Text: 1 Corinthians 15:51-57
One week ago the Panthers of Northern Iowa University were poised to storm the court in joy over their second upset win of the basketball tournament. This was going to be an even bigger upset as they were about to beat the much higher ranked Aggies of Texas A&M. But in a historic comeback for the ages, Texas A&M erased a ten point deficit in the last 30 seconds of the game, tied the game, and then went on to a stunning victory in the second overtime. The Texas A&M team and fans went nuts over the unexpected victory. The Northern Iowa team and fans had faces that were stunned, shocked, and streaming with tears.
This is why many refer to this college basketball tournament as March Madness. You never know what might happen. Even if you don’t like sports, you have to appreciate a team of college kids pouring their hearts out in competition. Those who taste defeat are crushed and heartbroken. Those who taste victory are overcome with joy.
Could you ever imagine though, a team that didn’t understand or appreciate their victory? What if the Texas A&M fans were dead silent and didn’t cheer at all at the end of the game thinking, “What’s the big deal? Why is our team so excited?” What if Peyton Manning in his swan song Super Bowl victory had no pep in his step, no pump of his fist, not even a smile on his face? What if an Olympian at the coming summer games in Rio won andevent or race but just walked away without standing atop the podium and receiving the gold medal? What if the news media didn’t think the Olympics were a big deal and didn’t report the winners? What if we Americans completely ignored what those athletes will accomplish on our behalf at the Olympics? That would all be crazy, wouldn’t it? That would never happen.
Yet somehow it happened for the people of Corinth living in ancient Greece. But it’s not that they didn’t understand or appreciate their victories at the ancient Olympic Games. Far worse than that! They didn’t understand or appreciate their victory in Christ! There were some who did not believe that Jesus did rise from the dead, and related to that, there were some who did not believe that believers who died would rise.
This led to all kinds of problems. Because they didn’t understand the resurrection to a new life that Christ had won for them, they viewed this life as the be all and end all. So some didn’t really have any hope for anything to come. Some thought what they were experiencing in life was the best it would ever get, and thus they didn’t realize the joy that is yet to come. Others still didn’t see anything happening in the future so they felt like they could live and act however they wanted. “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die,” was their philosophy. Their entire worldview was off and all their hope was misplaced because they didn’t understand or appreciate the victory that is theirs in Jesus Christ.
Crazy, right? Crazy, just like when you and I do the same. How often do you act like this life is the be all and end all? How often does your life not center around Jesus, but rather around your work, your schedule, your kids? How often do you find yourself living for the moment to the point that you are living like there is nothing to look forward to in the future? How often do you live like “eat, drink, and be merry” is your life mantra as fun and entertainment take center stage and Christ and his Word are pushed to the background?
Sometimes though, it may be even worse than that. Sometimes it’s not just that we under-appreciate our victory in Christ. Sometimes we might feel like downright losers in this life. One bad news story after another. Another attack in Belgium. “Will things ever get better?” you wonder. Personally, heartbreak and heartache keep piling up. It seems at times like life is just one big let down after another. The older you get the more you are surrounded by sadness. You get to the age where your parents, your aunts and uncles start dying. Friends and family members pass away. “Whose funeral is next?” you wonder in frustration.
Meanwhile, as those tough life moments afflict you, they force you to start thinking about serious life things—like your relationship with God. You feel guilty because you know you don’t give as much time to God as you should. Deep down you feel guilty because you know you don’t know as much about the Bible as you should. You feel guilty because of that pet sin you can’t beat. You feel guilty because you feel more like a spiritual loser than winner.
Before we know it, all these thoughts and feelings and life situations and problems are colliding in one big, emotional train wreck. It’s like your life is one big vortex of confusion, stress, and anxiety. In your honest moments you start thinking hopeless thoughts like, “What am I really doing here? Is it really worth it? What’s the point of all this anyways? Do I even have anything to look forward to?”
You see, it’s not just the Corinthians of old. Even God’s people today wrestle with their sinful nature and fight against Satan who wants to rip the solid ground out from under us. We too have our moments of weakness when sin leads us to to the most spiritually crazy thing one could imagine—failing to understand or appreciate the victory that is ours in Jesus Christ.
