- The Change (verses 50-53)
- The Conquest (verses 54-56)
- The Credit (verse 57)
- The Challenge (verse 58)
First Corinthians 15 again, don't forget all the recordings are available from the tape room upstairs of all the studies in Corinthians, and also the studies in this particular chapter on the subject of resurrection. We're looking tonight at verses 50 to 58, the final verses of the chapter, under the title: 'The Death of Death', or you could entitle it also 'Victory over Death'.
We'll read from verse 50: "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord".
Sigmund Freud, who was lauded to be the founder of psychology, once wrote these words after considering all the ailments of the mind that men and women suffer from in our age, he said: 'And finally there is the painful riddle of death, for which no remedy at all has yet been found, nor probably ever will be'. He is symptomatic in telling us that the world that we live in has no answer to the painful open wound of death. They do not know how to answer the enigma of our own fatality and mortality. But the fact of the matter is, as Christians tonight, isn't it wonderful to know that as the world around us looks to one another and looks to philosophers, looks to intellectuals, looks to scientists to theorise why we must live and why we die as we do, that we have the answer to it all in the person of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In this longest chapter that Paul has penned for us so far in the first epistle to the Corinthians, he has dealt in great detail with the subject of how we have the answer to death in the fact - and mark that - in the fact, indisputable watertight evidential fact, that Jesus has risen from the grave, and because He lives we shall live also. We saw in verses 1 to 11 that Paul gives us in great forensic detail the evidence for the resurrection of Christ - why we must believe and can believe that Jesus truly rose from the grave, literally, in a bodily resurrection. Then we moved on in verses 12 through to 19, and we looked at the repercussions if there be no resurrection of Christ, and also if there be no resurrection of ourselves in likeness of Christ. Then we looked at verses 20 to 28, and we looked at God's resurrection programme, the order in which God intends to resurrect people. Then in verses 29 to 34 we looked at our resurrection incentives, why it is so important as Christians to allow the resurrection to be our motivation in what we do for the Lord Jesus Christ. Last week we spent some time looking at verses 35 to 49, at the description and explanation that Paul gives us of our resurrection bodies, what our bodies will be like. The Corinthians, you remember, said to Paul: 'How shall we be resurrected? How is it possible that dead men and women, even in Christ, shall be bodily resurrected?'.
Now tonight we come in verses 50 to 58 to Paul's conclusion. He brings to us in a great crescendo, a great climax of this massive subject of the resurrection, how the resurrection of Jesus Christ brings to us, Christians in Christ who one day will be resurrected again: we have victory over death! The resurrection brings us victory over death, and in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ what we effectively have is the death of death! What a hope that is! I love that Christian word 'hope', and it is a Christian word. So much of the time today it's misunderstood, it's thought to be an airy-fairy wish: 'I hope this is going to happen' - a lack of certainty, just some kind of desire within your heart but no real assurance to back it up. But that is not the Christian hope, the Christian hope is a certainty that because Christ lives we shall live also!
That Christian certainty was captured in the epitaph of Benjamin Franklin, he wrote it himself before he died, and it is etched on his tombstone in Christchurch Cemetery in Philadelphia in the United States, and it goes like this - listen very carefully: 'The body of Benjamin Franklin, printer, like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and gilding, lies here food for worms - but the work will not be lost, for it will appear once more in a new and more elegant addition, revised and corrected by the Author'. Isn't that lovely? That is our hope - that though worms, as Job says, eat my flesh; one day I will stand in my flesh, and I will see God for I know that my Redeemer liveth!
