Like many others, I was taken aback hearing the tragic news of the NBA basketball legend, Kobe Bryant’s sudden death, along with several others, including his 13 year old daughter this past Sunday. It was another sad moment when someone we love, respect and admire are suddenly gone. The pain is felt everywhere. I was reflecting on some of the other famous and non-famous individuals who’ve died over the last few years, and as I reflected, I couldn’t help but think that this is why we need someone who is able to rise from the dead.

Death is tragic and in the original order, it was not supposed to happen. The grief and sadness that the Bryant family and friends must feel is unique in one sense but in another is all too common in our human experience. Part of what makes death hurt so much is the immediateness of it all – loss of the person, a friend, father, a lover. There is a short-term and immediateness to the pain that is deep and often inexpressible. Short-term in the sense of the lived experienced of life on earth. Life is “short”as they say and eternity, the life beyond the grave, is just that…eternal. So on one hand, all of what is experienced on earth is “short-term” but when things like death happen, whether they are short-term or sudden, it is nonetheless painful…extremely painful. What is more, death confronts us with the finality of our day of death. In this case, Kobe’s kids will no longer give or receive hugs and kisses from their dad. Kobe’s wife will no longer to hear his loving voice say, I love you.

The pain we feel when someone close to us dies is a result of The Curse. It is part of the fallout of now living in a broken and sin-stained world, where everything already is in perpetual decay toward death. We may expect death but when it comes quickly, we are not always prepared and sometimes we don’t expect this much pain.

This pain I refer to – it stings. In the Bible, it is referred to as the sting of death. There is a sting that makes up the pain of death, and this sting runs deep inside us. We can’t escape it. Everyone will experience this sting at one time or another. In light of this, we all need help – help to protect and comfort us when the sting happens, when death finally overtakes us and our loved ones.

At this point, I cannot help but contemplate on my own death that is to come. The more I do so, the more grateful I become in light of the fact that Jesus defeated death altogether. The sting that once haunted our short-lived lives no longer has power. The sting is there but the sting is in a perpetual state of being swallowed up. As death has been swallowed up, so the sting will soon follow. The sting merely represents and reminds us of our earthly state – the state still trapped and bound by the flesh, still prone to sin and all the ugly trappings therein. But for those in Christ, we can exclaim as Paul did – to live is Christ, to die is gain. In this vein, we no longer fear death.

So the hope we have in death is the hope made real by the resurrection and life of Jesus Christ. Without his resurrection, the death our great NBA basketball legend (and many others I might add) will sting in ways that eternally have no relief. But for those who are secure in Christ we take comfort in knowing that Jesus has defeated death. When he rose from the dead, he declared victory over sin and death. As this truth sinks deeper and deeper in our hearts and minds, we begin to know the truthfulness of David’s refrain, weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

Someday we will rejoice like we’ve never rejoiced before because that will be a day when death is forever gone.

A word from Paul regarding death

54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 
57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:54-58

Paul’s counsel to those facing death

Paul could not have given better counsel for those thinking about death and experiencing that sting. There is going to be a day when Christians will remove the grave clothes and be united with Christ forever. So even when we have to deal with the fact of death facing us everyday we do not lose heart. Believe it or not, we are able to make some sense of death. At a minimum, we know why death exists, we know its origin and we know what keep the engine of the power death going. But we also know that because of the resurrection of Christ – the power of death, which is sin, and that the power of sin, which is the law, has been entirely rectified. Jesus cleared the record of our lawlessness and made a way of life beyond the grave so that we can declare and even sing, “Where, O death is your sting?” Thanks be to God for giving us victory through our Lord Jesus. Until that day Paul offers this counsel for those facing death but whose hope is in Christ: (1) Let nothing move you, (2) Keep serving the Lord.

Let nothing move you – not even death

Not much else like death, except God himself, can shake us to the core, and cause us to question Him, his sovereignty, his providence, his wisdom or his plan. Truly, God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts far above our thoughts. So when death does come, dramatically and suddenly, we are moved. We are moved in such a way where all the things we place our hope in, all the things we find our confidence in, all our dreams, ambitions, desires and expectations – they come crashing to the fore. We face everything as it really is – temporary, fleeting and everything is but a breath. As death exposes itself we realize a tragic fact – we will not take anything with us when we die. As death draws nearer and nearer, some of us become anxious and even angry. But there is a better way.

Paul believes and counsels us that if it is true that Christ defeated death, then you too can face death without fear or trembling. If it is true that Christ rose from the dead then not even death can shake us – nothing can move us…not even death.

You will still feel the sting but again, that’s the reminder of our fallen state. It will not always be this way, and the sting will turn into shouts of praise, laughter and joy for those who are in Christ. Thus, Paul’s next counsel makes perfect sense – serve the Lord.

Serve the Lord

Paul’s final “therefore” beckons us to realize that if everything he previously said is true then we will acknowledge that there is no where else for us to turn and nothing left for us to do than to serve the Lord. “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

What is the work of the Lord? Quite simply – to let others know about the hope we have now that Christ has defeated death.

How do we know that this work is not in vain? Because Jesus rose from the dead.

For those in Christ, let me challenge you with this work of the Lord: Pray for the Bryant family. Pray that God in his sovereign and great mercy would use this tragedy for his glory and for the recognition of his name. Pray that as those who grieve continue in their grief that they too see the need for a resurrection from the dead and life a beyond the grave. As this need becomes increasingly apparent, would they be pointed to Christ who did in fact rise from the dead. And may their grief be subdued by a new and living hope set out for us in the gospel.