On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter declared to the crowds in Jerusalem, "Jesus of Nazareth being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:22-23).
What did Peter mean by saying this? One Greek dictionary translates his words this way: "Jesus was handed over to enemies, given over to death according to the determined plan of God."
What a strange, incomprehensible act by a supposedly loving heavenly father. God deliberately handed over his son to death! It was as if he purposely led Jesus into the hands of his worst enemies and said, "Here's my son — do with him what you will." Then he stood by, doing nothing to stop his son's wicked enemies from killing him.
What kind of predetermined plan was this? Why would God hand over his own beloved son to death? Peter gives us the answer in the very next verse: "because it was not possible that he should be holden (by death)" (Acts 2:24).
God knew it was impossible for Jesus to be held permanently in death's grip. So, there was no risk for him in handing his son over to death. He knew Jesus would come out of the grave a glorious victor over death — raised up by the life — giving power of the Holy Spirit!
It's important, however, to understand the times in which Peter spoke these words. Up until Calvary, death was a very fearful thing to humankind. It was still the devil's domain, under his rule and lordship. Therefore, death was an enemy to be feared.
God knew this power of death had to be broken. And that's why he handed over his son to death: "
…that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14). God wanted to remove death's sting, to break Satan's power over death once and for all. So he allowed Jesus to go down into death in order to swallow it up.
As Jesus lay silent in the grave, Satan and his hordes gloated. They thought they'd won an irreversible victory. But all along, God's foreordained plan was being put into operation - a plan for resurrection life!
The Lord sent his Holy Ghost down into the very bowels of death. And there the Spirit quickened Jesus body, raising him from the dead. Then out of the grave stepped our blessed Savior, right through the thick stone. And he emerged with this testimony:
"I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death" (Revelation 1:18). Christ is saying here, "I'm the one who has eternal life! I was dead, but look I'm alive, now and forever. I hold the very keys to life and death in my hands!"
The moment Jesus walked out of death's prison, he became the resurrection and the life. And he did this not only for himself, but for all who would believe on him from that day on. He has brought forth to us a resurrection life totally beyond death's power!
Thus, there is no longer any reason for a Christian to fear death or to see it as an enemy. Our Lord has conquered it completely: "Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death" (Acts 2:24).
If you've received Jesus as your Savior and Lord, then he resides in you as a mighty power of resurrection life. And the same resurrection power that brought him up out of the grave will sustain you as well. "Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you" (2 Corinthians 13:5). You have within your being all that is in Christ, a powerful life-force that Satan can't destroy!
The apostle Paul writes, "We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:11).
When Paul says, "We which live", he's echoing Jesus words from Revelation 1:18: "I am he that liveth" Paul is speaking here of Christians, those who trust in Christ and have his life abiding in them. Yet, what is Paul actually saying about us in this verse? He's telling us we also have been handed over to death!
That's right, just as the father handed his son over to death, he likewise hands over all who are in Christ. God leads each of us by the hand to the very gates of death and says, "Here, death take this one too. Do what you will with him!" And at that point, God's hand is no longer one of protection. Rather, it ushers us into the very jaws of death!
Why does God do this, you ask? He does it for the same reason he gave over his own son to death. He knows death can't hold us! Death's pain and sorrow can no longer swallow us up or destroy us. We have within us a life-force more powerful than death, the life of Christ himself!
God knows there is no risk for us, just as there wasn't for Jesus. And he has a predetermined plan for us, just as he had for his own son. This plan is going to win for us the greatest victory we've ever known. Yet this victory can only be accomplished in us through death.
Paul warns us, "If you have the resurrection life of Christ in you, God is going to plunge you into death every day of your life!" "We which live are always delivered unto death" (2 Corinthians 4:11).
The apostle adds, "As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter" (Romans 8:36). The Greek meaning here is, "Every day we are handed over to death." In short, Paul is saying, "Every day I face a new death situation."
Please understand Paul isn't speaking of physical death here. He's talking about a kind of death that happens to us daily in our walk with Christ. When he testifies, "I die daily" (1 Corinthians 15:31), he's referring to tribulation, distress, persecution, peril, trouble of all kinds.
Paul is saying, in essence, "We who have the Christ-life in us are constantly being given over to one death situation after another. Every day, some new test, crisis or persecution is thrust upon us. So, if you have the life of God's son in you, you can expect to see some kind of death situation enter your life every day!"
The godly apostle Paul was full of the Holy Spirit and revelation knowledge. He prayed fervently and walked daily in intimate communion with Jesus. Yet he admitted he was continually buffeted, defamed, despised, reviled. He was gossiped about, his character attacked, his name reproached. And on top of all this mental anguish, he was harassed by demon powers, shipwrecked, beaten, stoned.
Paul suffered so much so often, even his spiritual children wondered why he constantly faced trouble and persecution. Every time they saw him, his face was bruised, or his bones were broken, or his body was covered with marks.
They couldn't help asking their spiritual father, "Where are God's promises for you, Paul? You preach that God protects and delivers. Why isn't that happening for you? Why do you always have to bring such a heavy heart when you come to see us?" They thought Paul had to be guilty of some sin.
Of course, this hurt Paul deeply. Here was a powerful, sincere preacher of God's grace and deliverance and everywhere he turned, he was reviled and defamed. The slander finally got so bad, Paul cried out in a letter to Timothy, "Everybody in Asia is against me! I started all these churches, raising up their leaders. But now even they have turned on me!"
The apostle said he had one friend left, Onesiphorus, who "was not ashamed of my chain [bonds]" (2 Timothy 1:16). Paul said of his friend, "This man isn't ashamed of my imprisonment. He knows better than to think there's some hidden sin in my life!"
Paul also said he was encouraged by a group of believers who "had compassion of me in my bonds" (Hebrews 10:34). He said, "These people feel what I'm feeling."
Why did all these people stand by Paul in his trials? It was because they themselves had been "made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions whilst ye became companions of them that were so used" (verse 33).
These believers had become the apostle's "companions in afflictions" because the same thing that was happening to Paul had happened to them! They couldn't look at the apostle's deep trials and accuse him of being under judgment for sin. After all, they'd suffered the very same reproaches. They had to have compassion on Paul, otherwise they would have to question their own spirituality!
I know a deeply spiritual minister who endured years of satanic buffeting and persecution from other believers. Every time I saw him, he asked me to pray for him about his troubles. I gladly complied but over time, as his trials persisted, I grew bothered. Finally, I asked him point blank:
"I don't understand why you're always so harassed. Why do you seem to be a constant target for demonic attack? You're one of the godliest pastors I know. You're intimate with the Lord, always in prayer, continually studying his word. Why would the Lord allow you to face such constant trouble?"
I couldn't help thinking, "I have trials and bad seasons, too but I don't have them all the time, the way he does." For a time, I doubted that man's spirituality.
But now I know why this godly minister was handed over to death situations daily. It was because he was full of resurrection life! God wanted to use him in a mighty way so he kept handing him over to death in every area of his life. He wanted nothing to remain that would hinder the beautiful manifestation of Christ in him.
This is why Paul was "handed over to death daily." It was why he was buffeted, defamed, persecuted, robbed, imprisoned, shipwrecked, maligned, hated, misunderstood. Satan was set on destroying the testimony of life in him. He knew a great manifestation of Christ was about to shine forth in Paul's life!
Paul says we are handed over to death "that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body" (2 Corinthians 4:10). God brings us into death situations so Christ's life in us can be revealed to others!
The apostle also says, "I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death [handed over to death]: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men" (1 Corinthians 4:9).
Simply put, when godly saints full of the Christ-life are led into death situations, it's never a private matter. Scripture says we're made a gazing stock to three different intelligences: angels, devils and humankind.
Right now, you may be struggling in the very jaws of death. The enemy has come against you, bringing trouble upon trouble, overwhelming you with fear. At times you may feel all alone in your struggle.
But you aren't involved in some secret warfare. Your battle isn't taking place in some dark corner. On the contrary three realms are watching you with great interest. Devils are watching you, angels are watching you, and people are watching you. And they're all wondering, "How is this servant of God going to respond to his trial?"
