Vol. 11 — No. 16 April 19, 1970
1 Corinthians 15:54-58
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 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. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
In Christ Jesus, our Risen Lord, Fellow Redeemed:
Last week we celebrated one of the most misunderstood holy days on the calendar. The day on which we celebrate our Lord’s victory over death for the lives of all men has become a day of Easter eggs, home cooked food, and the social gospel—which uses Jesus not as a Savior from sin and eternal death, but as a good man who wanted nothing but temporal love and peace among all men. In this way Easter has become little more than an old tradition which has little significance for the spiritually dead of this world.
But, it is not to be so with us! The Holy Spirit has worked faith in our hearts so that we believe that Jesus is truly the Resurrection and the Life, and that He suffered death for us that we might not die but have everlasting life. The seal of His promise to us was His resurrection from the dead. Scripture tells us, that if He had not risen that first Easter morning, then our faith in Him would be in vain, and we would be yet in our sins. But the grave could not hold Him, and now we can rejoice! “Because He lives, we shall live also.” This is the message of life which we took home with us last Sunday. Now one Week later we come back to church with the cradle and the cross behind us in this church year. We have followed the Son of God from His coming into the world to save that which was lost to the completion of His work in His death and resurrection. We have heard this testimony even as did the Jews—but while His Old Testament people rejected Him, by His grace we have believed on Him so that now as those that have been given new birth, we are as newborn babes who have a whole life ahead of us. As such who have been given a new birth we also have a new outlook on life. We have been affected by faith in what the Scriptures have told us about the life, death, and resurrection of the Savior, so that we no longer view life on this earth and our death as do those without Christ. In the God-breathed words of Paul written in 1 Corinthians 15:54-58, we find a Christian view of death and life which says—
If there is anything that men fear by nature, it is death. Ever since that first sin in the Garden of Eden, which caused death to pass upon all men, every man born into the world has the inborn knowledge that some day he will not exist on this earth. There are many signs of death all around him. He sees how quickly disease can take over a body and destroy its tissues. Even the healthiest of individuals die of old age. Death can come in a thousand different ways. One city newspaper two weeks ago read: “22 on reconnaissance plane perish in Vietnam crash,” “Explosion kills 5 in Georgia,” “Deaths of 6 raise traffic toll.” The people of New York have been afraid to leave their homes for fear of being killed by homemade bombs. Wars no longer follow wars but are going on side by side. It is no wonder then that with death just around the corner, men have always been inclined to see life as an existence that can be snuffed out at any moment. The philosophers have come with their reasoning that since man has only a certain amount of time to live, he would be best to get as much out of life for himself as he can. Today we are in just such an Epicurean society which lives according to the motto: “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” So, the world revolves around the exercise of freedom in the pursuit of happiness—each for his own flesh. The body is misused in the hope that the flesh will get its fill for sixty or seventy years—before it rots in the grave—and the soul which it housed spends eternity in hell. The spiritually blind can’t see past this life, so death to them is a sad event. At death, what little they had in this life is lost. For them nothing remains after temporal death but eternal death and damnation.
But, thanks be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we are not included with those who cannot see past the grave. For we know and are assured by the living Word of God that for the Christian death is gain! Paul says: “So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” Paul says that there will come a time when his own corruptible body will be covered with that which can’t be corrupted, and this body which now is subject to death will never die. He is speaking of the resurrection of the dead in Christ. For those who do not believe the Word of God, a resurrection from death is impossible. But we have the Word of our crucified Lord who even now is sitting on the right hand of the Father: “Because I live, ye shall live also.” The Lord redeemed us from the consequences of death. The certainty of our resurrection is based on the closeness of our relationship to the Savior who bought us. Me, as believers, are the many members of a Body, of which He is the Head. We do not doubt that since Jesus our Redeemer lives, we too shall awaken unto life, because the Head of the Body can’t rise and leave its members—any more than one’s head can move across a room without his whole body going along with it. “Nay, too closely are we bound unto Him by hope forever. Faith’s strong hand the Rock hath found, grasped it, and will leave it never, even death now cannot part from its Lord the trusting heart.”
Paul tells us more about our gain in death. What a beautiful transformation of our bodies will come about on the day of our resurrection. While we are on the earth, our sin and guilt are always present to give testimony to our uncleanness. Each day we must repent of them. But on that great day our Lord will change out vile bodies that they may be fashioned like unto His glorious body. Why must we be transformed? Scripture tells us that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither can corruption inherit incorruption.” The corrupt body, which since the fall of man can only turn to dust, is not a sufficient abode for the soul that rises to heaven. For everything in heaven is eternal and never subject to death. Therefore our bodies, which were sown in dishonor, are to be raised in glory; sown in weakness, they shall be raised in power; what was once a natural body, made of flesh and blood, will be a spiritual body. We will go from an earthly image to an heavenly image! What a wonderful event death is for the Christian, as over against death for those without Christ. For the unbeliever death is the loss of the only life he will ever know—the few years he spent on earth. He will never awaken from his death, for death has won a complete victory over him. Not so with us! For what appears to be a victory for death—when our bodies are buried in the ground—is not a victory at all, because death cannot hold us in the grave. If a man’s physical death comes while he is yet spiritually dead, without Christ, than death is indeed victorious and can hold that man forever, for Satan has the man’s soul in hell and will claim his body. But when we die as Christians, death gets only our fleshly bodies, the perishable part of us, while our souls ascend to the Father in heaven where they await new bodies to house them. From then on with perfect hearts and minds we will live in eternal happiness. This is what we gain when we die.
