1 Corinthians 15:51–57 (NKJV)
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 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. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 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.” 55 “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Last week we observed that we are in the time of Eastertide, the period of time when the Church has historically remembered and celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead. So why did Jesus rise from the dead? To demonstrate for all those who believe in Him that our bodies likewise will be raised.
And it is this theme upon which Paul dwells in our text today. This corruptible body must pass through the furnace of death and be raised incorruptible; this mortal body that is subject to death must pass through the furnace of death and be raise immortal. And when this has happened, when at the Last Day Christ has returned in glory and raised from the dead all those who believe in Him, transformed us into His own image – righteous, incorruptible, immortal – then shall come to pass the promise of Scripture, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
In other words, brothers and sisters, we have immense hope. Death is not the final word. As horrible as death is, as devastating as it is, death is a conquered foe. Jesus rose from the dead; Jesus dealt death a death blow. We now live in sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead; because Christ has risen we too shall rise.
So what does this mean? It means that we can have immense confidence in the face of death itself and in the face of all death’s minions – sickness, pain, torture, persecution, hardship, trial. None of these things have the last word – the last word belongs to Jesus and to life. And this is what our psalmist understood. “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed That I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living.” “Oh death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Such confidence is absolutely necessary for us to possess as the people of God. After all, consider the twofold task that has been entrusted to us. First, we are to lead lives of godly sincerity and purity no matter what others may think or say. Second, while living this way we are not to retreat into a little hovel but to engage all the nations of the earth with the message of the Gospel. What would enable us to accomplish such things? Listen to Eusebius:
[To do so] the strongest conviction of a future life was necessary, that [we] might be able with fearless and unshrinking zeal to maintain the conflict with Gentile and polytheistic error: a conflict the dangers of which [we] would never have been prepared to meet, except as habituated to the contempt of death.
How are we to treat death? With contempt. Why? Because Christ is risen and has broken his power. Even as Christ rose from the dead, we too shall rise. This mortal shall put on immortality. So what should characterize our lives? Fearless and unshrinking zeal to maintain the truth of God against all opposition – whether from our own flesh or from the world or from the devil himself. Congregation of the Lord, Christ is Risen! (He is Risen indeed!)
So reminded of the power of Christ’s resurrection but no doubt reminded also that we frequently are fearful and shrinking rather than fearless and unshrinking, let us kneel and confess our lack of faith to the Lord.