“Death Is Swallowed Up in Victory” (1 Corinthians 15:51-57)
Chuck, and the friends and family of our sister Gwen: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
First I want to say that you have our sympathy upon your loss. It is always tough to lose someone you have known and loved for many years. It is painful. It feels like we have a hole in our heart. And so we want to be with you at this time and give you our support. And certainly it is good to see the people here today, all the family and friends, who are here to do just that. And that includes many of your church family, Chuck, from St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Bonne Terre. We are a family, and so we are here for you and with you, Chuck.
Now Gwen was not a member of St. Matthew’s. But because Chuck is, I had the opportunity to visit Gwen a number of times when she was in the hospital or in rehab these last few years. I was able to minister to her as a pastor, and I’m glad to say that Gwen was receptive to the word of God, and she was grateful for the times I prayed with her and for her. This is encouraging, to know that her heart was open to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And dear friends, this is where we will find hope, even in the face of death. Namely, in the saving gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And in that vein, I want to key in now on a message that will bring comfort to our sorrowing hearts and give hope that is greater than loss. And it is this word from the Lord: “Death Is Swallowed Up in Victory.”
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” It’s a word that we find in our Epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 15, as follows: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” First, we must deal with the reality of death, and where it comes from. And then we will hear about the victory there is over death, and where that victory comes from.
But first, death. Death is staring us right in the face at a funeral. It has happened to someone we know. We are touched by it. And we’re reminded that death is on our doorstep, too, waiting its turn. We try to shield ourselves from death these days, keep it at a distance, so it doesn’t get too close. But it will come, it will come calling, for every one of us.
And where does it come from, this caller called death? Our text tells us. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Death comes from sin. As it says elsewhere, “The wages of sin is death.” It’s the big payoff at the end, death is. First comes sin, then comes death, and after that, who knows what? That’s the scariest part, wondering what comes next.
But it all comes from sin. The whole process of dying, which may come suddenly, or which may be a long, drawn-out affair, and then death itself–this all stems from sin. It is the curse that comes from sin, death is.
This is not to say that a person’s death is directly related to this or that particular sin, one that we can point to. No. But it does result from our general sinful nature, which we all share. That sinful tendency may show itself in particular, manifest, blatant sins, but not necessarily. Oftentimes, it is more subtle. It’s the wrong stuff we try to hide. Or it may be our failure to do the good. And nobody notices. Except God, that is. He knows our sins. He knows our heart, how often we have departed from the path, the good path, he has set out for us in his law. And every time we do that, that is sin.
God’s law, the Ten Commandments. That’s where God sets out his will for our lives. It’s summed up as “Love God, and love your neighbor.” Do that the way it’s supposed to be done, all the time, and you will live. Fail to do that, fall short of a perfect life of love, and you die. That is the power of the law. It accuses us and convicts us as sinners. We all have fallen short. And that is why we all die. It happened to Gwen, and it will happen to you. And to me, too. Guaranteed. For I am a sinner, and you are too. Death will come calling. Count on it.
So where is there any hope in all of this? It sounds pretty grim so far. Well, listen again: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” Death swallows us up, but in the end, death itself will be swallowed up. Death will be the biggest loser. Guaranteed. Count on it. “Death is swallowed up in victory.” This is where our hope lies.
But where does it come from? This victory–I don’t see it yet. Too many people are dying. They’re not getting up.
Ah, but there is one who has! And that is the guarantee that the rest of us will follow. This one who did get up–his name is Jesus Christ, and he is our hope. We celebrated his getting up from the dead just this past week, on Easter. So that victory is fresh in our mind. And it is in connecting Jesus’ resurrection victory to ours that we find hope for our future, and for that of our loved ones who have fallen asleep in the Lord. There is hope for us, dear friends!
Gwen knew this hope. She knew this Savior. I told her this good news every time I visited her, and this is what gave her hope and comfort and peace, even as her body was wasting away. Faith is strengthened by the word of God, even when our bodies are growing weak.
Here’s how it works. This Jesus–he took your sins upon himself. He is the very Son of God, from eternity, who became our brother in order to rescue us from our sin and the death sentence it brings. He himself was sinless, but he took our sins upon his shoulders and carried them to the cross. The innocent, dying for the guilty. And because he is the Son of God, his death carries enormous weight. His sacrifice, in our place, is powerful enough to pay for all of our sin and guilt. Our sins are forgiven by the holy blood that he shed. Our guilt is removed, and now there’s nothing to weigh us down. It’s all good. Jesus paid it all. We are free as a result.
And the end result is shown forth by Jesus rising from the dead on Easter Day. This shows the victory remains with life. Christ has the victory, and he share it with us. We don’t see it yet. But we know that it is ours. God’s word guarantees it. The victory will become evident on the day when Christ returns. On that day our Savior will call out our names, “Gwen! Chuck! Come forth!” and we will be raised from the dead. The perishable will put on the imperishable.
“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 imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”
That day is coming. Christ is coming. That is when the victory that is already ours by faith will become ours in sight and in experience.
This is God’s promise for you, for all of us who trust in Christ. We know what is coming. We know who is coming. Death is not the end of the story. The best is yet to come. Resurrection, restoration, life everlasting. We are joined to Christ, and we will be gathered with his people. That is what is in store for us. It is the victory that awaits us. And it is our present hope, which fills us with peace and confidence and even joy, even in the wake of the death of our loved ones. Even at the prospect of our own death, for we know that death is swallowed up in victory.
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”