“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. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:20–26).
Randy, Rhonda, other family members and friends of Veva:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
This weekend we observed the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. The “war to end all wars,” it was optimistically, if not naively dubbed. At first idealistic, the term has become quite ironic. In the 100 years since the Armistice was declared with Germany on the 11th hour of the 11th month, our own country has fought in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and is still involved in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It seems that the moment one would-be dictator is deposed, another takes his place on the world’s stage. Another war begins in the futile attempt to end all wars.
But there’s a much deadlier war going on. A spiritual war that has been going on for centuries—ever since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. It’s the battle of the Seed of the woman and seed of the serpent. Good vs evil. God vs Satan. And the toll that it has taken is enormous. Thousands of years with 100% casualty rates. For as we know, the wages of sin is death. And all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All have followed the path of Adam: From the dust of the ground you came, in the ground to dust you shall return.
The fact that death is our spiritual enemy has immense significance for us Christians, especially on a day like this. Sometimes at funerals, one hears comments such as these: “We shouldn’t be sad; we should only rejoice. God blessed her with many years. Her suffering is over. This is a victory celebration.” To be sure, there is a sense in which this is true. But death, the last enemy and sign of sin’s universal dominion over fallen humanity, will not be swallowed up until the Last Day, and Christians are free to grieve at the death of their loved ones.
Even the 90 years that God granted Veva to serve her family and community, to share her joy of music by teaching piano and playing in church are a drop in the bucket compared to our Creator’s plan for us. God never intended the pain of separation and the heartache that attends death. That sharp pain of grief can be an entirely appropriate manifestation of the biblical understanding that death has not yet been fully overcome. And so, Christians may and should mourn at funerals—but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
But there’s Good News on the battle front!
The fight is over. The battle won. Christ is risen. Death is defeated.
Oh, I know, it doesn’t look that way on a day like today. The evidence suggests otherwise. The flowers in the nave. Veva’s mortal remains lie in the casket before us—one of the latest casualties in the conflict of the ages. In less than an hour, we will be committing her body to rest in the ground. But God’s Word clearly declares that death has been defeated!
That victory was won about the 9th hour of the Friday we Christians call Good. In the darkness, when Jesus drew His last breath and shouted, “It is finished!” Again, it didn’t look victorious at all, but that was the end of death’s reign. The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the Law. Jesus fulfilled the Law. Jesus absorbed the power of sin by becoming sin. Jesus took the sting of death into His own flesh. The Law is fulfilled. Sin is judged. Death lies defeated.
Easter is not the victory. Good Friday is. Jesus’ death is the decisive victory when death swallowed up life and lost. But without the resurrection, the victory remains hidden. Without the resurrection, we wouldn’t know Jesus from Adam. But Christ is risen, the firstfruits of the dead. He unbarred the gates. He broke the chains. He threw open the prison doors. The stone is rolled away. The burial clothes are folded neatly. The tomb is empty. Jesus has risen.
Every harvest has firstfruits. The first strawberries of spring. The first tomato of summer. The first wheat and corn and soybeans of the harvest. Firstfruits mean more to come. Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. He’s the first of the dead to rise. But there’s more to come. Many more.
For Christ, the resurrection took place almost 20 centuries ago. For those who have believe in Him, the resurrection will take place when He returns in glory on Judgment Day. The first sheaf was from a grave outside Jerusalem on the first Easter morning nearly two thousand years ago. The harvest will be from graves all over the world when our risen Lord will appear on clouds of glory, and His own will rise from their graves and will be caught up to meet with Him in the air.
“As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” When Adam fell, humanity fell. When Adam sinned, humanity became a sinner. Death came into this world through one man, Adam. His death was the death of us all. His sin is our sin and our captivity.
That is why Christ had to come as man. That is why the Word had to become flesh to dwell among us. Humanity needed a new head. A new Adam. A second Adam who was like the first and not like the first. Like us in every way except for sin. A sinless Adam who would do what the first Adam did not do and what we in Adam cannot do.
