Christ Jesus, the Destroyer of Death

Christ Jesus, the Destroyer of Death

Last week during our adult ed class on 1 John, I shared a part of my testimony about how I came to a saving faith and knowledge in Jesus Christ. Though it’s common—and appropriate—to hear people say that what drew them to Jesus was learning that through him they could find forgiveness for their sins, forgiveness for every bad thought or action they had ever had or committed, I was initially drawn to Jesus for a different reason. And perhaps I should explain that though I was raised in a moral home, I wasn’t raised in a Christian home—we didn’t attend church even on the two mandatory holidays of Christmas and Easter. Regardless, I was probably around ten years old when, after watching some television medical drama about a woman who was dying, I first considered what it would be like to die. Try as I might, I couldn’t fathom what it would be like to cease to exist. As I lay in bed crying in the midst of my anxiety, my mother heard me and came into my bedroom to see what was wrong. When I told her, she tried to soothe me by telling me not to worry, noting that death was like going to sleep. However this well-intended advice only made matters worse for I feared going to sleep after she left. Not waking from sleep sounded as fearsome to me as ceasing to exist.

Well, fast-forward seven years to when I was seventeen and began attending a Wednesday night youth group at a church that ended each rousing activity-filled evening with songs and a twenty-minute talk about Jesus. It was there that I first heard what would turn out to be a life-changing teaching: Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will never die.” And I actually prefer how John has recorded these words spoken by Jesus to Martha just before he raised her brother, Lazarus, from death: “…I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”[1] In the May of my 18th year of life, after reading from the New Testament, I closed the door to my bedroom at home, got on my knees and told Jesus I believed this. Consequently I told him that I wanted to give my life to him and live for him—not only now but for all eternity. My response to Christ’s offer of salvation forty years ago was but the start of a life-long journey in knowing, loving, serving, and following Jesus Christ. I honestly don’t think I could ever live my life without him—and, fortunately, I don’t have to!

That responsive commitment to first learning about Jesus came back to me this past week as I thought about our morning’s passage for I think that many of us have feared and wondered about death. I think that many of us have viewed death as the ultimate destroyer of life. Yet Paul makes clear in verse 10 of 2 Timothy 1 that our Savior, Christ Jesus, is not only the Destroyer of death, but is also the Giver of life and immortality. In other words, in his teaching Paul is echoing here what Jesus had taught concerning himself. What is more, Scripture makes clear that Christ Jesus is not only the Destroyer of death, but also of Satan through whom death was initially introduced to humanity. According to the third chapter of Genesis, death entered the world when the serpent lured Eve, the first woman, to partake of the one fruit that had been forbidden her and Adam. Yet the serpent—whom John in his Revelation identifies as being “the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray”[2]—convinced the woman through a lie to eat of the fruit and the woman in turn gave some of the fruit to her husband who also ate of it.[3] With that fatal disobedience the Fall of humanity occurred, breaking the unhindered fellowship Adam and Eve had previously had with God, each other, and the created order. This disobedience further resulted in tainting and twisting human nature to such a degree that thereon in humans were desensitized to the voice of their Maker as they turned from serving him and each other to serve themselves instead. This turning away from God and his purposes and turning to our own ideas of what is right and wrong is part of what Scripture understands to be sin. And no human born since then, Christ Jesus excepted,[4] has ever been free from sin’s taint and harm.

Not even the apostle Paul was spared the effects of the Fall for prior to being confronted by Jesus Christ after he had died and risen from death, Paul (who was known as Saul at the time) was known for persecuting Christians. This is no doubt why he refers to himself as the worst of sinners.[5] Yet despite this, when the risen Lord appeared to him, listen to part of how Jesus answered when Saul asked who he was:

I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…. 16 Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.[6]

From the beginning Paul’s Christ-appointed mission was to open the eyes of those who were in darkness, whether Jew or Gentile, that they might see Jesus who is the resurrection and the life.[7] We see Paul’s awareness of this mandate in the opening of this second letter to Timothy when he states that he is “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.” From the time that Jesus first spoke to him, Paul embraced his God-given mission to proclaim to others the message of forgiveness of sins through Jesus who is the Lord and Giver of eternal life.

For Paul knew—and the rest of God’s Scriptures teach—that enabling us, his broken and fallen image-bearers,

to see the light of Jesus Christ;

and know him who is the Destroyer of death and Satan;

and love him who is the Giver of life,

is the reason God, eternal Son of the eternal Father and giver of the eternal Holy Spirit, came into this world in human form in the person of Jesus Christ. Listen to how the author of Hebrews puts it as in the second chapter of his epistle he tells about why God in Christ came into this world:

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.[8]

Clearly God knows that I wasn’t alone in my fear of death, the destroyer of life. For fearsome and real though death may seem, Christ who is stronger and greater entered human history that he might destroy death and Satan the destroyer of life and of all that is good.[9]

Now in his letter Paul is writing, as stated in verse 2, to Timothy, his spiritual and dear son who received a great heritage from Lois, his grandmother, and Eunice, his mother—namely, as stated in verse 5, Timothy received a “sincere faith” which “now lives” in Timothy as well—and Paul notes in verse 3 his own heritage of faith when he offers thanks to God, whom he serves as his ancestors did. After these preliminaries, starting in verse 6 Paul provides the reason for writing this letter, namely “to fan into flame the gift of God” in Timothy by God’s Spirit who “gives us power, love and self-discipline.” We all can use an occasional flame-fanning of our faith, can’t we? For we all, like Timothy, occasionally need a boost of power—and love—and self-discipline from none other than God’s Holy Spirit. Paul seeks to provide this for Timothy by exhorting him in verse 8, “do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” Apparently Timothy needed some encouragement, as we all do, to be bold in his witness to Christ and his goodness, even if it led to the kind of suffering Paul so often endured for the sake of the gospel.[10] For he even wrote this letter during his second imprisonment in Rome. And later in this epistle it’s clear that he viewed his death as being imminent as he wrote Timothy, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.”[11] Yet in typical Pauline fashion he viewed his imprisonment through the eyes of providence, preferring to see himself not as a prisoner of man but as a prisoner of “our Lord” as stated in verse 8 here.

