Two Kinds of Death

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 30:55 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bruce Springsteen has a line in his song “Atlantic City” that goes like this: “Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact/But maybe everything that dies some day comes back.” Everything—everyone—dies, but how we come back depends on how we die. I don’t mean it matters how you die, in the sense of whether it’s cancer, or an accident, or something else. I mean it matters whether you die in Adam or in Christ.

Paul talks about these two kinds of death here in 1 Corinthians 15. About the one kind, he says, “I am dying every day.” About the other kind, he says, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” He uses the word “die” for both, but these are entirely different. Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die, is in Adam, dust to dust, earth to earth, and, as the Scriptures teach, death forever. I am dying every day, on the other hand, is in Christ, who has already died and been raised from the dead.

Death comes by one man, Adam. In Adam all die. This is offensive to us, because we didn’t have any say in the matter. Certainly, we’ve contributed our fair share since then, but we weren’t even around when Adam sinned and brought death into God’s good creation. What does that have to do with us? Why would we be held responsible for something someone else did? Why should it be handed down to us from parent to child? We’ve mapped the human genome; no one’s identified a “sin” gene, so far. So who would believe something like that?

But we only die because we share the sin-disease of Adam, and the symptoms are obvious in our own actions. Even if we didn’t believe that we had inherited it, even if we didn’t believe that we were conceived and born sinful, we can’t deny the effects, the harm, the guilt, the thoughts and words and actions by which we hurt ourselves and other people. We can’t see the disease, but we can see the symptoms, and we can see that this disease is fatal for 100% of people. In Adam, all die.

But that death that came through one man is trumped and overturned by the life that comes from another Man. If we did not contribute to Adam’s bringing death into this creation, we certainly also did not contribute to God bringing His salvation into the world in Jesus. And that is good news because if we had to contribute to both, we would never know whether or not we had done enough to overcome our contribution to sin and death. All die in Adam, so all live in Christ. No exceptions, not even one. God consigned all to disobedience so that He might have mercy on all (Romans 11:32).

One kind of death is death in Adam, the death we all die, a return to the dust from which we came. But the other kind of death is death in Christ, a death by water and the word, a being raised to the spiritual life of Christ’s own resurrected body. The first man, Adam, became a living, physical creature, as God breathed His breath into him. But the last man, Jesus, became a life-giving spirit. Just as there is a physical body, there is a spiritual body. Those are not normally words we put together: spiritual and body. We usually treat them like opposites. But in Christ, the spiritual and the material come back together, God and Man; body, soul, humanity, and divinity. His is the spiritual body, in which He takes death for His own, though it does not belong to His body by nature. And then He rises from the dead.

That resurrection is the beginning of the end for death. Christ has been raised from the dead, so that death no longer has any power over Him. It is double-jeopardy. You can’t be convicted of the same crime twice. And since Jesus was convicted of our sin, and the wages of sin was paid out to Him in death, and He rose from the dead, He cannot die anymore. And you have been baptized into His death, which ends in resurrection. You have been baptized into Christ, clothed with Christ, put on Christ. That means that death in Adam does not apply to you anymore. You are almost all the way out of death! You have Christ; He gives you His resurrection life in His body and blood today; you have Him, the resurrected one. So, as Luther put it, all you have is one foot in the grave. Normally, when we say we have one foot in the grave, we mean that we are headed toward it. But Luther means it the other way around: you are on your way out of death. It is just your left foot that’s left, until the resurrection day.

Death is almost done devouring people. The majority of the people who have ever lived have already died. Death has a few more millions to go, but then it’s over. And just as God used the death of Jesus to bring resurrection, so He will use our physical death to bring us into the resurrection to eternal life. It’s all but over.

And now there are two ways of being in the world, two ways of living in light of these two kinds of death. The first, Paul says, is “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” You only live once, so you had better get as much happiness and pleasure as you can. Once you die, that’s it, so you need to make sure you avoid every kind of danger, every kind of suffering, every kind of pain. You want to do everything you can to maximize your health and wealth and minimize anything that might keep you from achieving your best life now. Not only that, but everything you think will make you happy is passing away. All pleasure is temporary. None of it can last, and certainly none of it can last past death.

The other kind of living is what Paul can say of himself: why are we in danger every hour? I am dying every day. Why would I put myself in danger of possibly facing wild beasts in Ephesus? Why would I risk stoning, imprisonment, beatings, and shipwrecks? These are exactly the sorts of things you would want to avoid if there is no resurrection. But if Jesus really is raised from the dead, and you are going to be raised as well, you don’t have to worry about getting all your pleasure and happiness here. You know that this life isn’t all there is, that death is not the end, that the abundant life of Jesus is far more than the temporary pleasures of this world, far more than anything we would be able to achieve or imagine.

One way of dying, in Adam, means death forever. The other, in Christ, means resurrection and eternal life. And it absolutely determines how you live in this world. Can you afford to give up happiness and pleasure in this world? Only if you’re going to be raised from the dead. Can you afford to be put in danger because of Jesus? Only if you’re going to be raised. Can you afford to suffer? Only if you’re going to be raised. We are dying every day. We are in danger from the devil and the world every hour. But we are not afraid; we go to our graves clear-eyed and confident in the promise of Christ. We are not reckless; we don’t seek death, because God has put us here to carry out our vocations and He hasn’t taken us to Himself yet. But we also do not fear death, nor do we go, like unbelievers, running backwards toward death until we stumble over into our graves. Everyone dies, baby, that’s a fact. In Adam, all die. But in Christ, you are made alive, and after these perishable, weak, dishonorable bodies are sown in the ground, they are going to be raised imperishable, powerful, and glorified. As we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man from heaven, and our lowly bodies will be transformed to be like His glorious body.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/19/22

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