So Paul tells us at this wonderful climax conclusion that he brings to us at the end of his great treatise on resurrection, he tells us four things that we're going to look at tonight. He talks first of all about the change, and how that change will be wrought - how the change will be wrought. We looked at the mechanics, if you like, the logistics of the resurrection body last week, but what we're going to look at this evening is who will be changed, who will be changed, how will they be changed, how will it happen, and when will they be changed. Those three questions: who, how, and when. Then we'll look in verses 54 to 56 at the conquest, what victory do we actually have through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus? Then we'll look at the credit: who do we thank for such a great prospect that we have in view? Then finally, as many times we find in Paul's epistles and writings, there's always a challenge - he comes at the end of this great chapter, at the end of this message, with an appeal as to what manner of men and women ought we to be because of these truths that we have learnt?
So let's look first of all at the change that is wrought here, let's look at verse 50: 'Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption'. Now you remember the Corinthians were starting to think, through the vain philosophy of the Corinthian Greek philosophers, that it was an utter impossibility that people should rise physically from the grave. But what Paul is saying here is that it's not an impossibility, neither is it undesirable, but it is of absolute necessity that we rise again from the grave and that our bodies are changed - why? Because flesh and blood, ordinary flesh and blood, cannot inherit the kingdom of God - and when the kingdom of God is mentioned here it means the heavenly aspect of the kingdom of God, i.e. the eternal state and heaven that we read of in the last chapter of the book of Revelation.
Like the reason why a caterpillar does not fly until it goes through that transforming metamorphosis to make it into a butterfly, you and I in our present state are fitted for this physical world, we are not fitted for the eternal. We die, and we must needs die, and that little seed dies in the ground, and then there comes a great change where the force of resurrection works within us, and what comes forth is a different body - the same identity but a different form, because we cannot inherit the kingdom of God in the flesh and blood which we are in just now this evening.
Now there are some inferences that we must take from that statement of Paul. The first is this: that the resurrection body does not consist of purely flesh and blood. Now bear with me on this one, because it's important that we don't misunderstand what Paul is saying. Look what he says in verse 15, he does not say 'neither flesh nor blood inherit the kingdom of God'. He does not say 'neither flesh nor blood', but rather he says 'flesh and blood' - the emphasis is these two together. This point that he is making is: our bodies physically, in which we inhabit this physical realm with, is animated by blood going through our veins - 'the life of the flesh is in the blood'. But this resurrection body, as we saw last week, is not a natural body that is animated by blood, but it is a spiritual body that is not controlled by our souls - i.e. our intellect, our emotions and our will - but these resurrection bodies that we will have will be animated and activated by the spirit with the Holy Ghost upon it. Do you understand that? Yes, we'll have flesh, it will not be the same flesh as we have tonight - as we saw last week there are different types of flesh, flesh of beasts and all the rest as we read - it will be a different type of flesh, but it will be flesh nevertheless. Remember the Lord Jesus Christ said to the doubting disciples: 'Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh as ye see me have'. The fact of the matter is: the Lord Jesus shed His precious blood, and He was transformed, even He was transformed before He returned into the presence of His Father. The reason why we cannot enter into the kingdom of God with the flesh and blood that we have is because these bodies that we live in are corruptible, and anything corruptible cannot inherit that which is incorruptible - do you understand? These bodies that we live in, they decay. The human body that we possess is affected by disease, it is smote eventually by death, and therefore cannot inherit incorruption - and that is why we have to be made different. We have to be totally changed and transformed to enter into the kingdom of God, the eternal state, and our identity continues - I'll still be David Legge - but the body will change.
Now, because Paul says this, all that he has said thus far, I think - and I'm reading between the lines here - but I think Paul is anticipating this in the Corinthian's minds, that they're perhaps thinking that he's talking so much about those that have died in Christ, that he's perhaps ignoring the prospect of those who are living, those who he's writing to and maybe those who are asking questions of him. I imagine that in their minds, certainly in the mind of Paul anticipating this in their minds, they're asking the question: 'What would happen to our bodies when the Lord comes? What will happen to us? You're talking, and you've used the illustration Paul, that the seed has to die to bring forth much fruit' - so if you have to die, and the old body has to die before the new body can come forth, these Corinthians are probably saying 'What about we who are alive when the Lord Jesus comes back again? If you have to die to get this new body, what's going to happen to us?'. What about the living?
