Chip Stapleton Highland Presbyterian Church April 17th, 2020 Hunkered Down Devotions
1 Corinthians 15:51-58 (VOICE)
51 Stay close because I am going to tell you a mystery—something you may have trouble understanding: we will not all fall asleep in death, but we will all be transformed. 52 It will all happen so fast, in a blink, a mere flutter of the eye. The last trumpet will call, and the dead will be raised from their graves with a body that does not, cannot decay. All of us will be changed! 53 We’ll step out of our mortal clothes and slide into immortal bodies, replacing everything that is subject to death with eternal life. 54 And, when we are all redressed with bodies that do not, cannot decay, when we put immortality over our mortal frames, then it will be as Scripture says:
56 Sin came into this world, and death’s sting followed. Then sin took aim at the law and gained power over those who follow the law. 57 Thank God, then, for our Lord Jesus, the Anointed, the Liberating King, who brought us victory over the grave.
58 My dear brothers and sisters, stay firmly planted—be unshakable—do many good works in the name of God, and know that all your labor is not for nothing when it is for God.
This passage from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth contains a phrase that is familiar to many of us, often rendered as ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?
These, undoubtedly, are words of hope and comfort. But, do we believe them? If we are being honest with ourselves, death still stings. When we encounter death, we still mourn, we still feel – deeply – the pain and sting of death.
So, what’s the deal? Is Paul lying? Have we missed the point? Is scripture just not true? I don’t think that is what’s going on at all. Instead, Paul is looking at things from a larger, broader perspective.
Paul says, immediately before the well-known passage, ‘Life everlasting has victoriously swallowed up death’. Again, taken at face value, these words ring hollow, but Paul is pointing to a bigger truth.
He tells us, ‘Thank God, then, for our Lord Jesus, the Anointed, the Liberating King, who brought us victory over the grave.’ Paul is not implying that we won’t face death or even that when we face death it won’t sting or bring hurt and pain. What he is telling us is that, we can have faith – we shouldn’t lose heart – because the battle, no matter how difficult, no matter how painful, no matter how long has already been won.
Paul continues, ‘My dear brothers and sisters, stay firmly planted—be unshakable—do many good works in the name of God, and know that all your labor is not for nothing when it is for God.’ The good news for us in this passage is that true sting of death -it’s permanence and finality – has once and for all been eliminated. Death isn’t the end. It’s sting and victory has been stripped away.
The challenge Paul gives to us, is to be firmly planted in this reality – to be unshakable in the faith that in and through Jesus Christ, death doesn’t have the last word. When we trust in God and his providence for us, our work in his name is never in vain.
Sharing God’s Love,
Prayer: Help us Lord, remember that you have already won the ultimate victory over death. Help us to trust in you and to act according to the faith we have in you and your work. Amen.