Like many others over the Christmas period, I love getting out for some long walks. There is something incredibly refreshing about breaking up the continual grazing on large quantities of cheese and left-over turkey with some exercise. This year, on one of those walks with my family an odd sight caught my attention. We were walking through a beautiful forest in the Neath valley when I spotted a small tree on the side of the track that had died. All its branches had gone and just the trunk remained standing. What caught my attention was that another tree, four or five times its height had grown up around it and was beginning to envelope the dead tree as it grew. I felt God quicken my heart and I knew He wanted to speak to me through it.
On the morning of New Year’s Eve, now back in Cardiff, we gathered as a church family and made space for people to stand up and share what they were thankful to God for. Through so much of what was shared was a specific theme – death. People stood up to share how they were close to death and God saved them, others how people close to them had passed away, yet in it all God had cared for them and brought them through the darkness. Each person stood up and thanked God for who He had been to them though these times, and as they did God brought the image of this tree back to my memory. He spoke to me gently and said, “See, death has been swallowed up in victory.” This phrase is found in 1 Corinthians 15:54-55, where Paul, the writer, goes on to quote the prophet Hosea by saying, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
As people stood up to give thanks to God, and as I read through this scripture, I not only felt great thankfulness for the victory Christ won on the cross for all these stories I was hearing from 2023, but the Holy Spirit was also speaking to me, saying, “This coming year you will see death swallowed up in victory.” I believe that 2024 will be a year where things that should end up in death will end up in life. By the end of this year, we will be able to look back over the year gone by and be able to say, “O death, where was your victory? O death where was your sting?”
The victory of Jesus was not just enough for 2023, it is enough for the year to come and for all of eternity. This year you will face challenges and opposition, see evil on the news, and you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. However, with everything you see and experience, you can confidently say, “death is swallowed up in victory.” Just as the dead tree on my walk was enveloped by the living tree, so too is death overcome by the life of Christ. What was intended for harm, to steal, kill, and destroy, the Lord will ultimately work it for His great victory, and you will be able to say, just as the prophet Isaiah prophesied, that no weapon formed against you was able to prevail. So go into this coming year knowing it is a year of victory and life, not of defeat and death. This, after all, is the heritage of the servants of the Lord.