Easter April 12, 1998
1 Corinthians 15:54-58
188, 199, 206, 200
To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever, Amen. Our text on this Easter morning comes from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 15, beginning with the 54th verse, as follows:
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. Thus far our text.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, who was dead and is alive, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Those of you who are old enough may remember one of our country’s more embarrassing foreign policy blunders. It happened during the early 1960’s. A group of expatriate Cuban rebels, sponsored and trained by the CIA, attempted a military invasion of Cuba…and were roundly defeated. It became known as the Bay of Pigs Fiasco. Soon after this disaster, President John F. Kennedy made an interesting—and true—observation in a speech. “Victory,” he said “has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”
Most people would much rather claim a victory than acknowledge a defeat. It’s funny, though, that sometimes the very opposite seems to be true about us Christians. It sometimes seems that we’re really good at dwelling on the defeats, and not so good at remembering the victories. Often we allow the sin and suffering in our lives to overshadow the great joy that is ours in Christ. Certainly, there is a proper time and place for each. Scripture says, “To everything there is a season…a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” This past Good Friday was our time to mourn. We considered our sin, and the great suffering that our sin brought upon Jesus. But today is Easter Sunday, a day when we dwell on the triumph that Jesus’ sacrifice brings to us. Today the time has arrived for us to laugh and to dance. That’s why our theme today is,
When you go on a trip, it can either be tedious and dull, or it can be pleasant and exciting. It kind of depends on what your destination is, doesn’t it? A trip to the dentist is a lot less pleasant than a trip to your best friend’s house! In our text for this morning, the Apostle Paul describes the final destination that waits for every believer at the end of his life’s journey. What he says seems almost too good to be true: This corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality.
Do you believe that Jesus Christ died to take away your sins? Then prepare for a thrill, because Paul’s talking about the place where you’re headed! If you’re washed in the blood of the Lamb, then as sure as the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning, you are going to walk through the gates of heaven one Day! It’s a place where Paul says our bodies will “put on incorruption.” All our physical flaws will be gone. Our bodies won’t be afflicted any more with the diseases and weaknesses that plague us in this life. Sin has imposed mortality—the prospect of death—on all people. But Paul says that we believers will put on immortality. It’s hard to even conceive of a place where there is no death, but on Judgment Day we’re going to see that place for ourselves!
Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ We know it’s possible to be victorious over hardships—we’ve seen people do it. It’s possible for human beings to defeat illness, even cancer. But to be victorious over death? Yes! In Christ, you and I will triumph even over death, just like our Savior did that first Easter morning. In fact, Paul says that death will be “swallowed up” in victory; death itself will become a part of our victory—a stepping stone to the glories of heaven. This is the thrilling victory of Easter. Today of all days…let us rejoice in it!
Let me ask you a question: have you ever heard a sad person humming a tune? I never have! When someone is singing, you know they’re happy! Well, today’s the day for us to sing. Truly there is good reason for us to burst forth into joyful song:
Awake my heart with gladness,
See what today is done;
Now after gloom and sadness
Comes forth the glorious Sun!
In our text, Paul asks, “O Death, where is thy sting?” One time a boy and his father were traveling in a car when a bee flew through the open window. Now, this particular boy was so highly allergic to bee stings that both he and his father knew immediately that his life was in danger. As he frantically jumped around and tried to avoid the agitated bee, his father calmly reached out and grabbed it. When he opened his hand, the bee began to fly again, terrorizing the boy once more. But his father said, “Look, son,” and he held up his hand and showed him where the stinger was implanted. “Don’t be afraid,” he said “his stinger is gone. He can’t hurt you any more!” My Christian friends, just as a bee loses its stinger when it stings, so death lost its sting when it stung Jesus.
We read, 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. God’s Law is His perfect standard of righteousness—it’s the target that you and I and every person living has missed by a mile. You and I broke God’s Law, and that made us sinners, and that in turn made us liable to death. But Jesus Christ did something incredible—He kept God’s Law for us. On the cross He took the punishment of our sins upon Himself. He died the death our sins deserved. By doing this, he robbed death of it’s sting forever. What more thrilling victory could there be…than victory over death!?
