“Death and Life in Jesus”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons

Only God knows how many times y’all have heard me declare about some Bible passage, “This is one of my favorite verses!”  However, favorite contexts are a bit rarer.  On that list, though, must appear 2 Corinthians 4-6, the heart of what Clay called “the Great Digression” last week.

However, that much Scripture is a bit much for even me to tackle in a single sermon, so this evening, we’re going to zero in on the section from the middle of 2 Corinthians 4 to the middle of 2 Corinthians 5. 

I think this portion is especially valuable because it shows us just how different the Christian perspective on life is from the worldly perspective.  People of the world generally will agree that you need to go through life not causing trouble, looking after your physical health, and generally making yourself a priority.  After all, if you don’t look after yourself, who will do it for you?

To Paul, though, life isn’t focused on the self.  It’s focused on Christ, not only in seeking life through Christ but also in embracing His death.  This evening, then, let’s consider how earthly existence looks when viewed through the lens of the death and life of Jesus.

In the text, this duality shows up in three contrasting pairs, and the first of them is SUFFERING AND SPEAKING.  Let’s read from 2 Corinthians 4:7-15.  In this text, two main things are going on.  First, he describes his suffering.  Second, he describes the effect that his continuing to speak has had on the Corinthians and others.

The first part of this text isn’t as famous as Paul’s later description of his hardships in 2 Corinthians 11, but this is still not a list that anyone would want to take on!  He is afflicted.  He is perplexed.  He is persecuted.  He is struck down.  He is delivered over to death for the sake of Jesus.  However, there are also things that he isn’t.  He isn’t crushed, in despair, abandoned, or destroyed, and everywhere he goes, he displays the life of Jesus. 

This teaches us a vital lesson:  the Christian is never totally defeated.  There might be all kinds of things going wrong in our lives, but God won’t let us be overcome by any of them.  Additionally, the more we are given over to death, the more the life of Christ becomes evident in us too.

Indeed, suffering gives us a powerful voice.  Like Paul’s suffering allowed him to bring life to many, our example of faith in suffering gives us a platform.  When we stand strong through trial and continue to glorify God, we inspire other Christians, and we pierce the hearts of the people of the world. 

Suffering is a fact of life.  It will come to all of us.  The question is how we are going to suffer.  Are we going to suffer like a worldling or like a Christian?  That choice makes all the difference.

The second pair is DYING AND BEING RAISED.  Look at 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:5.  Once again, the death-versus-life contrast is clear.  Despite his faith—indeed, because of his faith!—Paul knows himself to be dying.  However, he also knows that through Jesus, he will have an eternal life in heaven that is perfectly secure.

There are two things that we should draw from this.  First, it shows us that dying should remind us of eternal life.  Whether we feel it or not, it is true for all of us that our outer man is decaying day by day.  In my case, I do feel it.  One of the primary early-stage ALS symptoms is fasiculation.  It’s a bunch of little involuntary muscle twitches all over my body.  They are caused by motor neurons that have been poisoned by toxic proteins and are dying. 

I feel them every hour of every day.  They certainly remind me that my days are numbered!  However, they also remind me that my inward man is being renewed every day, and that I have an incomparable and eternal weight of glory waiting for me.  Thus it is for all of us.  What hastens us toward our doom also hastens us toward our goal.

Second, this also shows us that we can be confident in our resurrection.  In particular, Paul says that we can know that we will be raised because of the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.  Some might say that this is about the feelings of confidence that the Spirit gives us, but that doesn’t make sense to me.  Have you ever heard of a bank that would accept a feeling as a down payment?

Instead, this has to be something tangible that fills us with justified confidence.  In the case of first-century Christians, it was the miraculous gifts.  When you could speak foreign languages or predict the future, that proved to you that your faith was more than a matter of wishful thinking.

Today, the Spirit carries out this work through the word.  I don’t merely feel that I will be raised.  I know that I will be because of the Biblical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.  The Scriptures assure me that my faith isn’t based on wishful thinking either.

Our final pair of the evening is BELIEVING AND FOLLOWING.  This plays out in 2 Corinthians 5:6-15.  Believing seems like an odd thing to link with death, but Paul does so in two ways.  First, he points out that because of our faith, we no longer fear death but rather even long for it.  It is much better to be away from the body and at home with the Lord! 

However, and more provocatively, he says in v. 14 that believing in the death of Jesus leads us to die to ourselves.  When we understand that the holy Son of God loved us so much that He died for us, it’s a life-changing realization.  If we’re decent people at all, we don’t shrug that one off.  It moves us to devote ourselves to Him like He devoted Himself to us.

The following part is twofold too.  First, following Jesus leads us on the path to heaven that He blazed.  When we are in heaven, we are not merely at home.  We are at home with the Lord, and it is the presence of our Lord that makes heaven our home at all.

Second, when we die to ourselves because of the awe-inspiring sacrifice of Christ, we don’t stay dead.  Rather than continuing to live for ourselves, we live for Him.  He died and was raised, and we strive to conform to that pattern as closely as possible, knowing that union with His death means union with His resurrection too.