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Death and Taxes

Pastor Robin Fish
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

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Fri, Apr 1, 2011 

They say that nothing is certain in this life except death and taxes.  Having read just the other day about GE making a profit of five billion dollars last year and paying absolutely no U.S. taxes raises the question of the certainty of taxes, but this month being the month of both tax-day and Easter does bring both topics to mind.  It seems that the old adage is a matter of perspective - on both issues.

Death is certainly a certainty in the course of this world, unless Jesus returns before that particular day for any of us.  But death is just a passing thing, temporary in the light of Easter.  Good Friday is death that lasts.  Jesus bore the death and hell that each of us has earned in His body on the cross and into the tomb on that first Good Friday.  In that Jesus rose on the third day, one could say His death was very temporary, and yet as Jesus exists also in eternity, the death He died, He died to sin once and for all - and also in eternity.  If He died in eternity, that death would be eternal in some sense.  It is just that working out the eternity part and the "in time" part gets confusing for mere human brains like mine.

His death is of eternal effect, even though we see that He rose on the third day.  His death seems much shorter than, say, one of ours, because we go to our graves and, as far as human observation can determine up to this moment, we never move again.  Our death, which we confess will end on that last day, is of far longer duration - although our resurrection is one with Christ's resurrection, even if separated from His resurrection in time.  So, we can see that theology can be intensely confusing.  His death is three days long and eternal, while ours have no observed ending yet, and yet are temporary because of His, and end in connection with His resurrection!  His death is both longer and shorter than ours.

There is a death which is eternal.  That is the death of the damned - those who refuse to be saved by the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and so choose to go to hell, even if that is not a fully-informed choice.  The unbelieving die never to rise to life again.  When the believer dies, his or her body dies, but they do not.  They are received into the presence of the Lord for eternity, while they await the day of the resurrection of all flesh, when they shall be re-united with their bodies for everlasting life in glory.  That is Easter stuff!  The unbelieving also have their bodies die, and their souls proceed to that place without the presence of God.  I assume that their souls go to hell, to that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, to begin their eternity where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched, to quote Jesus.  I make that assumption without any direct statement of Scripture to that effect, although many statements seem to come quite close to saying so.  The difference from that point in time from those that believe is that the unbelieving never rise to life again.

They rise, but that resurrection is not to life.  Their bodies rise from the grave, and their spirits are reunited with their bodies.  That much is like the believers, although the Bible does not tell us whether their bodies are raised re-outfitted for eternity or not, but this not a resurrection to life.  It is a resurrection to eternal death of both body and soul. It is a death, however, of something other than what we observe in this world.  Their souls apparently animate the flesh, but it is not quite life.  It is a resurrection to torment of body, mind, and soul.  It is a resurrection to existence without God, without joy and peace and comfort and contentment.  Beyond those few facts, there is no word of Scripture.  We could try to imagine and form conjecture, but it would be no more reliable than our imaginings about the true nature of heaven, and it would serve no useful purpose.  It would just be grisly and depressing.  The phrase, "Let's not go there", comes to mind, and it is a good exhortation in every sense of the phrase.

Now that I have managed to destroy any hope of the cheerful Easter-tide devotional that one expects in the April Newsletter, let us return to the topic: death and taxes.  Although Scripture calls death the wages of sin, it is similar to a tax.  You did the sin, and now you must pay.  Your life is forfeit because you have sinned.  You have earned death, but it doesn't feel like a wage as much as it seems like a penalty - like taxes.  Just after tax day, about eight days later, we will celebrate Jesus receiving all that we have earned by our sin, or paying the penalty of sin that we have accrued by our unholy thoughts and words and deeds.  As you pay your taxes, you can comfort yourself with the thought that they are the price you pay for the blessing of prosperity in this most favored nation on earth.  On Good Friday, we find comfort in the Gospel truth that Jesus has met the demands of the justice of God against our wickedness, evil, and sin.

They differ in important ways.  Taxes are paid.  The just sentence against our sin is delivered, poured out, but poured out upon Jesus as our Savior.  Taxes are measured against good and blessing.  The condemnation of Christ is measured out against evil, transgression, and sin.  Taxes are law, our salvation is Gospel.  No one likes taxes.  They are endured, at best they are paid as the just wages of the ministers of God in this world for order and worldly justice.  Forgiveness, life, and salvation are a delight to everyone who understands what they are, and what a gift they bring, and the tremendous price that was given to win them for you.  Taxes are a burden and salvation is a gift.  It lifts the burden from us.  Taxes are our duty but salvation is pure grace, the gift of God.  Except in cases of political favoritism and/or monkey-business, taxes are one of the two inescapable realities of our world.  Death of the body is the other inescapable reality, but it is made a temporary situation by the gifts of the Gospel.

The resurrection of the believer is the promise of the Gospel.  We rise, bodies outfitted for eternal life, and souls re-united with those bodies.  We will then enjoy eternal life beyond sickness, sorrow, pain, or any form of death again.  We receive all of that because Jesus and His death on our behalf and in our place, and the resurrection which seals our salvation, the gift of God to all that believe the Gospel.  That salvation is, in truth, more certain than death and taxes, and you know what they say about them!

Yours in the Lord,

Pastor Fish

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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