1 Corinthians 15:20-26 (The Resurrection of Our Lord)
“The Last Enemy”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 20, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text from God’s Word for Easter Day is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Matthew, along with the other Gospel writers, simply state the Easter fact for us, “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! This is our confession of faith that Jesus Christ died on the cross to suffer our death and hell, purchasing with His blood our forgiveness. On the third day, Christ rose again from the dead. We come to worship every Sunday celebrating each week a “mini-Easter” as we assemble on the first day of the week when Jesus rose. But what is the significance of the fact that Jesus rose from the dead? What’s the big deal about the Resurrection?
A Christian man was once asked, “What is your ultimate goal in life?” The man replied, “My goal in life is to die and go to heaven.” Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? I believe that as Christians you and I are very much looking forward to being in heaven with Christ. As much as we are able to enjoy the stuff of this world, heaven is better. As an old children’s song says, “Heaven is a wonderful place. Filled with glory and grace. I’m gonna see my Savior’s face ‘cause heaven is a wonderful place.” From God’s Word we know this to be true. Jesus promised the repentant thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” We read in Revelation 14, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’”(ESV) The Christian’s work done in life gives evidence of faith in Jesus and those who persevere in serving Jesus in faith receive eternal life in heaven with Jesus. Those who die in the Lord are blessed.
However, to die and to go to heaven is not the goal of the Christian. For our soul to depart the body and enter into Paradise and our flesh to return to the dust of the earth from which it was created is not the end goal of faith in Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.”(CSB) Our hope in Christ does not end when this mortal life comes to its end in death. Our hope in Christ does not end when our soul enters heaven in the presence of Jesus. Our hope in Christ looks forward to what is still to come—resurrection and life in glorified body and soul in the new heaven and the new earth.
How can this be? The dead are blessed who die in the Lord. The believer in Jesus, at the moment of death, enters into the very presence of Jesus in heaven with all the angels and archangels and all the saints who have gone before in faith. While this is all true, if this were it, dying and going to heaven, then the enemy will have won. That enemy is death. When we die, when our souls enter Paradise with Christ, death still has a claim on us because our bodies return to dust in the earth and we are no longer whole. Death ends what God intended to be permanent—body and soul together forever. God didn’t create Adam and Eve with an “evil” body and a “good” soul. He created them male and female, body and soul, and declared His creation to be good.
What spoiled God’s good creation? Adam and Eve sinned. They disobeyed God’s only Word to them, “Do not eat from the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden.” Satan came and tempted. Adam and Even fell hard into sin, into shame, into guilt, into death. “For the wages of sin is death.”(Rom. 6:23 ESV) “The person who sins will die.”(Ezekiel 18:20 NAU) And from our text, “in Adam all die.” Death is the punishment and the consequence of sin. It is not natural. I was never God’s desire or intention that people should die, but rather live eternally in His presence as Adam and Eve did in the Garden before the Fall. But with sin comes the enemy death. Death destroys God’s creation by tearing apart the soul from the body.
Yet, God has mercy on His people because of the merits and mediation of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. As we have just observed three days ago, the perfect Son of God subjected Himself to the power and control of the enemy death. Jesus had no sin and was not subject to the power of death and yet He gave up His life into the hands of death for you and for me. Jesus tells us in John 10, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”(John 10:17 ESV) Jesus went to the cross voluntarily. His obedience to the Father and His love for you and me, His sheep, moved Him to lay down His life for us. He bore our sins in His own body on the tree of the cross as He bled and died under the punishment and curse of sin. He suffered the God-forsakenness of hell on the cross so that you would not ever be left alone by the Lord. Having done all the work necessary to save you from sin and death, Jesus said, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. Jesus let enemy death take Him from this moral life.
And so our Lord Jesus ended up in the same way that you and I end up when enemy death takes control over us. Again, death separates our soul from our body. Because of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, because of the gift of saving faith in Christ given to us in Baptism, our soul departs the body to be immediately with Christ in Paradise. Our bodies are laid to rest in the earth. On Good Friday, death separated Jesus’ soul from His body. His soul was again with His Father in heaven. His body was wrapped and laid to rest in the earthen tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
If this is where the story should end for Jesus and for us, who wins? Clearly the victor would be death because the soul and body of Christ and of us would remain separated. Death would continue to hold its authority over us in that way. But death cannot be the victor. Death would not be the conqueror. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Jesus lives! The vict’ry’s won! Death no longer can appall me;
Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done! From the grave Christ will recall me.
Brighter scenes will then commence; This shall be my confidence. (LSB 490:1)
“Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since through a man came death, also through a man came resurrection of the dead. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in its proper order: Christ, the firstfruits, then those who belong to Christ at His coming.”
Do not doubt this basic principle of the Christian creed. Do not doubt what implications Jesus’ resurrection has for your own. The risen Christ is not the only One who would rise. Jesus is but the firstfruits. And if there are firstfruits there will be second fruits! The Israelites brought the sheaf of firstfruits to the Lord as a sign that the whole harvest belonged Him on the first Sunday after Passover. This Feast of Firstfruits occurred on the very first Easter, the day the Lord rose! In fact, it is today on our calendar. Christ, the firstfruits from the dead, rose on the Feast of Firstfruits! How greatly this emphasizes the fact that Christ’s firstfruits resurrection is the pledge and promise that all who fall asleep with faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord will be physically raised from the dead just as He was! Through Jesus’ resurrection, resurrection from the dead has become the destiny, the end goal, of all believers!
This is what we look forward to and long for as Christians—the resurrection! This is what we confess according to the Word of God—The Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the . . . resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” The Nicene Creed: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” And the Athanasian Creed: “At His coming all people will rise again with their bodies.” As Christians we look forward to resurrection and life. As Christians our goal is resurrection and life and the utter destruction of that enemy death.
At the appointed time, Christ’s second coming will usher in the consummation of the age. All authority has been entrusted to Jesus for this purpose. By His life, suffering, and death, Jesus bound up the “strong man,” Satan, and plundered his goods—you, me, and all people. Satan’s former possessions, us!, now belong to the Risen Conqueror, Christ. When He comes again He will raise us from the dead. Our bodies that have been subject to death rise from the dust of the earth and are recreated and glorified, united with our souls which have been enjoying the presence of Jesus in heaven. Soul and body will then forevermore be inseparably united together. We will be immortal and incorruptible. We will no longer be subject to power of sin or death nor the physical laws and conditions by which we are controlled in this life. Jesus will hand His resurrected people to His God and Father, having deposed all spiritual and earthly authorities and powers. And then will come the destruction of the last enemy—death.
Listen to the account of resurrection and death’s destruction from Revelation 20, “Then I [John] saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne. . . . And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades [the grave] gave up the dead who were in them. . . . Then Death and Hades [the grave] were thrown into the lake of fire. . . . Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’”(Rev 20:11-14; 21:1-3 ESV)
This is what we, the people of faith in the Crucified and Risen Christ, have to look forward to. Resurrection and eternal life in the new heaven and new earth in glorified body and soul is the end goal of our faith. It’s so much more than simply dying and going to heaven. Although, for the time being, that is what happens to our loved ones and to us as we await the day of Jesus’ coming again and the day of resurrection. We still must die ourselves. We grieve the death of those we love. But we do not grieve as people without hope because death will be fully overcome in the resurrection of the dead at the Last Day. We, by grace through faith, along with all the saints, will share in the resurrection life of our living and loving Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “Jesus is living and we shall arise! Give God the glory! Alleluia!” (LSB 474:Ref) Amen.