Death is swallowed up in victory

Posted on 03 Jun 2018, Pastor: Rev Hans Vaatstra

Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services.

Unfortunately there is no audio recording for this sermon.

Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:54-58

Death is swallowed up in victory

1 Corinthians 15:35-58 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” 36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; 37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of [a]something else. 38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. 39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown [b]a perishable body, it is raised [c]an imperishable body; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, [d]earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, [e]we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

The Mystery of Resurrection

50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does [f]the perishable inherit [g]the imperishable.51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will 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 [h]imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this [i]perishable must put on [j]the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.54 But when this [k]perishable will have put on [l]the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

 

Death is swallowed up in victory

1 Corinthians 15:55-58 (reading vs 35-58)

At the debate on the Euthanasia and assisted suicide bill there was a lot of discussion on whether or not it’s OK to help someone to kill themselves before old age or a deadly disease takes it course. It was said by the proponent of the bill that in putting the document together he had looked at the subject from a legal, moral and social perspective. Well and good but in my mind there was a glaring omission. Matters of life and death and whether its right to help someone else kill themselves must also be looked at from a theological perspective!

And that ought to put an end to the argument From the perspective of the Bible euthanasia violates the commandment  “you shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13) The taking of human life  – for whatever motive- is forbidden in the Bible  except in clearly defined circumstances including justifiable war, self-defence and capital punishment.  Societies that have gone beyond these margins have opened the door to unintended but tragic consequences. For example involuntary euthanasia which occurred in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s.

Human life is sacred because God made man in his own image and likeness (Gen. 1:26,28) This sanctity of human life extends throughout man’s life  and is not limited to the time of life when we are strong , independent healthy and fully conscious. Psalm 139:13 says you formed my inward parts; you wove me in my mother’s womb.” Well, the God who formed us in the womb is the same God who is with us when we die. 1 Corinthians 6:19 “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you whom you have from God and therefore you are not your own.” Whether you are healthy and young or old and dying you can still be a temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore sacred to God.

Euthanasia advocates wrongly see man as Lord of his own life. The truth is that human life as a gift from God is to be held in trust for God throughout our life on earth. 1 Corinthians 6:19b and 20 says “You are not your own you were bought with a price therefore honour God with your body.” So determining the moment of death is not our prerogative but God’s. Since God made us and redeems us we ought to acquiesce to God’s will rather than assert our own. Because we bear the image of God life is sacred in every state of its existence, in sickness or in health in the womb, in infancy, in adolescence, in maturity, in old age and even in the process of dying itself.

As Christians we are therefore to choose life for ourselves and others. We are to offer to the dying not poisons and a ghastly death but neighbourly love and the hope of eternal life. Furthermore for those who trust in God’s word we have the assurance that God gives us the victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. Its that knowledge of the victory Christ has won for us over death which takes away its sting rather than anything we might attempt to do to soften the blow as it were.

So the theme of my sermon is “God gives us the victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. We’ll look at this in three parts.

  1. God gives us the victory over sin and the Law. In verse 56 we read “the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law”. When Adam and Eve first sinned God said to them “By the sweat of your face you will eat your bread until you return to the ground… for you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death”. God’s law shows us our sin and consequently convicts and condemns sinners to death. It does that because we as sinners are unable to fulfil the law’s demands. Therefore it is sin which gives death its sting because sin is transgression of, or want of conformity to the law of God and is deserving of God’s wrath.

Is there hope? Yes. In Romans 6:23 Paul wrote “the wages of sin is death and in 7: 24b, he asks “who will rescue me from this body of death?” The immediate answer is, “thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” and in Romans 8:1 “there is no condemnation in Christ.”

Paul reiterates these truths here in 1 Corinthians 15:57 where it says “thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What is the victory? It’s that Jesus died for our sins and then conquered death for us by rising from the grave. Through his death he set us free from the penalty of sin and declared us righteous before God. By his resurrection and glorification we may look forward to being with him.

So that’s the first thing, through faith in Christ our sin can no longer condemn us. Jesus has cleaned our slates as it were and given us the victory over sin and the law. There is no condemnation in Christ for the believer. Not for past, present or future sin. Now this can be difficult, even for mature Christians to always be assured of, because sin and its consequences remain with us till the day we die.

The solution to that lack of assurance is to be found in God’s word. In Psalm 77 the troubled Psalmist had no comfort presumably from his own sin as well, until he remembered the deeds of the Lord and how the Lord redeemed his people. For the same reason New Testament believers are urged to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us … and fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross despising its shame and has sat down at the right hand of God the Father. His work in destroying the power of sin and the law on our behalf completely finished.

If we look at ourselves always trying to measure up to a certain standard we are bound to get discouraged. Don’t do that!  Look to the one who has had the victory over sin and the law for you and find your peace in Christ.

