The Last Enemy
Need we be subject to the sting of death?
Major Noh Young Soo had known for weeks that his personal day of decision soon would be upon him. It was 1950 and the invaders were on the march. Sooner or later they would come to the small Korean village where he, the Salvation Army officer, ministered to his fellow countrymen. Then he must witness to his faith, come what may.
Finally the day arrived, and his decision was made. Not waiting for the military patrol to find him, Major Noh went out to meet them, Bible and Salvation Army songbook in hand. Standing in the road, he held aloft the two books which spoke of his faith, and he prayed for those who would destroy his village.
There was a chatter of machine gun fire, a spray of deadly metal. The major’s riddled body fell to the ground. He was dead.
Well might we ask, in the face of such a display of holy courage, the question by the Apostle Paul, “O death, where is thy sting?”(KJV).
The glorious truth is that in such a death there is no sting, but rather victory and glory. Of course, there is human sorrow expressed by those who are left behind. But to the faithful, believing Christian, there is no sting in death.
Paul’s question, “O death, where is thy sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55) was addressed to the first-century Christians in Corinth. There were those in the church who denied the fact of Christ’s resurrection, even though Scripture clearly states that He was seen by “above three hundred brethren at once” and that “he showed Himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs.”
If Christ did not rise from the dead, argued the apostle, then the entire Christian faith was based upon a lie and was invalid. But Paul hastened to declare his own faith not only in the resurrection of Christ but in the final resurrection of all believers.
As a capstone to his statement of faith, the apostle declared, “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'” (NIV).
DEATH’S INVIOLATE CLAIM
That experience is in the future. Death still reigns, and one day the Grim Reaper will claim each of us. Death is the last enemy that will be destroyed. Until that time Death has an inviolate claim on every man and woman, for “it is appointed unto men once to die.”
Even though death now has the upper hand, Christ will be the final victor. Indeed, by His resurrection, He displayed His own power over death, and when death finally is destroyed, all those who have died in the faith will be raised to immortal life. But what of the present? Need we be subject to the sting of death?
IS DEATH SO TERRIBLE?
Paul declared, “The sting of death is sin.” On reading this text quickly and superficially, it might seem more logical to turn the phrase around and to make it read, “The sting of sin is death.” In a sense, this would be true. Death came into the world because of sin; death is the ultimate consequence of sin, inborn and actual. Death is the direct result of sin; consequently, the sting of sin is death.
But what actually is so terrible about death? “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints,” wrote the Psalmist. And the inspired apostle wrote, “To be absent from the body [is] to be present with the Lord.”
Without the fact of sin, there would be no sting, no unpleasantness to death. It would be merely stepping from one room into another, a transposition from earth to heaven. Indeed, for the child of God, death is merely a means to an end.
Colonel Albert Pepper, a revered officer of yesteryear, told of the passing of his wife. She had been very ill for several months, and he had ministered to her faithfully. One day he realized that the time had come for her to leave her body behind and to go to meet the Lord. He said to her, even though she was unconscious and couldn’t hear him,
“Mother, this is the day. This is your day. You’re going Home,”
“O death, where is thy sting?”
But when sin is present, death becomes a tragic experience. Death puts a final period to the stewardship of life. Death closes the door on the opportunity for salvation.
The words of the Apostle Paul take on new meaning. When sin is present, erecting an impenetrable wall between man and God, death becomes a terrifying experience. The unsaved sinner steps from life into the darkness of eternal doom. Then truly “the sting of death is sin.”
MAKING DYING RIGHT
Catherine Booth, wife of the founder of The Salvation Army, suffered great pain for many months prior to her death. But her bedroom became a citadel of triumph. To members of her family who were with her in her final moments, she said, “The waters are rising, but so am I. I’m not going under, but over. Do not be concerned about dying; go on living well, and the dying will be right.”
Death seldom, if ever, is anticipated with pleasure. Especially for those who are left to mourn, it is a bitter enemy. But death need not be faced with fear. Like Major Noh, like Mrs. Colonel Pepper, like Catherine Booth, like countless unsung heroes of the faith, each of us may face death fearlessly.
Christ, by His sacrifice and resurrection, achieved victory over death. But that victory is incomplete in the lives of those who have failed to experience new life in Him through spiritual rebirth.
But for those who have had the power of sin broken by saving faith in Jesus Christ, death can be a triumphant finish to the stewardship of life. Then, like the apostle, we can taunt the enemy with the question, “O death, where is thy sting?” knowing full well that the sting of death has been destroyed in our life by the Blood of Jesus, shed on Calvary, and by His resurrection in our heart.
Commissioner Robert E. Thomson a former Editor-in-Chief and regular War Cry contributor, lives in Clearwater, FL.