So, in answer to that question, Paul says in verse 51: 'Behold, I shew you a mystery' - he gives them the answer in what he calls a mystery. Now let's make a definition here that we've done throughout this book, but maybe you haven't been here - a mystery in the New Testament is not something mysterious, it's not some kind of spooky enigma or puzzle that nobody can work out, but in the New Testament a Biblical mystery is a truth that had never ever been revealed before to anyone. It was hidden through the past ages, it was unknown, but now it is revealed in the New Testament to the apostles and to the saints who received the apostle's teaching. Now please let this sink into your mind and heart for just a moment: what a privileged people we are tonight to be post-Calvary, to be post-resurrection and ascension, to be post-the finishing of the canon of Scripture, and to be sitting here tonight and be party to a mystery that the great prophets and patriarchs and priests of the past in the Old Testament never ever knew! They never got a look into this fact!
Now you might say to me: 'But David, did you not prove to us in previous weeks that the resurrection is to be found in the Old Testament Scriptures?' - yes, that is the truth. That is the truth, but the mystery that Paul is talking about here is not the truth of resurrection, but rather he is talking here about the fact that you'll not even need to die to have this new body - in fact, if you're alive when the Lord Jesus Christ comes again, you will be changed as the dead in Christ will be. That is the mystery, never before had it been revealed to men. So he tells them in verse 51: 'We shall not all sleep' - that had never been heard of before! - 'but we shall all be changed'. I think a better rendering would be: 'We shall not all fall asleep'; we shall not all, as believers, die; not every believer will pass through death. Now that's very hard for us to conceive of and really reason and rationalise in our mind, because we continually live in the midst of death; but Paul is saying: 'Look, this is a fact that has been hidden through all the ages, this is a mystery that I'm revealing to you now, that Christians may not die! You may not die! In fact there will be a generation of Christians who will not die, therefore you don't have to die to be changed, all you have to do is be in Christ when He comes, whether in the grave or out of the grave' - and his point is this: whatever you are, wherever you are, as long as you're in Christ, we shall all be changed! Isn't that wonderful? The equality that is in Christ here!
Now remember he's talking to the Corinthians, in all their sin and backsliding, and he's telling them whether your brethren and sisters are dead in the grave, or whether you're living, when Christ comes we shall all be changed. Now I think I'd be right in saying that most of us here, most of the time, expect to die some day - is that not true? From the youngest to the oldest, we expect to die, we maybe even think about death - but the fact of the matter is: do we ever have a consciousness of this in our mind, that we might never die? We may never have a funeral, there may never be a wake for you or for me, there may never be a tombstone, there may never be a need to pick a coffin, they may never sing my favourite hymns around my grave - because Jesus may come, and I may not die! Wouldn't that be wonderful if you didn't even need to die to be changed? Wouldn't that be the icing on the cake if you didn't even have to go through death, the dying of the seed, until the new life came forth? But the Lord Jesus Christ, as it says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, the Lord Jesus will come and 'the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we that are alive and remain will be caught up together to be with the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord'.
Death or life doesn't disenfranchise the child of God from this new body - all believers, all believers will be changed, all believers will be equally equipped for heaven. So there is the answer to the question 'Who will be changed?' - all of us! Dead or alive! Now here's the next question he answers: how? What is the process? If you look at it he says in verse 52: 'In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed'. Now please note this, verse 52, this is not a process, it's not a process of supernatural metamorphosis. There is an instantaneous re-creation, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Now you see that word 'moment', in the Greek language it is the word 'atomos' which we get 'atom' from - you've heard of the atom bomb. 'Atomos' denotes that which cannot be cut, or that which cannot be divided - so what Paul is saying here is that this is the smallest conceivable quantity of time that cannot be divided into quarters or sixths or eighths or hundredths. It's such a small split-second that it cannot be divided one more time, like an atom. In that space of time you will be changed.
