The Sting of Death

Abstract of a Sermon Preached on February 11, 2001

Addressed to the Young People

by Glenn Conjurske

How many of you are afraid of hornets?

And why are you afraid of hornets?

They’re just little things, and they don’t bite. I can understand that you would be afraid of bears, which are bigger than you are, and which bite, and might tear you to pieces also. I can understand being afraid of dogs, which are much bigger than hornets, and likely to bite you. But why are you afraid of hornets?

Ah, they sting. If a hornet had no sting, you might hold it in your hand like a lady bug, or put it in your pocket for that matter. But so long as it has a sting, you stay away from it.

Now let me ask you another question. If you could some way remove the stings from the hornets, would you do it? And why would you do it? Ah, just this, because you know that sometime, somewhere, if you live long enough, you are very likely to meet with a hornet at close quarters, and you could do this with a great deal more composure if you knew the hornet had no sting.

I have had a few experiences with hornets, and I was scared enough. When I was young and inexperienced, I took a job painting a house. It was a brick house, and I had only to paint the trim, but much of that trim was high above the ground, and I get very shaky when I get more than a few feet off the ground. But there I was, standing on the top of a long extension ladder trying to paint, when I learned that I was painting in the vicinity of a hornets’ nest. They were going in and out up under the peak of the roof, and buzzing all around me while I stood there and painted. I did a good deal of praying, and came off without a sting, but you know I wouldn’t have been uneasy at all if the hornets had had no sting.

Now the Bible tells us that death has a sting also, and most people are more afraid of death than they are of hornets. With good reason, too. You may live to be a hundred, and never meet with a hornet in close quarters, but if you live long enough, you will meet with death. If you don’t plan to live long, you may not have to trouble yourself about it, but if you live long enough, eventually you will certainly meet with death, and in very close quarters too. Death will come for you, and there will be no escaping it. No doctors or medicines will keep it away. They may baffle the monster for many years, but eventually it will come, and come for you.

Now if you could remove the sting of death, before it comes to take you, would you do it? I hope you would, and I am here to tell you that you can. It is only an idle dream, a pleasing fairy tale, to think of removing the stings of the hornets. It can’t be done, but you can remove the sting of death.

What is the sting of death, and how can you remove it? Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15:56, “The sting of death is sin.” It is sin that will rise up to sting you when you face death. You know that even now. When you think of death and dying, what is it that rises up in your mind, to tell you you aren’t fit to die? It is sin, and not sin in general, not the sinfulness of your nature, but some particular sin—-some sin that you have never crucified and mortified, some sin that you intend to get the victory over some day, but which now has the victory over you. This is the sting of death—-the sin which you love, and indulge, and cling to. This is the thing that will rise up to sting you on your dying bed. This is the thing that will arm your conscience against you and cloud your hopes and destroy your peace.

“And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” (I John 3:19-22). But if your own heart condemns you, God is greater than your heart. He knows all things. He knows the sin for which your heart condemns you, and a good deal more besides. But put away all that sin, so that your heart condemns you not, and then you will have confidence toward God, even in the face of death. This is how you take the sting out of death.

But if you hold on to those sins, remember, every one of them has a sting. “The sting of death is sin.” You don’t feel the sting now. You may not feel it at all till you stand face to face with death. Now you carry those sins along, and play with them, and hug them, and you feel only the pleasure. You don’t feel the sting. But God tells you the pleasures of sin are but “for a season”—-only for a little time, which is soon to give way before the approach of death and judgement, as surely as the summer gives way at the approach of fall and winter. The pleasures of sin last only “for a season,” and then you will feel the sting. Now you hug those sins and play with them, but the day is soon coming when all those sins will rise up to sting you, and you will face death and judgement as it were carrying a nest of hornets in your hands, unable then to put it down, unable then to cast it from you.

I had a rather alarming experience with a nest of hornets once. I was picking blackberries in the clearing in the woods, perhaps half a mile from home. I had a bucket of berries hanging from each side of my belt, and was picking as fast as I could with both hands. But hornets sometimes make their nests in a hole in the ground, and I had evidently been standing over such a nest, hidden under the blackberry bushes, and the hornets had come out in full force to investigate their visitor. I chanced to look down, and saw both legs of my pants covered with a solid mass of hornets, thousands of them, from my ankles up nearly to my knees. I didn’t know what to do. I continued for a time picking the berries, hoping the hornets would go away, but they stayed where they were. So I turned and started to walk very slowly towards home. I really didn’t know what to do, though I had a pretty good idea what not to do. I didn’t dare to make any quick movements. I didn’t dare to try to brush them off. I might have been stung a thousand times. So I continued walking slowly towards home, with both legs covered with thousands of hornets. All at once two of them flew up to my elbows, one stung me on each elbow, and the rest flew away. I considered myself extremely fortunate to get off so easy.

But observe, I didn’t know what to do with the hornets. I didn’t know how to get rid of them. But you do know what to do with sin. “Cut it off, and cast it from thee.” “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed, and make you a new heart and a new spirit, for why will ye die?” This is what God tells you to do with your sin, and you can cast it from you now. You know what you ought to do, and you can do it, if you will. You may be carrying in your hands a whole nest of sins, or just one, but in either case it will rise up to sting you when you face death. “The sting of death is sin.”

And you can remove that sting. You can “cast away from you all your transgressions.” People would be glad to remove the stings of the hornets, if they could, but they can’t. Meanwhile, they can remove the sting of death, and they won’t. They don’t want to, at least not yet. Most people intend to put away their sins before they die, but the old proverb says, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” People intend to put away their sins, but not now. They want to enjoy the pleasures of sin while they can, and then cast away their transgressions before they feel the sting. But this is the extreme of folly. You may feel the sting before the day is over, and feel it forever too. You know that you must face death, but you don’t know when. The only wise thing is to be ready. “Prepare to meet thy God.” Take the sting out of death before you meet him.

Nobody will pretend that this is easy. It isn’t easy to cut off your right hand, and cast it from you. It isn’t easy to “Cast away from you all your transgressions,” when you love them as you do your right hand. Paul says, “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” What victory is that? Not deliverance from death, but victory over its sting. Now “the sting of death is sin,” and if you want victory over death, there is only one way to it, and that is victory over sin. Paul says the Lord Jesus Christ gives us that victory. But you know very well he will not give it to every man on earth, nor to anybody at all until they choose it—-until they determine in their hearts to be done with sin, and to cast away all their transgressions. This is how you remove the sting from death, and this you can do if you will.

Glenn Conjurske