We all come face-to-face with a dark fear in this world that cannot be brushed away. It’s rarely spoken of, but it never goes unfelt. And it’s the fear of death. This fear is universal in scope and it’s enslaving in its power, and it’s a fear Jesus Christ came to conquer and defeat on behalf of sinners like you and me. John Piper explained this more fully in his sermon titled, “You Will Never See Death,” preached on May 14, 2011. Near the end of the sermon Pastor John explained Hebrews 2:14, by saying this:
The effect of Jesus’s death in our place as the God-man in Hebrews 2:14–15 is what I want you to feel and see in the last few minutes of this message. “Since therefore the children [that is us, just people] since therefore the children share in flesh and blood [that is, we are human], he himself [the Son of God] likewise partook of the same things [the same nature].” That is, he became human. So you see the dynamic.
Why? The question is now: Since we are human, he became human. This is what we are seeing in John all over the place and here is the reason: “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver [this is us, now] deliver all those who through the fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” The writer to the Hebrews believes that all human beings are enslaved their whole life by the fear of death, even when they don’t know it.
In 1973 Ernest Becker wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book called The Denial of Death. It was all the rage in the 70’s. The thesis of the book was the same as the thesis of Hebrews. Humanity is enslaved globally by fear of dying. And what humans do is deny, deny, deny, deny, deny, and we find all kinds of ways, religious ways, alcoholic ways, work ways, family ways, beautiful ways, surgery ways to take 10 years off. Listen to this. I will read you the thesis. “The main thesis of this book,” Becker says, “the main thesis is that the fear of death haunts the human animal like nothing else. It is a mainspring of human activity, activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man.”
Becker has no answer. He is just documenting this pervasive reality, this massive human effort to deny, deny this reality of death. Jesus has an answer. His answer is to, number one, say: I am God. Number two, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Number three, I lay down my life for my people and cover all their sin and provide all their righteousness. And number four, I conquer death. And I conquer Satan who has the power of death. And number five, I rise from the dead. And number six, I take away the fear of dying. That is Jesus’s answer.
Ernest Becker and the writer to the Hebrews both say that the fear of death produces pervasive, lifelong slavery. Don’t miss that. See it at the end of verse 15 in Hebrews 2? “I came to deliver those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” You may not think that. He does, I believe. I am going to agree with him, not you. John Piper, until grace does a miracle, is subconsciously driven to deny my death. There are things in your life right now that are owing to the fear of death that you don’t know are owing to the fear of death.
If you could have this stunning liberation from the fear of death, there would come into your life a kind of freedom and a kind of risk-taking adventuresomeness for God that would change almost everything in your life. It is haunting our choices, making us cautious and worried and retrained and confined and narrow and tight and robbing us from risk and adventure and dreams for the sake of Christ and the kingdom and the cause of love in the world. Why do you live such cautious lives? Why do you devote so much energy to security? It is just absurd if the one who said, “Before Abraham was I am” (John 8:58) also said, “You keep my Word, you will never die, ever. You have entered life. You have passed out of death. You have moved around judgment. You are hidden with Christ in God. It cannot be ended. It cannot be interrupted. What are you afraid of?” (John 8:51; 1 John 3:14; John 5:24; Colossians 3:3).