But that’s why we have Easter, friends. Easter is our celebration of victory—not a victory that was one shining moment in time like a basketball or football game. The Easter victory is ours today and every day. The apostle Paul had words for the Corinthians to remind them of this and encourage them in their everyday lives. They apply so well to us today, too. Take a look again at what he says in the second lesson this morning.
He begins with a timeline of what will happen on the Last Day when Jesus returns. “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” The wonderful mystery of God’s grace is that this life is not the be all and end all. Things will get better. Your aging, aching, graying, increasingly flabby body is going to get an upgrade in a major way. You see, we won’t all sleep in our graves for eternity. When Jesus returns with the last trumpet sound, our dead bodies will be raised and they will be changed. In a flash, in a twinkling of an eye, we will be changed to have a new and glorious body, a body that is no longer perishable (able to die), but now imperishable.
So let’s get the timeline straight: If Jesus returned today (hopefully after we get to eat Easter brunch), we will get a new and glorious body and our body and soul will go right to heaven. But let’s say Jesus returns in 100 years. Your soul is already in heaven. Your body is in the grave. That’s when your body is raised and changed and joins your soul in heaven. So either way, the end product is your body and soul are in heaven with a new and glorious body. The only question is the timing of whether Jesus comes back before or after we die.
And here’s why we are going to be changed. Our mortal, perishable, sin-tarnished bodies can’t be in a perfect and holy heaven. They need to be changed to be glorious like heaven and like Jesus. That’s what we hear in the next verses: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”
This is what we have to look forward to. It’s not a better job or a Christmas bonus. It’s not a cruise, a vacation, or a relaxing retirement. Some day we will have no more pain, no more problems, no more death. We will have immortality—life and perfection forever—as we join in the victory cry: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” because death is the big loser in this story.
This is the mystery that Paul was talking about. You see, we once were losers spiritually. Victory did not belong to us. We had nothing but sin and death. Listen to verse 56: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” The sting of death comes from sin. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” And the power of sin comes from the law, because those who disobey God’s laws sin. That’s the condemning predicament we found ourselves in. We have broken God’s laws and sinned and our sins earn the punishment of death. Left to ourselves, you might as well eat, drink, and be merry—live it up now because there’s nothing but eternal punishment waiting.
But Jesus changed everything. Verse 57: “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” When we were eternal losers, sinners on the fast track to death and hell, Jesus Christ gave us victory. Here’s how he did it: Every sin of ours that brings us the punishment of death he took onto himself. Every flame of hell we have earned he suffered on the cross. He offered himself as your substitute who would pay for sin and pay the wages of death. And after he won the battle, he sealed the deal and proved his victory by rising from the dead. Sin had no power over him. Satan had no power over him. Death had no power of him. Jesus won. And thanks be to God! He then gave that victory to us.
Your life might feel like an emotional train wreck at times. It might seem like one bad thing after another keeps happening. You might get lost in the stress and anxiety of a busy life. But here’s the mystery of God’s grace: It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it isn’t that way. You are a winner, a champion through Jesus Christ. Because he died and rose, you have a victory that you can celebrate every day and forever.
Today, Easter day, and every day, you can celebrate that your sin is forgiven, your guilt is erased, and your punishment has been removed. There’s nothing to fear, no looking over your shoulder, no worrying about what happens after this life. You know. You know that after this life you move on to the next life which will be better by far.
That means that not only do you have peace and joy to fill your heart every day now, but that means that your celebration is going to last forever. You just get to move the party from your home to God’s home.
Even if you are not a sports fan, I would imagine that you have at least seen before the elation of victory. Think of that team that hits the buzzer beater, or that kicks a field goal as the time expires. The players run all over the court or field like crazy men. The fans are jumping up and down. The joy of victory.
Just think, that feeling is yours today. Not just today, but every day. Every day you can wake up and jump out of bed and say, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! He won! And so did I! Victory!
Posted on April 4, 2016, in Church, Sermons and tagged 1 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 15, Church, Easter, Easter Sunday, Easter Sunrise, Resurrection, Sermons, Victory. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.