This week I was talking to a dear friend who contracted COVID. In fact, he and his wife both had it. I’ve made it a purpose lately to hangout with or call any of my friends who have had this virus because their opinion of the virus matters experientially. It’s been really helpful to hear from those who have felt the symptoms, have gone through the sickness, and come out of the other side to tell me what they think. Most of my friends have shared that their main conclusion after having COVID, and all of them have shared something along the lines of: “The virus is real, I was sick, let’s wear our masks, and let’s get back to normal life.”
Now, I realize that there is a missing party that I can’t interview. That group of people are the dead. Tragically this virus has taken the lives of people and those deaths impact the lives of their loved ones. I’ve wondered what those that have died, who were followers of Jesus, would tell us? I think they would tell us the same thing that followers of Jesus from the first century who died due to sickness would tell us: “Jesus resurrected from the dead to defeat death. Don’t hide in fear from death, carry the good news of eternal life to those who are afraid.”
If I am honest, I’ve been a little saddened by the response of most Christians during this pandemic. I know that may sound a bit arrogant but it appears that most have forgotten the resurrection. Maybe it’s due to sermons on the resurrection often being limited to the Easter season. Maybe, at best, it’s due to an emphasis on the cross (1 Cor. 2:2) without it’s resurrection counterpart (1 Cor. 15). Whatever it is, we need to recover the resurrection and let it drive us to live and love the way past followers of Jesus did. We can only do this when we realize that death is not the end.
If we are honest, and I think it’s good to be honest with this topic, many of us do fear death and are doing everything we can to live for the now. I personally have nightmares of my family dying several times a day, usually starting with my first waking thoughts. Why is this? I want to protect them from death. I don’t like the thought that death can come and take them and I’m not powerful enough to stop it. Enter in a global pandemic and it may just feel like death is more of a possibility than before. As we contemplate these realities though, how often does Christ’s resurrection comfort us? When we see our unbelieving neighbors terrified to go outside because the popular media furthers their fear-driven narrative, what else would they believe? Maybe that’s where the resurrection hope is meant to be proclaimed.
When Peter is writing to a dispersed church, he starts his letter by grounding everything he is about to write in the resurrection: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Jesus truly rose from the dead and is our hope, a living one that continually gives life. Church history tells us over and over how the resurrection of Jesus began this new creation life in his people. Want to know something crazy? They lived like it was true. The resurrection wasn’t something limited to their church’s statement of faith or a 900 page N.T. Wright book, but they lived like death wasn’t the last word for them. And they took their call to proclaim this gospel message to all who would listen…and some who wouldn’t.
Jason Harris, describing how the early church dealt with plagues says, “The Christians, however, claimed not only to have a unique perspective on the disaster, but they also took appropriate action, which may have saved countless lives. Early Christian leaders reminded their people of the hope of the resurrection and helped them make sense of death. The Christians believed that Jesus Christ had conquered the grave. For that reason, they tenaciously held to the conviction that death was not the end of life, and therefore there was no place for fear.”
Or, as Dionysius wrote about Christians in the 3rd century, “Most of our brother and sister Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.”
Charles Spurgeon, in the midst of the the cholera outbreak of 1854 said, “Fear to die? Thank God, I do not. The cholera may come again next summer—pray it may not. But if it does, it matters not to me. I will toil and visit the sick by night and by day until I drop. And if it takes me, sudden death is sudden glory.”4 Is Spurgeon naive or just unaware of “the statistics?” No. He is wise and hopes to not get sick. He is aware there are those in the church that are high-risk and he will visit them. He hopes the cholera outbreak doesn’t come back, but if it does, the resurrection has set before him a strong elixir that calms the greatest of fears: the resurrection!
What is so hard for me in this particular season is the seeming absence of resurrection belief. Even as our kids watch us, I wonder if we are creating disconnects in their little brains as we teach them about resurrection but then neglect living like it’s true. Not only are we commanded not to neglect the public gathering of Christians (Heb. 10:25), we are missing a prime opportunity to let the light of the gospel shine in a time of darkness.
Several well-meaning brothers and sisters share their statistics about COVID, but fail to consider that the statistic of death is 100 percent. Whether it’s from COVID, a car accident, cancer, or natural causes, death is inescapable. But for those who have put their trust in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ have a 100 percent survival rate. In 1 Corinthians 15:30-34, Paul gives us what resurrection living looks like in the face of death: “Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ 33 Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’ 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.”
Some of us need to repent for living like the resurrection isn’t true. We, like the disciples prior to Pentecost (Acts 2:1) have been huddled up hiding the good news. If the Master returned today, what would he find? Would he find us sitting on the treasure he entrusted to us (Matt. 25:24-26), only to be exposed to not know him? Or would we be found to be a people who didn’t fear death and shared the treasure with others (Matt. 25:19-23)?
The resurrection of Jesus began the final days. The resurrection was the central hope to the Apostles’ preaching. In fact the most quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament is Psalm 110:1, which reads, "The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Why was this used so frequently in the preaching of the early church? It’s because the resurrection of Christ truly happened and they believed it with their whole being. King Jesus laid down his life for the penalty of sin, but he took his life back up to defeat the power of sin and death. COVID-19 is not a surprise to King Jesus. It’s also not a surprise to him that a majority of his people are afraid and living like death has the final word.
Will we heed Paul’s words and “wake up from our drunken stupor” or will we continue living like there is no resurrection? We can be wise, wear masks, and be informed but we can’t forget the resurrection. God understands our inclinations towards fear and that is why “fear not” is the most commanded thing in the entire Bible. Let us be a people who love in this season, but let it be a love that is driven by the power of the resurrection. We can be sure that if Christ has been raised that we will be as well (Rom. 6:4-6). Many of us fear death because it is an enemy we cannot stop. Let us fight that fear with the words of Matthew McCullough, who proclaims, “But what if Christ has already defeated our enemy for us? What if death is not our enemy to fight? What if the purpose of our lives is no longer aimed at overcoming the grave?”5
As Christopher Ash writes about how the resurrection gives the believer assurance, he says this in his monumental commentary on Job 19:25, “How can we be sure of this? Because there was once a real believer whom the monster god attacked with all his vicious terrors, a blameless believer who experienced a terrible death he did not deserve and who the Redeemer God vindicated publicly on the third day when he raised him from the dead. It is precisely the bodily resurrection of Christ that gives us the assurance that Job’s confidence was not wishful make-believe but sure and certain hope. The Father stood upon Christ’s tomb and acted as his Redeemer, to vindicate him by resurrection. This same God will stand upon the grave of every man or woman in Christ, to act as our Redeemer.”6
The beauty of the resurrection is that every time we live in light of its power, a glimpse of the New Heavens and New Earth dawns in our hearts and in the hearts of those who will believe.
1. I would highly recommend Matthew McCullogh’s book Remember Death. The book surveys how our culture is so different than past cultures in the way we deal with, and ignore death.
2. Jason Harris, Health Epidemics and the Courageous Love of Christians, https://centralchurchnyc.org/post/detail/6
4. Geoff Chang, Spurgeon and the Cholera Outbreak of 1854. https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/blog-entries/spurgeon-and-the-cholera-outbreak-of-1854/
5. Matthew McCullough, Remember Death (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 108.
6. Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross, Preaching the Word Commentary (Crossway. Wheaton, IL: 2014), 216.