What are such spectacle-trials all about? Why do we have to go through these deaths? What's in us that God is after?
Our heavenly father knows that certain unredeemed areas in our lives hinder the full manifestation of Christ's life in us. He knows our stumbling blocks, our fears, our ambitions, our lusts — everything that blocks a full shining forth of Jesus. So he allows us to be put into "death situations" to rid our hearts of these hindrances.
Consider these examples:
1. If your hindrance is a fear of man, God may lead someone into your life whose presence paralyzes you with fear. Everything that person says or does adds to your fear, until it becomes unbearable. Over time you begin to feel beaten down, worthless, barely able to carry on.
I've seen such fear cause physical pain to God's saints. Some have ended up hyperventilating over the "hard person" in their life, literally losing their breath!
Where does such an overlording person come from? Why does God allow such a man or woman to become involved in your life? It happens because your loving father is handing you over to death! He's telling you, "Your fear of man hinders the precious flow of the Christ-life in you. Thus it cannot produce life in others. This fear in you has to end. You have to die to it!"
Your cry to him may be, "Lord, get me out of this!" But God responds, "No I'm going to let death do its work. I've arranged all of this so you'll be brought to a death!"
2. If your hindrance is ambition, God may open to you a tremendous door of opportunity. It could be a blessing so obvious and promising, you can't miss it. It might even be the biggest, most ambitious project of your life. And God will allow you to step into it, thinking, "This is it! I finally got my big break."
Then the Lord will allow the whole thing to fall to the ground. You'll end up standing amid the ruins of your life's dream, crying, "Lord, I thought this project was your will! I thought it had your blessing. I prayed to you faithfully about it, and you brought me this far. How could you allow it to fail so miserably?"
You've been handed over to death! The failure of your project is meant to be the death of your ambition, a death to everything that hinders the Christ-life from being manifested in you.
3. Your hindrance could be the incredible revelations you receive from God's word. You may ask, "How can fresh revelation ever be a hindrance to a lover of Jesus?" Believe me, this happens to many dedicated followers of Jesus and it could happen to you!
One day you may be reveling in the new truths being opened to you. Profound doctrines are becoming clearer to you than ever before. And your confidence is growing, because you consistently apply every new revelation to your walk with the Lord. You're so sure of your place in Christ, you think, "I've finally found the biblical principles to fully live an overcoming life!"
Then suddenly, for no apparent reason, your soul is stricken with dryness. Soon your joy and assurance give way to a sense of frailty and uselessness. An unexplainable depression fills your soul, and each day becomes a burden to you.
The scriptures that had come so alive in your heart now seem like a closed book. Instead of receiving revelation, you wonder if you'll ever learn anything again. You think, "I can't seem to get hold of even the clearest passage of scripture anymore. I can't get a simple word from God. I must be a spiritual ignoramus!"
The problem isn't your intellect. You're being handed over to death! Your dryness is meant to hasten your death to all confidence in your flesh. It's a death to your tendency to glory in the revelation you're given, rather than getting your joy from Christ.
The fact is, revelation tends to produce pride. This is the very reason God gave Paul a thorn in his flesh. He was restraining Paul from glorying in his many great revelations. God wanted his faithful servant to remain humble in all things!
This whole process of having to endure "death situations" can seem cruel. Without question, it is one of the most painful aspects of our walk with Jesus. But if we allow death to finish its work in us, Christ's own resurrection life will flow freely out of us. If, on the other hand, we resist death's work, we won't ever have Christ's life in us!
When we die to something, whatever the hindrance was loses its grip on us. It is no longer our taskmaster, no longer a source of distraction to our mind or spirit.
Yet Christians have varied reactions whenever God hands them over to death situations. Many murmur and complain. They cry out to God, "Lord, get me out of this! I've had enough. It's all too much for me to handle!"
Others become convinced God has failed them. They wonder, "Where was the Lord's delivering power when I needed it most? Why didn't he keep his word to me? His promises don't work!"
