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The Fourfold Message of the Cross
The Message of Victory
1 Corinthians 15:54-58
 
For the last three weeks, we've been listening to the messages that come from the cross.  And when I say
"cross", I hope you realize I'm not limiting the message to the hours that Christ was on the cross, but the entirety of what happened when Christ died. 
 
That includes not only the crucifixion and cross, but the resurrection as well.  I don't know about you, but I find it impossible to separate the resurrection from the crucifixion.  One means nothing without the other.  If Jesus died and did not raise from the dead, His life means nothing.
 
If He was brought back to life, but did not live and die as a perfect man, then his resurrection was a miracle, but cannot promise us eternal life and He is left to take His place alongside Lazarus and others who experienced life again after dying.
 
So the cross must include the resurrection and together, along with every other detail of His life, they combine to deliver the message God wants us to hear and know.  The fact of the resurrection is especially pertinent as we consider today's subject which is "The Message of Victory".
 
Listen to what we read in
 
1 Corinthians 15:54-58
 
 
 
It is significant that the greatest day of celebration for Christians is a day that celebrates His victory over death.  In fact, the great irony of the Christian faith is that Christ died and through His death, He promises eternal life to His followers.
 
That is important because in every living soul that comes into this world, there is a little built-in time fuse.  When we're born, it's lit, and it begins to burn. And some burn fast and some burn slow, but all burn. And every birth signals the beginning of a countdown, and every countdown zeroes on an exit. Some of those countdowns are long and some are short, but eventually, they all reach zero.
 
We don't like to think about it and we try every way we can to avoid it, but the cold, hard fact is that life is just a process of dying, and if ever there was a message dying man needs to hear, it is the possibility of having victory over death.
 
We need to know if there is any possibility of escaping death.  Is death the final end of life and that is all there is? Has anyone ever conquered death? Is there any victory over death?
 
The answer to those questions is found in the  resurrection of Jesus Christ and the good news is somebody did have power over death.  In fact, in Revelation 1:18, Jesus Christ said, "I am He that was dead and am alive forever more." So Somebody has beaten death. Somebody has gone into the grave and out the other side.
 
Now that raises a second question, "Since Jesus beat death, is there any way for me to do it also?
The answer is yes. That is the message of victory that is delivered from the cross through the empty tomb.  Jesus said in John 14:19, "Because I live, you shall live also." Somebody beat death, and that somebody made it possible for me to beat it, and to escape into an eternal, glorious life with Him.
 
Jesus Christ turned death, the ultimate tragedy, into the ultimate triumph. And for anyone who knows and loves Jesus Christ and accepts His death and resurrection, for themselves, that same triumph belongs to them.
 
That means Christians needn't fear death.  Death, for the Christian, is simply an escape into the presence of Jesus Christ.  And the greatest possible joy we could ever imagine is to be in the presence of the Savior Who gave His life for us.
 
This is the thought that Paul expands in 1 Corinthians 15:54 to 58. Now in this passage, Paul steps away from what we typically expect when he writes.  Usually, Paul is the epitome of logic. He writes in a very predictable fashion and presents his arguments with precision and accuracy.
 
But that is not what we find in this text.  All of a sudden, Paul seems to grow extremely emotional and what we would normally expect is suddenly full of poetry and rhetoric as he begins to write about the victory that he has over death.
 
Now, to be fair, for the first 53 verses of this chapter, he has been majoring on the resurrection and writing with doctrinal truth and explanation.  In fact, he majors on the resurrection from the dead through two primary points.
First he deals with Christ's resurrection and then he deals with our resurrection.  For instance, notice what he says about the resurrection of Christ in
 
I Corinthians 15:3
 
Paul says, "Christ rose."
 
verse 20
 
Same theme. All through this chapter, he's concerned with the resurrection of Christ.  Then, he switches to the resurrection of those who belong to Christ, those who know and love Christ.
 
verse 23
 
So now he's talking about the resurrection of those of us who belong to Christ, and by the way, it's going to be some resurrection. Look at
 
verse 42
 
This is the transfer between death and life. And there is an amazing transformation awaiting us.  So the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the one who is in Christ and belongs to Christ are Paul's themes in this chapter. It is a very precise, orderly, structured presentation following those two point. 
 
But then, at the end of the chapter, he stops his logical process and just begins to praise God for resurrection, not just of Christ, but also of us who are Christ's.  And there is really where I want to focus you attention for the next few moments by seeing four aspects of Paul's praise.
 
First of all, notice
 
1.  The Great Transformation
 
that takes place in the life of a human being who knows Christ.
 
