When I was a kid, I amassed a pretty good collection of action figures. I had a lot of He-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys. I even had a few from the lesser known franchise Silverhawks. Transformer toys (the cars and trucks that convert to robots and visa versa) were popular then, too. I didn’t have many officially licensed Transformers, but several of the toys I did have, could be rapidly changed from one configuration to another in some way. With just a squeeze of the figures legs, a flip of a switch or a dip in hot or icy cold water and the figure’s costume or facial expression might change.
It seemed easier to tell the difference between heros and villains in the 80’s than it is now. For example, The evil Skeletor was He-Man’s enemy. You could tell just by looking at Skeletor, “he was a bad dude”. He had a face like a skeleton and always dressed in all dark clothing. In the cartoons on Saturday mornings, he would cackle with delight at the misfortune of others while I ate Cap’n Crunch.
I still have most of my toys from when I was a kid, but especially those action figures. I didn’t destroy stuff like some kids do; like MY KIDS do. (Remember a few days ago, “puddles” and “Whacko”.) At this point I figure I’d better save those old toys just in case I don’t ever find that savings bond, or my pension fails to keep up with inflation. Sometimes old toys have a lot of value. Sometimes the value isn’t monetary.
My toys helped me explore the differences between good and evil and imagine epic battles. They helped me envision how just when the world seems to be at its darkest possible moment and we feel powerless to the evil closing in around us, our Messiah will return and save the day.
1 Corinthians 15 is one of my three favorite Chapters of the whole Bible. It paints a vivid picture of a war story more intense and dramatic than any Hollywood blockbuster. The chapter is chocked full of memorable quotes such as:
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
1 Corinthians 15:26 NIV
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:52 NIV
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?””
1 Corinthians 15:55 NIV
So often, people seem to forget that the Bible calls death the enemy, not the reward. It is in fact the LAST ENEMY to be destroyed. It is like the “boss” at the end of a video game.
My favorite restaurant in my hometown, DeKalb, Illinois is Pizza Villa.
In the basement of Pizza Villa there is a small arcade. Some of their video games have changed over the years but for as long as I can remember two have been the same.
They have always had a plastic egg dispenser that has a Fred Flinstone inside that spins around slowly when you put a quarter in it. Fred says “Yab ah Dab Ah doo. Yab ah Dab Ah doo” twice and a little plastic “Dino egg” falls out with some cheap prize inside. Maybe it’s a plastic spider ring or an old tootsie roll. The prizes aren’t worth a quarter but the nostalgia of the experience is priceless. Then there is a four player Teenage Mutant Ninja “Turtles in Time” game. It’s pretty much a “must play” every time I’m there. As you may already know, the Ninja Turtle’s final enemy is “Shredder”. Before you get to face Shredder in the video game though, you have to beat several other opponents that gradually increase in formidability. Among them, is a huge fly character that I’ve never known the name of, a giant humanoid hippo named Bebop and a rhinoceros named Rocksteady.
I can’t tell you how many quarters my Dad, my buddies and I have plunked into that machine over the years trying to beat Rocksteady. We could definitely get that horn nosed beast blinking and jumping around faster (a sign that he was taking on damage). We feverishly thrashed the joy stick and hit “A B B A A B” over and over, desperately trying to deliver just the right combination of bow staff blows and ninja kicks. I would bargain for more quarters as a kid. Now, when my kids get to that spot in the game, they will beg me for “just one more quarter?!” as they watch the final seconds tick away. There never seems to be enough “pizza power” or pocket change to finish him off. I’ve never seen anyone beat the game.
Some people seem to think that Satan is God’s final enemy and death is just one of his attack moves. They act like we can put on some kind of invincibility shield by saying the promise of eternal life means we don’t really even die, that we just go somewhere else, maybe even “a better place” immediately. (Remember the Bingo card I wish I had?).
Satan’s first lie was that Adam and Eve would not really die. He tried to put a positive spin on sin. He made it appear as though sin was a pathway to a higher consciousness of some kind; an avenue to special powers or secret knowledge; a way to become almost an equal with God.
What Satan was actually doing was setting up an ambush by the enemy of death. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had access to the tree of life. As long as they ate from it, they would continue to live. They were protected from death. Satan knew he needed to get them out on their own and away from the tree of life for them to be vulnerable to death. The plan worked.
Separation from God and the life sustaining properties of the tree of life was the wage of their disobedience (sin). That separation resulted in death. Their flesh decayed and they returned to the dust from which they were made. Absolutely predictable, scientifically repeatable decay takes place when a human body dies. The changes a dead body goes through are EXACTLY what God said they would be. Every time.
Without obedience to God we cannot be in his presence. Without being in his presence we do not have access to the tree of life. Without access to the tree of life our bodies will grow tired and weak and we are vulnerable to be overcome by the enemy of death. We spend our lives fighting off gradually more formidable foot soldiers of death that attack when we are isolated by our disobedience. You know the ones: loneliness, poverty, obesity…when we get to the end we have no energy left to fight off the final enemy- death. I can’t tell you how much money people have spent trying to keep fighting off death. Sometimes we make bargains with our father at the last minute for just a little longer. Nobody beats the game. Death wins every time.
It stings to realize that.
I vividly remember my first bee sting. I was about 6 years old. I was helping my dad clean out a little ski boat we had on a trailer in our driveway. I moved a pile of life jackets and disturbed a bee. It was like life switched to slow motion for a minute. I saw the little thing wiggle it’s bottom against my arm as it deposited its dagger. I felt the pain pulsing up my arm. I cried and gnashed my teeth. I flailed my arm, but the damage was already done. It stung me. My dad removed the stinger and I held an ice cube against the spot to numb it. Eventually the sting was gone, but the memory wasn’t. Every time I hear the word “sting” I think of that incident. As a Funeral Director and a Deputy Coroner, when I meet with a grieving family, I often see the sting of death in their eyes. I can almost feel it. Death stings. The enemy of death has not been destroyed.
1 Corinthians 15 tells us there is a day coming when things will be changed faster than a transforming action figure. We will be made imperishable and the sting from the enemy of death will be no more. Death itself, the final enemy, will be defeated.
Let us cherish these truths more than our most beloved childhood toys. Like a box of favorite action figures, let us pass these promises on to our children and their children. When their savings bonds and pension plans fall short may their hope in Christ sustain them.
- What was your favorite Saturday morning Cartoon? Did you ever have any of the corresponding toys? Do you still have them?
- Besides a bee sting, or the sting of death what are some other things that “sting”?
- What comes to your mind when you hear the word “enemy”?
- How do you define the word “destroy”?
- What will it mean for the enemy of death to be destroyed?