Matney: ‘The Last Emperor,’ Valentine’s Day, and good news
This week, I will be doing two funerals — one for a longtime friend In Montrose County and the other for one of the seniors we served here in Eagle County. I have a younger brother and a younger sister who have passed on, and both my mother and father have passed. And, though I know death is inevitable, I do not think of death as a friend or “just a normal part of life.” The Bible, in 1 Corinthians 15:26, refers to death as “the last enemy to be destroyed.”
Frankly, I’m tired of death. It has torn too many family members and friends from me. And, I’ve wept with families who’ve lost their loved ones, especially those who’ve lost little children. So, please forgive me if I don’t see death as a benign, normal, part of life. It is a cruel, indiscriminate enemy that cannot be appeased. All the death and destruction in Turkey, Ukraine, and other places on the planet are not enough to satisfy death’s insatiable appetite.
But there is a power that is greater than death. It is the power of God’s love. As we celebrate love on Valentine’s Day, let us remember God’s love. Jesus demonstrated that love when he came to take our punishment for sin and to die in our place
In the 1987 movie, “The Last Emperor,” Puyi’s brother asks him what happens to him when he makes a mistake? The emperor responds: “When I do something wrong, somebody else is punished.” To demonstrate this, he picks up an ornate jar and smashes it on the ground. Immediately a servant is taken and beaten for the action of the emperor.
But the amazing, incomprehensible, good news of the gospel, is that when a person does something wrong, the king takes the punishment. That’s right, Jesus, king of kings, took our punishment so we can go free.
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Jesus sums it up by saying, in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And then Jesus goes on to call his followers, his friends.
Paul wrote in Romans 5:6-8, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
So, then, after taking our punishment and dying in our place, Jesus defeated death when he rose up from the grave by the power of God. It almost seems like the apostle Paul was mocking death when he wrote in 1 Corinthians, 15:54-55: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O grave, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
Death came into the world as a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. They forfeited their rulership of the planet to Satan and he became the god of this world. And, with him came death, disease and destruction.
This rebellion and disobedience demanded a response from a just God, and God’s justice demanded an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and a life for a life. But God’s love cried out for mercy. So, Jesus came to Earth, and met the demands of justice by paying the penalty for our sins and dying in our place on the cross. The good news is that in Christ Jesus, God’s righteous justice and loving mercy have kissed and made peace, according to Psalm 85:10.
Looking into the future, John says in Revelation 21:4: “He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Can you imagine it? A place where there is no more death, grief, tears, sickness, disease or pain? It is almost beyond comprehension. Scripture teaches that for the true followers of Jesus, such a future awaits them. The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
Did you catch that? These lowly bodies will become like Jesus’ glorious, immortal body that conquered death and is no longer subject to death. Jesus will exercise his mighty power and transform us from a mortal being with a perishable body into an immortal being with a body that will never again experience pain, sickness, disease and death.
So, friend, don’t settle for Satan’s lie that death is the best we can hope for; it isn’t. Through faith and dependency on the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can be assured that we too will rise from the dead and into eternal life.
Happy Valentine’s Day. May your basket be filled with Valentine’s cards from many friends and loved ones. And, may you find the love that will last for all of time and eternity.
Dan Matney is the pastor at New Life Assembly of God in Avon. Email him at email@example.com.