  1. In the second place not only has Jesus had victory for us over sin and the law but over death itself! “Death” wrote Paul “is swallowed up in victory”. The dead in Christ will be raised and in this chapter Paul provides several analogies to explain how. It will suffice to look at a couple of those.

First from the seed to the plant. In verse 36 it says “that which you sow does not come to life unless it dies”. When you sow seed into the ground you don’t expect the same seed to come up at the harvest. The seed grows roots, germinates and then a shoot grows out of the seed to become a mature plant. The point Paul made is what comes up at the harvest is usually more beautiful than the seed which was planted. Think of the tulip plant. The bulb when planted is just a brown lump. The plant which grows out of the bulb produces a beautiful flower.

Similarly the human body when it is buried it perishes and then at the last day is raised again with a body which is vastly superior and imperishable.  In burial the body is weak but at the resurrection the human body will be raised with power like Jesus body.

Now we have a natural body with a splendour of its own, Psalm 139: 14 reminds us that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. Our resurrected bodies will be even more splendid, the contrast Paul provides is as remarkable as the contrast between a seed planted in the ground and the plant which grows out of the seed.

As an aside we do note here in the text that the body is buried not burned. This is one of the passages that provides Christians with guidance when it comes to what manner our bodies ought to be interred when they die.

Another way of describing the victory God has given us over death is seen in verser 43 where it says “from dishonour to glory”. In Romans 8:19 Paul wrote that the whole human race is subject to frustration and decay including our bodies. Our cells age and divide less often, we lose pigment producing cells and become more susceptible to cancers. We lose hair follicles and our skin loses its ability to transfer heat out of the body. Osteoporosis cause our bones to become brittle in old age. Muscle cells and nerve fibres gradually die off and are no longer replaced. We are subject to corruption with the ultimate humiliation being that we who were originally created to have dominion over God’s creation for ever are committed to the grave; sown in dishonour. But then Paul wrote, “In a moment in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet the dead will be raised imperishable and raised in glory

Elsewhere in Philippians 3:21 it says that Jesus Christ will transform our humiliated bodies to conform to his own glorious body

So then the humiliation of dying and death isn’t the last word for the Christian! The Lord Jesus rose from the grave as the first fruits. The power of death has been overcome! Death is swallowed up in victory and our bodies will be raised in glory to be like Jesus body. And we know from the gospel account that after his resurrection Jesus was able to move quickly from place to place, even though locked doors or walls! He was able to eat food and his disciples were able to touch and feel him.  The point is this: the resurrection body finishes the work of redemption and gives us the image of the saviour. Death is swallowed up in victory.

  1. That brings me to the third point, death is swallowed up in victory therefore be steadfast in your faith and abound in good work for the Lord. Earlier in verses 29-34 we are motivated by the prospect of our own future resurrection and meeting our Maker to a) share our faith, b) be prepared to suffer for the sake of Christ and c) resist sin. Here in view of the victory Christ has achieved for us over sin, the law and death we are given further encouragement to stand firm in our faith and not give up on our calling because our work for the Lord is never in vain.

What might that look like? We are encouraged to be steadfast, in other words remain firm in your Christian convictions. Be immovable don’t budge on important issues to do with your confession of faith and the way you live out that confession. There are lots of voices clamouring for our attention; wanting our affections and our devotion wanting to pull us this way or that. We are called to stand firm and stay the course. How?

Well, the church is the vehicle which God uses to advance his kingdom through preaching the gospel and the work of missions. For the church to be able to do that work it needs faithful members who are prepared to support that work by using their spiritual gifts to help the church run as well as it can. This is achieved through the Holy Spirit enabling members to  be faithful in the ordinary elements of the Christian life such as :  being regular in church attendance, Bible study, prayer, faithful giving, showing love for one another and so on. Without faithful members who are steadfast and immovable the church could not fulfil its calling as a salt and light in the world.

Paul adds in verse 58, “always abounding in the work of the Lord. That work is preaching and teaching the gospel, applying the contents of the Bible to our lives, building each other up, loving our neighbour as ourselves. It consist of an earnest desire to keep God’s commandments. Since God extends his love freely to us, let our work for the Lord also be done willingly and freely.

Paul concludes, “Knowing that your labour is not done in vain.” The faithful Christian has a sure knowledge that the deeds done out of love and thankfulness and in hope of the ultimate victory over sin the law and death; that that work is never in vain. On the contrary that work contributes to the tremendous good the gospel has all over the world.

Remember what it says in Hebrews 10:6 that “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown towards his name in having ministered to the saints.” God remembers and rewards our work.

In conclusion then, being steadfast as a Christian, immovable in your faith and abounding in the Lord’s work is part of the victory over Satan and sin which God gives us in this life. And that is a life which motivated by the victory Christ has won for us over sin; over condemnation under the law and over death itself.

Amen.