Oh, I hope this is sinking into your heart - in a moment! Here he says, further to illustrate it to us, 'in the twinkling of an eye' - the sense is a scintillation. He's not talking now about a wink, or a blink, he's talking about something quicker, something like light from the sun just flashing and hitting your eye - that quick! In the twinkling of an eye, in a moment, we will be changed, totally transformed - we'll not be waiting around a split-second for it, something that can't even be split. Now have you ever sat down and meditated upon that fact for just a few seconds - have you? Have you ever contemplated what this means, and the implications for many believers in Christ at this very hour? For some dear children that we are regularly praying for, this very night they're lying in hospital beds, and they are weak and they're suffering, and some of them are dying. They're enduring days of pain and nights of agony, and some of them are crying and soul-distressed: 'O Lord, how long, how long must this go on?' - and there's going to come a day when one moment they're in excruciating pain, and the next moment, before they can even think, they're up in the air with Christ and they're in a body without pain, without suffering, without trial! I doubt we don't think of this enough...
What about poor souls, and Christians are not immune from this, who have mental illnesses, or whose minds fail them - whether it be from diseases like Alzheimer's, or just the stresses of life? Some poor folk even that name the name of Christ are shut away in what we could call asylums for want of a more understandable name. There they are, cut off from the rest of humanity, depressed, anxious, discouraged, distressed, despairing, maybe even thinking that the God of heaven has forsaken them and left them alone - but in a moment, in a split-second, less than that, they will be caught up to be with Christ, and they will have the intelligence perhaps greater even than an angel, and they will look into the very face of the Lord Jesus Christ and know that He leaves or for forsakes no one.
It's no wonder Paul in another place calls this 'the blessed hope of the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ' - is it not a blessed hope? Is it not? We've just been talking about physical things and mental things, what about spiritual things? Can I ask you tonight how long you've been saved? You can remember the night or the day that you trusted the Lord Jesus Christ - I can remember - the night that you ventured all upon the claims of Christ, and you repented of your sin, and you gave Him completely your life in repentance and faith. Can I ask you: what progress have you made since that day? How have you come on? How many years are you saved? Who's 50 years saved? Put your hand up if you're 50 years saved - you're giving your age away now! Forty years saved? Twenty years saved? Where are you tonight in comparison to where you were then, and where did you think you would be 50 years on? Come on, be honest! Did you think you would be the way you are tonight? We would have to all of us, no matter how long saved we are, go down memory lane and retrace many a failure in the eyes of God, many a crises when we didn't turn to God as we should, many temptations which we've fallen into, many heartaches and pains that were brought upon us not of our own doing, disasters that surrounded us day by day. It's even more mind-blowing when we think of this fact: that even with the Spirit's help it's taken us as long as it has to get to where we are tonight in our present state of spiritual maturity, whatever that may be - but imagine, in less than a split-second, the twinkling of an eye, in a moment, we will be changed! What we couldn't do even with the Spirit's help on this earth, the Lord Jesus Christ will do without even a moment's notice to even contemplate it or think about it for ourselves. In a moment - oh, the speed of it!
Isn't it wonderful? I'll tell you, when God does a job He does it right. There's no Purgatory here where the flesh is burned out of you for hundreds or thousands of years before you're fit for the kingdom of God, that's not what we have here - in the twinkling of an eye, in a moment we are changed because we are in Christ. Why is it a thing so wonderful to some when you imagine that in Genesis 1, 2 and 3 God spoke - and here is it evidenced that He didn't in some way use evolution in His own providential purposes to bring creation into being - He spoke then and the whole world sprang into obedience according to His creative power. Omnipotent God! And on that day He will speak and re-creation will come into being. Oh it was a wonderful blessing to me today to think about this: it'll not take millions of years for Almighty God to make me a new creation. I couldn't do it in a million years on my own, and I vouch to say I couldn't even do it down here in these worldly circumstances with the flesh that I'm in even with the help of the Holy Ghost - but then He will do what no one has been able to do, in the fraction of a second, isn't it wonderful?
