Christ the Enemy of Death

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 17.18
18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

Colossians 4.3
3 Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.

1 Corinthians 15.26
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

From John: Two years ago, on the day this devotional was posted, I spoke at the funeral of a young man who grew up performing in theatre with me since he was about 10 years old. He had died suddenly one night at 23 of a previously undetected heart condition. This left many asking if this was “God’s plan.” I wrote this partly in response to that question. Scripture does not make a strong argument that God meticulously controls and determines every event. Christians aren’t fatalists. And when it comes to death, God’s clearly stated plan is to destroy death, not collaborate with him. We can be assured that death, though it can be used for good, is not part of his “plan.”

Reflection: Christ the Enemy of Death
By John Tillman

God’s plan may refer to the unchanging will of God that cannot, due to God’s sovereignty and purpose, be overturned. This is true of God’s eternal purpose for humans to live forever in peace with God. Eden was an expression of this plan, and the new earth to come, will be the completion of this unchangeable and inevitable sovereign plan of God. 

God’s plan can also refer to God’s direction for a specific situation. God’s direction to Elijah to stay with the Sidonian widow is an example of this. This granular and finite definition of “God’s plan” is not equivalent to God’s eternal, sovereign purposes.

Elijah assumes, and we often do as well, that God dictates every death as part of his plan. However, God consistently shows through scripture that he is death’s enemy, not death’s co-conspirator. 

God makes it clear—throughout scripture but most directly through the actions of Christ—that death itself is not part of his “plan.” 

Death is used in God’s plans in the same way God uses many evil and wicked things, diverting evil purposes for righteous purposes. God uses the death of wicked individuals in his working of justice. God uses suffering caused by death to conform us to the image of Christ. God tenderly cares for his people during the suffering of death, as a part of his loving-kindness. In many situations in the Old Testament and the New, God reverses death, resuscitating death’s victims in miraculous ways.

We can be comforted knowing God hates death. He hates the long, slow death of old age. He hates the crippling, painful death of cancer and other wasting diseases. He hates the sudden and tragic deaths of the young. He hates death that rides on the heels of war, conflict, violence, injustice, and abuses of power.  

Death is God’s enemy because it harms and hurts his children. Death is an evil attempt by Satan to violate God’s eternal plans and purposes. God is, from chapter three of Genesis, working his will against death, advancing his purpose to destroy death, and preparing his people to overcome death.  

Part of the mystery of Christ that Paul refers to is he confronts, on our behalf, our greatest enemies—sin and death. He has defeated them both on the cross and the Holy Spirit, our comforter today, is our guarantee that victory over sin and death will ultimately be ours.

Christ is the deadly enemy of death.


Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. — Psalm 86.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 17 (Listen – 3:14)
Colossians 4 (Listen – 2:21)

Read more about Make No Peace With Death
The Christian does not make peace with death. Death is the final enemy to be defeated.

Read more about The Gospel is an Uprising
Christ exiting the doors of Hell itself…is often depicted stepping upon Death…The Anastasis—the Uprising—is the great jailbreak of God.

Pie In The Sky and Strange Fruit

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 15.19
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

From John: We are moving into an extremely emotionally charged weekend during which we will remember those who died in attacks on the United States twenty years ago. Many will try to make political hay from the deaths of the victims. At times like this, it is good to remember the resurrection and its true meaning. We also reflect on what it means that we serve a God who chose to suffer with us and on our behalf. This reflection from 2019 refers specifically to racial terrorism, but all forms of injustices we suffer, whether from foreign threats, lynch mobs, politically-motivated violence, or home-grown terrorists, will ultimately be set right by a God who entered injustice to give us his righteousness. The resurrection will steal the sting of earthly death and suffering. Amen.

Reflection: Pie In The Sky and Strange Fruit 
By John Tillman

The hope of the resurrection is not just for some far-off “Day of the Lord.” It is also for the here and now.

The Corinthians struggled with false teachings regarding Heaven and resurrection. Prevailing Greek philosophy taught that bodies were evil and spirit was the ultimate existence. With this belief, bodily resurrection seemed like a punishment, rather than freedom. 

