The Story of Death Defeated

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The Story of Death Defeated Luke 24:1-12, 36-43 Pastor Duane Smets July 1st, 2018

I. The Death of Skepticism II. The Death of Suffering III. The Death of Sadness

A year and five months ago we began a journey together, reading through the story of The Gospel According To Luke. It’s one of four stories about Jesus that got included in the Bible. Some of you have been with us the entire way and some of you have jumped in with us as we’ve been reading through and talking about the story. Luke writes his account of Jesus as a story and it’s been a good story. At the very beginning of the book in the very first sermon we did from Luke we began by talking about the nature of story itself. What Luke understood is that story is powerful, that we as human beings love a good story…and even more than that, I think he understood that we, by nature are a story formed people. You see, every one of us, every single person here in this room, we have a story that is wrapped up in our identity. Our story is our background, where we were born, where we grew up, what life was like and what we experienced. And each one of us having defining moments we remember which, when we think of them are the things that make us who we are in our personality, character as an individual and unique human being. We are a story formed people. It’s why we love story. We love it when a movie tells us a good story. We took our kids to see Incredibles 2 at the drive-in movie theatre last weekend. It’s a good movie because it has a good story. We love a good book that draws us in and you can’t wait to turn the page because it tells a good story. When I’m not reading theology I love reading fantasy books, like Lord of the Rings, The Stormlight Archive, The Farseer Books, Dresden Files and that kind of stuff. I love reading anything that tells a good story. We love story because story matters. It matters a lot. Do you guys know who JJ Abrams is? He’s this obscure guy who’s written and produced a bunch of TV shows and movies. Mostly small stuff you’ve probably never heard of. Stuff like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Lost. You know, stuff nobody really likes. He did a Ted Talk on why he thinks his stuff has been so successful and the main thing he talked about was the nature of story. In his talk, he tells a story about this mystery box he got as a gift from his grandpa when he was a kid. To this day it sits in his office and he has never opened the box. Abrams goes on to explain that what story does is addresses some sort of mystery that we can’t help 1

but want to be solved. But he said it’s bigger than just sort of getting to the end and finding out who done it. And he said, get this, that the best stories are the ones where the solution draws something out of us, that taps into our own person and identity, provoking some realization that brings us to deep truth and wonder. This is what the book of Luke has done, the way its been set up and how the story has unfolded and been carried out. Luke sets things up in the beginning by basically saying, “Hey, I want to tell you an incredible story. You’re probably not going to believe it, but just read the story and consider it.” At the same time, he seeds this question, “What if?” What if? What if there’s really a God? What if He actually acted and did something incredible in human history? What if Jesus was really His man and did something so people could become friends with God? What if through Jesus God did something to right all the wrongs, to put an end to sadness and suffering and to answer our deepest questions, doubts, and fears? What if? What if?
 Where we left off last week was with Jesus on the cross, dying…and if the story just ended after that the story would just be a tragedy, another sad story amongst many like Albert Camus’s “The Plague” or Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” And this really is the ultimate question, does life for everyone ultimately end with a sad conclusion? Is human life basically a tragedy? When I was in college I read a book that God used in part in my journey, in my story towards becoming a Christian. It was the autobiographical work of Leo Tolstoy titled, “A Confession.” In it, he writes, “My question - that which at the age of fifty brought me to the verge of suicide - was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man…a question without an answer to which one cannot live. It was: ‘What will come of what I am doing today or tomorrow? What will come of my whole life? Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?’ It can also be expressed thus: Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?’” What we are going to read and discover and work through today is the ending of Luke’s story, his grand conclusion, “The Story of Death Defeated.” With that would you stand with me as we read it recognizing this story as not only being drafted by Luke but handed down from God Himself to us as His Word and testimony of life and truth to us.

Luke 24:1-12, 36-43 1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men, stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary 2

the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. 36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

The Story of Death Defeated. I’ve got three points from this for us to walk through today, “The Death of Skepticism”, “The Death of Suffering” and “The Death of Sadness.” And the one-liner take home I’m hoping will ring in our heads is two simple words, “Jesus lives.” Jesus lives. Jesus lives and because He lives we can live. Let’s jump into this first point for today, “The Death of Skepticism.”


