Many years ago on a family holiday with our daughters we had a glorious couple of days on the Lincolnshire coast. There was sand for miles and it was ideal for making a sandcastle. We had great fun making it, and at the end of the day we left it. We went back to the same spot the next day, and to our surprise and delight it was still there. The tide had not washed it away, so we continued to enjoy it and care for it! But we did know that eventually the tide would wash it away, and what was once there would be there no more. Thinking on the death of HRH Prince Philip reminds me of that occasion and of a saying that you may be familiar with… life is like a sandcastle on a beach! You build it, tend it, enjoy it, but you know it is only temporary, for you will have to let it go… the tide comes in and washes it away.
When reading the Bible, we read about the reality of life; death hangs like a funeral pall over the coffin of life. There is a sombre repetition of the phrase “and then he died”. This serves as a reminder that our efforts to extend the realms of our existence are checkmated by death. Even our most noteworthy achievements are neutralised by death and washed away by the ocean waves of time. Regrettably, generations in the distant future will not even remember us and our collective efforts.
But there is good news! For believers in Jesus Christ as the Son of God the sting of death is overcome by the hope of His resurrection, a truth made clear in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. In this “lyrical passage,” the author Paul exults in the triumph Christ has won over death itself. Paul repeated in plain terms that natural, earthly bodies are not suited to a spiritual, heavenly existence. Indeed, that which is subject to death and decomposition could never receive as an inheritance that which is eternal and glorious in nature (v50). The good news is that living, as well as deceased believers, will have their bodies transformed at the Messiah’s return (v51).
So what is this all about? Well, perishable, mortal bodies are unfit to inhabit heaven, they need to be transformed into imperishable, immortal ones (v53). This does not mean that the earthly and heavenly bodies are completely different, for there is a fundamental continuity of identity between the old and new. This can be described like a person putting on a new robe (v54). Paul’s quote from Isaiah 25:8 indicates that the sovereign Lord completely checkmates death. In 1 Corinthians 15:55, Paul also quotes from Hosea 13:14 as if to taunt death, who is a loser and does not have ultimate power to inflict harm on God’s people.
Death has been described in many ways, like a poisonous hornet or scorpion whose stinger has been pulled. By Jesus’ own atoning sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the grave, He dealt a fatal blow to death. The truth is this: all people must die; but when the Messiah returns, He will raise all who have trusted in Him for eternal life, and they will be rescued from death forever. In this way, the arch-enemy of all humanity, the pain of death, is going to be completely overwhelmed by God’s invincible supernatural power.
This pain of death is caused by the presence of sin in the world and in our own personal lives. In 1 Corinthians 15:56, Paul tells us, his readers, that it was through the presence of sin that death received its power to hurt believers. After Adam disobeyed God’s command, death invaded his life and the life of all his descendants (cf. Romans 5:12). Sin gains its power from the law by using God’s commands to produce all sorts of wrong desires in people and to seduce them into disobeying the Creator (cf. Rom. 7:7-11). The Bible is clear, people who reject the Lord are powerless to resist sin or overcome death. Paul gave thanks to the Father for the triumph available through faith in the Son (1 Cor. 15:57).
Paul, the apostle, exhorts us to remain steadfast in his teaching and resolute in the faith, for we have ultimate victory in the Redeemer (v58). The hope of the Resurrection is meant to spur all on to serve the Lord diligently and wholeheartedly. With such an attitude our efforts will never be wasted, since in Christ they will bear eternal fruit and reap a heavenly reward. From this it is clear that only in Christ can work and leisure be enjoyable, beneficial, and fulfilling for people of faith. So as you reflect on the life of HRH Prince Philip don’t ponder on the finality of death; instead ponder on the hope of life everlasting in the presence of the Almighty God, where we will be clothed with a new body fully fit to live eternally.