Text: I Corinthians 15:54b-58 Theme: Jesus’ resurrection gives us ultimate victory in life and in death.
When I was a boy, ABC broadcast a popular show: The Wide World of Sports. Each broadcast began with this memorable line: the thrill of victory + the agony of defeat. The thrill of victory: athletes with arms upraised, sheer joy on their faces, fans cheering. And the agony of defeat: a skier wildly catapulting and crashing into a crumpled heap.
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. During March Madness we’ve witness it. Winners pump their fists, jump for joy, tackle each other and get mobbed by their fans. Losing players hang their heads, disappointment all over their faces.
We see it on election night as voting results roll in. One candidate is in the lead: all smiles + satisfaction; the other camp grim and gloomy.
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. That memorable line from The Wide World of Sports offers an apt description of life. In a sin-broken world it’s a mixed bag. We have some victories but also some defeats. With grades. On sports teams. In relationships. In our jobs. In politics. In the church.
But here’s good news: because Jesus rose from the dead we can have ultimate victory! Listen again to these electrifying words: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.' 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?' But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. I can just see Paul pumping his arms and shouting: YES!
Here’s why this victory is doubly dramatic: it’s snatched from seeming defeat. Just days before: Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice [and] gave up his spirit. He died. He was stone cold dead. His body was taken down from the cross and buried.
Sure Jesus had a commanding presence about him. Sure he was an unparalleled teacher about the kingdom of God. Sure Jesus had performed amazing miracles and healed all kinds of people. But now, like everybody else, Jesus was dead. Just dead: no loving presence, no words, no miracles, no life.
Ever since the sin of Adam and Eve there was the persistent drumbeat of death. Now it seemed Jesus was no exception. And so the disciples drifted off in a daze. They thought it was all over. But now a mind-boggling twist! When the grieving disciples visited that tomb of death, the stone has been rolled away. Angels are there to greet them. They say: Jesus is not here; he has risen. So Paul shouts Death has been swallowed up in victory!
In the emotion of Paul’s words I don't want you to miss a clever twist in our text. Often we picture death as a snake that swallows its victims. But now by God’s power there is a stunning reversal: death has been swallowed up.
The thrill of victory over death. By the way, the Greek word for victory here is nike. That's where Nike shoes got its name. Their swoosh is a symbol of victory. So every time you see the symbol of Nike, remember Jesus’ victory over death.
NOW... if Jesus was victorious and that was all, it wouldn't mean much. It would be like New Zealand winning the world cup in cricket. We’d say: so what?
But in vs 57 Paul goes on to say: He gives us the victory thru our Lord Jesus Christ. Easter isn’t just about God’s victory 2,000 years ago. Through Christ, we share in that victory. Through Christ we’re on the winner’s stand.
Think of World War II. In that terrible conflict, how did victory come? Through the Allied nations and their armies. To be a winner in the war you had to be on the Allied side: not Germany or Japan. So too, if you’re on the right side, aligned with Christ, you have victory over sin + death.
On this Easter morning let me ask this crucial question: are you on the Lord’s side? Have you enlisted in his ranks through baptism? Do you obey his commands? Are you loyal to him? If so, you will share in Christ’ victory. If not, you’ll miss out.
Now, some of you may be unimpressed with this victory. It doesn’t thrill you. To be honest, you already think you are a winner- on your own.
You have a nice family and a good circle of friends; you have a comfortable house; you have a steady job; you are in good health; you enjoy interesting hobbies. You may not say it, but your prevailing attitude is: Life is good. Who needs Jesus?
Is that what you’re thinking? If so, then perhaps you are among the fortunate. By God’s grace some are largely spared from the agony of life’s defeats. But: can you guarantee it will always be that way? Any number of events beyond your control can tear open your cozy cocoon. The lurking danger of cancer alone reminds us that no nest is entirely safe. And at the end even the fortunate will face death like everyone else. No matter how good your life is, death will come knocking. Death will defeat you. Ultimate victory- for time and eternity- is only to be found through the risen Jesus.
I also want to speak to another group. You may be unimpressed by this victory, but for opposite reasons. You believe that Jesus died on the cross to give us victory over sin and death. But honestly you don't feel very victorious.
You still face your share of setbacks and disappointments. Your GPA wasn’t what you wanted. You didn’t get that job you applied for. You stepped on someone’s toes- again. Or you struggle with a low self-image. Or you’ve got annoying health problems. The truth is: you're barely getting by. Victorious? Hardly.
Yet no defeats here and now can take away from the final victory we have thru Christ. Perhaps Paul puts it best in II Corinthians 4: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Here’s something amazing about the gospel of Jesus: when you cast your lot with Jesus as Savior and Lord, you are a winner- period. For all eternity you are a bigger winner than any successful person standing on his own.
To summarize: first Paul celebrates Jesus resurrection- God’s victory over sin + death. Second, he makes it clear that we can share in this victory- through Jesus Christ. Third and finally, this victory should give us great confidence in our lives now.
Vs 58: Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. I think of the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg. The tide turned when Union troops stood their ground against Pickett’s headlong charge. So too, because of Christ’s victory, we can stand strong against any foe or adversity.
Goliath was a giant: over nine feet tall, armed to the teeth. Yet young David was not intimidated. When Goliath advanced, David stood firm. In fact, David ran toward him, firing a stone from his slingshot. Goliath fell face down.
Or take Paul’s example. In II Corinthians 11 he recounts terrible adversity: I have been in prison, been flogged severely, been exposed to death again and again, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times shipwrecked etc. He could have said: This is too much! I can’t take it anymore! No; Paul stood firm. He let nothing move him. He carried on with the gospel. What about you? Unsure of what you want to do in life; worried about the future? Stand firm. Let nothing move you. You already have victory in Christ!
Do certain temptations seem overwhelming: overeating or drinking or pornography? Stand firm. Let nothing move you.
Has some accident or sickness thrown you for a loop? Feeling out of kilter? Stand firm. Let nothing move you.
Do you have spiritual doubts? At times does God seem far from you? Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Let’s live confident of our victory! Let’s give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord.
Tomorrow night the final game of the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament will be held. Once again we’ll see the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. One team will be crowned champion. The other will fall one game short.
But the big question in life is: What victory matters most? So what if you are a winner in March Madness. So what if you are a winner at horseshoes at Family Camp. So what if you are a winner in an election or in getting a plum job or winning the lottery. So what- if you are not a winner in what matters most- for all time and eternity?
Brothers and sisters, here is good news: Christ is risen! God has triumphed over sin and death. Let’s shout with the Apostle Paul: Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?