The secret of death’s defeat

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Sermon for the Feast of the Resurrection

Isaiah 52:13-15  +  1 Corinthians 5:6-8  +  Mark 16:1-8

Christians are dying around the world, some by natural causes, more and more by the hand of persecutors and wicked men. We’ve seen death here in our congregation since last Easter, and we may well see it again before next Easter. Death is taking its customary toll.

But Christians know a secret, which isn’t really a secret. We know what causes death, what drives death, and what empowers death to keep its hold on a person. We know it better than any doctor or any scientist in the world, because God has revealed it to us in His holy Word. The origin of death is the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. God warned them, but they wouldn’t listen. They sinned against God, and they died. We all inherit their sin. We all mimic their sin. And we die, too. “The wages of sin is death.” “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law.”

People die, we die because we have sinned against God’s holy Law, and the Law is very clear: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” “The soul who sins shall die.”

Except for once. One time—and only once—a sinless soul died. One time a perfect, righteous, obedient Law-abiding Man was hung on a tree and died—the sinless Son of God who came from God and entered our human race in order to be that Man who died for all men.

But Christians know another secret, which isn’t really a secret. We know that Christ the crucified One is risen from the dead. His empty tomb proclaimed it. The angels proclaimed it. The faithful women proclaimed it. And later, all the apostles proclaimed it, along with over 500 other witnesses who proclaimed it. But most importantly, Jesus Himself proclaimed it, both before the fact and after, and the Holy Spirit of God has been proclaiming it in the Scriptures for thousands of years. Death couldn’t hold the Sinless One.

And so Christians know yet another secret, and this is, perhaps, the most important. We know what defeats death, what stops death, and even what reverses it once and for all for us sinners. It’s the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”). Christ received the death penalty that we deserved for our sins, so that we might receive the eternal life reward that He deserved for His obedience. A blessed exchange!

Now all who have sinned, now all who are subject to death are called by this Gospel to repent and believe in Jesus Christ and to be baptized in His name for the forgiveness of sins. And those who have been baptized are called to live in daily repentance, drowning the old Adam, the old sinful self and rising each day to live a new life, a holy life, to keep God’s commandments, no longer as slaves to the Law, but as sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And we’re also invited to keep receiving the body and blood of Christ for our forgiveness and for our comfort in Sacrament of the Altar.

I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. This is why we often refer to the death of a believer in Christ as a “falling asleep,” because for those who believe in Christ, death is already defeated; it’s as harmful and as permanent…as a good night’s sleep. Death will soon be reversed for those who die in Christ, even as it was reversed for Christ Himself. Such is the power of Christ’s resurrection. Such is the power and the certainty of His promise.

Christians are dying around the world, and will continue to die until Christ returns. Death is still our bitter enemy, and it still brings much sadness with it. But we know a secret. Death has been defeated by Christ, and even death is now part of the plan as the risen Christ rules over the world. As the Apostle Paul says, Christ must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. And then, when that happens, listen to one final secret this morning, which the Apostle Paul calls a “mystery”: 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 incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O  Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

A blessed and happy Easter to you all! Amen.

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