Surely then when we are raised on that great day, as the blessed of the Lord, death shall be swallowed up in victory. “Grim death with all his might cannot our souls affright! He is a powerless form, however he rage and storm!” Shall we not join Paul in his mockery of the vanquished foe, saying: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? We have no fear of a scorpion without a stinger, and a bee without a stinger is as harmless as a house fly. Death, without your sting, which is sin—you are even less harmful than a house fly. A common house fly can at least bring germs and disease when it lands, but death, when you finally come to us—all disease, all wants, cares, and sorrows, and everything that is corrupt and rotten leaves us! The fly which we fear so very little can dirty us, while you, death, bring only cleanness to us when you separate our bodies from our heaven-bound souls. Since Christ both died and arose again for our justification, we have been declared innocent by God the Father. That means, O death, that all our sins, which otherwise would have bound us to you, have been pardoned so that we are no longer under your power. Our Savior has conquered you, O death. He has removed your sting from us so that now you can only buzz, but never hurt us. He has removed the power of the law to condemn us in our sins by keeping the law perfectly in our places, so that now there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. So you see, vanquished foe, you may seize us, but as believers in Christ, you cannot sting us with eternal death. Yes, death, you are gain for us, for you are but the gate to life immortal!
It may seem strange in considering the Christian’s view of life and death to begin by concluding that death is gain before first discussing the life to be lived. After all life does come before death, does it not? Or does it? If one is speaking of the length of time that the body exists on this earth before it is destroyed, then it can be said that life comes before death. This is the way the unbelievers look at life and death. But if one is not speaking physically, but spiritually, then indeed death comes before life in every man, for all men have been born in sin and therefore are born spiritually dead. To become spiritually alive there must be a rebirth. The Christian learns from Scripture that he has been conceived and born in sin, and that the wages of sin is death. But he also knows from Scripture that Jesus Christ died for all his sins so that he now has the hope of eternal life after death. This Christian way of first viewing death as gain and then looking at life is exactly the way Paul would have the Corinthians understand these things. For after showing how the Christian gains in death he writes: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” Knowing that God has given us the victory over death through His Son surely has an affect on the way we live our earthly lives. For knowing that the Christian life is derived from Christ, each of our lives are now to be directed to Him. For the Christian, to live is Christ! This means that He is the very center of our lives, and that His work is our work. Paul exhorts us to abound always in this work, for in the Lord’s work of preaching the Word of Life, there is no room for vanity or emptiness. If Christ had not risen, then there would have been no work to do, for there would have been no hope to offer men in this life, and our faith would have been in vain. But if He did conquer death with His resurrection, AS HE DID, we now have the most wonderful and most profitable work to do: preaching this fact to all men. We are not to keep this precious truth to ourselves. This would not be abounding in the work of the Lord. We have the greatest news that man can ever hear, so let us never tire of spreading it. The results may be hidden from our eyes because of their spiritual nature. One cannot always see the effect which the gospel has on the bearer, but we are assured that the Lord is present with us in His work, and that He will prosper the Word which He sows through us.
Furthermore, if Christ is the center of our lives, then we will not be as those millions who live their lives from day to day with no certain direction in mind. In their unsettled minds they reach out at every new teaching that comes along, hoping to find some reason for living. They seek security in earthly riches. They vainly seek salvation by their own works, trusting that another god, apart from the Lord, will grant them victory over death. No, we will rather view life as those who are steadfast, firmly settled in our faith. He will be built up daily and strengthened by the Word of Life, so that we are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which we have heard proclaimed to us. If we are anchored in the certainty that death is gain for us, then in the living of our lives we will not be shifted so that we fall for the philosophies and vain deceits of men. They can offer us nothing beyond this life. But they serve to pull us down to their level through compromise of our faith and confession and through temptation to immorality.
May the Lord preserve us from such who would change our philosophy of life so that we no longer see death as the gain that it truly is in Christ and our life as a time for devotion to the Savior and His work. Let us always rejoice and be thankful in the blessed state in which we now live as the adopted children of our heavenly Father who has made us as newborn babes with a life ahead that shall never end!
What harm can sin and death then do?
The true God now abides with you.
Let Hell and Satan rage and chafe,
Christ is your brother—you are safe!
You shall and must at last prevail;
God’s own you are, you cannot fail.
To God forever sing your praise
With joy and patience all your days. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.