Instead of focusing on himself Paul fans the flame of Timothy’s faith by focusing on Christ who, verse 9, “has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” Those who have responded to Christ’s offer of salvation have been called “to a holy life.” They’ve been called to live not according to our own ideas of what is right and wrong, but according to God’s declaration of what is right and wrong as recorded in Scripture. And I don’t think we can be reminded often enough that our salvation from death and evil and sin; our salvation from the consequences of living according to our own ideas of what is right and wrong is something we could never earn or deserve. And though it’s certainly a mystery to us why God’s gift of salvation is accepted by some and turned down by others, as Paul states here, God’s salvation and call are due to “his own purpose and grace.” Therefore it is ours to accept and share with others. This grace, this free and unmerited favor of God, Paul goes on to state, “was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” Again, the fact that it was given us before time began further emphasizes that it’s granted us purely due to God’s merciful, compassionate, and generous nature rather than because of any merit on our part. For how could we merit a gift that existed ages before we were ever born?[12]

Now this grace that was ours “before the beginning of time” “in Christ Jesus”—and, again, it could be in Christ because Christ is God who is eternal—this unmerited favor of God “has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus…” as stated in verse 10. For the second member of the Trinity, Christ, eternal Son of the eternal heavenly Father, came to earth in the person of Jesus in order to reveal; in order to unveil; in order to make known his free and unmerited grace; his free and unmerited favor; his free and unmerited salvation. And as already stated, God in Christ “has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” And all of God’s people said, “Amen!”

Well, starting in verse 11 Paul in essence relays what the risen Christ told him when he first appeared to him, namely, “11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am.” The risen Christ called Paul to be a herald, to publicly proclaim to others the good news of who Christ is. And he called him to be an apostle, that is, one who is sent to others by God, by Christ, for this purpose; and he called him to be a teacher who could clearly explain to others who God in Christ is—and why he has come—and what he has done to reconcile us to the God who made us in his image, to the God who made us for himself.

Next Paul puts his own words to Timothy into practice when he goes on to state concerning his suffering for Christ, “Yet this is no cause for shame.” As Paul told Timothy not to be ashamed “of the testimony about our Lord” back in verse 8 so now he confesses he is not ashamed in verse 11. Why? As stated at the end of verse 12, “because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” Paul knows whom he has believed. He knows the risen Christ:

He knows Christ who has saved us and called us to a holy life (verse 9);

He knows Christ who has existed before the beginning of time (verse 9);

He knows Christ who has destroyed death (verse 10);

He knows Christ who has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (verse 10).

Paul knows this Christ, the One whom he’s believed. And, knowing him, he knows that Christ Jesus will guard his life and the gospel until the day when he returns as the King he is to judge the world.

Therefore Paul ends by exhorting Timothy to follow in his steps, starting in verse 13: “13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” God calls us to the sound teaching given us through his prophets in the Old Testament and by his Son who came in the flesh as testified to in the Gospels and by his apostles in the New Testament. God calls us to faith in Christ. And to love in Christ who is God’s love made manifest in flesh and spirit. As John attests in his first epistle,

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.[13]

This is the good deposit. This is the Gospel, the good news, of Jesus Christ which Paul gave his life to and passed along to Timothy and to any and all who would accept it. This is the gospel that tells how God has provided salvation by means of Jesus Christ the Savior’s life, death, and resurrection.

Dear brothers and sisters, do you, like Timothy, need a little flame-fanning of your faith this morning?

Do you need a boost of power—and love—and self-discipline from God’s Holy Spirit?

If so, then turn your eyes to Christ Jesus, the Destroyer of death; if so, then turn your eyes to Christ Jesus, the Giver of life and immortality. For dear Jesus comes to each of us, as he did to Martha, and proclaims: “…I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”[14] Beloved ones, do we believe this?

If we do, then let us not be ashamed of this testimony from our Lord;

Let us, like Paul, be heralds of the good news of the risen Christ, and publicly proclaim his love and offer of salvation to others;

Let us be teachers of this gospel, in word and deed, as we point others to him who is the Destroyer of death, the destroyer of Satan, the Giver of life and immortality.

For we, like Paul, know whom we’ve believed and are convinced that he is able to guard what we’ve entrusted to him until that day.

Let us pray.

[1] John 11:25–26.

[2] Revelation 12:9: The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

[3] Genesis 3:1–7: 1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”cThe woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

[4] Hebrews 4:14–16: 14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

[5] 1 Timothy 1:15–16: 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

[6] Acts 26:15b–18.

[7] Again, note John 11:25–26: …I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?

[8] Hebrews 2:14–18.

[9] See also 1 John 3:8: Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.; 1 Corinthians 15:24–25: 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

[10] See, for instance, 2 Corinthians 11:23–29: 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

[11] 2 Timothy 4:6. Yet in verses 7–8 Paul goes on to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

[12] See also Ephesians 1:3–6:Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.; 1 Peter 1:17–21: 17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.; Revelation 13:8: All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.

[13] 1 John 4:7–12.

[14] John 11:25–26.