What is the Agony of Death?
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.
What is the agony of death? In his speech to his fellow Israelites, Peter talks honestly about the agony of death. Death is ‘decay’ (v27). Death is a place we can be ‘abandoned to’. There is a ‘realm’ of the dead (v27). Death’s like a sentient being, an evil wrestler pinning the dead, one who tries to ‘keep its hold on him’ (v24). Death is a path, running opposite to the ‘paths of life’ (v28). It’s a prison of ‘agony’, for Peter explains, from which people need ‘freeing’ (v24).
And the ‘agony of death’ is not just a danger to us all – it’s a painful reality we can’t avoid. Over the last fortnight a friend’s mum has died, a former work mate has passed away and one of my best friends from high school took his own life. Our hearts get sore with the agony of those left living. And the deaths of those we love remind us of the coming agony of ours – and that our own appointed death may not be as far away as we’d like to think.
In our culture it’s taboo to speak of the agony of death. Instead, we much prefer resting in peace. I don’t know about you, but I love the thought of everyone resting in peace – the soothing idea that death is the end of suffering, the end of all pain in this life, the end of agony.
Yet no-one speaks more about the agony of death than Jesus. Jesus spent much of his ministry in Jerusalem pointing to the local rubbish tip – where the fires kept burning the trash of the town – saying ‘this is what the agony of death is like’. He said death is a place where the worm doesn’t stop eating – where the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:48). Jesus talks the most about the agonising reality of this unliving yet ongoing realm of the dead.
Not resting in peace. Not ‘no more suffering’. Not the injustice of the same simple annihilation of Hitler as for the nice old lady across the street, who always said hello while she gardened away the Springtime in the front yard. No, says Jesus.
The agony of death is an eternally conscious state of decay, where we endure the pain of recognising we’ve rebelled against God, that he’s withdrawn from us any of the good we may have experienced in this life. It’s the absence of relationships. It’s recognising I’ve received my just desserts. It’s no longer being able to hide behind my agnosticism. It’s recognising God is right and I am wrong. It’s the agony of death: the agony of physical, emotional, spiritual pain – the culminating sentence of a life rejecting God. It’s the agony of being given by God exactly what we asked for from God – an existence without the Fatherly love of God. But thanks be to God! For through Jesus the Son, the Messiah, God’s Holy One who will not see decay, the agony of death has been defeated for all who repent and are baptised in Him!
Head: What would you like to believe about the agony of death? What’s agonising about what Jesus says about death?
Heart: How does the agony of death make you feel?
Hands: What is the best thing you can do today to help people enjoy the freedom available, the freedom we can have from the agony of death?
Prayer: Father, thank you for the mighty power of Jesus, who overcame the agony of death. Thank you that he has risen again, having suffered the agony of dying in my place, for the death I deserved. Please stoke in my heart the fire of gratitude, and help me today to see and speak to those I love with an eternal perspective – those heading down the paths of life, and those heading down the paths of death. In the name and Spirit of Jesus I pray, Amen.
A song to listen to: Before the Throne of God Above
This Grow Daily was originally posted as part of the Must See Passages series in 2016. During the School Holidays we take the opportunity to look back at the best of Grow Dailys over the years.