ordained in just a few months. He then planned to marry and go to the mission field. Yet we stood by the bedside and heard him say words such as these: “I know I am going to heaven, but I so wanted to be married and go to the mission field to tell the good news of Christ. While he was saying this, both he, his fianc, and all who were in the room, were in tears.
Tears also were in a young mother’s eyes, and rolling down my face as she said, “I don’t want to die. I know Christ will receive me into heaven, but I do not want to leave my two little girls and husband. I know that I can raise those two girls better than anyone else. I bore them.”
Death also leaves pain in the hearts of the relatives and friends left behind. The loss of the loved one is unexplainable. We often hear people, after losing a husband or wife, say they feel like a fifth wheel and don’t belong any where.
That feeling was borne out at a singles’ group in our church. One evening I was invited to speak to this group in our church. As I sat beside a stranger who had driven 75 miles to the meeting, I asked why he had made this trip in the evening. He answered, “I get something here that I haven’t received any other place. We share our hurts and see how a personal relationship with Jesus brings great comfort.”
In the midst of these pains we learn that when Christ died at Calvary, he paid the price for all sin. It has been conquered. Atonement has been made for this sin, and the blood of Christ takes away all our sin. So we sing, “O death, where is thy victory? Death has been conquered.” Soon we shall stand in the presence of our righteous God, and we will be received into the kingdom of Heaven where there is no death.
I know we have heard this message many times. We need to hear it. But someone could reply, Pastor, you have to experience these difficult hours before you can speak with real authority. How well I know that is true. Forgive me if you feel I have made light of this subject.
Today, Janet Mennen is sharing the message with me. She is the Director of Christian Crusaders. Janet is still in her 50s, has had two bouts with cancer, and still enjoys a busy life. She has a husband, a married daughter, a married son, two lovely grandchildren, and many relatives and friends. She has the assurance of her salvation through Christ, but does not want to leave this world yet. She knows what this sting is all about. Listen to Janet, a committed Christian, who has experienced the sting of facing death.
Like many who have experienced a potentially fatal disease or accident, I tend to think about death more than I used to. So the words of the scripture text for today are especially reassuring and meaningful to me.
I won’t deny that hearing I have cancer for the first or second time is tough, because it is. It’s like a blow to the stomach that takes your breath away. As I recall the moments following the diagnosis, after the initial shock, the emotions I had were based on fear:
Fear of suffering and pain. My mother died of the same disease, so it’s hard to erase the picture I have in my mind of her suffering. She was in much pain, and it isn’t a pretty picture to recall. I don’t look forward to this type of death.
Fear of leaving this world. Most of the time, I am comfortable here, and the thought of leaving this world for somewhere I know little about can be frightening.
Fear of missing out. At the time, our two children were in college, and I was afraid I would miss out on what was happening in their lives. I wanted to spend more time with my family Ð see my children graduate from college, get married, and hopefully have their own families. I wanted to be a grandmother so I could enjoy spending time with them, spoiling them, and telling them about Jesus. I didn’t want to miss out on the rest of my life!
Fear of becoming a burden. I was afraid of how my disease or subsequent death would affect my family. I didn’t want to put a damper on what should be some of the best years of their lives because of their concern for me, having to take care of me, or having to live without a wife and mother should I die. When the second diagnosis came shortly after my daughter became engaged, I agonized this would ruin her wedding plans, and that I might miss out.
I could go on and on about this sting of death, but the more important part of this scripture passage talks about the victory over death through Jesus Christ.
Many people say they hope their death is quick and sudden, so they won’t have to think about it or feel any pain. Even though it’s not for us to choose, I would say I am grateful to have been given the chance for a better understanding of what victory over death is all about. It puts death in a whole new light for me.
I had a wonderful Christian mother, whose faith in Jesus Christ was evident all her life. But her faith was never more evident than when she was faced with death Ð first my father’s, and then her own. What a privilege it was for me to openly talk with her about what heaven might be like, and what being in the real presence of God throughout eternity would mean. She had a real sense of peace. It was something I wanted, but didn’t know how to get. Looking back now, I realize my mother not only taught me how to live, but also how to die.
So it was as I was lying on the gurney, waiting to be wheeled into the operating room, a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester asked if I wanted a chaplain. I remember telling her that I was okay; I knew my life was in the hands of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Whatever happened, I would win Ð if I died, I’d be with my Heavenly Father, and if I lived, I’d have more time with my family. That was the moment I knew what the peace that passes understanding is all about. It was a gift. And it was mine because of the victory over death through the cross of Christ.
Today, when I begin to worry about the sting of death, the Holy Spirit reminds me of the victory, and I am once again assured of my salvation. All because of the promise that a place in heaven has been prepared for me and all who believe Jesus Christ died and rose so this place can be ours. It is then that the fear of missing out on what is here on earth goes away, and I look forward to the glorious eternity that awaits us.
Having the assurance of one’s salvation is what Christian Crusaders is all about. That is why Pastor Larsen and Pastor Kramer preach the Word Ð so all who hear can know without a doubt the victory over death can be theirs as well.