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From Chris's Heart

April 2010
The Conquest of Death
by Nick Harris

Death is the one word human being fear more than any other word in the English language. We hate the thought of death. Why is this? Why is death so terrifying to us? A number of things contribute to this fear. For one thing, death is a great unknown to us, and for another thing, death seems so terribly final. Perhaps that is why people appear to have so badly wanted to find the answer to one pressing existential question, a question that was asked over three thousand years ago by the Old Testament sage, Job. He asked this:

“If a man dies shall he live again?”

The answer to this question is important to us, because we cannot really begin to live until we can find the answer to that answer.

As I see things, people today are confused by death, because they do not understand that two kinds of death exist. There is physical death and there is spiritual death, and physical death only becomes tragic if we fail to settle the issue of spiritual death.

The events surrounding the life and death of the apostle Paul is one of the best illustrations I know of a man who had ceased to fear physical death by coming to grips with the issue of spiritual death. This man was the apostle Paul and his attitude toward the two types of death is spelled out in Acts 21.

The events occur after Paul had arrived in the great port city of Caesarea Maritima at the close of his third missionary journey. He was on his way to Jerusalem to conclude a Nazarite vow that he had made with God in Corinth. He also planned to deliver an offering that he had collected in the churches of Europe to relieve the suffering of the saints in Jerusalem.

After Paul and his party had left the harbor, they gathered in the home of Philip the evangelist. Suddenly, a prophet of God, named Agabus entered the house. He greeted the people, and then he turned to Paul did something quite peculiar. Acts 21:11 states:

“And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet.”

Such an action was not strange for a true prophet of God. The Biblical era prophets would often act out their prophecies in some physical way as Agabus was doing. Isaiah did this; Jeremiah did this; Hosea did this, and the list goes on and on. Even our Lord Jesus Christ once acted out a prophecy.

Agabus explained his actions in the following way:

“Thus says the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owns this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. (Acts 21:11b)

The underlying message of Agabus’ actions is clear: Paul would soon be bound hand and foot and delivered into the hands of the Gentiles (Romans); but that was just another way of saying to Paul, “If you come to Jerusalem, Paul, you’re gonna die.”

Well, Paul’s friends were stunned by the words of the prophet. They loved Paul! He was their spiritual leader, and their teacher. They did not want him to die. So they began to beg him, saying, “Don’t go up there, Paul; let’s just go back to Corinth or Philippi; we can even go to Rome, but let’s don’t go to Jerusalem, Paul.” And what was the response of Paul? He said:

“What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am not only ready to be bound, but I am also ready to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21: 13)

What was this? Was it a death wish, or a suicide attempt? No, it was none of those things. This was the reaction of a man who had encountered the resurrected Christ face-to-face. This is a man who had seen and conversed with the once dead, now living Lord.

The truth is this: after Paul had met the Risen Christ, the question of death became a non-issue to him. Why was that? It was because at the very moment Paul met the risen Christ, the apostle died on the spot. So he was not afraid to go to Jerusalem. He knew that neither the Romans nor the Sanhedrin Council could kill a man who had already died. Therefore, in the eyes of Paul, he had nothing to fear in Jerusalem.

Most people today do not understand this attitude! They wonder what we mean when we say that Paul was dead. He certainly did not look dead. He looked as if he was very much alive! He walked around; he breathed air; he took up space, but that is only because we tend to look at Paul through natural eyes.

However, Paul refused to see himself through natural eyes. When he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, everything changed. At that moment, the resurrected Christ came to dwell in him; therefore the apostle knew that he was resurrected as well, at least in a spiritual sense. Christ was in him and he was in Christ.

This is how Paul described the change that having Christ in him in I Corinthians 1: 30. Christ had become to him “…wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” And those gifts belong to all believers. Like any gift, all we have to do is receive it from the one who had overcome death.

And that is my good news for this Easter season.

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