Confusion about the resurrection and about Heaven are nothing new. 

There have been times when those in power misused theology about the resurrection and Heaven. Preachers at times described Heaven as a pie-in-the-sky compensation for starving masses while they themselves sat with the powerful at supper, gorging on pie in the here and now. Some pastors partnered with the powerful, holding Heaven like a carrot in front of the mules, while cruel masters wielded a whip behind. 

This kind of pie-in-the-sky teaching relied on the same un-Christian philosophies about spirit and body that Paul worked to debunk. It told the oppressed that the suffering of their bodies was acceptable, even desirable so that their souls could be saved. This twists Paul’s words in order to theologically defend keeping people in bondage and ignoring cries for justice. 

Christ enters our sufferings with us. But our suffering is not salvific and our hope is not just for after this life.

It is by Christ’s stripes we are healed, not our own. It is by Christ’s lynching, being hung on a tree, that we are saved, not our own. Christ hung on the cross is “strange fruit” from which comes the seed of the gospel

Paul teaches us that the resurrection steals the sting of earthly death and suffering. Amen. All will ultimately be set right. Amen. Righteousness will flow like a mighty stream. Amen. The trees in the kingdom of God will bear fruit that heals the nation, redeeming the “strange fruit” of oppression and hate.

But the existence of ultimate justice does not allow us to ignore calls for justice now. In every community he visited and worked in, Paul encouraged the church to work for the good of their community and to spread the gospel. Nowhere did he counsel them to sit idly to wait on the heavenly city.

The power that raised Christ from the grave is available to us through the Holy Spirit. Seeking his guidance, may we act as representatives of God’s justice, and distribute the crop of healing for the nations.

*Strange Fruit – the story behind “The Song of the Century”, by The Salt Project and WFYI

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are the Lord, most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. — Psalm 97.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 4-5 (Listen – 6:10) 
1 Corinthians 15 (Listen – 8:06)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 6 (Listen – 3:34), 1 Corinthians 16 (Listen – 2:54)
2 Samuel 7 (Listen – 4:26),  2 Corinthians 1 (Listen -3:52)

Read more about Prayers of Woe and Weeping :: Guided Prayer
Weeping for our own hurts and harms is one thing. Weeping for what grieves God is a prophetic task and a work of faith.

Read more about Purpose
Lay down your life. Put others first. Don’t manipulate people. Swallow the tendency to whine when you aren’t the center of the universe.

The Last Shall be First—Resurrection Appearances

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 15.3-10
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.

1 Timothy 6.17-19
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 

Reflection: The Last Shall be First—Resurrection Appearances
By John Tillman

Paul’s analogy, translated “born unnaturally,” could be interpreted to mean an abortion or miscarriage. It is similar in meaning to the Hebrew word Job uses in Job 3.16 to wish he had never been born. Paul was not aborted but rather reborn—resurrected by Jesus as a new person. Paul’s intention seems to be to humble himself, making himself as unimportant as possible.

Paul describes himself as the “last” to see the risen Jesus and the least of the apostles but he became much more than that. By word count he is unquestionably the first, especially of epistles which contain explanations of the theological meaning of the gospel resurrection accounts.

Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 15 relates to us one of the earliest bits of writing about the resurrection. In verses 3-5, Paul is passing on what he learned from others about the resurrection appearances of Jesus. This text is a rhythmic format in Greek which scholars (including Gary Habermas, whose video discussing this we shared earlier in the week.) believe indicates it was written as early as one to two years after the cross and was intended as an easily memorizable early creed or lesson. 

This statement of faith in the resurrection could have been memorized and shared by some of the very families which Paul had been putting in chains prior to his conversion. 

If we believe the New Testament, then much of its message hinges on appearances and visions of Jesus. It is an important detail that these visions are not simply taken at face value in the text. The disciples and the authorities doubt them, test them, hear them over and over, and reconcile them with scripture. Paul, before experiencing an appearance of Jesus, tortured and murdered others for believing them.