The Death of Skepticism

Luke began the entire book and story recognizing that people were going to be skeptical about it… surely skeptical about the miracles and the claims of Jesus but especially skeptical once they got to this part of the story when Jesus rises from the dead. He knew that was going to be a hard pill to swallow. I think that’s likely because it was probably difficult for Luke to swallow at first. He was a medical doctor before becoming a Christian and a missionary and He became convinced that Jesus really was who He said He said He was and that He really rose from the dead. Medical doctors work in the realm of the physical, blood and guts and they especially know that dead people do not come back to life, especially one beaten, bloodied, crucified and stabbed like Jesus. So Luke starts off at the beginning of the book saying, there’s a way you can “…have certainty concerning the things” you’ve heard (Luke 1:4). Now, here at the end of the book, he unpacks many of the things that pushed him over the edge, causing him to believe and be convinced. Both Luke and the Bible, in general, has a very gracious attitude toward skeptics. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, let us reason together.” The Bible does not call you to throw your brains away to believe. Jesus Himself encouraging seeking truth saying it is His purpose to “guide you into all the truth (John 16:13)” and He commended the man who acknowledged His difficulty in believing saying, “I believe; 3

help my unbelief (Mk 9:24)!” The apostle Paul, who ended up writing several books of the Bible actually encourages asking real questions, especially about the resurrection of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 15, where He says that all of Christianity hangs on and is either true or not true based on whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he encourages seeking proof and says, “Since you seek proof…Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves (2 Corinthians 13:3,5).” You see, Christianity is different than every other religion in the world because it does not place the test for whether or not Christianity is true upon one’s personal spiritual experience but rather upon an objective historical and scientific claim that Jesus actually rose from the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:14 says it this way, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” So today if you have questions and doubts about Jesus and Christianity, you’ve come on a good Sunday, you’ve got friends in the text today, namely Jesus’ own disciples. Let’s check it out together. First, we’ve got women, three of who are specifically named, who first discover that the tomb is empty. Throughout the book of Luke, he has highlighted the crucial role and importance of women in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus was a feminist long before it was cool. And this is an important fact to recognize because I’m sure Luke got flack from some people for documenting women as being the first to discover Jesus’ resurrection because sexism was particularly rampant in the first century, even in the legal system. Josephus, the Jewish historian tells us about this in his book Antiquities recording the law which said, “From women let no evidence be accepted, because of the levity and temerity of their sex.” So, if you’re Luke and you’re trying to convince people of the truth of your story, that Jesus actually rose, you don’t acknowledge the evidence and testimony of women. It didn’t count. And you actually get a hint of this in the text. In verse 11 after Mary Magdalene, a former prostitute turned Christian, Joanna, a mom named Mary and some other women tell Jesus’ disciples that Jesus has risen, check out the disciples' response. They kind of mock and deride them as being stupid. Verse 11 says, “these words seemed to them an idle tale and they did not believe them.” So basically they tell the women they are dumb for believing such a thing. Those words “idle tale” come from a word that was used to talk about the wild talk of sick people who were delirious. Jesus’ disciples tell these women they are crazy for believing such an impossible thing, a myth. Today, if you’ve thought people are crazy and stupid for believing that Jesus rose and that there is a heaven and hell and hope for a redeemed life after death, you’re in good company. Jesus’ own disciples thought that too at one point. But later, after they saw Jesus themselves and talked to Him and touched Him their opinion changed. Peter in 2 Peter 1:16 says, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the 4

