The First Sunday After Easter April 27, 2014
1 Corinthians 15:21-22,51-57
198, 207(1-5), 201, 207(5)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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.
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades (grave), where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Christ Jesus, our living and victorious Savior, dear fellow-redeemed:
Death never looks like victory.
It is not uncommon to read in an obituary that someone has “lost a battle with cancer” or some other deadly disease. It is described in this way because the outcome isn’t the one for which everyone had hoped. Death just doesn’t seem like victory.
We see news reports of a deadly crash and that’s not victory. A deadly house fire or a murder don’t look like victory either. There’s no apparent victory in watching someone writhe with pain or gasp for breath in the last hours. Even a peaceful, natural death doesn’t look very victorious.
In one way or another we have all had personal experience with death and it leaves our hearts grieving with sorrow and feeling defeated and certainly not victorious.
The death of Jairus’ daughter didn’t look very victorious either. Jairus had gone to find Jesus with the hope that He would heal his sick little girl. But when the servant came out and told Jairus not to bother the teacher anymore because his little girl was dead, there was no victory celebration in Jairus’ heart (Luke 8:41ff). Likewise the widow walking in the funeral procession of her only son, did not see victory in death, nor did Mary and Martha as they stood weeping outside their brother Lazarus’ grave. But in all of these cases, death turned into victory when Jesus came bringing life.
The disciples didn’t see victory or feel victorious Friday night, Saturday, and into Sunday as they mourned Jesus’ death. Nevertheless, there was a victory to behind Jesus’ death because that death had completed the payment for the world’s sin, and there was another important victory yet to come when on the third day He rose victoriously over death. That victory over the debt of sin which was accomplished on Friday and the victory over death which came to pass on Sunday—that glorious victory which seals salvation for sinners is our victory!
Death and its seeming triumph over us is unavoidable. Paul wrote, “By man came death… in Adam all die.” [vv.21-22] He wrote in much the same way to the Romans, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). This leaves us with a rather gloomy outlook. Death and all that comes with it is all-inclusive. Our condition is one that is non-victorious. We are left with a forecast of utter and total defeat.
The sting of death is sin (cf. v.56). Like a poisonous scorpion, sin strikes us, injects its venom, and leaves us dying. The strength of sin is the Law. The righteous Law of God condemns each of us to eternal death and judgment in Hell because of our sins.
“Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” [v.57] By one man came death, but “by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.” In Adam all die, but “even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” [vv.21-22] Death is swallowed up in victory because death could not hold Jesus in the grave. After dying in punishment for the sins of the whole world, Jesus rose victorious over death. The third day is a day of victory because death can no longer hold anyone who is joined to the life of Christ!
Several months ago as we prepared to celebrate our Savior’s birth, we sang, “Oh come, thou Rod of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny, from depths of Hell thy people save, and give them victory o’er the grave!” [TLH 62:2] Today that victory for which we prayed while anticipating the Savior’s birth, is realized in the victorious emptiness of His tomb.
Jesus, the Son of God, lived a life that met God’s expectation and fulfilled His Law…as our substitute. Then He died on Friday, being forsaken by God and enduring the punishment of Hell for our sins…as our substitute. End of story? No way! It would be the end of the story if Jesus hadn’t been raised, “but now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
What looked like defeat on Friday became a great victory—a victory demonstrated by the disciples’ great joy as the news of the day began to sink into their minds and hearts. Jesus won a tremendous victory on Easter morning, but that victory is also ours. Jesus is our substitute—everything He did, He did for us.
Jesus is described as the “firstfruits” from the dead. First fruits imply further fruits and we are that further fruit for we too will rise from death. Jesus promises, “Because I live you will live also” (John 14:19). “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:24-25).
Death still looks like defeat, but only in this life and only for a time. “We shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” [vv. 51-53] Because Jesus has paid the price of setting us free from our sin and has conquered death, we have the certain hope of being raised from our own death to be glorified just as He is and to live with Him forever.
Those who die “in the Lord” still die, their bodies still decay, their missing place on earth is still mourned, but they are victorious! We are victorious because we have a living Savior who day-by-day provides for us, guards us, protects us, keeps us, forgives us, and has fully defeated our worst enemies.
Jesus lives! The victory’s won!
Death no longer can appall me;
Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done!
From the grave Christ will recall me.
Brighter scenes will then commence;
This shall be my confidence. [TLH 201:1]
Crown Him the Lord of Life
Who triumphed o’er the grave
And rose victorious in the strife
For those He came to save.
His glories now we sing
Who died and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring
And lives that death may die. [TLH 341:4]
Celebrate THE DAY OF VICTORY—YOUR victory through a risen and living Savior! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.