Death plays no favorites, has no enemies and is the great equalizer of all mankind. The death of Christopher Hitchens yesterday should come as no surprise as everyday people die, have funerals and are buried. Hitchens was a member of the “New Atheists,” a group dedicated to advancing militant atheism. The focus of this post is not to critique the thought of Christopher Hitchens or to degrade him, but rather to help all of us think through the fact that death truly comes for us all. In the words of the writer of Hebrews it is appointed once for a man to die and then face judgment (Heb. 9:27).
The death of Christopher Hitchens is truly sad for he was truly gifted by God to write and speak with sophistication and eloquence. Like all sinners though Hitchens made his choice to reject God and taught others to abandon Christianity. By leading others to reject God and abandon Christianity Hitchens reveals not his intelligence, but the fact he was a rejecter like the Apostle Peter when he denied Jesus three times. Unlike Hitchens who made it known publically that he would never repent of his sin and foolishness, the Apostle Peter did repent and became a man God used mightily in the early church.
Ultimately atheists by rejecting God and fashioning fancy arguments reveal not their wisdom, nor their intelligence, or knowledge, but their foolishness. By rejecting wisdom from God and instead opting to be wise in the eyes of the world Hitchens, New Atheists and rejecters everywhere reveal that they have a fundamental problem that at root lies in the fact that they have chosen to worship what is created than the Creator. The problem raised by Hitchens and the New Atheists is this: “Who is in authority, God or man?”
If the New Atheists are to be believed then it is man who is supreme over all creation. If it is Christians who are to be believed then it is God who reigns supreme over the Creation He created. In Genesis, God didn’t seek to prove Himself or His existence. He simply created and it was. God didn’t open Genesis by giving a list of proofs that He was God, but rather spoke Creation into being with His authoritative Word, and the world we know came into being. The issue of who is authoritative God or man is an important issue because it gets to the heart of so many issues going on in contemporary society. At the root of all these issues though lies one fundamental fact that is that all men are sinners and all men will die.
Everyone dies. Death is not a respecter of persons. One cannot talk themselves out of dying. The fact is, every living thing is dying while living, because the world we live in is under the curse. Every single person alive will one day die because they are sinners. The world we live is ripe with the consequences of sin. Some people treat this fact like it’s a rollercoaster ride. They think they can hop on the rollercoaster for a ride and then get off once the ride is over. The problem with this line of thinking is that it says more about what they think about life and death being non-existent than it does about them actually coming to terms with death itself. Death comes for us all.
The Apostle Paul along with the writer of Hebrews understood better than most that death comes for us all. Rather than just stating that the resurrection of Christ is important to Christianity, Paul raised the stakes and based all of Christianity, his preaching and his ministry on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Paul said in 1st Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Paul clearly believed that if the resurrection wasn’t true as he explained to the Corinthians in 1st Corinthians 15:1-11 that this Gospel which he preached to them and which the Corinthians (and Christians) have received “in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” This is the same Apostle who stated that “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:17-19)
Notice what Paul just said in 1st Corinthians 15:17. In 1st Corinthians 15:17 Paul provides the proof that Christ’s death was an effective substitutionary sacrifice for sins (v.3; 11:24-25) lies in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (Rom. 4:25). If in fact Christ has not been raised then His death did not pay for sin, and there is no hope for life with God in heaven (1 Cor. 15:18-19. Paul continues in 1st Corinthians 15:18-19 by stating he believed that those who died went to be with the Lord immediately after their death and prior to their resurrection (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:21, 23), he also conceived of the believer’s eternal existence as an embodied existence. If there is no such existence, there is no eternal life. Paul doesn’t stop just at this point though but continues in 1st Corinthians 15:20 by stating, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Christ’s resurrection, grounded in the truth of eyewitness testimony (vv.4-8), changes everything. If God raised Christ from the dead then Christ was truly the firstfruits or the first of many others who would also be raised from the dead. Paul continues in verse 26 stating, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” This reference is to the fact that when believers are finally resurrected from the dead, the destruction of death will be complete.
Paul ends his explanation the importance of the resurrection for Christianity in 1st Corinthians 15 by noting in verse 51-57, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“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.”
The point Paul makes in these verses is unmistakable. Those who have believed in Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection who have been awakened to new life in Christ will be raised from the dead being transformed in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet. All of this means that through the Lord Jesus Christ, Christians have victory over death because they have believed in a crucified and risen Savior who triumphed over death in His resurrection to give them new life in His name.
Whether Hitchens was saved or not with his last breathe on earth is not the point. A man died today and whether he is now with the Lord or in hell is not up to us, but what is up to us is what we do with the time we have been given. Every single person will die whether they are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ or an unbeliever. Death comes for us all, because death knows no race or age. The only way death will not swallow us up and take us to hell is because of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The reason Christians continue to have hope is because of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians should of all people understand this truth because they are people who have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hitchens didn’t understand or believe in the truth of the death and resurrection of Christ, but Christians do. Christians have a sure word and promise from God in His Word that they will be raised on the last day. New Atheists have no such confidence and no such hope, but they do have faith. Being an atheist requires more faith than being a Christian, because an atheist believes that they are the source of all truth.
Atheists neglect one fundamental problem—death comes for everyone. Paul says in 1st Corinthians 15:56 that 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.” This is supremely good news because, unlike the atheists who have no hope, Christians have hope. It’s not hope or faith in themselves, but hope in the death and resurrection of Christ.
Paul finishes his explanation on the resurrection with a practical application for Christians in 1st Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” The work that Christians do for the Kingdom of God will bring results that last forever because of the work of Jesus Christ. The fruitfulness they have is because of Christ’s work on their behalf, which empowers them to serve Him through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
In light of the truth of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension may all true Christians in the power of the Spirit abound as Paul says in “the work of the Lord knowing that our labor is not in vain” because we serve a Lord who died victoriously on the Cross and rose triumphantly from the grave and is now seated as His people’s Mediator, Advocate, Intercessor and High Priest before the Father. All of this ought to cause the Christian to praise the God of all grace and sing, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36-37), because they serve a God who truly saves sinners from sin and gives them a hope that is unchanging; a hope that is secure and based on the fact of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection and soon second coming.