If you’ve ever been stung by a bee or wasp you know it can be momentarily painful. The most painful and deadly sting is from is the poisonous jelly fish, the “marine stinger.” According to one website, 5,568 people have died from its sting since 1954. These jelly fish have fifteen tentacles which extend up to ten feet. Each tentacle has about half a million-darts full of venom. The venom causes cardiovascular arrest within minutes. Victims may die in incredibly intense pain even before the venom strikes.
What image did Paul have in mind when he quoted Hosea: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Did he imagine the bee that leaves its stinger behind in its victim and then dies? Or the wasp which lives to sting another day? Or the “Deathstalker Scorpion” whose powerful cocktail of neuro and cardiotoxins cause intense, unbearable pain, fever, then coma, convulsions, paralysis, and death?
Frankly, I don’t know. But, if I had to hazard a guess it would be the Deathstalker Scorpion native to Palestine. It also goes by the name Israeli or Palestinian Yellow Scorpion.
Paul’s image of death’s “sting” conjures something ugly and venomous and torturously painful injecting its victim with a venom that paralyzes the muscles, stops the heart and shuts down the brain.
Jesus absorbed the sting of death. Surely, the physical pain was great; movies try their best to depict the physical side of Christ’s suffering. But, for the One who knew no sin, it was the intensity of the sting of becoming sin for those who knew sin, that no filmmaker or screenwriter can imagine. Words and images fail to capture the pain of this sting.
However, Paul’s focus is not there. His focus in on the question. He looks death in the face and asks the question: “Death, where is your sting?” The answer springs back: “In the lamb who was slain from before the foundation of the world!” Jesus took in himself the sting of death and swallowed up its deadly venom for all time. Matthew Henry comments, “Death may seize a believer, but cannot sting him, cannot hold him in his power.”
I have more life behind me than ahead of me. So, the subject of my own death often flickers on the silver screen of my mind. When? Where? How? Will I know and be ready? How will I respond? Will I be able to look into death’s face and say, “Where is your sting? Oh yeah, I remember, it was absorbed by Jesus on the cross when he swallowed up your poison!”
Death died in the death of Christ.