Victor Watters Converses with Death: A Meditation on 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

Memorial Service for Victor Manuel Watters

Twin Cities, MN

“Hello, Death, my old enemy. My old slave-master. Have you come to talk to me again? To frighten me? I am not the person you think I am. I am not the one you used to talk to. Something has happened. It’s not the same any more. Let me ask you a question, Death. ‘Where is your sting?’

“My sting is your sin, Victor,” Death answered, sneering. You’re a sinner, Victor Watters. You are a sinner. And that is my sting. I sting because you sin. If you had no sin, I would have no sting. You would just fly away to God where sinless people go. But there are no sinless people, Victor Watters. I sting them all. Including you. I am Death, and your sin is my sting.”

Victor said, “I know that, Death. I know that. But that’s not what I asked you. I didn’t ask you, ‘O Death, what is your sting?’ I asked you, ‘O Death, Where is your sting?’ I know what it is. It’s my sin. You and I both know God’s word. “The sting of Death is sin.” That’s in the Bible. That’s true, Death. But that’s not what I asked you. I asked you, “Where is your sting?” So tell me Death, where is it? Answer me.”

Death smiled his mocking smile and said, “Perhaps, Victor, you don’t know the Bible as well as you think. Perhaps you have forgotten the power of this sting. This is no ordinary bee sting. This is not even an ordinary tarantula sting, or scorpion sting, Victor. My sting is the most powerful sting imaginable. My sting doesn’t make your finger swell, like a bee. My sting doesn’t just take your life like a tarantula—or cancer. My sting burns forever. My sting never goes out. Maybe you forgot that, Victor. You know that’s true. It’s in the Bible. And I know you love the Bible. You believe the Bible.”

Victor looked Death in the eye and said, “I know that’s in the Bible. I’m not very old, but I’m old enough to know that my sin is your sting. You have a stinger because I am a sinner. And I know that my sin is not a little thing with God. It’s not a misdemeanor. It’s not a felony, it’s not a capital crime. It is treason. And not treason against any mere human ruler, or human state, but against the Creator of the universe. Against the kingdom of Almighty God.

“You think I have forgotten this, Death? I know my sin better than you know it. And I know my Bible. At least I know the parts I need to know. I’m not very old, and I haven’t read it all. But I have read this: “For the wages of sin is Death” (Romans 6:23). And I know that when it says, Death is the wages of my sin, it means just what you said. Forever. Dead forever. Stinging forever. No heaven. No happiness. Forever. O Death, I have not forgotten what your sting is. It is not a bee sting. It burns forever. You think I don’t believe in hell? You think I have forgotten that my sin gives you the sting of hell?

“Look, Death, I’m just a kid. But even a kid has a conscience. God gives consciences to kids. And my conscience woke up not long ago. It woke up. God woke it up. And it screamed at me the loudest, truest statement I’d ever heard: ‘Victor,’ it said, ‘you are a sinner. You don’t love God. You don’t thank God. You don’t trust God. You don’t obey God. You don’t treasure God. You don’t pay any attention to God. You do what you want to do. You love yourself.’ And my conscience was right. God made my conscience speak what’s right.”

Death cut in on Victor before he was finished and said with a smirk, “Oh, it’s way worse than that young man. My sting is way worse than the voice of conscience. You think my sting burns forever because of the voice of conscience? Conscience doesn’t send people to hell. God sends people to hell.

“Or maybe you forgot those words from the Bible: ‘The sting of Death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law.’ Did you hear that, Victor? The Law. The power of sin is not your conscience. It’s the Law. And you know whose Law. God’s law. The power of my sting is God’s law. God’s law, Victor.

God gives my sting its power, Victor. God makes it burn forever. Your conscience is a little thing. God’s law is absolute. And it says: ‘Those who have rebelled against me—their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh’ (Isaiah 66:24).

“That’s my sting, Victor. It’s burning is never quenched. Your sin is my sting. And the power of my sting is God’s law. And God’s law says: Your rebellion, your disobedience, your indifference to God, your sin deserves everlasting burnings (Isaiah 33:14). The power of my sting is not the voice of conscience, but the voice of God.”

There was silence between Death and Victor for a moment. The old enemy glared into Victor’s thin and radiant face.

Unwavering Victor said, “You think I don’t know that? You think the voice of my conscience did not lead me to the voice of God? You think I don’t know that the power of your sting is not me or my conscience or you or your threatenings, but only the unbreakable law of God? You think I don’t know that? You think that I don’t know that in my sin I stand condemned—not by you, or my conscience, or by any human court, but by God? Death, I know that! I know that my sin is your sting, and that the power of this sting is the absolutely unbreakable will of God.

“Death, it is not I who has forgot something. It’s you, my old enemy. You have forgotten what I asked you. I think you’re afraid to answer my question, Death. I have asked you twice, and you won’t answer me. Why, Death? Why won’t you answer me? I’ll ask you again, Where is your sting, O Death. Not, What is your sting? Not what your sting’s power? My question for you, O Death, is, Where is your sting?”

For the first time, Death faltered. For the briefest moment, Death looked unsure of himself. But then he recovered quickly and kept his bearing. Filled with enmity, Death said, “My sting, Victor—your sin—is in the courtroom of your heart and in the courtroom of heaven. And in your heart it burns with guilt and in heaven it blazes with condemnation.