Well, let’s give “credit where credit is due.” It’s important that the credit for this thrilling victory go to the Person who deserves it. Let us thank God for it. We ourselves had nothing to do with it…from first to last, it was the work of our loving God. Thanks be to God, Paul says, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. The credit rightfully belongs to God. If truth be told, the Lord has given us exactly the opposite of what we deserved, hasn’t He? For our sins we deserved hell, and behold, on Easter He gives us heaven instead! What we had coming was the agony of defeat, and behold, on Easter He gives us the sweet thrill of victory!
Let us rejoice in it. Let us thank God for it. Let us also make full use of this Easter victory. Martin Luther found a way to put the Easter message to work in his everyday life…
You know, we always think of Luther as a hero of faith, resolute and unshaken. But he wasn’t made of granite. He had his bad moments, just like you and I do. In fact, he was often tormented and depressed by the thought of his many sins. Maybe you’ve known that feeling, too! Well here’s what Martin Luther did about it: he got himself a brush and a bottle of ink, and on the walls of his room he wrote the Latin words, Vivit! Vivit!—“He lives! He lives!” Whenever his sins were bothering him, he reminded himself of Jesus’ resurrection. For you see, Jesus’ resurrection is proof that those sins WILL NOT stand between you and heaven! It’s proof that God was satisfied with the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. Your sins have been paid for. If it weren’t true, then Jesus could never have risen on Easter Sunday!
Just think about it for a moment: who’s going to tell you you’re guilty, when God Himself has officially declared you “not guilty”? Because that’s what the empty tomb means—it means we’re justified, declared “not guilty” through faith in Jesus. In Romans we read, “Jesus our Lord…was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.” —Rom 4:24-25. The resurrection of Christ is the ironclad guarantee of our forgiveness and salvation—a guarantee that we can use for our comfort every single day, just like Martin Luther did. Now, I don’t expect you to rush home and start scrawling Latin phrases on your walls. But when the devil comes around and torments you with your sins…when he tries to convince you that you’re not saved, or that you’ll never make it to heaven…then make use of the resurrection victory! Just repeat those words to yourself: He lives! He lives! For that’s the guarantee that your sins, too, are all atoned for. That, my Christian friends, is your ticket into heaven! With the patriarch Job you may confidently affirm, “I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another!” Job 19:25-27.
Paul has announced our Easter victory, and now he gives us an Easter challenge: 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. Stand firm in the Lord! he says. Build your house squarely on the Rock of Jesus Christ, and don’t let anything budge you from that spot! If your attendance here in God’s house has been infrequent, then make up your mind right here and now to improve. Resolve to take advantage of every possible opportunity to hear the Word of God, and to strengthen your relationship with your Savior. Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in Him, the same brings forth much fruit.”
Consider your financial support of Lord’s work—if you haven’t been giving back to the Lord in proportion to what He’s given you, then think again about what you can do to help. We’re now facing what is undoubtedly the most important project in the history of this young congregation—building a church. With your money, with your time and with your abilities, you can help. So don’t sit on the sidelines, get involved! In every way you can, put your resources to work in the service of the Gospel. Paul promises that “your labor will not be in vain in the Lord.” The old saying may be trite, but it’s still true: “Only one life, ’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.” Once you’ve heard the Easter message, you can’t go back to living the way the world does. Easter puts you on a higher plane. It challenges you to put your faith to work, and to make full use of Christ’s thrilling victory. With our lives, we can show the people around us exactly who we are: children of God, redeemed by Jesus Christ, and bound for our own glorious resurrection!
Ask any psychiatrist what’s the worst problem afflicting our society is and he’ll tell you: it’s guilt. Karl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist, once said that if he could convince the patients in his mental hospital that their sins were forgiven, 75 percent of them could walk out cured the next day. Well if that’s true, then today God is giving us a pretty good prescription for mental health, because Easter is very convincing evidence! It’s God’s evidence to us that our sins are forgiven, and that Christ has won for us a thrilling victory over everything that’s worth being afraid of. As you walk out the doors of this church today, I want you to carry with you one short passage. It comes from the Gospel of John, chapter 14 verse 19, and it’s an Easter promise from Jesus to you. If you don’t remember another word from this sermon, remember these words of your Savior: “BECAUSE I LIVE, YOU WILL LIVE ALSO!” In His saving name, AMEN.
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