2nd Sunday after Pentecost – June 18, 2017
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
Honey bees are interesting creatures. They communicate with each other through smell. They never sleep. And in the United States, honey bees are responsible for pollinating about 80% of all fruit, vegetable and seed crops.
But perhaps the most memorable characteristic of the honey bee is also the saddest. When a honey bee stings you, it dies. Now maybe at the time you get stung you don’t feel so sorry for the bee. In fact, maybe you think the bee deserves the death for the sting it gave you. But the trade off is not equal. A sting to you means death to the bee.
Of course, a sting from a bee can mean death to humans. If you are one of the 2 million people who are allergic to bees, then you know that a sting can mean much more than just a little pain. To some, a bee sting doesn’t just mean death to the bee. It means death to them, too.
Stinging can be a dangerous action. What if, like a honey bee, you died after you stung someone? Obviously, we don’t have physical stingers that inflict pain. But our stingers can still hurt. One word you say can cut to the heart of another. One noise can hurt someone else. One physical action can hurt, too. To hit someone, or to cross your arms, or to walk away can sting every bit as much as a bee. Perhaps even more.
So what if, like the honey bee, you died after you stung someone? One stinging hit, one walk away, one look of disgust, one stinging comment, or even one stinging thought about someone and…boom…you’re dead! That might just bring perspective to your life. If you knew that one hurtful word to another person would kill you, or one stinger of an action, or one little angry thought could kill, you would probably avoid those actions as much as possible.
But there is the catch. You know as well as I know that we cannot possibly avoid stinging one another. Which means that as human bees we wouldn’t last long. In fact, how long could you last before you stung someone? A month? A week? An hour?
Honey bees are pretty extraordinary that way. They can live anywhere between 6 weeks and 4 years. I think our sting would come much sooner than that.
But the situation is actually worse than that. Our sins of stinging one another don’t kill us, or our neighbor. But they did kill someone else. They killed Jesus. In fact, that was why he came. Jesus, who never stung anyone ever, who never jabbed someone with a sinful word, or hurt someone with a sinful action, or even thought a stinging thought, lived perfectly.
He came to be stung. It wasn’t the betrayal that spiritually stung him, or the trial, or the scourging, or the nails, or even the cross. It was your sins that stung Jesus, and mine. And the sting that Jesus endured, the sting that he suffered, the sting that killed him was our eternal death in hell. 1 Corinthians 15:56 calls it “the sting of death.” And that isn’t just talking about physical death that everyone eventually faces. It is talking about eternal death – permanently suffering in hell.
That sting should have been yours. It should have been mine. But instead Jesus took that sting of death upon himself.
A father was once driving in a car with his son. It was a nice day and the windows were down. When they came to a stop a honey bee buzzed in to the vehicle. The pleasant drive all of a sudden became deathly dangerous. The son was allergic to bees. In fact, if he was stung, he would die. Quickly, the father grabbed the bee. And then he did something incredibly painful. He kept the bee in his hand until it stung him. It did. The pain was tremendous. But the danger was gone. After being stung, the father flicked the dead bee out of the vehicle. He was stung, but he had saved his son’s life.
You are that son. Eternal death was coming for you. But at the last second Jesus took that sting of death upon himself. It was incomprehensibly painful. In fact, it was so painful and powerful that he died. But then three days later, Jesus rose again. And because of Jesus’ resurrection Paul can write, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So what if every stinger you gave out could kill? Well, it did. It killed Christ. But when he rose again he won victory for you and me. He took death’s sting away. And now he promises to help keep you from stinging others.
That isn’t so easy. Our sinful nature lives to sting others. “The stronger the better!” it retorts. Holding your stinging in is a daily struggle in self-control. It means speaking well of others. It means putting others before yourself. It means living for others as Jesus lived for you. It means putting away the stinger and making honey for others. “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”
Did you know honey bees are the only insects that produce food for humans? How can something that produces such sweet honey sting so sharply? Perhaps there is a heavenly lesson in that. After all, death is the same way. How can something so bitter and sad and awful and painful end up being a good thing? Because Jesus has defeated death. Death has lost its sting. And now it is but a doorway to Jesus, the means by which Jesus brings us to heaven. Your eternal home, where there is no more sting of death – a place the Bible fittingly calls “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Amen.