power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” For Peter, it was no longer a myth because he discovered it to be true! Likewise, another one of Jesus’ disciples’ opinion changed. John wrote in 1 John 1:1 calling the risen Jesus “eternal life” and says He is “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands.” Eyewitness testimony was an important thing in the first century, especially in court and it still is today. After Jesus rose he showed Himself to lots of people over a period of 40 days. On one occasion He’s recorded meeting with over 500 people who all testify to seeing Him and hearing from Him (1 Corinthians 15:6). I’m not sure how many you would have to put on the stand in a courtroom before it would enough to convince a jury that the dude is actually alive and that they were not all have hallucinations. So you’ve got eyewitness testimony, but it’s not just a fallible human testimony that’s given, there’s also two angels here. The way angels are typically described in the Bible is that they look like a human but appear dazzling, or glowing (2 Kings 6:17; Daniel 10:5-6; Luke 9:29). These two angels show up and the women freak out, which I think anyone of us would do if we actually saw an angel. And then they speak. When the angels speak, they testify saying very clearly, “He is not here, but has risen (Luke 24:6).” Angels don’t show up in the Bible a whole lot, but when they do it’s a big deal. The last time they showed up in Luke was at Jesus’ birth, tons of them showed up singing a song, saying Jesus was the savior who would bring peace on earth. I’ve never seen an angel, but if there are actually angels I think what they say does count for something. But that’s not all that’s here. There’s not only human eyewitnesses and angel testimony, there’s also circumstantial evidence. What Luke describes is the circular stone door being rolled away and then when Peter goes in he sees the linen cloths that were wrapped around the body laying there, which in John’s account tells us were all folded up (John 20:5-7). Here’s why those two details are important. In 1879 in an archeological dig, a Roman edict was found saying it was illegal under penalty of death to rob a tomb or move a body. That’s why the women are shocked when they see the stone rolled away from the tomb. Some have tried to explain the resurrection away saying the disciples stole the body. But there’s no way these guys who abandon Jesus and are scared themselves of being crucified are going to risk messing with the body and even if they did, are they going to take the time to fold up the cloths? No. Then afterward all of their preaching is about how Jesus rose and they’re no longer scared of death. Some have said, maybe they were able to resuscitate Jesus and that’s why they said He had risen? Besides being a medical impossibility I don’t see how bringing back to life this half-dead Jesus would have been that much of a victory to shout about. Now here’s the thing. There’s lots of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. There’s not only the things 5

Luke records but tons of other stuff like the origin of the Christian faith. New religions take hundreds of years to develop and evolve but Christianity literally starts overnight with thousands because so many people saw Jesus be crucified and then saw Him risen. It changed everything. Historians acknowledge that something huge had to have taken place if it wasn’t the resurrection to get a bunch of hardline Jews to immediately convert, even to the point of changing their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday because Jesus rose on Sunday. And everything in the practice of the church, the two main things, baptism and the Lord’s supper are all about declaring that Jesus has risen and because of that we can rise too. Christianity is a religion of resurrection. So there’s lots of other evidence. But here is what I find interesting. The angels don’t point to the evidence as the reason to believe. Instead, they point to the words of Jesus. Look what they say in verse six and seven, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” This is almost a direct quote of Jesus from Luke 9:22, 17:25, and 18:32. So the angels say the answer for skepticism is found in remembering Jesus’ words, what He said. Why do you think that is? I pondered that for a bit this week. Here’s why I think that’s important. Someone once told me that if they could see the risen Jesus then they’d believe. What I told them was that they’d probably come up with some other excuse or explanation and that if Jesus had to keep coming back and showing Himself to each generation that it would lessen the significance of what He did if He has to keep doing it. On top of it, I don’t think it’s so much a matter of plausibility and rationality that makes it hard for us to believe, I think it’s things going on underneath in our hearts that make it hard for us. Deep down we want to believe it’s true but we have a hard time because in life we experience hard things. It’s at this point where the message and the meaning of the resurrection pierces us. So we’re going to transition to our next point and talk about that in “The Death of Suffering.” But before we do, can I just ask, “What would it take to convince you? What is holding you back from believing? Do you think it’s just an idle tale, a myth? What if it were actually true?” God invites your questions and your skepticism. We just have to be bold and courageous enough, to be honest with ourselves and ask Him. And if we do, if we seek the truth, I believe we will find it and we will find that Jesus is in fact risen from the dead and that because of that there is hope for our lives. Jesus lives and because He lives we can live. Ok, now let’s talk about “The Death of Suffering.”


The Death of Suffering

The core question surrounding the resurrection of Jesus is what happened to the body? There are only two possible answers. The body somehow went missing and no one knows what happened to it or the 6

