Victory Over Death


First Corinthians 15:50-56

An elderly woman had just returned to her home from an evening of religious service when she was startled by an intruder. As she caught the man in the act of robbing her home of its valuables, she yelled, “Stop — Acts 2:38 — turn from your sin!” The burglar stopped dead in his tracks. The woman calmly called the police and explained what she had done. As the officer cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the burglar, “Why did you just stand there? All she did was yell a scripture to you.” “Scripture?” replied the burglar, “She said she had an AXE and two 38’s!”

My grandfather was an undertaker. As my mother was growing up, she would set on the steps (undertakers lived upstairs of the mortuary). An obviously uneducated, country preacher shouted, fumed and flailed his arms around over the casket. “It’s too late for Joe,” he screamed. “He’s dead. It’s all over for him. He might have wanted to straighten his life out, but he can’t now. It’s over.” Then the preacher pointed his finger at the congregation and shouted, “But it ain’t too late for you! People drop dead every day. So why wait? My Mom agreed that it was tacky, manipulative and callous. But then she said, “Of course, the worst part is that it’s all true.”

A little girl’s cat had died. Her mother attempted to console her by saying, “Tabby is in heaven now.” The little girl looked up and asked, “Gee, Mom, what would God want with a dead cat?”

I went in to visit a man who was in the hospital. That morning the doctors told him they had found cancer and that the prognosis was not good. His first question to me was, “What is it like to die?” All of us ask that question at some point in our lives. The patient in the nursing home that knows time is not on her side, asks that question. The young man in battle, asks that question. The grieving parent that has just lost a child, asks that question. “What is it like to die?”

By the time Paul writes this letter to the Corinthians more then 30 years has elapsed since the departure of Christ. Christians have expected for Christ to return and take them to Heaven. Christians are dying, most by the sword. If Christ isn’t going to return soon, then what is it like to die? Job asked the question, “If a man dies, will he live again?”

The Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul, but they did not accept the resurrection of the body. To them the resurrection of the body was unthinkable in view of the fact that they held the body to be the source of man’s weakness and sin. Death, therefore, was very welcome, since by it the soul would be liberated from the body; but resurrection was not welcome, because this would constitute another descent of the soul into the grave of the body. The believers had accepted the resurrection, at least in the case of Christ; but under the influence of Greek thought, some doubted the bodily resurrection of Christians. I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 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.

As Paul writes to the Church at Thessalonica he tells the same story. Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

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. 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.”

“…the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Eccl. 12:7) John writes, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2) One of Ernest Poole’s characters in one of his poetic novels says, “History is just news from the graveyard.” The best news of all the world and all the years is from that garden graveyard outside Jerusalem with a tomb that was empty, and one who had lain there standing before all humanity for all time with the assurance: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

The pastor was visiting one of his congregants who lay dying in the hospital. The pastor leaned over the bed and asked the man, “Is there anything I can do to ease your pain; do you have any final requests, my beloved friend?” The man tried to prop himself up but could not do so. As the dying man fell back to his bed, he gasped, “Yes, Pastor, there is one thing you could do; could you please stop sending these pledge envelopes?”

Writing in Southern Living magazine Jennifer Greer recounted a visit she made to the old family cemetery in Nelson County, Kentucky. She had talked with her cousin who cared for the cemetery as a volunteer just as his father and his uncle had done before him. But he was worried that the next generation might not keep up this labor of love. He said, “The younger ones, they don’t realize that a cemetery is a part of life. I guess it’s a part of life they don’t want to hear about. One could substitute the word death for the word cemetery. Dying is a part of living. We know that, but we don’t want to hear about it; we don’t want to think about it, and many don’t want to do anything about it. It is not something to be feared, but it is something to think about, and something for which to be prepared.

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