Easter Means… The Death of death
Our Easter Legacy
A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 15:19-25
Sunday, April 16, 2017 – Easter Day
What do you want your legacy to be? Have you ever thought about it? What do you want to be known for after your gone? What do you hope to leave your kids if you have any?
What legacy has been left to you? What advantages did you parents leave for you? Were you brought up in a Christian home? Did they help you get a good education? What does your family stand for?
A legacy can be good or bad depending on what's been handed down to you. A legacy can be great when your last name is Lincoln, Einstein, or Gates. But what if your name is Hitler, Dahmer, or Bin Laden? Can you reverse that legacy?
The truth is we all do have a legacy. Everyone in this room is related to a man named Adam—no last name, just Adam. And he's left us a terrible legacy—a legacy of sin and rebellion, of guilt and shame, and ultimately, of death. But Easter reverses that legacy! It gives Jesus' legacy to us—a legacy of victory, power, and life—eternal life. Here's how God, through the Apostle Paul, describes both legacies in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26…
19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Maybe you've seen the email that's gone around of the cute and funny questions kids would ask of God. One second-grader wrote, "Dear God, instead of letting people die, and then having to make new ones, why don't you just keep the ones you already have?" An interesting question, isn't it? Why doesn't he just keep the one's he already has and just let us all live forever?
In the middle of his great "Resurrection Chapter" the apostle Paul answers that question. Why does death happen? Why does death reign? Because of the legacy Adam left to us all. God gave the first couple not ten, but one commandment: Don't eat from this one tree. You're free to do absolutely anything else that you want. Just don't eat from this one tree.
And what did Adam do? Of course, he ate from that one tree. And he left his legacy. He rebelled against God who had been nothing but loving and kind to him. And he wasn't even tricked into it like his wife was. He acted in full knowledge. He chose the serpent. He chose his wife. He chose to reject God.
And the results were instant. Instantly Adam and Eve felt suspicion, guilt, and shame as they tried to hide their nakedness from each other and from God, as they tried to hide themselves from God. And more consequences would follow: thorns and thistles and sweat and pain, and, ultimately death. "You [will] return to the ground," God told him, "since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." (Genesis 3:17-19)
And that's the legacy he left for us: sin, guilt, shame… death. Death is Adam's fault—a result of his sin and rebellion—not God's. "Death came through a man… in Adam all die…"
Now we can't get too upset with Adam for leaving us such a legacy and for bring death into our lives because you and I have earned death a thousand times over. We deserve death for every sin that we have ever committed: for every rebellion against God, for every unkind word spoken in frustration, for every self-centered act, for every time we've failed put God—the God who's been nothing but loving and kind to us—first in our lives. We deserve death for putting our hope in the things of this life: our savings accounts, our families, our hard work. We've earned death for expecting God to make this life comfortable and easy and fun, while giving little thought to the life to come. And we deserve not just physical death, but eternal death in hell. For "the wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23)
You see, Adam's legacy was our legacy too. And there was nothing we could do to stop it. Nothing we could do to change it. There was nothing we could do to reverse that legacy. And so, unless Jesus returns first, we will all die. Each one of us will return to the dust from which we came.
But… We will not die. Not eternally. Why not? Because Adam's legacy isn't ours anymore. We have a better legacy—the legacy of Christ—our Easter legacy…
Paul describes our new legacy like this… 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Though you and I are no match for the enemy of death, we have a champion who fought death and won for us. We have earned a legacy of death, but Jesus earned for us a legacy of life. First he battled sin, the sin that brings death. He lived a perfect life, never sinning even once! He never had an unkind or lustful thought. He never had a lazy day or selfish "me time." He kept every commandment and always did what was pleasing to God the Father.
And then he went before the Father's throne and claimed responsibility for our sin. He took ownership for every wrong you and I have ever thought or said or done. Then, on the cross, he took the punishment of hell that our sins deserve as God the Father forsook him and poured out his wrath. And sin was defeated.
But he wasn't done. There on the cross the sinless Son of God, the only one who didn't deserve to die, took on dDeath. And at first it may have seemed that Death had the upper hand as Jesus died on the cross. But Jesus is the Master over death! He demonstrated that time and again during his earthly ministry as he raised the dead to life! And he proved his dominance over Death on Easter morning, when he raised himself to life! Death has lost! It's lost its power and the legacy that Adam left.
Now, the legacy Jesus leaves us is one that will conquer death too! You and I will defeat death as well! We will live again even after death! "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." On the last day of the world, all will be brought to life, never to die again! Death will be undone! Death will die!
A few years ago, a letter appeared in the national news that was sent to a deceased person by the South Carolina Department of Social Services. It read as follows: "Your food stamps will be stopped effective as of March because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. P.S. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances." That letter made news because we don't normally expect a change in such circumstances. Death has such an appearance of finality. But that's just the thing: It only appears that way.
God promises, "All will be made alive... Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him... The last enemy to be destroyed is death." The firstfruits were that part of the crop that sprung up first. The Israelites would offer that portion to God in thanks to him for a crop, but especially to show that they trusted his promise of more crops to follow. That's what Jesus' resurrection is to us: The promise of more resurrections to follow. Death has lost. Yes, we will still die, but that death that was once an eternal prison is now just a door to another life—an eternal life in heaven. Now death is no longer final, but only a peaceful sleep because for us there will be a "chance in our circumstances."
We don't fear going to sleep because we know we'll wake up. In fact, we often look forward to the rest that sleep brings. Likewise, by the legacy that Jesus left us on Easter, we no longer need to fear death. Your loved ones who have died, will rise to life again. You and I will wake up from death in God's time, "Each in his own turn..." and finally all people on the Last Day, "when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power..." and even Death is destroyed once and for all. This is our legacy—our Easter legacy!
And in the meantime, Jesus "must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet." He will rule all things for the good of his church, even using his enemies to accomplish his good purposes. And confident of the legacy he's left us, we can put our trust in him.
You know, the Great Wall of China can't really be seen from the moon as some have suggested, but it is still a very impressive structure. Built to keep the barbarians out, the Wall was guarded by one million soldiers, understandably making the people of China feel pretty secure. But do you know how long that security lasted? Not very long. During the first one hundred years of the Wall's history China was invaded three times. Their enemies didn't break down the Wall or climb over the top. The conquerors didn't need to exert themselves that much. Each time the Wall was breached it was because the invading army had produced enough cash to bribe a gatekeeper. Without a struggle China's enemies marched right on in.
As secure as some things might seem, having a misplaced trust ends in ruin. Most people quickly find out that things they have trusted and counted on just aren't that reliable. Investments, cash, gold, friendship, smarts, hard work—just about everything—can, and does, manage to let us down. Everything, that is, except Jesus. "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!" And he leaves us quite a legacy! The legacy of death that we received from Adam is reversed. Death is destroyed. Because of Easter, you and I, and all who trust in Jesus have an eternal legacy—a legacy of life! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen!