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A Shadow without Substance

A Shadow without Substance

By: Alistair Begg - July 14, 2023

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-57

In these verses, the apostle Paul is openly taunting death. How can he do so? Death is so horrible. It’s so tragic. It’s so sad. It seems so final. What did Paul know that enabled him to flout its terrible tyranny with such confidence?

It is because death has lost its sting.

To illustrate Paul’s point, imagine this scene: A young girl is gleefully playing with her father in the backyard. A bee starts buzzing around. When it flies into view of the little girl, she shouts, “Oh, keep that bee away from me! I don’t want to get stung! Daddy, please do something!” As the bee draws closer, the father begins to swat at it—and as he reaches out, the bee fastens on him and drops its stinger right into the father’s arm. The father takes the sting and experiences the pain. The bee’s sting is drawn, and the little girl is safe.

On the cross, Jesus Christ bore the sting of death. Sin leads to death, and death stings because of sin, for sin must lead to judgment. But Christ bore the judgment for sin in His own body on the tree so that all who trust in Him will never face judgment (Galatians 3:13). We may still walk through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), but because of what Christ has done, that is all death is: a shadow without substance. This is the very reason that Jesus took on humanity. Our Lord took on flesh and blood for this purpose: “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

You no longer have to live in that kind of slavery or walk in that fear. By His own death and resurrection, Jesus has abolished true death forever. He took death’s sting so that you would never have to face its power over sinners. Instead, you can walk in freedom today and every day, knowing that God has already given you decisive victory over sin and death through your Lord, Jesus Christ. So you can look at death and say, “Horrible, tragic, sad though you are, you have lost your sting.” And you can look at the one who drew the sting for you and say:

Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son—
Endless is the victory Thou oe’r death hast won! 

Edmond Budry, “Thine Be the Glory” (trans. Richard Birch Hoyle, 1923).
About the Author(s)
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Alistair Begg

Alistair Begg has been in pastoral ministry since 1975. Following graduation from The London School of Theology, he served eight years in Scotland at both Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh and Hamilton Baptist Church. In 1983, he became the senior pastor at Parkside Church near Cleveland, Ohio. He has written several books and is heard daily and weekly on the radio program, Truth For Life. His Daily Devotionals are presented here via a syndication agreement.
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