Our Greatest Victory
1 Corinthians 15:3 - 22
April 19, 2009
Last Sunday I preached a Good Friday sermon, and I told you this Sunday we’d celebrate the resurrection. I call this message “Our Greatest Victory” because that is what the resurrection is; it’s our victory over sin because of what Christ did for us.
Let’s begin again with some words of wisdom by Henry Blackaby. He quotes Revelation 1:14-15 where God’s Word tells us, “The hairs of his head were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.
Then Blackaby comments: At times it is tempting to conclude: “If only I could have walked with Jesus, as the twelve disciples did, it would be so much easier to live the Christian life!” This thought reveals that we do not comprehend the greatness of the risen Christ we serve today. The Jesus of the Gospels is often portrayed as One who walked along the seashore, loving children and gently forgiving sinners. Yet the image of Jesus that we see at the close of the New Testament is far more dramatic! He stands in awesome power as He rules all creation. His appearance is so magnificent that when John, His beloved disciple, sees Him, he falls to the ground as though he were dead (Rev. 1:17).
We grossly underestimate the God we serve! To ignore God's word or to disobey a direct command from Him is to ignore the magnificent nature of Christ. Our fear of other people proves that we do not understand the awesome Lord who walks with us. The Christ we serve today is the Lord of all creation. He is vastly more awesome and powerful than the gentle rabbi we often imagine.
If you struggle with your obedience to Christ, take a closer look at how He is portrayed in the Book of Revelation. If you are succumbing to temptation, call upon the powerful One who dwells in you. If you have forgotten how great and mighty the Lord is, meet Him through the vision of the beloved disciple. The encounter will dramatically affect the way you live! We live in victory!
It’s an exciting thing to be loved by God. And 1 Corinthians 15 is an exciting part of God’s Word because it tells how God loves us and how that love works through our lives and gives us our greatest victory. Let’s read it together now; please turn to 1 Corinthians 15 and we’ll read verses 3 through 22. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
The apostle begins by telling these people of Corinth, whom he hadn’t seen in five years, “I want to remind you of something.” It’s important that you and I remember some things that are vital. All of our lives we’ve heard stories about people who don’t remember well, who are absent-minded. We hear about absent-minded professors.
A professor was having breakfast with his family. His wife said to him, “Now, remember. This is the day we move. When you come home, go to the new house and not this one.” All day he knew there was something he was supposed to remember, but he couldn’t remember what it was. He went home after class, and the house was empty.
“Oh yes, we moved. I wonder where we moved to.”
He saw some children playing in the yard. He said to a little boy, “Do you know the people who used to live here?”
The boy said, “Yes, sir.”
He said, “Do you know where they moved?”
The little boy replied, “Mother said you would forget.”
I’ve never met such an absent-minded professor. There have been plenty of times in class when my mind was absent, but never the professor’s. But like that professor, we have things we need to remember.
Easter is a time to vividly remember some important things. Does the resurrection remind us of the power of God? Indeed, our God is a wonderfully powerful Lord, and he demonstrates that at Easter. How many of you when you think of the power of God, think of his power in creation? The same power that created life with a breath, said I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. Do you believe that? You should!
Several years ago a scientist wrote an article titled “Seven Reasons Why I Believe in God.” He said, “Consider the rotation of the earth. Our globe spins on its axis at the rate of one thousand miles an hour. If it were just a hundred miles an hour, our days and nights would be ten times as long. The vegetation would freeze in the long night or it would burn in the long day; and there could be no life.”
He said, “Consider the heat of the sun. Twelve thousand degrees at surface temperature, and we’re just far enough away to be blessed by that terrific heat. If the sun gave off half its radiation, we would freeze to death. If it gave off one half more, we would all be crispy critters.”
He said, “Consider the slant of the earth.” I think he said 23 degrees. “If it were different than that, the vapors from the oceans would ice over the continents. There could be no life.”
He said, “Consider the moon. If the moon were fifty thousand miles away rather than its present distance, twice each day giant tides would inundate every bit of land mass on this earth.”
