Life and Death Matters

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 4/25/2021

Perspective. Have you ever noticed people have an extremely limited perspective on life? I was born in the 70’s but came of age in the 80’s. How many of you agree that the 80’s seem like yesterday? Somebody commented that the 80’s are as far away from 2020, as the 1940’s were for those growing up in the 80s! Oh man, time is evaporating!

For me, there was nothing greater in the 80’s than the 85’ Bears. (Maybe Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, but I digress.) It was so amazing to watch the "Monsters of the Midway" as they made their triumphal procession to the Superbowl. They were so ferocious. They effortlessly trounced everyone! Packers fans chastise Bears fans for fixating on 1985. But 1985 was infinitely more memorable than all the forgettable decades of Packers dominance ever since!

One of the most beloved, colorful, and savage players on that 85’ Team was Steve “Mongo” McMichael. A few years ago his band, the “The Chicago Six”, performed at the State Fair. The band has included such notable players as Walter Payton, Dave Duerson. There is nothing like listening to the cocky Steve McMichael relive his glory years.

But this week the Chicago Tribune ran a piece on how, in just a matter of months, Steve McMichael health has declined. He’s lost 50-60 pounds. He’s no longer able to raise his arms, or hold anything in his hands, or sign autographs. Soon he will be confined fulltime to a state-of-the-art wheelchair that must do everything for him. His wife of 23 years has now become his caretaker. He describes how ALS (that progressive nervous systems disease popularly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) has “snuck up on him”, and “cheap-shotted him, like a Green Bay Packer.” The man who could do anything, and has done and achieved about everything, can now do virtually nothing for himself.

His perspective has been radically altered. The deterioration is rapid. His frustrations mounting. He says, “What I used to be is the antithesis of what I am now… This is a humbling thing, brother.” “The disease rounds the bases of your extremities… your right arm, left arm, left leg, right leg… before heading for home plate.” A man who could once squat 720 pounds says it feels like squatting 1000 pounds just to stand up! He says, “He's now like a baby crying, ‘Help me! Waaaa’” He says, “He’s last in line behind the chihauahua… both waiting in line to go to the bathroom.” ** In an interview this brutal man, who brutalized his own body as much as the bodies of his opponents said, “Say a prayer. Say a prayer, and not for God to help me, but to let me through pearly gates.”

In 1 Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul’s perspective has been radically altered. In some ways, this letter of 2 Corinthians is a lament. In Chapter 1 Paul describes how Christ’s sufferings have overflowed to him. How his afflictions were producing a kind of “patient endurance.” How he found himself completely overwhelmed, beyond his own strength, despairing of life itself! He felt he’d received in his flesh such a terrible death sentence. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:9 that God was teaching us “… not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”

As we come to 2 Corinthians 2:12-13, Paul describes yet another agonizing circumstance. He writes, “12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though the Lord opened a door for me, 13 I had no rest in my spirit because I did not find my brother Titus. Instead, I said good-bye to them and left for Macedonia.”

Notice the paradox. On the one hand, here God is opening the door for him to preach the gospel. But on the other, he can’t find his dear brother, and co-laborer Titus. He goes to Troas, to Macedonia. Where is Titus? On my phone I have a Life 360 App. I can track the whereabouts on everyone in my family I love. But not Paul. He went to synagogue to synagogue, church to church, city to city. The longer he looked the more desperate he felt. The anxiety “almost” seems to eclipse his apostolic call to preach!

But then Paul writes these words, in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17: “14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. 15 For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. Who is adequate for these things? 17 For we do not market the word of God for profit like so many. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God.”

Instead of being caught up in the anxieties of life, and his separation from Titus (and many others), Paul takes comfort in the fundamental truths of the gospel. He explains his life in terms of a most savage analogy. In American culture, we’ve all attended parades. My hometown of Herscher always has a Labor Day Parade. Here in Springfield, we have the State Fair Parade. A chief function of parades is to demonstrate “community pride.” You parade out all your heroes. That year’s victorious politicians who vanquished their foes. The Police. The Firemen. Military. The local teams and sports heroes. The beauty queen. . . the most powerful machinery—tractors, emergency equipment, etc. etc.

In Paul’s day, the Romans would conduct parades to celebrate their military triumphs! At the conclusion of the military campaign, a Roman conqueror (a general), with all his sad captives in tow, would march through the heart of the city toward the grand arena. The crowds would burn incense, a powerful aroma would fill the city, as the triumphal procession continued. But unlike the Superbowl, where the losers leave the arena, these captives would be slaughtered! So what Paul is saying is that the aroma that filled the air of the city for true citizens, was the aroma of life! But for the enemies of Rome, it was an aroma of death!

Paul’s point is two-fold. First, we ought to thank God because were on the winning side of Christ’s triumphal procession! Jesus has conquered the power of sin on the cross, through his suffering, through his shed blood and broken body. Jesus has conquered the power of death by virtue of his resurrection from the grave. Satan, with all his schemes, and stratagem, and warfare, has been utter vanquished. We Christians should thank God because the smell of life and victory is in the air. We are not defeated by sin and death. We are victors over sin and death!

This is the gospel the Apostle Paul would preach to Steve Michaels. Paul would say, “Steve, your 85’ championship isn’t your finest hour! You are not going down in defeat, not to ALS, not to death! Christ’s victory can be yours through faith in Jesus Christ. You are being taught not to trust yourself, but in God who raises the dead!”

But Paul’s second point is that preaching the gospel, spreading knowledge about God, is like burning victory incense. Yes we're bruised, and bloodied. Yes Christ suffered, broke his body, shed his bled, gave his life. Yes we’re following right in Christ’s train, Paul says “we're sharing in the sufferings of Christ!” But we're not just sharing in the sufferings, we're sharing in the victory, and more than that, “declaring” victory forever to whosoever might trust Jesus!

Again, 2 Corinthians 2:14-16: “14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. 15 For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. Who is adequate for these things?”

Something Paul points out. The gospel is simultaneously a message of life and death. Life and Comfort and Joy to those who believe. Darkest defeat and eternal death to those who are perishing. Can people smell aroma of your faith and confidence?

Scripture Verses

2 Corinthians 2:12-17

Worship Playlist

You Make Me Brave by Bethel Music

Behold the Lamb by Passion

Yet Not I but Through Christ in Me by The Worship Initiative 

Study Questions

  1. How does your daily life show a sincere concern for those dying without Christ?
  2. Who in your circle needs to have you say something life-giving about Jesus? How soon can you point them to Christ?
  3. When people observe your life, do they see you victoriously follwing Christ?

Apply It!