The First Sunday After Easter April 18, 2004

INI

The Last Enemy

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Scripture Readings

Acts 3:13-15,17-26
1 John 5:1-6
John 20:19-31

Hymns

208, 206(1-6), 207, 196(1,5)

Awake my heart with gladness,
See what today is done;
Now after gloom and sadness,
Comes forth the glorious Sun.
My Savior there was laid,
Where our bed must be made
When to the realms of light
Our spirit wings its flight.

The Foe in triumph shouted,
When Christ lay in the tomb
But, lo, he now is routed,
His boast is turned to gloom,
For Christ again is free;
In glorious victory
He who is strong to save
Has triumphed o’er the grave!

[TLH 192:1-2]

Grace be multiplied to you and peace from God our Father, and from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dear Fellow Christians:

It is a joy and a privilege for Christians to bear that name at all times—the name of Christ Jesus our Savior—but it is a special joy and privilege as we continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. Easter is the time when salvation, our salvation, is complete. Our eternal future has been verified, sealed for all time and eternity. The ultimate battle between good and evil has been completed and the outcome has been declared to the world. Jesus Christ has conquered sin and Satan and stands victorious for all to see. Mankind has been rescued from the certain torment that awaited us all. The payment has been made, and God has declared the payment complete. Thanks and praise to our merciful Savior God who has won the victory for us! Amen!

The text for this Sunday after Easter is the word of the Holy Spirit recorded through Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Fifteenth Chapter:

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.

These are the words—the very words of God. As our most precious and prized possession, so we study and meditate on these words with awe and reverence, praying always, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth!” Amen.

The story is told of a kindly pastor who was asked to fill-in at the last moment to perform a funeral at a neighboring parish. Unbeknownst to him, the deceased was, in this case, a singularly notorious scoundrel who had seldom darkened the doorway of a church. Carried away by the moment, the minister heaped one platitude after another upon the dearly departed. The congregation, including the man’s widow, became more and more puzzled. Finally, after a ten-minute stretch where the pastor lauded the man as a husband, father, and community leader, his widow nudged her son and whispered: “Go up there and make sure it’s Papa.”

How we love to praise the dead, even if that praise is undeserved, even if it is untrue. In our grief, we are perfectly willing to ignore reality in favor of what we wish had been true. Dressing up the memory is every bit as important as dressing up the body and yet, because of the sorrow of the occasion, no one objects to the hypocrisy.

What a different story with Jesus! When our Lord died for our sins, what good thing could anyone have said that was not true about him? Selfless dedication, loving son, community leader, a man who left his mark on the world like no other. He was humble, hard working, caring, a force for good. He was, in short, the perfect human being. But he was so much more than the perfect human being. He was, from first to last, our Champion, our Savior.

Imagine the most terrifying enemy earth could possibly produce. Now multiply the horror and the evil of that creature ten thousand-fold and you begin to have a picture of Satan, our great enemy. Now picture yourself having to do battle with such a creature. Understand that you must not only fight this hideous beast, though you cannot even see him, you must also defeat him! The stakes could not be higher. Eternity is at stake. Lose this battle (slip up even once) and you will be tormented with this beast for all eternity.

What unspeakable relief was ours when Jesus Christ, our Champion, stepped to our side and said, in effect, “I will fight for you.” Not one of us deserved such a thing. Not one of us was worthy of so great a kindness. As we look back now upon the battle that raged during Jesus’ time on earth, we begin to realize just how utterly helpless we would have been in such a conflict. Luther’s words in the famous hymn come to mind:

With might of ours could naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, “Who is this?” Jesus Christ it is,
Of Sabaoth Lord, and there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever.

[TLH 262:2]

Indeed, the suffering reached its climax on Good Friday—the utter agony revealed in those terrible words spoken by our Champion from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?(Matthew 27:46). In these words were all the torments of hell. Here was justice being meted out for every sin of every human being ever conceived. Only Jesus could have won such a battle for us. Is there now any praise or act of thanksgiving too good for such a Savior? Is there any good thing we could say about him that is not true?