body came back to life healed and restored. The story of Jesus’ resurrection puts a huge emphasis on the body. Verse 3 says, “when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” Then when Jesus appears to the disciples He says to them in verse thirty-nine and forty, “‘See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.“ Initially, when they first see Jesus they think they’re seeing a ghost. To me, that would’ve seemed like a fair guess. Ghosts and zombies apparently were popular back then like they are now. Dead people don’t come back to life, but there’s Jesus standing in front of you. The only logical explanation is: uh, ghost. But Jesus is extremely gracious and wants them to know He’s not a ghost. He offers Himself to them for a physical examination. This would have been very important to a doctor like Luke. Jesus allows them to touch and feel Him. His skin is real. There are scars from the nails. Then, just to make sure they are convinced he says, “Hey, I’m hungry. You got anything to eat?” Because everyone knows ghosts can’t eat. I verified it with my daughter. She’s a huge Harry Potter fan and told me, “Yeah, ghosts can’t eat.” The body. A real body. This is an extremely important piece of Christian belief. Christianity is uniquely focused on the body. The story of Jesus in Luke begins with God taking on a body in Jesus. God becomes a man in Jesus taking on a human body. The story of the entire Bible gets kicked off because of what happens to the human body. The human body was created and meant for eternal life, but when the man and the woman sinned against God, the result was a spiritual corruption that corrupted the body and from that point on made it susceptible to disease and death. Romans 6 in the Bible says that all sin happens with the body and 1 Corinthians 6 says that our spiritual life is one that is lived through our body. Because of that all suffering, everything bad we ever experience has to do with our body. When we physically get hurt, it’s because something happens to our bodies. Even when we’re sad and experience emotional pain, it’s still something we experience in our body. It’s chemicals and synapses firing in the body due to memories of things we think about that have happened to us. The body in the story of the Bible is extremely important. It’s our body that determines our gender. Sex and procreation happen within the body. Survival only happens by taking food into your body and then resting your body with sleep. So Jesus comes on the scene as God taking on a body and says in Luke 12:4, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that 7

they can do.” Then the night before He’s crucified takes bread and wine and says, “This is my body which is given for you (Luke 22:19).” I think it’s safe to say that Jesus’ mission was and is to redeem the human body, that Christianity is a body religion. Colossians 1:22 says it this way, “Jesus has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” Jesus new resurrected body is what the Bible calls the “firstfruits of the Spirit”, meaning Jesus got the first one and all who believe in and look to Him will get new bodies like his. Romans 8:23 explains it this way, “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Christianity is a body religion. Now here’s why this is important. Most of the religions of the world can be boiled down to being some form Gnosticism. It’s not important that you know and understand the world as much as what it means. Gnosticism shows up in many ways and its basic tenet is the spirit is good and matter is bad. Most religions and lifestyles are about escaping the limits of the body. Eastern philosophy’s answer to suffering is to meditate and detach yourself from your body and become one with the body of the universe. Western philosophy’s answer to suffering is to be rational, putting all our confidence into our minds in order to transcend the limitations of our body. Sadly, Christianity has even been often misunderstood as a religion that seeks a spiritual experience, feelings felt in prayer and worship where one hopes to escape their body rather than coming home to it as the place where the Spirit dwells and is working in through the ordinary things of life. Julie Canlis in her book, “Theology of the Ordinary” says it this way, “If God the Son took on flesh, then our whole relation to the material world has been changed… the Spirit’s mission is to put us in Christ - to unite us to Him, and let His life flow into us. Do you see what the Spirit has to work with? Physical things and physical people. This is the realm of ‘spirituality.’ There is no higher plane. Some Christians wrongly associate the Spirit with prophetic words, spiritual insight, miracles, and ecstasies - things assumed to be above ordinary life. (On the contrary) it came as no surprise to the early church that He who hovered over the waters of chaos to bring forth life, that He who hovered over Mary’s amniotic waters to give the Word a physical body, should also minister to us in concrete, embodied ways. The Spirit’s playing field has always been with real people in a real world. Unlike modern definitions of spirituality that highlight the individual and the interior essence of that person, 8

Christian spirituality is always painfully, even embarrassingly, concrete…(Today’s) ‘spirituality’ (often) has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit’s realm but with the individual’s mental state achieved away from the things of the flesh.” If Jesus bodily rose from the dead then that means there is hope for our bodies and an answer to all the pain and suffering we feel and experience. The number one reason people say they have a hard time believing in God is because of suffering and evil in the world, especially the suffering and evil people personally experience. That’s why I said earlier I don’t think it’s so much the arguments and evidence for the resurrection that is most difficult. It’s the pain and turmoil into our hearts. And it’s to that Jesus directly speaks to. He says He’s God who took on a body, to experience and feel what we do and then to enter into the epitome of suffering on a cross and then to defeat it, rising again to new life, putting to death death itself. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead says death is not the final word. Jesus lives and because He lives we can live. We’re often not too aware of our bodies, what we’ve lived with our bodies and why our bodies hurt. It’s into that suffering that the resurrection of Jesus wants to speak and minister new life into. Today, a good question to ask is, “What am I feeling in my body?” Jesus took on a body, gave up His body on a cross and then rose with a new body so that all the sin, pain and suffering we’ve experienced with our bodies might be healed and restored. It starts with us believing His words, which will one day touch our actual flesh and make it new like His. And for that, there is a great reason for joy. So let’s talk about that and move to our final point for today, “The Death of Sadness.”


