Easter Means No Fear… of Death!
Easter Has a Big Mouth
A Sermon based on 1 Corinthians 15:51-57
Sunday, April 24, 2011-- Easter Day
"Man, what a big mouth!" That phrase, "big mouth," which I'm sure has been said of me once or twice before, can mean several things. Usually it's a reference to one who talks too much or especially to one who makes big boasts. But "big mouth" is also a reference to a variety of fish, like the bigmouth goby and the bigmouth buffalo fish, who, as their name implies, have big mouths and swallow their prey whole.
This morning, as we gather together to celebrate the victory that Jesus won for us on Easter, we rejoice that that Easter has a big mouth in both senses of the phrase. Easterhas a big mouth and eats big. It swallows its prey—Death—whole, in one gulp. And Easter has a big mouth and talks big, making great boasts and letting us do the same.
Listen again to Paul's description of this big-mouthed Easter as it's recorded for us in 1 Corinthians 15:51-57...
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. It Eats Big
Did you like the word the apostle used to describe the way you are right now? You are perishable. Like the eggs that get rotten or the milk that sours, our bodies, our very selves are in a state of decay. In fact, we need to bathe regularly to keep the smell of decay from offending others around us. Cut off the circulation for only a short time and gangrene sets in. This body is born to die.
Why are our bodies so subject to death? Is this how God planned it? No. It's because of sin. "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law." God's perfect law lays down the standard for which we are to live. Summarized briefly, it says "Love God perfectly above all else and love your neighbor, that is, everyone else around you, as much as you love yourself."
The problem is that though we see the bulls-eye we're aiming for, we miss the mark. In fact, all too often we miss the target altogether. That's what sin is. Even if you try to be loving to everyone else all the time, selfishness creeps in, and you choose to serve yourselves rather than God. So do I. And for one failure to keep God's law, for one missed opportunity to proclaim God's love to others by word or by deed, for one good thing left undone, for one sin no matter how small it may seem, we are less than perfect. And the many sins we commit daily give death its sting.
Play with a scorpion and you're bound to get stung. Play with sin and selfishness and the stinger is a lot bigger than a scorpions. Death hits hard. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, he followed though on his promise: that because they ate from the tree which he had forbidden, they would surely die. From dust we've all been made and to dust we will return. Death is chasing all of us, eager to devour us and swallow us whole. And its appetite is never satisfied. Like a sniper it will pick us off one by one. For our sin we are perishable, mortal, dying. And if left to ourselves, that physical death ends in eternal death in hell where the living dead cannot die.
In a popular movie from a few years ago the heroes of the story were in a submarine of sorts fleeing a giant sea monster, right on their tail, ready to devour them in one quick gulp. But just as it grabs their sub in its teeth, an even bigger sea monster grabs it and they make their escape. Likewise, as powerful and consuming as death is, our risen Savior wants us to know that there's something even bigger than death that has the final word. Death itself is swallowed whole by Easter.
Like the Giant African Python swallowing a whole deer, Jesus' victory swallows up death whole. The Psalmist wrote, "Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him." (Psalm 32:1-2) When Jesus went to the cross, he took every one of your sins on himself. He swallowed them whole into himself. And as he endured hell itself on that cross in payment for your sins, he took every one of those sins away. They are all forgiven and covered. Not a one of them will be counted against you.
And so, even though you and I will still die a physical death, we won't die forever in hell like we deserve. Because of Easter, Death has lost its sting. It's been swallowed up in victory.
A young family was taking a road trip to visit family in the Midwest. When the sun was shining, the windows were down, but as the sprinkles started to hit, the windows went up. Seconds later chaos broke out in the back seat. A bee that had been pinned in the back window by the wind, was now free to terrorize the kids. While still driving, dad quickly reached back and grabbed the bee with his hand. But soon he let go and the bee flied out of his hands into the backseat again. The kids panic resumed until dad explained that the bee couldn't hurt them anymore. He had no more stinger. The stinger was stuck in the palm of dad's hand. The stinger didn't just vanish, but was spent on someone else.
Death's sting didn't just disappear, but was spent on Jesus. You know Jesus could have left the cross if he wanted. But he didn't because his hand was clamped down on the fury of hell to rob Death of its stinger. Now Death can buzz and annoy, but it can't really hurt us. The stinger's gone. And so the victory that Jesus gives can be a big mouth and talk big! Listen to how it taunts Death...
II. It Talks Big
"Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" Bold words, aren't they? When you're in a fight with someone bigger than you and stronger than you, it's usually best to just keep your mouth shut, right? Why taunt one that you know can easily beat you up? Was Paul just being foolish when he taunted death? No. He was actually paraphrasing the Old Testament. In Hosea 13:14 God himself promised, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?"
You see with the confidence of Easter, of sins forgiven, of a certain resurrection, Death which was sure to overtake Paul had lost its stinger. Paul knew the mystery of what would happen after this short life was over. And he revealed that mystery to the Corinthians and to us: "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality."
Though we deserve to perish in hell, "thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." So we don't need to be afraid—not even of death!
And because of Easter, you and I can boast just as Paul did. The victory that we have talks big! Physical death will still come, but it won't destroy us. It will transform us. We'll transform, not like vehicles becoming robots, but much better. It will be a complete transformation. And it won't take hours of surgery with weeks of recovery. It will take place instantly. In a flash! In the twinkling of an eye! Jesus will return and we who were once perishable and subject to decay will be clothed with the imperishable. We who were once mortal and subject to death will be clothed with immortality. And though we die, we will live! Forever and ever!
And so, we too can talk big. We can boast over death! Have you lost a love one to that sniper, Death, recently? Are you looking over your shoulder for that Grim Reaper more often as you get older and the decay we're all subject to seems to win more and more battles? Then remember the victory that God gives through our Lord Jesus Christ! And laugh at Death in its weak and pitiful state! "Ha! You may take my life, but you can't really hurt me! I will live forever! I have found the fountain of youth that makes me immortal! Or rather, he found me. I may die, but you've lost your sting! I will live again! And how glorious it will be! So bring it on, Death!"
And when you've sufficiently boasted in your Savior and taunted Death to your satisfaction, then get a big mouth that can't stop talking about what your Savior has done for you! Share the Good News with those who are being swallowed up in their sin and in the hopelessness of this life. Share with them how "Death has been swallowed up in victory." For when it's about Easter, you can never talk too much! May God bless you and your big mouths as you boast in the victory your Savior won! Easter means no fear! Not even of death! For he is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.