According to human reckoning, a champion who dies on the field of battle has lost the battle, as when Goliath fell under the stone of David. Yet here things are different. Christ Jesus was not conquered by death. He conquered sin and Satan through death. So we read in Hebrews, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the Devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage(Hebrews 2:14b-15).

All of the sacrifices throughout the whole Old Testament served as constant reminders that the sacrifice for sin had to be a blood offering. Life, in the divine system of justice, could only come from death—the shedding of blood. Only the blood of our Lord Jesus could pay such a debt. Even in the Old Testament, the sacrificial lamb had to be a perfect animal, without spot or blemish or defect. This too was a foretelling of just what would be necessary to cover our debt—Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God. Jesus, our Savior.

It was indeed Jesus who conquered the enemies against which we were powerless, the enemies that nonetheless had to be defeated if we were to escape eternal torment in Hell. By His perfect life given in innocent death on the cross, our Champion has chained our great adversary, the Devil, like a dog anchored to a hundred-year-old oak. Satan can therefore have no power over us unless we let him. Again the words of Luther’s great hymn:

Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpower us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will
He can harm us none, he’s judged;
The deed is done; one little word can fell him.

[TLH 262:3]

That “one little word” that can fell Satan (against which the Devil is utterly powerless) is, of course, “Jesus.” The empty tomb is all the proof that we need to assure us that this enemy has been conquered. Yet while this terrible foe has been routed, our text tells us that one enemy still remains and will remain until the end. The bitter irony is that this is an enemy of our own making.

Our text tells us, “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.[vv.21-22] The last enemy that remains to be destroyed, the one for which man himself is responsible, is death itself. We are the ones who by our sins brought into the world not only spiritual death (defined as the separation of the soul from God), but also physical death (the separation of the body from the soul). Our text uses Adam as representative of all sinners, but we ought to take no comfort in blaming Adam. Only if we had no actual sin in our lives could we imagine that we would have fared any better than did our first parents in the Garden of Eden. You and I brought death upon ourselves, and this is the one enemy that remains. What sadness and misery it continues to cause us.

Yet note well, dear Christians, that death waits only to be destroyed or abolished. It has already been conquered. When Christ rose from the dead he most certainly conquered death for us. “Christ Jesus took away the power of death and by the Gospel brought into the light the life which cannot be destroyed(2 Timothy 1:10 NET). Though conquered, and with its power to do us any eternal spiritual harm gone, physical death is still a formidable enemy. Man was not created to die, yet, death still awaits us all—right up until our Lord Jesus returns. It is now to our Lord’s return that we look with eager anticipation. Our text assures us that “at Christ’s coming… the last enemy that will be destroyed is death.[v.26] It is hard for us to imagine an existence without death, and yet that day will certainly come. When Christ returns, not only will the saints be raised, but we will be raised incorruptible! There will be no more death of any kind. Death will not only be conquered, it will be destroyed—a thing of the past. This means that not only will bodies never again die, it also means that that which is called death shall no longer exist. Death depends on sin and Satan for its very existence. When these are gone, death too is gone.

Christians, continue to revel in the victory proclaimed by the empty tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ, and rejoice even more in the fact that, for human beings, the best is yet to come. Though we live now in joyful anticipation of our Lord’s return and the final judgment and resurrection, one glorious day our anticipation will be turned to personal participation. While now we cling to the promise of Heaven in faith, remind yourself often of the reality of that truth, and of the unimaginable bliss of an eternal existence with our God and Lord.

In the meantime, do not fear our last enemy—death. Its power over us has been shattered by our Champion. It exists now only as the portal to a far greater existence. May God the Holy Spirit work in the hearts of each one of us to preserve us unto that great Day of our Lord’s reappearing, when that last enemy, death, will finally be destroyed forever. Amen.

—Pastor Michael J. Roehl


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