Then he says, being more specific about when - we've looked at who and how, but when this will happen. He says 'At the last trump' - I don't have time to deal with this, but it's not the last heavenly trumpet to be sounded in the book of Revelation. The reason why that is, in 1 Thessalonians 4, this trumpet is called 'the trumpet of God', it's not the trumpet of an angel that you read about in Revelation, it's called 'the trump of God'. It's called 'the last trump' - why is it called 'the last trump'? Well, 'the last trump' was an expression that was used in Paul's day by the common Roman army. What used to happen was, when the Roman army was in camp, and the camp was about to be broken up and they were going to move on - whether it was in the middle of the night or the middle of the day - the trumpet sounded, and it usually sounded three times. The first trumpet that was blown, the first blast signified that they were to strike the tents, pull out the tent pegs and prepare to depart - they were to get ready. The second trumpet that was blown meant that they were to fall into line, into their segregations, into their troops and their regiments just before going. Then the third trump was called 'the last trump', and when it sounded that was the sign - no further order was needed - to march away.
I don't know how long it was since you heard the first trump, when the Lord Jesus called you in the Gospel and told you to take the old tent pegs from this earth, and you took up your cross and you followed Him in repentance and faith and were saved. I hope tonight that you've heard the second trump, and you've gathered together with the people of God in the ranks of the blessed and the redeemed, awaiting the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. But there's going to come a day, very soon I believe, when the last trump will sound and we will march away! Won't it be wonderful at the end of the age of grace, the church age?
During the United States Civil War there was a group of soldiers who spent a winter's night without their tents in the open field. During the night there was a great snowfall of several inches, and at dawn one of the chaplains - up very early, probably for prayer - reported a strange sight. He said that all the snow-covered soldiers lying on their beds, they looked like the mounds of new graves. At dawn when the bugle of the revelry sounded one man immediately stood up and rose from that mound of snow, one by one by one, and that Chaplin's mind immediately went to 1 Corinthians 15, and he thought of the last trump and the dead being raised! But isn't it wonderful that we can say tonight, whether dead or alive, we all shall be changed and this corruption shall put on incorruption!
That Greek word 'put on' was commonly used for putting on your clothes, and what Paul is saying here is that our redeemed spirits will one day very soon put on redeemed bodies, and we will be complete. Doesn't he talk about it in another place, in 2 Corinthians 5, turn to it for a moment - 2 Corinthians 5 verse 1: 'For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this body', this present one, 'we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed', we don't want our spirits to be released from any body, 'but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life' - to have an immortal body, an incorruptible one - 'Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit'. What a change, eh?
I hope we meditate on it much, we have to move on because he then talks in verses 54 to 56 about the conquest. Look at verse 54: 'So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory'. Now I want you to notice, before we go on any further in verse 54, that there are two groups mentioned here. There is the corruptible who will put on incorruption, and there is the mortal who shall put on immortality. Now there is a distinction here: the corruptible refers to those who have died, whose flesh has corrupted; but there's a different sense speaking about those who are mortal because someone who is mortal has not died. Those who are mortal are described here as putting on immortality, so there's a sense here, I think, that what is being described is those who are dead in Christ and those who are alive when Christ comes again who are in Him. Those who are dead in Christ, their corruption in the grave will put on incorruption; those who are alive in their mortality will put on immortality. Whatever it is, we shall all be changed.