The Death of Sadness

If I’m completely honest with you, even hearing what I just said come out of my mouth sounds somewhat ridiculous. It sounds great, but really…too good to be true. At the same time, however, for all the other skeptics in the room, isn’t this what we long for? For all the wrongs to be made right and all the sad things to become untrue? You see the hope and promise of the resurrection is through it God will make our bodies new and the whole world new. If you’re a skeptic don’t you want ultimate justice, equality, and peace across the world? Don’t you want the end of suffering, the alleviation of hunger, disease and of people being poor? Don’t you want the environment to be taken care of and to last continuing in its beauty and wonder? If you’re only focused on the physical, material world and don’t believe there could be a resurrection of the body and that through God all things could be made new, pretty much the only other option you have is to believe is that this material world that somehow came about by accident will be burned up by the sun. That’s a sad ending.


In contrast to that sadness, the risen Jesus brings joy. In the story of our text for today, there are all kinds of emotion. People are perplexed. Then they start to get excited thinking maybe it’s actually true and Peter runs to the empty tomb. Then once they see Jesus with their eyes and touch Him with their hands verse 41 says, “While they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling…” That’s such a great phrase. It’s kind of like saying with great excitement, “I can’t believe it’s true! I can’t believe it’s really you Jesus. Yahoo!!!!!!” Think about the happiest day of your life. Maybe your wedding day? Maybe the birth of your children? It’s kind of like that only even better. Nothing but a bright future with a tangible living hope. Jesus Christ and the redemption of our bodies and the entire world. 1 Corinthians 15:53-57 describes it with great joy saying, “This perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ …thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because Jesus rose from the dead we have a hope and answer for everything that makes us sad. Guilt, fear, shame are all gone in the light of Jesus’ life. Christianity is all about Jesus pouring that new life into us. This is the joy of being a Christian. You see it’s not based on feelings, sometimes there are feelings, sometimes they're not. It’s a deep abiding assurance and security. It’s why when Jesus first shows Himself to the disciples He says, “Peace to you!” When He says “peace” it’s more than just “hello!” Peace was not only the Jewish word of greeting and departure but was the one word which encapsulated the hope of the Bible. Shalom in Hebrew. Peace. Peace for our souls and for the land. What I find so incredible about Jesus in this scene is how He extends peace to the disciples not just with that word but also with how He treats them. He doesn’t condemn them saying, “I’m so disappointed in you.” “Where were you? Why did you all abandon me?” “You know, you really let me down.” He doesn’t say any of those things. No shame. No guilt. No fearful threats. He says peace. Jesus came and lived and died to give us peace by restoring our souls and our bodies to the life and joy they were made for. The Bible ends with a picture of Jesus with His people in heaven, everyone with their new bodies rejoicing. I’ll read it and then we’ll conclude. “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall 10

there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.' 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.’” - Revelation 21:3-5 This is the promise Jesus gives for those who believe His words and put their trust in Him, giving Him their lives and their bodies. Jesus lives and because He lives we can live.

Conclusion Well, it’s been good today. The Death of Skepticism. The Death of Suffering. And The Death of Sadness. It’s a lot more fun talking about the resurrection of Jesus than talking about the death of Jesus. It’s a lot happier! They both go hand in hand though, don’t they? The death of Jesus is meaningless if He didn’t rise from the dead. And Jesus resurrection is meaningless unless He actually died a real death to put death itself to death. I started out the sermon today talking about a story. We talked about JJ Abrams and the nature of mystery. There are some mysterious things about the resurrection for sure. But as he said, the best stories are the ones that provoke truth and wonder. The story of the risen Jesus does just that. It speaks a powerful truth and provokes wonder in us. It makes us wonder, “What if?” “What if?” “What if the thing we long for most is actually true? Life everlasting. Tolstoy wrote in his book, A Confession, “If God does not exist since death is inevitable, what is the meaning of life?” He concluded that life without God was impossible. The last book He wrote before He died was a book titled, “Resurrection.” Tolstoy hung the hope of his life upon the resurrection. Have you? Nothing else can give you the life you long for except Jesus. Jesus lives and because He lives you can live.