But with every death situation we face, God knows we're not finished. He knows we're not going down to death forever. The death we're going to experience can't hold us or destroy us. Our father's divine plan is for his Holy Ghost to bring us out of our test victorious, full of resurrection life!
Simply put, our death situations are meant to be the end of certain personal struggles. Our father brings us to a place where we realize we have to depend on Christ completely, or we'll never get through. He wants us to say, "Jesus, unless you deliver me, it's hopeless. I put my trust in you to do it all!"
Paul experienced this kind of death. At one point in his life, he quit looking for relief from his death situations. I'm sure that in the early days of his walk with Christ, he endured terrible times. And, like most of us, he probably hoped that if he just trusted the Lord enough, he'd be protected from all trouble.
The first time Paul was thrown in jail, for example, he might have cried out for deliverance: "Lord, open these prison doors. Get me out of here, for your gospel's sake!" Likewise, his first shipwreck probably tested his faith severely. And his first beating might have caused him to question God's ability to keep his word: "Lord, you promised to protect me. I don't understand why I'm enduring this horrible trial!"
But things just kept getting worse for Paul. Scripture gives little evidence that the apostle ever saw much relief from his troubles.
I believe that by his second shipwreck, Paul must have thought, "I know the Lord abides in me. And so he must have a reason for this trial. He has told me, all things work together for those who love God and are called according to his purposes. If this is his way of bringing forth a greater manifestation of Christ's life in me, so be it. Sink or swim, my life is in his hands!"
By the third shipwreck, Paul probably said, "Look at me, all you angels in glory! Look at me, all you vile demons of hell. Look at me, all you brethren and sinners. I'm going down once again into deep, dark waters into the very jaws of death. I'm a spectacle, on display for all of you to see!
"I want you all to know God knows death can't hold me! He has told me I'm not finished, and I'm not quitting. I'm not going to question my Lord about why I'm being tested this way. I know this death situation is going to end up in great glory to him. So, all of you who are watching me see how my faith comes forth as pure as gold!"
I wish I could have met Paul in the final, mature days of his walk with the Lord. I would've asked him, "Brother, what kept you from fainting and giving up? You were constantly pressed down on all sides."
I believe Paul would have answered, "Yes, I was pressed down. But I wasn't distressed by any of it."
"But you write of being perplexed so often by your trials," I would say.
"True but never once did I give up in despair," he might answer.
"You were also persecuted more than anybody."
"Yes, I was. But the Lord never forsook me through it all."
"You were struck down often, with infirmities and troubles."
"Sure. But none of it destroyed me."
Today Paul testifies to the whole world, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed" (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). He wants God's people to know, "All of your troubles are light, momentary afflictions. And they're producing in you an eternal weight of glory, far beyond your comprehension!" (see verse 17).
Paul tells us, "death worketh in us, but life in you" (2 Corinthians 4:12). The apostle states very plainly, "Here is the reason why God hands us over to death. He does it so the life of Christ will flow out of us to others! If we allow death to complete its work in us, a manifestation of the Christ-life will come forth in us. And our testimony will produce life in all who hear it!"
The Lord hands us over to death, death to all lust, sin, ambition, flesh and pride so that our innermost being will overflow with pure, life-giving waters. He tells us, "The death I've led you into is meant to bring life to those around you. Only a servant who's dead to this world can truly bring Christ's life into his sphere of influence!"
Remember when financial problems hit, when physical pain strikes, when your name and character are being defamed, all eyes are on you. Your co-workers, your family members, your brothers and sisters in Christ, even strangers are watching and waiting for your reaction.
What do they see flowing out of you in such times? Do they see faith, trust, surrender? Or do they see a despairing, murmuring Christian who won't entrust himself to the resurrection power of Jesus?
Beloved, let death finish its work in you! Let it remove everything that hinders the flow of Christ's life out of you to others.
Say to the Lord, "Father, I know these troubles aren't happening to me because you're angry with me. They're happening because you're trying to get at something in my soul. Deal with it, Lord. Bring it to death and out of that death, bring life!"