Romans 8 and verse 10 tells us: 'If Christ be in you, the body is dead', do you hear that? 'If Christ be in you, the body is dead' - that's a difficult verse for a lot of people to understand, and sometimes it's more clear when you add one little word, the word 'still': 'the body is still dead'. If you are in Christ the body is still dead - what am I talking about? If you're a believer in Christ the Spirit of God dwells in you, but your body's still dying. Because you're saved it doesn't make any difference to your body - no matter what other people may tell us in the charismatic realms - the body is still dying, because it is the Adamic sentence of our fallen nature, even for the believer, that our bodies waste away. That's why Paul said: 'Dying thou shalt die'. But your spirit, as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5 that we've just read and verse 5, is the earnest - it's like the guarantee, or the deposit of what will be paid later, there's a pledge that we will be given a new body because the Spirit of God lives in us. Listen to Romans 8:11: 'But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you'. That is the conquest - yes, we're dying tonight, even though we're saved; God doesn't give us a new body right away as soon as we trust Christ, but this is what we have to look forward to, this is the hope of the Lord Jesus as Romans 6:9 says: 'Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him'.
In other words, death is not the master over our Lord Jesus Christ because He died, and in dying He put sin to death, and in rising again from the grave He put death to death, and because His Spirit is in us we know that the same God who raised Jesus from the dead will raise us from the dead one day. My dear friends, we would be liars tonight if we said that death was not still an enemy to us all. Although, as we have been singing, we no longer fear death, is still violates our lives, it breaks up our nearest and dearest relationships, it destroys our families and friends are torn apart day by day across our land, and even in the homes that belong to Christ - but there is a day coming, Paul says, when death will be swallowed up in victory. He quotes Isaiah 25 and verse 8, 'Death shall be swallowed up in victory', and the wonderful change that will happen to our bodies when the Lord Jesus Christ comes again, whether we're dead or alive, not only will signify a wonderful change but a wonderful conquest that death, our enemy, has finally been defeated - the death of death!
Please note this that the coming of the Lord Jesus and the changing of our vile bodies of humiliation into the likeness of His glorious resurrection body, it doesn't just halt the death process, it doesn't just stop its effect in our lives, but it effectually goes back and robs from death all of its previous victories, all the knots that it has tied in our lives and the lives of our families, Jesus will go back through it all and restore everything to His wonderful redemption glory!
That's why he says in verse 55: 'O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?' - Hosea 13:14 he's quoting. This, I believe, is a taunt at death - isn't it? 'O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?' - and it's only my imagination, but I just wonder will this be a song that we'll be singing as we're going up to glory? We'll have been changed, and we'll be singing: 'O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?'. Let's look at that wee word 'sting' just for a moment. Most of you are familiar with bee-stings, and if you know anything about bees you will know this: the stinger of a bee is a sharp organ that's connected with a poison gland, and when a bee stings you it leaves the organ, that stinger, in the victim. I'm led to believe that a bee only stings once because of that reason, because it leaves its stinger in the victim, and because it has lost its ability to sting it therefore loses all future effectiveness because its sting has gone! Do you see what Paul is saying here? 'O death, where is thy sting?', can we answer that question, 'Where is your sting, death?' - do you know what death would have to say? 'My sting was put into Christ at Calvary, and because it's in Him it will never be in you'.
Death left its sting in our Lord Jesus Christ, and now when death hits us even in our own mortality, it is a stingless process and the grave has been robbed of its victory. Because the sting of death is sin, it's the wages of sin that is death, the harm in death has been caused by sin, and the power of sin is the law - because you don't even know you're a sinner in a sense until the law is given. Paul said in Romans 4: 'for where no law is, there is no transgression', but the fact of the matter is tonight that death for the believer has been swallowed up in victory, but there's a day coming in the full consummation of when we will be given our resurrection bodies, when death will be totally defeated completely and finally!
