Death looms over all.
“…through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Rom. 5:12). A few verses down, Paul says that sin reigns in death. Those who are slaves of sin are slaves of death. The wages of sin is inevitable death. You are dying because you are a sinner, because you have sinned. There is a hook in the soul of every son or daughter of Adam. The hook is sin, and it has a chain that leads to the grave and from there to the outer darkness, to eternal separation from God, to judgment, isolation, and torment.
And so the human race fears death. We fear death because we know that we deserve death. We have sinned and so death must come. And so the fear of death reigns over all. The fear of death is that constant tugging, the pull of the hook in the soul. And the devil is the one tugging, pointing to the record of your sins, the record of your wrongs, the accusations written against you. The devil is the accuser, and he reminds you of your vile lust, your laziness, your angry outbursts, the lies, the betrayals, the seething bitterness, the envy, and then simmering over it all is the guilt and shame and regret and despair. And the devil says, what can be done now? What can be done when you’ve failed? What can be done when you’ve sinned? When you’ve broken things that cannot be put back together? What can be done when years and decades have been wasted and thrown away? It’s too late, the Accuser in your head says. And maybe excuses come as well – there was nothing else I could do. If my parents hadn’t…, if my husband hadn’t…, if my children, if my wife, but at the bottom of it all, we know that we sinned. We willfully chose evil. We are guilty. And now there is this hook in our soul that we cannot shake free of.
And death is coming. And we will stand before the Living God of all the earth. And there will be no secrets. All will be revealed. All will be laid bare. The record of our wrongs will be read, and the only reasonable and just response will be the verdict of guilty. And so the terror grows, as death comes day by day: cancer, car accidents, natural disasters, violent crime, suicide, taking our parents, grandparents, siblings, children, neighbors, friends, strangers. Death looms over all.
And it was into this world that our Lord Jesus came.
Hebrews says, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15). So Jesus became a man so that He could die, and He went down into death in order to destroy the devil who had the power of death and release those who through fear of death were in bondage all their lives. Jesus died in order to destroy the fear of death, which is the power of the devil. Why is the fear of death the power of the devil? The fear of death is the power of the devil because sinners deserve to die. The devil manipulates sinners by yanking the chain connected to the hook of sin in every sinner’s heart. The devil’s power is in his name, Satan, which means Accuser. So Jesus died in order to destroy the devil’s power over sinners. This is what John says elsewhere as well: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. (1 Jn. 3:8). How did Jesus destroy the works of the devil? How did Jesus destroy the power of the devil? In the same chapter John writes, “And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins” (1 Jn. 3:5). Notice that repeated verb manifested. He was manifest to destroy the works of the devil and He was manifested to take away our sins. And it turns out that He did both of those things in one single act. Or to put it another way, the only works the devil has, the only power he has is directly tied to our sins. And therefore, if our sins are taken away, the works of the devil have been destroyed, his power is no more. If the hook is taken away, the chain is destroyed.
And so, this is precisely what God has done in Jesus. All we like sheep have gone astray, everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Is. 53:6). He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him (Is. 53:5). There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus… for what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us…” (Rom. 8:1, 3). On the cross, God wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us. He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross, having disarmed the principalities and powers, making a public spectacle over them, triumphing over them in it.
Do you see? Do you understand? Christ went down into death for me and for you. He went down into death, the just for the unjust, the righteous for the unrighteous, the good for the evil, and bore our sins in His body on the tree. And having suffered the wages of our sin, having endured the just wrath of God against our sin, he destroyed the power of the devil. If you are in Christ, if he died for your sin, then the devil has no more power. His power was the fear of death. His power was His ability to accuse you of sin, to bring up the handwriting of requirements against us. But in the Cross, God wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us. He took it away and nailed it to the cross. And this is how He disarmed all our demons, our devils, every satan, every accusation. If there is now no condemnation, there is no accusation. Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?
And if all our debts are paid, if all our sins have been taken away, then we are not afraid of death anymore. Whatever death is for those who are in Christ, it is no longer judgment, it is no longer fearful, it is no longer darkness, isolation, or torment. This is why the New Testament routinely speaks of believers who have died as “falling asleep in the Lord” (e.g. Acts 7:60, 1 Cor. 15:6, 1 Thess. 4:13). When believers die, they do not come under the power of death, and so we insist with Jesus that believers do not really die. When believers die, they yet live, because those who live in Christ can never die. How could we? We have been set free from all our sin and guilt and fear.
And so this is what we celebrate tonight. This is what we celebrate this weekend. This is what we proclaim continually. Jesus died in order to take away all our sins. Jesus died in order to destroy the works of the devil and his power over us in the fear of death.
Remember, in Revelation, when John sees Jesus standing in Heaven, and Jesus says, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Rev. 1:18).Who holds the keys of Hades and Death? Who is the Lord of the grave now? Our Lord Jesus is. He holds the keys. He took away our sins and destroyed the works of the devil, and now we are not afraid of death anymore. Amen.