He said, “Think of the crust of the earth. Just a little bit thicker and there could be no life because there would be no oxygen. Or the thinness of the atmosphere. If our atmosphere was just a little thinner, the millions of meteors now burning themselves out in space would plummet this earth into oblivion. These are reasons,” he said, “why I believe in God.”
Several years before the Hubble telescope, I heard Dr. George Schweitzer of the University of Tennessee say that with telescopes we could see one-sextillion miles. That’s one followed by 21 zeros. He said the distance across our galaxy is five hundred quadrillion miles. That’s five followed by seventeen zeros. He said the number of stars in our galaxy is over a million; and the number of galaxies is over a million; and the number of stars that at that time they had identified was over one hundred sextillion stars. That’s one followed by 23 zeros.
I don’t understand numbers like that. When I hear those figures, I’m like the fellow who saw an atomic explosion and said, “Wow, that atom bomb is dynamite.”
Christy Morrison, an expert in this field, stated that the mathematical probability of any two of those one hundred sextillion stars ever colliding is so remote that it can’t even be figured with present-day mathematical tools.
To say that a well-precisioned, mathematically created universe just happened is about as credible as saying Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary was accidentally published because of an explosion in a printing factory, or that a Boeing 747 was assembled when a tornado swept through a junk yard.
When we see this great thing that God has created in the universe and the world around us, we join that Russian Christian who was the first to sing,
“Oh Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder / Consider all the worlds thy hands have made. / I see the stars. I hear the rolling thunder. / Thy power throughout the universe displayed. / Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee, / How great thou art. How great thou art.”
God has been at work in history. Creation is a victory over nothingness; the resurrection is the victory over death. That’s what Easter is about. He came down here, became one of us, became a part of us. God came in a body and sacrificed himself for our sins. He came out of his grave and said, “I’m living; you can live too.”
Our calendars, the things we plan our days around, are based on the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to this earth. He’s been at work in history.
He opened the Red Sea for his people. He stopped the mouths of lions for Daniel. He fed Elijah. He defeated Napoleon with a snowflake. He saved England with a fog at Dunkirk. He chipped away the Berlin Wall. He shredded the Iron Curtain.
Easter is a time to celebrate that our God is a powerful victorious God. Easter is a time to celebrate that God victoriously entered this world and became a part of our history.
Easter is about the powerful victorious God at work for us and in us. Easter is about confident living forever for those people who link their lives to him. Easter is your greatest victory because of what Christ has done for you.
In our key passage for today, which we just read, the apostle begins by saying remember. Remember that Easter is based on facts: Jesus Christ died; they buried him; and he rose again on the third day. What makes these facts a gospel – good news - is that Christ died for our sins, just like the Scripture said, and he was buried. The word went out over the country, “He’s dead and buried.” Then on the third day he burst out of that grave, just like the Scripture said.
What did he say when he came out of the grave? Did he say, “Look at how powerful I am. Look at this wonderful thing I’ve done. ” No. He said, “Because I live, you can live. I did it so that you may have victory. I did it so that repentance and remission of sins could be preached in my name to all nations (Luke 24:47). I did it to demonstrate my love for you (Rom 5:8)”
Paul concludes this chapter in his first letter to the Corinthians by saying, “Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting? But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15;55-57)
And Christ’s greatest victory and our greatest victory is the victory over sin. Can you picture the loving physician? The Lord God who made us, tenderly laying out the body of humanity on the operating table of the world, and there with precision and with love and grace he makes his incision and lays bare the moral and spiritual malignancy in our lives? We say, “Oh great God, oh great Physician, what’s wrong with us?” His diagnosis in Romans 3:23 asserts, “For all have sinned.”