Does this not encourage your hearts tonight? Does it not? How many of our loved ones have been cruelly devoured by death? How many folk, since the beginning of time, Genesis 1, 2 and 3, have been swallowed up in death? Listen to me now, I was thinking as I was studying this today of a wee couple of verses in Proverbs 30:15 and 16 - listen to these verses: 'There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough' - here they are - 'The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough' - but the first of those is the grave. When has the grave stopped swallowing up victims? It has an insatiable appetite, but praise God we can say tonight in the good of it that not only is a greater than Solomon here, and a greater than Moses and Aaron is here, and a greater than Jonah is here, and a greater than the angels is here, but a greater than death is here! He has swallowed up death in His glorious victory, He has satisfied the insatiable in His own death.
"He hell in hell laid low,
Made sin, He sin o'erthrew,
Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,
And death, by dying, slew".
Hallelujah, what a Saviour! What a change! What a conquest! Thirdly: what credit is due to His name - verse 57: 'But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ'. Who here tonight can live sinlessly? Put your hand up if you can live sinlessly - even after your conversion you can't do it, and you're a liar if you say you can do it, for John says that if we say we have no sin we not only make ourselves liars, but we make God a liar. None of us can do it, none of us can fulfil God's holy law, and then when we do sin there's not one of us here tonight, by anything that we can do, that can remove one of those sins committed - and none of us, surely, can remove the consequences of our sins. None of us can cheat death, none of us can avoid or escape the grave, and if we're without Christ none of us can escape hell and eternal damnation and judgment upon our sin - but thanks be unto God that giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, why? Because on our behalf Jesus Christ, the sinless spotless Son of God, lived a sinless life for us. Oh sometimes we run all too quick to the cross, that's the most important thing - the life of Christ is not vicarious in the sense that Calvary is, but never you forget that He lived a perfect life that fulfilled completely the law of God. For that reason He was a perfect sacrifice, and He went to Calvary and He removed the sin that we have, He satisfied a holy God with a vicarious effectual sacrifice - and then He buried, rose again from the grave, victorious over death in his resurrection! All the victory accomplished for us He has given to us!
Is that why Paul says in Galatians: 'Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth upon a tree'. You never lose the sight of this, believer: He took your condemnation, He took your curse, and as He took all your sin and your guilt and your judgment, He gives you His victory in its place - how can we not thank God for Him? How can we not praise Him? Why do our hearts not overflow and burst with joy because of our salvation? The writer to the Hebrews put it well when he said: 'Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage'.
Death's sting is gone, the grave's victory is robbed; death is declawed, it's defanged, it's disarmed, it's destroyed - and one day very soon it will be finally completed, as we read in Revelation 20 where death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire, 'And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away'. Glory to God! What a change! What a conquest! What credit is due to the Lord Jesus Christ who gives us the victory!
Here finally Paul brings us, verse 58, to the challenge - let's not miss this, whatever we do: 'Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord'. The challenge! What is Paul saying? He's saying this: if you folk here in the Iron Hall tonight really believe all this about the resurrection that you've been studying down through all these weeks of this chapter, you need to be steadfast, unmoveable - that's negative, it means simply you've got to stay right where you are being seated and settled. Now it's not talking about inertia, or lethargy, or laziness, it's talking about doctrinally in the truth that you've received around the cross, the resurrection and the glory of a risen Redeemer, you've got to stand unmoveable and steadfast in all of the wealth of that truth imparted to you. Here's the positive - don't move, negative - positive: always abounding in the work of the Lord. Abounding! Abounding! The sense is 'continually doing over and above the requirements that's asked of you', it's the idea of exceeding, overflowing, overdoing in what God gives you.
