1 Corinthians 15:54-57
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You’ve probably seen hospital ads on TV or pictures on Facebook of a children with cancer or other life-threatening illnesses. If you live in Nebraska, you have surely heard about Team Jack. Such children are often said to be warriors. They are involved in a daily battle with death. Their situation tugs at our hearts. We identify with them because, deep down, we know that we too are in a daily battle with death. Everyone born into this world is in a battle with death—a battle everyone will eventually lose.
When we attend a funeral we are reminded of the power of death and of our own mortality. It seems that death has won another victory and there’s nothing we can do about it. Jesus’ funeral was more troubling than most. We hear what made it so in the voices of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. It wasn’t just that their friend was dead. It wasn’t just that he had been falsely accused and cruelly executed. They said, we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Jesus was dead and buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. It looked like death had won the ultimate victory. It looked like the Messiah was dead and gone for good. But Jesus rose from the dead. Easter means death has been defeated. Life is victorious over death. Death has been swallowed up in victory.
The obvious question is, “but people still die, so how has death been swallowed up in victory, how can you say life is victorious over death?”
To understand how life is victorious over death we have to understand where death came from and where it gets its power. We talk about death as being natural. It seems that way because everything we know, people, plants, animals; everything ages. Everything grows old, wears out and dies. So death just seems to us to be a natural progression in life. But that’s not the way God originally intended it to be. God told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the forbidden fruit they would die. If they obeyed God and didn’t eat the forbidden fruit, the clear implication was that they would not die. It was only after they sinned that God decreed, dust you are and to dust you will return. It was only after they sinned that he banished them from the garden and placed an angel with a flaming sword at the entrance to keep them from eating from the tree of life. Death was not something God wanted us to face.
Paul says, the sting of death is sin. He says, sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. Sin brought death into the world and sin brings death to each of us. If there were no sin there would be no death. But physical death is not the whole story. Sadly, many today think that it is. Many today consider humans to be just another animal so that, when you die you cease to exist. Like an animal, you only live on in pictures and the memories of happy times that those who are left behind have of you. Funeral homes often emphasize a “celebration of life” that focuses on those pictures and the good times you had with that person when they were alive. That tends to play into the idea that this life is all there is, that people only live on in the memories others have of them. But that’s not the case.
The reality is that when we die, we must face judgment. The Bible says, man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. That’s why Paul says that the power of sin is the law—God’s law. The standard of judgment in God’s courtroom is perfection. The question to be asked in his courtroom is, “Have you ever broken God’s law? Have you lived a life of perfect love for God and perfect love for your neighbor?” And if you haven’t, then the verdict is guilty and the sentence is what Revelation calls the second death. The second death is much worse that the first one. The first death, physical death, may be difficult and painful, but its pain has an end. Even if its pain lasts a life time, that’s only 80, or 90 years or so. The second death is eternal. It is being thrown in the lake of fire with the devil and his angels. It is eternal torment. It is wanting someone to dip their finger in water and cool your tongue but never having even that wish granted.
The power of sin is that God’s law condemns us to the second death, an eternity of unimaginable suffering separated from God and all that is good.
Unless we realize that the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law we won’t truly understand what Easter is all about. Unless we realize that we too will one day face death and that, because we have sinned God’s law condemns us, that we should also face the second death of eternal condemnation, we won’t truly appreciate the fact that Easter means death has been swallowed up in victory.
It is a wonderful comfort to know that because Jesus rose physically from the dead on the first Easter our bodies will also rise physically from the dead. Jesus is the first fruits of those who fall asleep in death. When Israel offered the first fruits of their harvest to God they were trusting his promise that the rest of the harvest would be gathered in. So Jesus’ resurrection is God’s promise to us that the rest of the dead will be raised. As Jesus said, because I live, you also will live. Everyone who has died will live again.
But remember what Daniel says. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. And Jesus says, Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out–those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. It’s not enough to know that all the dead will be raised. The important thing is to know where you will spend eternity in that resurrected body.
Paul helps us with this important question. He says Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Just as the victory over physical death is not won by us- we can’t raise our own bodies or anyone else’s from the dead; so the victory over the second death is not won by us. The victory over the second death was won by Jesus.
Remember the power of sin is the law. God’s law condemns anyone and everyone who sins even just once to eternal punishment. But Jesus came to earth and placed himself under the law to redeem us. He volunteered to be the second Adam. He offered to take on the challenge that Adam and Eve and everyone else has failed—the challenge of keeping God’s law perfectly. And he completed the challenge. He experienced all the trials and temptations that are common to man and he remained without sin. But there was still a problem. God’s law demands justice. God’s law demands that those who have sinned be punished. So, Jesus volunteered to be punished in our place. He went to the cross, bore our punishment and died our death. He allowed the curse of God’s law to be placed on him. He became the lightning rod for God’s thunderbolt of justice and he absorbed it. He let the killer bee of death and eternal punishment sting him. Now that bee is harmless to us. His stinger is gone. He can buzz around us all he wants but he can’t harm us.
The victory over physical and eternal death has been won, but not by us. It was won for us by Jesus, and so Paul says, God GIVES us the victory. Don’t miss the word GIVES! The victory over death is a gift. It’s a gift of God’s grace, something we have neither earned nor deserved.
When you see those heart wrenching pictures of terminally ill children; when you attend a funeral of a friend or a family member, you can’t help but be reminded of the power of death. It seems death has all the power. It seems that death has won the victory. But today we are reminded that life is victorious over death. Jesus rose from the dead! His resurrection means that death has been swallowed up in victory. His resurrection means that we and all who have died will rise with imperishable, glorious bodies, just as he did. His resurrection means that the real power of death has been defeated. It means that God has accepted his perfect life as the fulfillment of the law. It means that God has accepted his suffering and death as the satisfaction of his justice. He considers every sin justly paid for. It means that every promise of God is trustworthy. Because Jesus rose from the dead just as he said, we say with Paul, Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory? “Because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus I know that I will one day rise from the dead and that I will live with an imperishable, glorified body in the presence of God for all eternity. Life is victorious over death.”
Christ is Risen! (He is risen indeed) Thanks be to God, He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!