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.
Someone has said that when a child dies it is like putting a period in the middle of a sentence. There is something out of balance. When the world is “right-side-up,” children watch their parents die. However, the world is not the way it is supposed to be: it is filled with the evils of sin. I thought to write something about the mass murders in Newtown, CT this morning hoping that God would nudge me to something, if not profound at least helpful. I watched as various experts from police departments, psychologists, forensics experts, pastors and priests offered their comments from the perspective of their walks of life.
The Newtown church’s Catholic Monsignor did make some sense. If I heard him right, he said he had not lost his faith in God because he never put his faith in humanity. This bit of wisdom is biblical (Ps 118:8) and is where Christians can start to process once again a horrible evil that has befallen a community and especially the kindergarteners and their families.
All the usual arguments will be debated in the weeks ahead. Political ones about gun control; legal and medical ones about mentally deficient people and religious ones about God’s role in this sad event. Like you, as I watched, I thought. I thought about Romans 1 and the knowledge of God evident in creation and Romans 2 about the knowledge of God in the human conscience. I thought about the dangerous fruit of the suppression of that knowledge erupting in such an evil way in Newtown. I thought about God’s grace that more Columbines, movie theatre and Newtown shootings don’t happen. If the human heart cannot be broken over these deaths and cry out to God for mercy, what would it take? Great and horrific events have taken place in every generation, yet stubbornly, and for Christians sadly, the human heart refuses to turn to the Savior who has won the battle against evil, sin and death. We must reckon with the truth from Jeremiah that the human heart is desperately sick (i.e., wicked); who can know it? (17:9). But God has the remedy.
Dr. Albert Mohler has a blog worth reading that will help Christians give a solid biblical answer to the Newtown events or any event or no event. It shows us the way we should think as soberminded and serious people about the great questions of life. You can find the article, “Rachel Weeping for her Children — The Massacre in Connecticut” here: http://www.albertmohler.com/2012/12/14/rachel-weeping-for-her-children-the-massacre-in-connecticut/?utm_source=Albert+Mohler&utm_campaign=244122a7cd-Albert_Mohler_Email_August_6_20128_6_2012&utm_medium=email.