As Christians, we confess that the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus is central to our faith. This event is the cornerstone of our faith, the great miracle that points to our hope when we one day face death, but it is also the grid by which we see all of the spiritual life. In other words, the death and resurrection is not only the cornerstone of our hope of eternal life, it is also the fundamental reality of our daily journey as Christians. The death and resurrection pattern is a pattern we must follow and embrace in the course of our own journey.
Consider a few passages from the New Testament that highlight how we are called to follow Jesus in this pattern of death and resurrection.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life will lose it, and whoever hates his life in this will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25).
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life[a]will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 16:24-26).
“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
Those are just a few passages from the New Testament that highlight the importance of embracing the pattern of death and resurrection in our journey of faith. This constant pattern of loss and renewal is at work through the Spirit of God, and we see this pattern throughout Scripture.
If we broaden our search to the Old Testament, we need to look not only for passages that speak specifically about bodily death and resurrection, but passages that speak of a broad range of loss and renewal. If we can look at the Old Testament in this manner, we will see this pattern of death and resurrection everywhere.
Take for example the story about the children of Israel in Egypt. By the end of Genesis, they end up in Egypt because Jospeh has saved the family in God's providential plan. But when Exodus opens, there is a Pharaoh who does not know Joseph. This results in slavery and hardship and pain and suffering for the children of Israel. They go through a death. But God does not leave them in death; God brings them our of Egypt and into a new future, eventually into the Promised Land. It is a story of the transformation of death.
If we follow that Biblical story a little longer, we come to another time in the Old Testament when the children of Israel were taken into Babylonian exile. They were taken out of their land into a foreign nation. The prophets describe this as a death, and the prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of dry bones springing to life by God’s word (Ezekial 37). This vision represented God's people returning to the land. The bones come to life, signifying a resurrection that is coming for God's people.
If we use this pattern to view the Old Testament, we see the transformation of death into resurrection all over the Scriptures. Adam and Eve are not left in their sins, but given a new hope in Genesis 3:15; Noah and his family are delivered from the flood and brought into a new world; Abraham and Sarah are given a child in their old age, when they were as good as dead; Daniel is saved from the lion's den; and Jonah is saved from the great fish.
All these events certainly point toward the death and resurrection of Jesus, but we should not overlook that these events happen to people of faith as they are on their pilgrim journey, as Hebrews 11 makes clear. Therefore, each one of these Old Testament saints experienced multiple deaths and resurrections over the course of their life, and each time it is a witness to the transforming power of God.
The same story is happening in your life as well. Right now, the whole world is wrestling with the COVID-19 pandemic. The issue of death is always before us right now. What hope do we have in the face of this? A new vaccine? Social distancing? Staying at home?
Certainly we are cautious in how we live, praying for some breakthrough with a vaccine. All those choices and actions are wise and good. But they are not the ultimate hope.
The ultimate hope is the message of Easter: death does not have the last word. Not right now in your personal life, not next week, not next year...death is transformed into resurrection. By faith, we can see that the valley of the shadow of death we must walk through will be transformed by the power of God into a table in the wilderness.