I love many things about Florida. I love the bright blue skies and the fluffy white clouds piling up to the heavens. I love the green, green grass and the sound of the cicadas chirping in the evening. I love the old oaks and the Spanish moss. I love the tree frogs that sing in the rain and the squirrels that frolic in the trees. And while I dislike being hot and sticky I even appreciate the humidity that makes my skin soft, my nails grow and my lungs feel like they can drink in the air. But one thing that I do not love about Florida is the fire ants. Fire ants are tiny, red, venomous messengers of torment. They sting. Their poison bite sparks a fire under your skin. No, I have no love at all for fire ants.
On Tuesday I stood by a grave. Beautiful blooms draped the tiny casket. Words of hope and truth filled the air. And fire ants attacked my left foot.
I hopped on one foot for a moment. I pursued and squished each offender between my fingers until I could see no more bringers of venom crawling on my foot. I stood tall and hoped no one had noticed my dance of torment. But the sting remained. It swelled up and fought every sense with its demanding presence. My body ached for relief. And yet in that moment the pain in my body was no more than a dim reflection of the pain in my heart.
It comes from fire ants. It comes from sin. It entered this world with one man’s disobedience and we’ve been fighting the poison of death ever since.
It was first a judgment: A cause and effect reality of our rebellion. In Hosea 13:14 God talks about how His people are reaping the consequences of their sin and He asks:
Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
Shall I redeem them from Death?
O Death, where are your plagues?
O Sheol, where is your sting?
Compassion is hidden from my eyes. (ESV)
In the context of this passage God is actually calling on the plague of death and the sting of the grave as a just response to the sins of His people. He is asking a rhetorical question. The answer is no. He will not move in compassion on behalf of His rebellious children.
The interesting thing about this passage from Hosea is that some translations frame this passage differently. The New International Version translates this text to read:
“I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
Where, O grave, is your destruction?”
Now I’m not a Hebrew scholar, but isn’t it interesting that in looking at the whole counsel of God both translations are equally true. Isn’t it just like God that in the moment he is hiding compassion from His people and calling on death as a response to their sin that He is already planning their redemption? From the moment He pronounced the curse of death, He also spoke of the bringer of life.
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspringand hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15 NIV)
From the very beginning (before He even formed the world or set the galaxies spinning through time) God set in motion a plan to transfer the sting.
1 Cor. 15:50-55 quotes from Hosea and shows us the endgame.
“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
In Christ the “shall I” of Hosea chapter thirteen comes alive as “I will”. He ransoms us from the power of the grave and redeems us from death. Life in Christ belongs to us, but for now we wait. We wait to shed this mortality and put on immortality. We live as imperishable souls among the perishable reality of a world that is slowly rotting away under the curse of sin.
Christ has triumphed over the grave. He has won the victory. Christ suffered in our place. He took the eternal sting so that we would never know the full extent of its pain.
In Christ – We have victory and we experience the sting. I still carry with me the sting of the fire ant. I still carry in my heart the sting of death. I still sin. I still mourn. I still grieve.
It fills me with sorrow to realize all the ways that I rebel in thought and deed against my good and loving God.
It pains me to see a friend wounded by death.
It breaks my heart to stand by the grave of a child.