In Paul’s day, women and children were not to be believed. So Jesus comes to the women first. Scholars and theologians were believed to see the scriptures clearly. So Jesus blinds Paul, one of the most brilliant theologians of his day.

We must flip many of our assumptions to enter the gospel story. To be mature we must believe as children. To be a part of the family we must admit we are outsiders. To gain riches of spiritual insight we must admit we are poor, blind, and naked.

Following Paul’s example, only by putting ourselves last, can we put Jesus first and take hold of “the life that is truly life.”

*For information on the historical evidence of the consistency and reliability of the gospel message, see this video from scholar, Gary Habermas — 1:20

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
O God, you know my foolishness, and my faults are not hidden from you. — Psalm 69.6

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 4 (Listen – 2:18)
1 Timothy 6 (Listen -3:16)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 5 (Listen – 2:50), 2 Timothy 1 (Listen -2:37)
Ecclesiastes 6 (Listen – 1:44), 2 Timothy 2 (Listen -3:17)

Read more about Angelic Visions Require Childlike Faith
If we read the Bible, and if what we read has anything to do with what we believe, then we have no choice but to take angels seriously.

Read more about Gospel Faith or Garbage Faith
Once he met Christ, Paul realized everything prior was waste, rubbish, by comparison.

Pie In The Sky and Strange Fruit

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 15.19
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Reflection: Pie In The Sky and Strange Fruit
By John Tillman

The hope of the resurrection is not just for some far off “Day of the Lord.” It is also for the here and now.

The Corinthians struggled with false teachings regarding Heaven and resurrection. Prevailing Greek philosophy taught that bodies were evil and spirit was the ultimate existence. With this belief, bodily resurrection seemed like a punishment, rather than freedom. 

Confusion about the resurrection and about Heaven are nothing new. 

There have been times when those in power misused theology about the resurrection and Heaven. Preachers at times described Heaven as a pie-in-the-sky compensation for starving masses while they themselves sat with the powerful at supper, gorging on pie in the here and now. Some pastors partnered with the powerful, holding Heaven like a carrot in front of the mules, while cruel masters wielded a whip behind. 

This kind of pie-in-the-sky teaching relied on the same un-Christian philosophies about spirit and body that Paul worked to debunk. It told the oppressed that the suffering of their bodies was acceptable, even desirable so that their souls could be saved. This twists Paul’s words in order to theologically defend keeping people in bondage and ignoring cries for justice. 

Christ enters our sufferings with us. But our suffering is not salvific and our hope is not just for after this life.

It is by Christ’s stripes we are healed, not our own. It is by Christ’s lynching, being hung on a tree, that we are saved, not our own. Christ hung on the cross is “strange fruit” from which comes the seed of the gospel

Paul teaches us that the resurrection steals the sting of earthly death and suffering. Amen. All will ultimately be set right. Amen. Righteousness will flow like a mighty stream. Amen. The trees in the kingdom of God will bear fruit that heals the nation, redeeming the “strange fruit” of oppression and hate.

But the existence of ultimate justice does not allow us to ignore calls for justice now. In every community he visited and worked in, Paul encouraged the church to work for the good of their community and to spread the gospel. Nowhere did he counsel them to sit idly to wait on the heavenly city.

The power that raised Christ from the grave is available to us through the Holy Spirit. Seeking his guidance, may we act as representatives of God’s justice, and distribute the crop of healing for the nations.

*Strange Fruit – the story behind “The Song of the Century”, by The Salt Project and WFYI

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For who is God, but the Lord? Who is the Rock, except our God: — Psalm 18.32

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 4-5 (Listen – 6:10)
1 Corinthians 15 (Listen – 8:06)

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Read more about Chastened Towards Freedom
Christ will give an absolute and perfect restoration of all these things when Jesus comes. But in the present life, there is to be a substantial healing.

Read more about The Importance of Resurrection
If there is no resurrection, neither is there any God nor Providence, but all things are driven and borne along of themselves.

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