The poet John Donne lived what many would call a difficult life, but he wrote an amazing poem considering everything that happened to those he loved. And the poem really speaks to the character and faith that God gave him.
Donne’s father died when he was four; two of his sisters died when he was nine. Donne himself had twelve children—two were stillborn and three others died before they turned 10. After the birth of his twelfth child (who was stillborn), his wife also died.
It wasn’t until after Donne died (age 60) that his poem called Death, Be Not Proud was found. It is hard to imagine that a poem like this could be written during his battles with death which took those close to him. Follow along, please, as I read it:
Death, Be Not Proud
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleepe as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
The Apostle Paul writes, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). Our text shows that death itself died—it was killed by our Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ defeated and killed death. Death, be not proud.
Our text opens with the eleven disciples in a locked house hearing from the two disciples who had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35). These two told the eleven about how they had spoken with Jesus, and how He had opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. Jesus had eaten with them and vanished. While the eleven disciples are hearing about these things, suddenly, Jesus is there. They didn’t have to unlock and open the door for Jesus to enter. Jesus appears and says, “Peace to you.”
Startled and frightened, the disciples thought they saw ghost. Jesus says, “No, I am not Casper. Do not be troubled and do not be unbelieving in your hearts. See My hands and My feet—I am Who I am. Touch me and see. A ghost does not have flesh and bones like I have.”
The disciples see hands and feet. They touch, and yet, they still disbelieve. It is simply too good to be true—it has to be a dream. Their joy causes unbelief. So Jesus offers them another proof. He asks, “Hey, you got any food around here?” They offer Him a piece of broiled fish which He puts into His mouth. The food doesn’t just fall to the floor. It enters His stomach where it is digested.
Death, be not proud. V. 36-43 teach us two important things. They are important because they set up what comes in v. 44-49:
First, Jesus isn’t dead anymore. Jesus isn’t dead anymore; the ‘bad guys’ didn’t win. The soldiers, religious leaders, and crowds didn’t win. Yes, they killed Jesus. Yes, He died, but the soldiers, religious leaders, and crowds didn’t win.
Sinner, you didn’t win either. Sinner, you killed the Author of Life; your sin nailed Jesus to the cross. Your sin placed Jesus under the wrath of the Almighty, eternal God. But you and your sin don’t win. Jesus isn’t dead anymore. Sin and death have been defeated. Death, be not proud.
Death, who had taken everyone else is defeated. Jesus defeated the last enemy—death. “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 Cor. 15:54b-57). Death, be not proud. Amen?
Secondly, Jesus has a real, physical body. Death, be not proud. Jesus has a real, physical body. In a sense, Jesus’ body is more real and more physical even than your body. Because Jesus has a real body, you can know that your body matters to God. Despite all the horrible things that your body does, God loves your body. Even though your tongue lies and deceives, even though your eyes wander and look at those things that you know they shouldn’t look at, even though your feet go where they shouldn’t, even though your brain is filled with hatred, envy, and strife—God loves your body.
God loves your body; He loves it so much that He came down and became a part of creation. He took upon Himself a real, physical body. In that body, He redeemed your body. God restores your body to you. You worship God with your body—a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God (Ro. 12:1-2). Death, be not proud.
On the basis of the facts that Jesus isn’t dead anymore that He has a real, physical body, Jesus explains that this is precisely what He had been telling the disciples was going to happen. This is exactly what He told them while He was still with them. He had told them that everything written about Him in the Old Testament—in Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms—would be fulfilled. It had to be fulfilled. It was necessary.
It was necessary for Christ to suffer. Jesus had to be mocked, spat upon, beaten, and scourged. It was necessary for the Son of God to suffer and hang on that splintered piece of wood and slowly suffocate and bleed to death. It was necessary for Jesus to suffer and endure not just that physical pain but the eternal consequences of your sins. It was necessary for Him to suffer the wrath of God—for you.
The Scriptures had foretold it, and what God says always comes true.
It was necessary for Christ to rise from the dead. Just as necessary as His suffering and death, it was necessary that Jesus should rise. Just as Jonah was vomited out of that giant fish, it was necessary that Christ be spewed from the grave after three days. It was necessary for Jesus to rise revealing His victory over death. The Scriptures had foretold it, and what God says always comes true.
It was and is necessary, also, for Christ to be preached. It was necessary that repentance and forgiveness be proclaimed in the name of Jesus Christ. The objective facts of Christ’s suffering and resurrection are accomplished. The work of Jesus which was written about in the Old Testament continues as Christ is proclaimed to all nations.
Just as necessary as it was for Christ to suffer, die, and rise again, it is necessary for the Old Testament prophecies to be fulfilled that repentance and forgiveness to be proclaimed in Jesus’ Name. The Scriptures had foretold it, and what God says always comes true.
The ministry of Jesus is redemption. Salvation is Jesus’ work, and now Jesus does that work through the disciples as they forgive sins. It is necessary that in the place of Christ—in the stead of Christ, by Christ’s command—repentance and forgiveness be proclaimed in His name.
Jesus continues His work through the Church. The work of the Church is to proclaim what Christ has done—suffered, died, and rose again and to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name.
Jesus’ interaction with the disciples fits with how the church proclaims Christ today. First, Jesus comes and proclaims, “Peace to you.” The disciples miss the, “And also to You,” but they figured it out. Then Jesus teaches what the Scriptures mean. He teaches what the Scriptures reveal—suffering, resurrection, repentance, and forgiveness through Him. Jesus shares a meal with His disciples.
Today, in this sanctuary, we have heard the peace of God proclaimed in the Scripture readings and absolution. The Scriptures are taught, and we aren’t having the meal today, but we also share a meal with Jesus in the Lord’s Supper where we receive His body and blood.
Through the ministry of this congregation, repentance and forgiveness is proclaimed here, in the place of and by the command of Christ. Your sins are forgiven. Christ is working in this place. Maybe not as objectively and visibly as the suffering and resurrection, but His work continues. Christ’s work continues through you, His church.
His work continues as you leave this sanctuary and go out into the narthex and drink coffee and fellowship with one another. Death, be not proud.
Christ’s work continues as you go to work and interact with those whom God has put in your life. Death, be not proud.
Christ’s work continues as you raise your family and teach one another what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Death, be not proud.
Christ’s work continues as you endure the trials and tribulations of this world. Even as you suffer through sickness and weakness, Christ’s work continues. Death, be not proud.
Christ’s work is not hindered even in death because your body like Jesus’ body will once again rise. Death, be not proud.
You, like Jesus, will certainly rise from the grave with a real, physical body. And, through eternity, you with your real, physical body will continue to proclaim the Lamb Who was slain and has become the Savior of the world. “And death shall be no more; Death, thou shale die.” Amen.