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Defying Death


From the cell where he was imprisoned for defying Hitler—including denouncing him as a “deceiver” in a radio address and ultimately participating in a plot with others who sought to assassinate him—the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer meditated on what it meant to be a Christian. Christians did not, he concluded, simply to go to God when they were in need. All people do that. As they say, there are no atheists in foxholes. But Christians, Bonhoeffer wrote in a poem,

"Turn to God in God’s need and dread,

A God poor, despised, without roof or bread.

By sin’s harm weakened and by death distressed,

Christians stand steadfast by their God oppressed.”

In the final days of Jesus’ life, the women who followed Him modeled this kind of Christian faith. Two days before the Passover, with Jesus facing death, one of them whom Matthew does not name anointed Jesus with expensive perfume (26:6–13). Many of these women later observed the horror of the crucifixion, offering their support from as close to the cross as they could safely come (27:55–56). And on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary “went to look at the tomb” (v. 1). In at least a small way, they sought to defy death, remembering their Lord who died and not simply allowing death to consign Him to oblivion.

When they arrived, they found an even more massive defiance—indeed, the ultimate defiance—of death. The earth quaked. An angel spoke to them. And then they encountered Jesus in the flesh, risen from the dead. Indeed, He was so real that they “clasped his feet” (v. 9). Death may seem powerful, but it cannot stand against the power of God.

Apply the Word

Paul writes: “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39). What powers or forces do you fear? Remember they cannot stand against God!

BY Brad Burton

Brad Burton has taught theology and ethics at several theological schools across the country. His writing and teaching focus on the role of the church in helping Christians to proclaim and live the faith. He serves the church in lay ministry and supply preaching, and he enjoys hiking and cycling with his wife and two children.

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