Joy Despite Death
Joy despite death, it almost sounds like a glib idea—don’t worry, be happy. Just celebrate, at least they’re in a better place. For many, death still has a sting, it carries a powerful weight, stealing joy, and instilling fear.
This is exactly why we’re doing this advent series, and exactly why we need to look deeply into the gospel as the foundation of our joy this Christmas.
Jake unpacked what Jesus was accomplishing in his birth, “veiled in flesh the Godhead see,” and the point of his birth being to win the final victory over death at the cross, “born that men no more should die.”
One verse I try to push all the time for college students, as well as for my own heart, captures the reality of what Jesus accomplished in a simple, understandable way. It starts like this: For the wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23a
This verse starts with some really bad news—the wages of our sin is death. Wages are what we earn—you and I are paid wages for working a job. What we’ve earned for our sin is death, and with death, the promise that we will stand before a holy God, full of justice and righteousness. We’ll have nothing to offer except our sin, our only expectation being to receive what we’ve earned. Sin is anything that violates God’s character and nature. He expressed his character in the Bible through action, like creating the world and saving the Israelites from Egypt, and through the law. As Leviticus 19:2 says “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” Standing before a God like that is a fearful thing.
And then there’s the “BUT”—”but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23b
God interrupts our fears and our just-deserved judgement. He breaks into our fears and the storyline we’re living with a greater story, a more true story, a story we rehearse and celebrate and orient our lives around when we come to really understand it. Where we’ve earned death for our sin, Jesus offers us a gift. That gift is free for you and me to accept because He paid the price for it, dying to purchase our forgiveness and freedom on the cross.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14
As Jake pointed out on Sunday morning, Paul says the record of our debt was nailed to the cross, and in saying that Paul was pointing to Jesus. That was what Jesus was accomplishing in His death, and that was the plan all along. You can’t get this gift apart from Jesus. No amount of hard work, religious action, charity or good vibes can pay back what we all owe God. We needed it to be taken care of by someone who didn’t have a debt of their own to pay, and the only person who could do that was the perfect person—Jesus, God in flesh.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
Jesus is offering us this incredible gift to accept. As theologian Vern Poythress has pointed out, the goal of the Word isn’t just more knowledge, but application and life change. You don’t understand the Word by just knowing more Bible facts or trivia, but by letting it actually change you. Knowing Christmas is about Jesus is not the same as accepting the gift He is offering to us. But when we accept this incredible gift, we’re accepting life and relationship now, today, that lasts forever. Eternal life is life with God, and when we accept forgiveness in Christ, and Him as our Lord, that life is ours today.
That’s a happy ending death can never undo. That’s the kind of perfect love that drives out fear. That’s a bottomless well of joy that will never run dry, even on our hardest days, even in the face of suffering, pain, and even death.
To live as Christ, to die is gain because we get to be with Him face to face forever.
Here are some questions to think about as we wrap up our Advent series:
- Have you accepted this gift Jesus is offering?
- Have you drilled deep into this well of joy – the fact that you’re forgiven, known, and loved by God through Christ?
- What are some ways your view of eternity and heaven have been missing Jesus, or too centered around getting back things from life?
- Who is someone you need to share this incredible gift with this Christmas?
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