Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Festival of Christ's Resurrection – Sermon I

The Festival of Christ's Resurrection – Sermon I

Text: "So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up on victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Cor. 15:54-58)

He lives! Hallelujah! "He is not here, for He is risen as He said!" (Mt. 28:6) This is truly the glad Resurrection message, assuring us of Christ's total and complete victory over Satan, death, and hell, and our absolute freedom from sin and its eternal effects! We can say without a doubt, "I know that my Redeemer lives!" (Job 19:25)

Yes, the resurrection of Jesus gives us powerful assurance and wonderful comfort about our faith. So also, Paul tells us this morning that –

We Have Proof Of The Truth Of Our Faith, and
We Have Proof of the Victory Of Our Faith!

Faith and religion go hand in hand – I think just about everyone will admit that. But what is "religion" anyway? Well, religion is any teaching that attempts to answer any or all of these questions: "Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why are we here?" and especially, "What happens to us when we die?" Any religion that cannot rid people of their fear of death – or at the very least diminish it – is, in the end, worthless and useless. A religion that cannot take away the "sting" of death, which is caused by sin, but allows people to die and suffer all the horrors of death, without peace or solace; any religion that only pretends to save people from the terror of death is false and deceptive and not a true religion at all.

Such is not the case with the religion of St. Paul – indeed, OUR religion! He says, "For me to die is gain!" (Ph. 1:21) He triumphantly proclaims, "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 power of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (vs.54-57) Paul knew that the Law of God reveals sin in all its true and terrible black light. And he knew that he too was, by nature, under the Law, and because of His disobedience of that Law, subject to death, just as every single human being is also! So, Paul finds no comfort in himself or in his own righteousness in the face of death. His confidence comes because of the victory which Christ has gained for him. It is to this victory of Christ over death and the grave that Paul devotes so much of this last portion of his letter to the Corinthian congregation.

So, Christ is indeed "the lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world!" (Jn. 1:29) And "the blood of Jesus Christ [does indeed] cleanse us from all sins." (1 Jn. 1:7)The Empty Tomb – Why do you look for the living among the dead? Christ, by dying in our place has truly and really removed the sting of our own death. Now, death, which threatened always to swallow up the whole human race, has itself been swallowed by Christ's resurrection. This was God's plan from the very beginning – even before the beginning of time. And this was all accomplished as Paul reminds us, "According to the Scriptures!" (I Co. 15:3)

Yes, according the Bible Christ had to rise again. The Victor over death could not remain a prisoner of death. Peter told the Jews, "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the FACT!" (Ac. 3:15) God did this because He was pleased with the Son's work on earth on behalf of all people. And through Jesus' resurrection God made known His divine pleasure. "Christ was raised for our justification," Paul tells us. (Ro. 4:25) We know that God has totally forgiven all our sins. Therefore, by our faith, given to us through the Means of Grace – the Gospel in Word and Sacrament – Christ's resurrection assures us that our religion, which preaches Jesus' resurrection, brings to us sinners victory over death. We do indeed have the "sure and certain" hope of everlasting life!

Thus, in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified – yes, and Him also raised from the dead – we are not being false preachers of a false religion in a hopeless world, but rather are giving all sinners everywhere the one and only true Gospel of salvation. Our faith is not pinned on a dead man, but on the sinless Son of God, Who, through His innocent suffering and death overcame death for us, and Who as our living God and Savior now blesses us and give all who believe eternal bliss with Him. It is this Jesus Who says to each and every one of us, "I Am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die." (John 11:25,26) This is the truth of our faith. Jesus is true. Our religion is true. Christ's resurrection proves it beyond any shadow of a doubt!

Christ's resurrection assures us of the truth of our religion in His victory over death, and it also assures us of the victory of our religion over this evil world. Christ is the savior of the world, that is, He has covered the sins of all people of all time, yes, even those who reject Him. No one goes to hell because of their sins. Those that go to hell do so because of their unbelief. This is why He commanded that His Gospel be preached to everyone everywhere until the end of time. There is no reason for anyone to be damned. All sins have been paid for. All can be saved. But the true and beautiful Gospel of Jesus Christ must touch them so that the Holy Spirit can do His work and turn their hearts to faith and salvation. This is the work of Christ's Church here on earth, and of every congregation of believers, and indeed of each and every individual believer. And every single soul that is turned to faith is a marvelous victory for Christ. It matters not if it is one or a hundred or a thousand, each soul snatched from the claws of Satan means victory for Jesus and all His children!

And Paul knew we need encouragement in this work. Jesus rose from the grave nearly two thousand years ago. Billions have been brought to faith and entered heaven, but three fourths of the world's population still reject Christ as Savior and Lord. These people are on their way to hell. But to us Jesus has given His resurrection Gospel which is able to save them. We have the joy of reveling in Christ's resurrection this morning. We can rejoice. We exult in our faith.

But are we acting on our faith? Could it be that indifference, materialism, the ridicule of the world, the mockery of rank unbelievers, and persecution – slight as it may be around us at the moment – discourages us, and keeps us from living our faith, exercising our faith, and sharing our faith? Have we given up, or are we ready to quit because the work is difficult and our successes, measured in numbers, seem so small and inconsequential? May it never be!

Paul did not think like this, and neither will we if we but listen to him today. He tells us that we must "always give yourselves fully to the work of the LORD." (v.58) Why? How? He answers that with the first word, "therefore," that is because of all that he was already written and said in this section of his letter. All he has said is true and reliable, and because it is, we must go forth and carry it in us and with us. This command of Paul's to do this work is based on nothing less than Christ's own resurrection itself! And, in addition, he instructs us to "Stand firm!" If we are to preach salvation to others, we must ourselves be firm in our faith and not let anything move us away from it.

There are, of course, many things that would try and move us away from our faith, and we are often sorely tempted to give it up. Sad to say, many around us have given in and given up their faith. But why should we do so, if we believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that in Him and His saving work we have the full and complete redemption from all sins, death, and the devil?!

Oh yes, the devil and the world are making a lot of noise trying to frighten us; but theirs are not the shouts of real victory, but only the cries of despair and defeat; the sound of routed and fleeing army – loud yes, even scary at times – but really helpless and harmless in the end. Let us remain steadfast and unmovable, for our risen Lord is with us and He has promised, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Mt. 28:20)

With Christ as our captain we know we will have successes – be they many or few, the amount does not matter! Paul assures us, "You know that your labor in the LORD is not in vain." We need at all times to be reminded of this wonderful promise. Our preaching of the Gospel, our prayers, our missionaries, our work in God's kingdom of any and all kinds shall never be for nothing! Time, effort, money, given to the LORD is never wasted. It will always bring returns. Take it from the LORD. We have His promise. And we know from glorious experience that His promises never fail!

Our job now is to go out into the world – our world, the world around us, the people around us; as we have opportunity – and rescue sinners using the life-line of the holy Gospel of the Risen Christ! This is not a side-line, and not something we do half-heartedly, but completely dedicated in every way to the work of spreading the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God has not failed us. God will never fail us. He has already given us the victory over death. He has given the power and the ability to proclaim this victory to the world and He has already blessed our efforts in every corner of the world. Let us commit ourselves anew to go forth and tell and death-ridden humanity the glad resurrection message. We know we will be successful, because we know our religion is true, and we know this because Christ's resurrection proves it. Yes, Jesus lives! Hallelujah and Amen!

Rev. Steven Spencer


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