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The death that ends death

August 2019 | by Iain Murray

Notes of an address given at the burial of Iain H. Murray’s son, Stephen R. Murray (1956-2019) at the Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh, March 7, 2019

God is revealed to us in Scripture as ‘the God of all comfort’ (2 Corinthians 1:3). The Bible is a book of comfort for believers and, for our comfort in life and death, there is one fact above all to which God directs us. It is the death of his Son, Jesus Christ. There is no help for us comparable to this. The Christian message puts it ‘first of all’ (1 Corinthians 15:3).

If it sounds strange that the death of anyone should be the source of supreme comfort, it is because the difference between Christ’s death and every other death is unrecognised. Christ’s death belongs in a category entirely of its own. There has never been, and never will be, another death such as that of Jesus Christ.

Christ’s death was unique because it was planned and revealed long, long before the event.

The Old Testament was in circulation hundreds of years before Christ was born. Yet in its pages the manner of the Messiah’s death was made known. It was written that he would come to die by crucifixion: ‘his hands and feet’ nailed to wood (Psalm 22:16); in Jerusalem he would be ‘cut off’ (Daniel 9:25-6); he would ‘pour out his soul unto death’ and his grave would be with ‘the wicked’ (Isaiah 53:9-12).

Although buried, his body would never ‘see corruption’ (Psalm 16:10). ‘He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:4). Of no one else in history was it prophesied that he would come into the world for such a purpose. For us, the time and place of death has to be an uncertainty. It cannot be written beforehand. But for the death of Christ we are called to believe that it happened by ‘the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’ (Acts 2:23). Only God can declare, ‘Before it came to pass I shewed it thee’ (Isaiah 48:5).

Christ’s death was unique because he was a substitute appointed by God.

This, too, was revealed beforehand in the Old Testament. He was declared by the prophets as the Shepherd who would die the death his people deserved: ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:6). ‘He bare the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors’ (Isaiah 53:12).

For over a thousand years, the worship appointed for the Old Testament church, in the tabernacle and the temple, showed that there is no access for sinners to the presence of God without bloodshed. The blood of lambs, bulls and goats showed that only by the provision of a substitute can the guilty be sheltered from the death they deserved.

Yet Christ’s first disciples could not see why he said, ‘he must go unto Jerusalem and suffer’ (Matthew 16:21), despite teaching them that he was the substitute God had given: ‘I am the good shepherd… and I lay down my life for the sheep’ (John 10:14-15).

After his crucifixion, Christ’s disciples saw the truth that Christ ‘suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3:18). From then onwards, the faith of the Christian is faith in ‘the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).

Christ’s death was unique because of its consequences.

The first consequence was his resurrection. Had there been no resurrection there would have been no evidence that the purpose for which he died was accomplished. He died on account of the condemnation belonging to us. His resurrection is not only a proclamation that he survived death, it proclaims that his people are delivered from ever facing the sentence which he endured for them. His acquittal is the acquittal of all who belong to him. His resurrection is our resurrection. We rose with Christ, according to his promise, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also’ (John 14:19). ‘Jesus our Lord,’ says Scripture, ‘was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification’ (Romans 4:25). ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1).

Paul writing an epistle, by Valentin de Boulogne 1619
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When Christ’s despondent disciples came to the garden tomb on the third day after his death, they were met by the message of an angel, ‘He is not here, he is risen’ (Luke 24:6). The amazing implication of that message was given to them by the risen Jesus himself when he said, ‘Go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, and to my God, and your God’ (John 20:17). Here is a vast inheritance assured! As Paul told the Christians at Corinth, ‘All things are yours; whether… the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s’ (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

One more consequence from the death of Christ must be mentioned. It is that Christ has purchased the gift of his Spirit for all his people, to dwell in them for ever. By nature we are all blind to the gospel message. It is true of every generation that, ‘The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness’ (1 Corinthians 1:18). It needs divine power of the Spirit of God to take away our blindness and show us the seriousness of sin. No one comes to faith by their own effort or merit. Only the mercy of God explains a Christian. ‘By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God’ (Ephesians 2:8).

The Holy Spirit is not only present at the beginning of the believer’s life, he is the guarantee of how it will lead to the final resurrection of the body. ‘If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also give life to your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you’ (Romans 8:11).

So, standing at the graveside of one dear to us, parted from us, we know that the parting is only temporary. All for whom Christ died shall be seen again, and not as last seen here, in suffering and much imperfection, but in the very likeness of the Saviour – ‘fashioned like unto his glorious body’ (Philippians 3:21) at the day of his coming.

‘Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality… Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:51-57).

There is only one great division in mankind today. It lies in our membership of only one family or another. Both families are described clearly in Scripture. The first is made up of those whose hopes and comforts and expectations are all bound up with this present world. Many belong here, and Christ describes it as ‘a broad way’ (Matthew 7:13).

The second family is made up of sinners who have been brought to know Christ as their Saviour. From that time, he has come first. Their trust and interest are in him; they desire to love him, to obey all his words, and to live and confess him before others. They so regard the Son of God because they owe everything to him. They share a common confession, ‘For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1:21).

Of these two families, Jesus says of the first, ‘If ye believe not that I am he [the Messiah sent of God] ye shall die in your sins; whither I go, ye cannot come’ (John 8:21, 24). To the second, who have left the broad way for a narrow one, he promises, ‘I go and prepare a place for you, that where I am ye may be also’ (John 14:3).

The gospel message is that there is now a door open from the first family to the second. Christ is that door. In the brief time between our birth and our death let us be sure that we know and belong to him. Only thus can the words be repeated joyfully at our death, ‘Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord’ (Revelation 14:13).

Iain H Murray, author, speaker, a founder of the Banner of Truth Trust, and assistant to Dr Lloyd-Jones.