Easter: The Resurrection of our Lord

Preached: April 8, 2012

The Stinger’s Gone!
1 Corinthians 15:54-58

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit shows us our risen Savior is 1 Corinthian 15

When the perishable is clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal is clothed with immortality, then the word that stands written will come about: “Death is 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. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, stand firm, unmovable, always overflowing in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:54-58).

This is the word of our Lord.

Death comes. Sometimes it might wait eighty, ninety years or even a few more. Sometimes it comes in the prime of life. Sometimes it strikes down the very young, even the unborn. Death comes.

Years ago it seems people thought more about death. Anyone growing up on a farm regularly experienced the death of farm animals. When a family member died, the visitation and viewing of the body was usually at the house. Even the young and vibrant couldn’t ignore the reality of death. You couldn’t shield them as so many children are shielded today.

In our time people tend to die in nursing homes and hospitals, not in their own bed. Professionals take care of the burial preparations. It’s easier to ignore death. But that doesn’t change the reality. Death comes. It comes to each of us one by one. Are you ready?

Although death is often pictured as a lone, hooded figure, death actually has an entourage of fears as his minions that attack before he arrives. The fear of pain and suffering. The fear of weakness and dependency. The fear of being a burden. The fear of leaving behind loved-ones. The fear of being forgotten. The fear of the unknown. And deeper yet is the fear driven by guilt, your conscience accusing. Am I getting what my failures deserve? Will I now suffer for the wrongs I’ve done? Are the fires of hell waiting for me? How debilitating fear is long before death itself cuts the cord!

Those women, on that Sunday morning nearly 2000 years, ago knew what death looked like. They had seen his bloody body hanging on the cross, limp in death. When the soldier’s spear pierced his side and blood and water flowed out, no one could doubt. Jesus was dead. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took the body down and wrapped it with myrrh and aloes to soften the smell of death. They laid it in new tomb near by. And rolled a stone in front of it.

They knew what death looked like. And this Sunday morning they prepared to perform their last service for Jesus, their departed friend. As the sun came up, they were on their way to the tomb. Come, let’s join them in their sadness. One last goodbye. They had such hopes and expectations. Might he have been the Messiah? But those all died with him on Friday, leaving nothing but grief and sorrow. How powerful death is!

But no, could it be even worse? The stone’s been pushed aside. What has happened! What have they done to the body! Instead of death and decay, there was an angel in a white robe. “He has risen! He is not here” (Mark 16:6 NIV1984), this angel proclaims. But how could it be? Has Jesus conquered death?

Yes, dear friends, he has. And his victory over death has won you release from all those fears that serve as death’s minions. They need no longer terrify you who follow Jesus in faith, trusting him alone as your Savior from sin and death.

But how can this be? Death still overcomes each one of us? The every single believer, just like unbelievers, still dies. I’ve been to dozens of funerals and the outcome is always the same. If Jesus has truly conquered death, why must I die?

Some of the Christians of Corinth in ancient Greece appear to have struggled with doubts about what happened after a Christian dies. So in this letter, which we call 1 Corinthians, the Holy Spirit gave the Apostle Paul words of comfort and instruction for the Corinthian Christians and for us. As chapter 15 begins, Paul reminds them that the gospel was centered on Jesus dying and rising from the dead. And as you heard in the Second Lesson today, Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits. Just as the first flowers of spring or the firstfruits of the harvest promise more to come, so also Christ’s resurrection promises that we who belong to him will also rise.

So even though death appears to win even bringing the children of God down into the grave, it hasn’t. In this chapter from Corinthians, Paul takes us to the end of time when Christ returns. That’s when the perishable is clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality. In other words, Jesus will take will our dead bodies that have perished and decayed and raise them imperishable and immortal, never to die again. Then our eyes will see that death has been swallowed up in victory, even as our hearts now believe.

But how can this be? The Apostle explains, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 5:56 NIV1984). Why does death sting and terrify? Because of sin. And why does sin bring death? Because God’s law damns all law-breakers to hell. Now remember, unlike human courts that judge are actions by human standards, God’s law judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart as well. Anything less than perfect love for God that loves him with all our heart and soul and mind, that loves above everyone and everything else, never doubting, never worrying, never complaining -- anything less breaks God’s law. Likewise, anything less than perfect love toward our neighbor, love that is never selfish, never unforgiving, never proud or envious -- anything less breaks God’s law. That’s why our sin has such power that its sting brings death to you and me.

But Jesus, the God-man, kept God’s law. He kept it perfectly. Unlike every one else, who deserves death and hell, for that is what our sins earn us -- Jesus deserved life and salvation. But instead, he offered himself as the sacrifice to pay for sin. He took your sin on himself. He suffered your hell. He died your death.

Consider this illustration. A family was traveling along on a summer vacation. Suddenly a bee starts buzzing around the car. The young daughter screams. She’s deadly allergic. The father grabs at the bee and catches it in his hand. But then he lets it go. The daughter begins to scream again, but then daddy says, “Don’t be afraid honey. Look at my hand.” There she sees the stinger stuck in his hand. The bee still buzzes around for a while. But the stinger’s gone.

Look at Jesus’ hands, dear friends. See the nail marks. He has taken away the sting of death, for he has taken away your sin and nailed it to the cross. Death still buzzes around. That’s why we who believe still die. But don’t be afraid. Just look at Jesus’ hands. Believe that he has died for your sins. Believe that he has risen from the dead for your victory. He has taken the sting of death and gives you the victory. The stinger’s gone.

And this has so much more to do than with the day that you face death. Those fears that serve as death’s minions can debilitate us throughout our lives. How your live right now changes because the stinger is gone.

How does life change? Paul draws it together in the last verse of the text, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV1984). Yes, dear friends, stand firm in God’s truth. Keep his word and promise as the foundation and pillar of your faith and life. For without faith whose foundation is God’s Word, you will lose to death forever. Rather stand firm. Because of the stinger’s gone.

Paul continues, “Let nothing move you” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV1984). All those fear mentioned earlier try to move you away from Christ. Fears of pain or lose or uselessness and all the others. Rather stay focused on Jesus and his love that sacrificed himself for you. Boldly declare with the Apostle Paul, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35, 37). Thanks be to God, he gives us the victory, for Jesus has taken the stinger for us.

And finally Paul writes, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor int he Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV1984). What meaning and purpose we have in life as we serve the Lord in all that we do at home, at work, at school, everywhere! Serve your Lord without fear, without terror. He has defeated death itself. He has taken the stinger and paid for your sins. Whether its death or others fears buzzing around you, don’t be afraid. The stingers’ gone.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313