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 celebrated Easter. But lest we think we can exhaust the glory of Easter with one day of worship, the Church has historically celebrated this period of time as Eastertide – so today is the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Jesus’ resurrection is far too significant an event to be celebrated only one day – it inaugurates a season for rejoicing! Jesus has risen from the dead! And this means that for all those who believe in Him our bodies likewise will be raised.
It is this theme upon which Paul dwells in our text today. This corruptible body shall pass through the furnace of death and be raised incorruptible; this mortal body shall pass through the furnace of death and be raised immortal. And when this has happened, when at the Last Day Christ has returned in glory and raised us from the dead and 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. As Paul declares, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We stand in great need of such confidence given the twofold task that has been entrusted to us as Christ’s disciples. On the one hand, Christ calls us to lead lives of godly sincerity and purity no matter what others may think or say. On the other hand, while living this way Christ does not permit us to retreat into a little hovel but calls us to engage all the nations of the earth with the message of the Gospel. We have to stand against the world for the world. What could possibly enable us to accomplish such a task? Listen to the early church historian Eusebius:
[To accomplish this twofold task] 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 has 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.