We’re sinners. “Well, Lord, we don’t take sin very seriously.” Sin is such a little word, only 3 letters. We laugh at it. Is sin a serious thing? He says, “Yes, it is serious.” You say, “I am not a sinner.” No? Listen to these two verses from 1John – verses 8 and 10 say:” If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. “ You are a sinner. You inherited the sin nature. That’s the disease you have and the prognosis is fatal. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Sin is what has messed our lives up. Sin is what has perverted the purpose of our lives. Sin is our rebellion against who God is. For you and I to rebel against God is just as wise as rebelling against oxygen by refusing it. It causes death. It’s the reason life is unfulfilled. It’s the reason we’re haunted by dreams we can’t fulfill, tortured by laws we can’t keep, driven by goals we can’t reach. It’s the reason Christ went to the cross: to die for all sin – past, present, future. Remember 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The Word of God does not dwell on convincing us we are sinners. We know that. It is filled with case histories of people who have been reclaimed because Christ has given victory over sin.
Suppose you could talk to Paul: We could say:“You hurt God’s people. You never respected or honored the Christ. In fact, you blasphemed him. How could you become the world’s greatest missionary and author of half the New Testament?” I think he would bow his head and sing, “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
What about Peter? “You were a callused, foul-mouthed, inconsistent fisherman who smelled of hard work and fish. How could you become one of the most respected and loved people in Christendom?” I think Simon Peter would bow his head and sing, “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love me. I’m a sinner condemned and unclean. But how marvelous, how wonderful! And my song shall ever be, How marvelous, how wonderful is my Savior’s love to me.”
Christ gives you victory over sin, and he gives you victory in life. A lot of people think Christianity is something you get so you won’t fry when you die. It is, and that’s good. Believe me. But it’s more than that. It’s the best life you can live now. He gives you victory in Jesus, my Savior forever. He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood. He loved me ere I knew Him and all my love is due Him. He plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.
When you walk with Christ, you don’t have to experience guilt. In God’s Word the Bible says he forgives our sins (Acts 10:43; 13:39). He forgets our sins, and he remembers them no more – check out Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17 if you’re not sure. God has thrown our sins in the sea of his forgetfulness and has put up a sign, “No Fishing.” No guilt when you walk with Christ.
No fear when you walk closely with Christ. I’m convinced that people are afraid of two things. They’re afraid of dying, and they’re afraid of living. Our Lord says, “You can walk with me. You don’t have to be afraid of either because I can give you victory over both.” Victory in Jesus, our Savior forever! Amenand amen!
In his word to Joshua and Moses and Caleb and all these people he called, to you and to me and to the apostles, he said, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. There’s nothing you face each day that you and I cannot handle together.” (Matt 28:20; Acts 18:10)
Easter announces your victory over sin, your victory in life, and your victory over time. Because when you know Jesus Christ, you become timeless. You’re never really going to die. If you know Christ as your Lord and Savior, if you’ve made the decision to repent and be saved (Acts 3:19), you are heaven-bound. Though you die; you live. Have you done that? Scripture says, Today is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2). What are you waiting for? There will be no better time to bow before our resurrected Lord that today. Do not neglect so great a salvation (Heb 2:3). Give yourself to Christ wholeheartedly and He will give Himself to you wholeheartedly. And He will plant your feet on the road to heaven. You do want to go to heaven, don’t you? Today is the day of salvation!
There’s probably no one who has thought about, preached about, studied, meditated on heaven more than the great preacher R. G. Lee. On his deathbed his eyes became bright, and they opened wide. He said, “I see it! It’s more beautiful than I ever thought it would be.”
You link your life by faith to Christ. You’re not moving toward frustration and fear. You’re moving toward life, life everlasting.