How easy are some of us moved away from God's will, eh? Sure half of us don't even know if we're in it or not! Paul says 'Get in it, and don't get out of it, and do all you can for God in the midst of it. Don't move a hair's breadth'. Remember he said to the Ephesians: 'be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine', but understand what the Bible teaches and what you believe, and get on with the work and don't move an inch in your doctrine...but move as much as you can in the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You see, what Paul is saying here is: if you abandon the truth of the resurrection, you will abandon your ways and your standards to the standards of this world. If there's no resurrection there'll be no consequences for the way that you're living here now down here, there'll be no motivation for reward of selfless service and a sanctified life - it's all gone if there's no resurrection! So hold onto this truth, live every day in the light of the glorious appearing of our Lord and your changed body, and your life will be transformed now. How many of us are doing that? How many of us are abounding in the work of the Lord? How many of us say: 'Well, I've served my time, I've done my part, let others do the work now, there are plenty of other people that can fall in line'? Let me say that rest in the work of God is important, and it's very necessary, but what Paul is saying here I believe is that if we're ever going to err, we should err on the side of doing too much rather than doing too little! God has preserved many a man into old age working for the Lord, and blessed men like that, but there's many men's lives that have been shortened because they were abounding in the work of the Lord. Read about Henry Martyn, the missionary to India and Persia, who said: 'I am determined to burn myself out for God', and he did just that by the age of 35. David Brainerd, the first missionary to the American Indians, died before he reached the age of 30; as did Robert Murray M'Cheyne the great Scottish preacher. Because they over-abounded, they gave much more than their due, exceeding requirements, overflowing, overdoing for God - why? Because they didn't live for here, they lived for there!
What about Jim Elliot? He said he wanted to be a flame that burned out for God, and he was the one who said: 'He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose' - and that's why God said: 'Well, I'll take your life, and give you the glory of a martyr in heaven'. What about Epaphroditus? We don't know much about him, but we know this: Paul says in Philippians he was a brother, a companion and labourer, and a fellow soldier - and Paul says of him that he was nigh unto death for the work of Christ. He was working to death for the Lord Jesus! How many are like that? Who invest all their time, all their money, all their energies, all their effort, all their blood, sweat and tears in the work of Christ - why? Because it's worth it in eternity, and it will last for all eternity. Let us never forget, with all our doctrines and all our meditations on the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, that the Lord Jesus says: 'Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me to give to every man according to his work'.
Oh, we sing: 'When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more; and the dawning breaks eternal, bright and fair' - what about the last verse:
'Let us labour for the Master,
From the dawn 'til setting sun;
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care.
Then when all our life is over, when it's spent,
And our work on earth is done,
And the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there'.
Let me tell you this: at the end of this chapter, that the truth of the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fact of a resurrection should never ever make us theoretical, never make us idle Christians who sit looking for His coming and doing nothing! But if any truth has affected me of late - I'll tell you this - and wanted to spur me on to do something for Christ, and gripped my soul to work for God, it has been my resurrection! Whatever your work is tonight it's not a waste, it's not in vain in the Lord, it's an investment - why? Because the best is yet to be! Can I leave you with of poem of challenge as to what you're do with the talents that God has given to you? Listen, it's only a few lines:
'If I have strength I owe the service of the strong
If melody I have I owe the world a song
If I can stand when all about my post are falling
If I can run with speed when needy hearts are calling
And if my torch can light the dark of any night
Then I must pay the debt I owe with living light!
If heaven's grace has showered me with some rare gifts;
If I can lift some load no other strength can lift.
If I can heal some wound no other hand can heal.
If some great truth the speaking skies reveal;
Then I must go a broken wounded thing,
If to a wounded world my gifts no healing bring'.
Jesus is coming soon, you will be changed soon - will you be unmoveable, will you be found abounding in the work of the Lord?
Oh, our Father, what can we say? Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift, thanks be unto God for the victory that He has given us through our Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, there's no words that can describe the gratitude that's in our hearts tonight, for all that the Saviour has done for us in His death and through the agonies of Calvary, and through the glorious victories and triumph of the empty tomb. But we want to say tonight: Lord, may we be different from the knowledge of it, and may it penetrate our hearts tonight, and may the very power of the resurrection - as Paul could say, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed unto His death. Praise the Saviour, ye who know Him, who can tell how much we owe Him? Come and let us render to Him all we are, and all we have. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the forty-second tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "The Death Of Death" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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