Here in America this weekend we observe Memorial Day to honor and remember our sacred dead – those who gave their lives for the protection of our nation and for the freedom we enjoy. As we visit various cemeteries, we also remember our loved ones who have gone before us.
The Apostle Paul makes it clear in I Corinthians 15 that death for the true believer – the Christian – is simply a translation from one form of life in this world to another form of life in the world to come. In fact, Paul tells us that our bodies have to be transformed (vss. 42-44) into an incorruptible form to inherit heaven (vs. 50).
This home in heaven is all possible because Jesus Christ defeated death on the cross of Calvary by His substitutionary and sacrificial death. Romans 5:8 tells us that while we were yet sinners, deserving of death, Christ died for us on the cross.
The apostle makes it clear in I Corinthians 15 that in the defeat of death that death itself is “swallowed up” in victory. Isaiah 25:8 tells us that God has swallowed death. Death loses its power over the believer. Yes, we will all die physically one day due to the curse of sin – Romans 5:12 – but death for the believer is defined by the Scriptural euphemism of “sleep.” Death is no longer our master (Romans 6:9). Death is still an enemy. Death interrupts our lives, torments us, and breaks up our homes by taking a loved one away. But death has lost its eternal power.
I love Paul’s terminology in I Corinthians 15:55, “O Death, where is your sting?” Death is likened here to the sting of a bee. We all know that when a bee stings us, it leaves the stinger in us. The bee is thenceforth harmless and dies itself. In similar fashion, Satan’s stinger of death was left in Christ. Satan is defeated and potentially harmless – if we would simply trust in the Lord who defeated him.
I Corinthians 15 puts a whole new light on Memorial Day. My maternal grandfather, Carl F. Aten, served in World War I in the famous Rainbow Division under then Colonel Douglas Macarthur in Germany. (Macarthur became a Brigadier General by the end of WWI and a 5-star General of the Army by the end of WWII.) To this day my uncle has a WWI army helmet my grandfather was wearing when it was dented by enemy gunfire. To some extent, my grandfather never got over the agony of combat deaths. But my grandfather realized that Christ conquered death through His resurrection! To the end of his life, he led the Easter Sunrise service for his church in Lorain, Ohio.