Revelation 21 begins by saying, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” And 1 Corinthians 15 beginning in verse 42 talks about the new body that we’re going to have. In verses 42-44 Paul contrasts the old body, our natural body, with the new body, our spiritual body. It gives a beautiful picture of what we have to look forward to – our resurrection to glory. Meanwhile, we are to give thanks to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:57)
Knowing we have victory we are to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. ( 1 Cor 15:57)
You and I need to know that the Easter message is not an announcement. It’s an offer. You must receive the offer and come to know Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Then what? Did Jesus’ resurrection prove anything? Absolutely yes! Let’s look at 4 things the resurrection proves. First, the Resurrection proves that truth is stronger than falsehood. According to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus said to his enemies, "Now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth." (Jn 8:40). Jesus came with the true idea of God and of goodness; his enemies procured his death because they did not want their own false view destroyed. If they had succeeded in finally obliterating him, falsehood would have been stronger than truth. On one occasion the Earl of Morton, regent of Scotland, sent for Andrew Melville, the great Reformation leader. "There will never be quietness in this country," said the Earl, "till half of you be hanged or banished from the country." Melville said, " God be glorified, it will not lie in your power to hang nor exile his truth!" The Resurrection is the final guarantee of the indestructibility of His truth. The resurrection proves truth is stronger than falsehood.
Second, the Resurrection proves that good is stronger than evil. Again to quote the Fourth Gospel, Jesus says to his enemies, "You are of your father, the devil." (Jn 8:44). The forces of evil crucified Jesus and if there had been no Resurrection these forces would have been triumphant. J. A. Froude, the great historian, wrote, " history may be said to repeat that the world is built on moral foundations, that in the long run it is well with the good, and in the long run it is ill with the wicked." But if the Resurrection had not taken place, that very principle would have been in peril, and we could never again be certain that goodness is stronger than evil. The resurrection proves that good overcomes evil.
Thirdly, the Resurrection also proves that love is stronger than hatred. Jesus was the love of God incarnate.
"Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine."
On the other hand, the attitude of those who wanted Jesus’ crucifixion hatred, so bitter that in the end it was capable of ascribing Jesus’ life to the devil. If there had been no Resurrection, it would have meant that the hatred of conquered the love of God. We know this is not true. Just as Jesus said to His brothers, what was intended for evil, God meant for good. The Resurrection is the triumph of love over all that hatred could do. This very beautiful poem sums up the whole matter.
"I heard two soldiers talking
As they came down the hill,
The sombre hill of Calvary,
Bleak and black and still.
And one said, 'The night is late,
These thieves take long to die.'
And one said, 'I am sore afraid,
And yet I know not why.'
I heard two women weeping
As down the hill they came,
And one was like a broken rose,
And one was like a flame.
One said, 'Men shall rue
This deed their hands have done.'
And one said only through her tears,
'My son! my son! my son!'
I heard two angels singing
Ere yet the dawn was bright,
And they were clad in shining robes,
Robes and crowns of light.
And one sang, 'Death is vanquished,'
And one in golden voice
Sang, 'Love hath conquered, conquered all,
O heaven and earth rejoice!'"
The Resurrection is the final proof that love conquered hate.
Lastly, the Resurrection proves that life is stronger than death. If Jesus had died never to rise again, it would have proved that death could take the loveliest and best life that ever lived and finally win. During the second world war a certain city church in London was all set out for harvest thanksgiving. In the centre of the gifts was a sheaf of corn. The service was never held, for, on the Saturday night, a savage air raid laid the church in ruins. The months passed and the spring came, and someone noticed that, on the bomb site where the church had stood, there were shoots of green. The summer came and the shoots flourished and in the autumn there was a flourishing patch of corn growing amidst the rubble. Not even the bombs and the destruction could kill the life of the corn and its seeds. The Resurrection is like that corn - the final proof that life is stronger than death.
Paul insisted that if the Resurrection of Jesus was not a fact the whole Christian message was based on a lie, that many thousands had died trusting in a delusion, that without it the greatest values in life have no guarantee. "Take away the Resurrection," he said, "and you destroy both the foundation and the fabric of the Christian faith."
The resurrection is our victory; it proves truth is stronger than lies; good is stronger than evil, love is stronger that hate, life is stronger than death.
Easter offers our greatest victory. Victory over sin. We never have to feel guilty or afraid again. Victory in life. We can know he walks with us. And victory over time. For when you know him, you know you’re never really going to die