(Written by Pastor Tim Redfield)
1 Corinthians 15:51-57 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 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. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 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.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Easter Sunday is the greatest day of the year. It is the most significant of all our Christian festivals. We see a contrast in worship to what we saw on Good Friday. On Good Friday, the church was decorated with the color black. Black is used to symbolize death. During the season of Lent, you may see pastors wearing black robes to symbolize the sinfulness of all people. Easter returns to the color white. The white robes and paraments are used to symbolize the perfection that Christ has won for us, the purity we have in him, and the joy that we have because of our guaranteed eternal life.
The colors that we have in worship are always meant to symbolize different aspects of our faith. On Easter Sunday churches can emphasize the color white as we do with our paraments or churches can emphasize the color gold. The color gold can be used to place emphasis on the royalty of Jesus and the great victory that he won for us. Gold can also remind us of the great riches that he won for us. Think of the wealth that we have because of Jesus. We have forgiveness for every one of our sins and we have an eternal home in heaven. In fact, part of the reason that I wear a gold cross for worship services is to symbolize the victory that Jesus won for us through the cross and resurrection. Jesus truly is our victorious King.
This 1 Corinthians text gives us wonderful reminders of the victory that Jesus accomplished. Think about these words from our text, “‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:54-56). At times, it can look like death is going to defeat us. Death can look like it has a powerful sting. The reason that death looks this way is because of sin. Because of our sinfulness, death is going to sting every one of us. The only way our bodies won’t die is if our Lord Jesus graciously returns before our death. The law shows us all the ways we have sinned against God and it shows us just how deserving we are of that death that is coming.
It brings us the greatest joy to hear that Jesus has conquered death for us. Listen to verse 57, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus’ resurrection is the proof that Jesus really won the victory. If there was no resurrection then we would not be saved. Paul stressed that truth in the first part of chapter 15. If there is no Easter Sunday then there is no Good Friday. If Jesus had not won us the victory then he would have remained in the grave. On Good Friday he endured the punishment for our sins. He paid the price that was necessary to defeat sin and the devil. He then conquered the grave in the resurrection. His victory is also our victory.
We talk about Jesus as our great High Priest. As our High Priest he offered himself as the sacrifice necessary for the forgiveness of sins. He is also our King. As our King one of his main roles was to conquer sin and death and to give us the victory. Just like kings used to lead their army into battle, Jesus fought the battle for us. He did all the work. Now in the resurrection we celebrate his triumph.
There are many symbols which we use to represent our Savior. One of these is the lamb. The lamb can be pictured in a variety of ways. When the lamb is standing with a cross or with a gash in its side, it symbolizes the passion of Christ. When the lamb is standing with a banner, it symbolizes the risen Christ triumphant over death. It is a fitting symbol as we commemorate the day of our Lord’s resurrection. Just like the ancient armies would carry their banners high to show their victory, we see the lamb carrying the banner to celebrate Jesus’ victory over the grave.
We have the greatest joy because we know that all of our spiritual enemies have been defeated. We don’t want to treat Easter like any other worldly holiday. It is not just another opportunity to have a special meal with our families. Not that we don’t do such things but Easter is much more important than that. We keep the focus on Christ and what he has done. Salvation is not about our feeble attempts to do good in God’s eyes. Rather it is all about what God has done for us.
The resurrection victory is all about Jesus. He won the victory over sin, death, and the devil. We did not. As we celebrate this victory, God comes to us and blesses us with forgiveness and eternal life. We are strengthened in our faith to confess our thanks and praise. We can echo the words of Isaiah, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation… Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted” (Isaiah 12:2, 4). We have the incredible message of victory through the resurrection. This is the heart and core of our faith.
Jesus won an incredible victory as he triumphed over sin and death. He did this through the cross and the empty tomb. As we meditate on his resurrection, we see that it leads to our resurrection.
1 Corinthians points us ahead to our heavenly joy. When God decides it is time, he will bring his believers home to heaven. We often wonder about what that will be like. God only gives us brief glimpses in Scripture. We would certainly like to know more but really our sinful minds can’t comprehend what it will be like to be perfect and holy. Part of the reason that God doesn’t tell us more is that it is not necessary for our faith. We don’t need to know all the details about heaven. We need to know what Jesus did for us. The glimpses of heaven give us comfort as we live our faith.
The beginning of our text talks about our resurrected body. It says, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 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. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). These verses draw our attention to Judgment Day. On that day we will be given new bodies. What was once perishable will now be imperishable. What was once mortal will now be immortal. Paul talks about this more in the verses before this text. He also says that we will have splendor and power. We will have glorified bodies.
Naturally our minds want to know more about these glorified bodies. Are we all going to look like models or world-class athletes? Will we be able to recognize each other? God doesn’t give us all the details but I think we can look to the example of Jesus after the resurrection. Jesus’ followers still recognized him after he rose from the dead. There were a few instances when they didn’t recognize him at first because he was concealing his identity but once he revealed himself, the women and the disciples knew exactly who he was. He still had the nail marks in his hands and the spear mark in his side. It was these marks which convinced Thomas that it really was Jesus.
It seems strange that a glorified body still had those marks of the crucifixion but those marks testify to the wonderful sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Jesus even ate and drank with the disciples. Now these examples from Jesus don’t answer all our questions about our glorified bodies. Will we still need to eat and drink? We know that Jesus did on occasion but did he need to eat as frequently as we do now, I don’t know. Will we be recognizable? The example of Jesus would certainly say so. He even had distinguishing marks which were signs of his crucifixion. Perhaps all we can say with absolute certainty is that we will be glorified and it will be incredible to live with our God.
There is one truth that we can take away from the resurrection that is far more important than trying to answer all our questions about heaven and our glorified bodies. That truth is the certainty that we have because of Jesus. We are certain of our eternal home. We are certain because Jesus won the battle for us. He won the spiritual war over sin, death, and the devil. He conquered the grave for us. We would lose that certainty if we ever look to ourselves and our goodness. If we look to ourselves then we are rejecting Christ and his work.
Thankfully, we cling to Jesus. We know that he truly did rise from the grave. He is triumphant. Think about the comfort that the angel gave to the women on the first Easter Sunday. He said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6). The women had no reason to fear. Jesus conquered death for them. We have no reason to fear as we live our lives and as we approach death. We have Christ’s victory.