When Christ died, humanity died. When Christ rose, humanity rose in Him. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
The battle is won, but the war is not yet over. There are still border skirmishes, pockets of resistance, enemy soldiers lurking. Even after the Armistice was declared, the battles continued as generals tried to take more territory before their troops were withdrawn. We still get sick, still have accidents, still grow old, and we all die. We are born of Adam, children of Adam. We are conceived and born with Adam’s inherited sin. Birth is one hundred percent fatal. Everyone enters this world with an expiration date.
But Christ has conquered death on behalf of fallen humanity. Christ is humanity’s new head, a humanity that is destined to rise on the Last Day. That doesn’t mean that all rise to eternal life. It does mean that all rise. Those, like Veva, who trust in Christ and His merits rise to eternal life. Those who trust in themselves and their works rise to eternal condemnation. But all rise. All humanity is caught up in the victory of Jesus and no one is left behind.
What Christ has won for all, He gives in Holy Baptism. Through the water and Word, Veva was adopted into the family of God, made a co-heir with Christ of all the treasures of His kingdom, including forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. In Baptism, she was declared by God dead to sin but alive to God in Christ. She was buried with Christ in His death and raised to new life in His resurrection.
What happened with Jesus in His death and resurrection is now made yours in Baptism. You are dead and you are alive. Dead in Adam and alive in Jesus. Jesus’ victory over death and sin and the Law are yours. God has granted it in His name. The last enemy has been conquered!
How pitiful it is when Christians talk as though Jesus was nothing more than a crutch to lean on. How pitiful it is when Christians live in cowering fear of death and the grave in full view of Jesus’ open and empty tomb. How pitiful it is when we act as though our puny hold on this life is all there is and all there will ever be. Jesus’ resurrection proves that death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you!
Christ is risen, the firstfruits of the harvest of the resurrection!
“Firstfruits” means more to come. A future. A destiny. A hope. For Veva. For you. Though you die, yet in Christ you live. And living and trusting in Christ, you never die forever. There is now and there is not yet. Now we live by faith in the Son of God. Now we live trusting God’s promise of life in Jesus. Now we live believing that we no longer live, but Christ lives in us.
But there’s a coming day, a great day, a glory day, when we will see with resurrected eyes what we must now believe and take God at His Word. The end, the Last Day, when every temporal rule and authority and power will be destroyed, when every dead will rise, and every tongue confess Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father.
“He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.” Christ has enemies. The war still rages on. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh still tempt us, causing us to doubt, to disbelieve, to wander from the flock. We forget the open, empty tomb and live in servile fear of death. We bargain with false religions and quack cures trying to cheat death. We live in denial, as though death were an illusion. We forget the promises God has made for us in Jesus Christ.
The victory is won, the outcome is guaranteed, but war rages on. It is not a war against flesh and blood. It is not a war fought with bullets and bombs. It is not a war fought by power and might. It is not a war that we fight, but one that Christ fights seated at the right hand of the Father. He is restless to put all His enemies under His foot along with the head of the serpent. And He fights that battle with the Word of His mouth and the fiery breath of His Spirit. That’s how this war is fought. Word and Spirit. Word and Sacrament. Baptism. Body. Blood. Forgiveness. Holy Church. Holy Ministry. That’s how the Son of God fights His war against every rule and power and authority. And that’s why it’s important for you to come to the place where He promises to give these things—the Church!
At the end of World War II, there were Japanese soldiers on isolated islands in the Pacific who did know the war was over. They did not realize they had been defeated. They were still fighting a war that had ended years before. Someone had to tell them, and it wasn’t always safe. They were at war.
That’s what you and I do in the world. We tell the people we meet that the fight over sin and death is over. The battle is won. That’s why we gather here in the Lamb’s foreign embassy, the Church to hear it again, over and over and over again. To be reminded, that this fallen world and this broken life is not all there is. To be encouraged to stay strong and ready to the end. The best is yet to come.
The last enemy, death, is destroyed. Christ is risen! The grave has lost its sting! On the Last Day, all the dead will rise, and Christ will bring Veva, Gordon, you, your loved ones, and all who die in the faith to be with Him forever in the new heaven and the new earth. Amen!
The peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This sermon is based upon an Easter sermon by William C. Cwirla.