“The closer I get to you, Victor, the more your conscience is like a prosecuting attorney making his infallible case against you and making your heart tremble with guilt. And the closer you get to me the clearer you can see in heaven that Satan has all your sins written in his hands as he stands before the Judge, and his case against you is flawless. You are condemned. That’s where my sting is, Victor. In your heart killing you with guilt and fear. And in heaven condemning you in the courtroom of God.”

Death was silent. This was as much as he could do. This was his worst attack. And in his silence there was again the slightest flinch. A tremor in his cheek. A barely perceptible uneasiness. Victor seemed strangely unmoved. His eye was steady. His lips calm and ready. He seemed untroubled by Death’s answer. And he let the answer fall away into silence for a long time.

Then he said, “No, Death, that is not where your sting is. My life of sin is not in my heart. And it is not in heaven. You are dead wrong. And I am not surprised, because you are not listening. When you came to me, do you remember what I said? I said, ‘Hello, Death, my old enemy. My old slave-master. I am not the person you think I am. I am not the one you used to talk to. Something has happened. It’s not the same any more.’ Do you remember? Are you listening? I am not the same as the boy you used to terrorize with thoughts of dying.”

Death said nothing.

“Listen, Death,” Victor said, “Jesus came to me. No, I didn’t see him in the flesh. I didn’t hear an audible voice. But he came to me. And I heard him. He spoke to me from the Bible and from my mother and my father. And I will tell you what he said.

“He said, ‘Victor, you are dead in your trespasses and sins. But I am granting you to believe and I am giving you life—spiritual life that will never end. Trust me. Hold on to me. Believe in me. Because here is what I have done for you 2,000 years ago. I cancelled the record of your debt of sin. I set it aside (Colossians 2:14a). Do you know how?’”

“And I nodded when he said that, Death. I nodded, because they had told me. My mom and dad. They told me so plainly. They love me so much. They told me what he did to cancel my debt. And when I nodded, Jesus smiled, and said, ‘I’ve known your parents for a long time. They heard my voice a long time ago. That’s why you’re here. They told you because I told them to tell you. So you tell me, Victor. Tell me, how did I cancel your debt of sin 2,000 years ago? Tell me what it cost.’”

Death was trying to look unruffled. He tried to keep his swagger. But now the fear in his face was unmistakable. He had heard these words many times before. And they did not bode well for his victory.

Victor looked at Death with quiet confidence and said, “So I said to Jesus, ‘I know that it cost you your life to cancel my debt. You obeyed your Father in heaven and went to the cross. And there you stretched out your hands, and God folded up the record of my debt—the record of all my sins—and put the point of the nail against it and drove it through the record of my debt and through your hand, and into the wood, and nailed my sins to your cross’ (Colossians 2:14b). And Jesus looked at me with the deepest smile I have ever seen and said, ‘And do you know what happened then?’

‘What happened then,’ I said.

Jesus said, ‘I disarmed the rulers and authorities—the devil and all the evil spirits—I disarmed them and put them to an open shame, and triumphed over them in my death (Colossians 2:15). Do you know how, Victor? Do you know how I disarmed the devil when I died for you?’

‘How?’ I said.

‘When I died in your place, and suffered your punishment, and cancelled your sins, I stripped out of Satan’s hand the one weapon with which he could destroy you: the record of your debt. Victor, you understand now don’t you? The debt is paid. Your sin will never be held against you. As sure as my blood is infinitely precious, your sin is infinitely cancelled. And Satan can never hold it against you.’”

Then Victor said to Death, “Do you know what Jesus said then, Death?”

Death did not move or say a word.

“Jesus said, ‘So now you know, Victor, how to deal with death when he comes.’

Then Victor said, “So now you have come. And I have asked you, ‘Where, O Death, is your sting?’ And you have answered me with lies. Horrible, horrible lies. You have said your sting is in the hand of my conscience making my heart groan with guilt. You have said that your sting is in the hand of Satan in heaven condemning me before God. Death you are a liar like your father.”

“Where is your sting, O Death? Where is my sin? It is nailed to the cross of Jesus. That’s where your sting is. And you know it. And you lied to me.”

“And here is something else that you know. You know what happens to a honey bee when its stinger is removed. It dies. Death, your sting has been removed. You are dying. And I am coming to life. It will not be very long till I am fully alive, and my body will be raised from the ground, and, Death, you will be no more.”

Death said nothing, but glared at Victor, and turned to go.

But Victor said one more thing, “Death, here’s something you didn’t know. My story will be told. This story. Your sad story and my glad story. This will be told at my funeral. And many will hear and believe on Jesus. You will be plundered, Death. People will hear and believe in Jesus, and your stinger will be stripped from your tail, and Jesus will set many free from the bondage of your fear.

“My death, and the celebration of my life, will be your death, Death.”

He closed his eyes. And when he opened them Death was gone. Victor lay back on his pillow, and whispered, “Death, you need not show up here again to frighten me. God will tell you when to come next time. And when you come, you will be his servant. For me, you will have no sting.”

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 Corinthians 15:55-57