Verse 54
 
Paul says, "There is coming a transformation." We're going to be changed. Something's going to happen to redo us. As we've been learning and as we know, because of sin, our natural condition is corrupt and mortal. We're susceptible to disease. We're susceptible to injury. We're susceptible to death.
 
In fact, we are not just susceptible, it is inevitable. We are victims of our mortality.  We are involved in this process of decay. We are victims of deterioration.  And you know it and I know it.
 
And the older you get, the more obvious and ominous it becomes. In fact, every day I find something else that is deteriorating.  We get more wrinkles, more gray hairs, more body parts that don't do what they were designed to do and more things doing what they weren't designed to do.
 
And even though, just as I'm doing right now, we make light of it, and kid about it, and we say, "Life begins at 40," and a lot of other lies like that, it is a serious condition because we are in the process of dying.
 
But Paul says, "That's okay. Doesn't matter, because there's going to be a transformation take place. One of these days, you're going to become incorruptible.
That means there is no more decay, no more dying.
You're going to become immortal.  And, of course, Revelation 21 reminds us when that happens, there will be no more death or dying or decay.  No more sorrow, no more pain, no more sickness, no more death.
 
That's the great transformation. God is going to take this corruptible me, this mortal me, and reverse it and make me something that I never was because I belong to Christ.  Because I am His, incorruption and immortality shall be mine.
 
Now, before we leave this point, I want you to look at two words in this verse. Very often when we study the Bible, we look at the big, long words and the big, significant names, and we think about those things as the important things.
 
But this verse is keyed on two tiny, little adverbs. Notice the words "when" and "then".  Paul says, "When this corruptible has put on incorruption, and when, implied, this mortal has put on immortality, "then", following that, death will be defeated.
 
So what the "when" tells me is that hasn't happened yet. I'm waiting for something in the future. When I become incorruptible means I'm not yet, needless to say. When I become immortal, but I'm not yet.
So the "when" is very important because that tells
me that my resurrection is a future event.
 
Now the only window Scripture provides for us to view what resurrection is like is the resurrection of Jesus.  After the crucifixion, they took o the body of Jesus and sealed it in a tomb.  Three days and nights passed, and He resurrected. 
And when He came out of the grave, He had a different kind of body.  In many ways, He looked the same.  He had hands and legs and arms and all of the things that make up a human body.  He also had nail prints in His hand.  We know He prepared and ate food with His followers.
 
All of that is fairly normal activity for a human.  But then things got weird.  One day, He walked through a wall and into the room where the disciples were gathered. That is not normal human activity.  Then, when He got ready to leave the earth, He just left. Floated right off the ground and up into the clouds and disappeared.
 
How? That's what a glorified body can do.  And when Christ rose from the grave, He got a glorified body. And when you and I rise, we'll get one also.  That's what verse 54 is talking about. 
 
One of these days, this corruptible body will put on incorruption and this mortal will put on immortality. And everything that Jesus got in His resurrection, you and I will get at ours. 
 
So when does that happen?  When do I rise?
 
verse 51
 
What that means is when it happens, there will be some Christians alive on the earth and there will be some bodies of Christians in their graves, but we will all be changed."
 
And notice how it happens.
 
verse 52
It all happens instantaneously when Christ returns to take the church to heaven.  The theological word for that is "the Rapture".  All those Christians that have died, their bodies are going to be resurrected. Their spirit is already with the Lord and in that moment of Rapture there will be a reuniting of Spirit and body as the body rises and the spirit arrives with Christ.
 
And as soon as they are up and out of the way, those who are alive on the earth will immediately join them to meet the Lord in the air.
 
Some say, "Well wait a minute.  What about those that were cremated or lost at sea or burned beyond recognition or blown apart by a bomb?  And how are those that are buried going to get out of the grave and through the dirt?"
 
By the way, funeral directors tell me they are now stacking bodies in graves.  So what if somebody who's not saved gets buried on top of you? 
 
That's no problem. Don't worry about it!  If Christ's glorified body went through a wall, you'll get where you need to be!  No coffin lid and a little dirt is going to keep God from keeping His promise to you!  That's what resurrection day, that's what Easter is really all about for us.
 
Jesus Christ not only conquered death, He made a way for me to conquer it.  That's why Paul said, "This corruptible is going to become incorruptible. It's going to happen! What a transformation. What a change.  
 
 
For those who have trusted Christ, someday corruption will stop and a new body, eternal, incorruptible will be ours, and no more dying, and no more sickness and no more pain.  And then, now watch that second word, "then"  death will be swallowed up in victory.  Not now, not yet, but then. 
 
In the meantime, death still has a sting.  Most all of us have felt that sting.   Death still hurts. But someday it won't. Someday death will die and that will be the hour when death ends.
 
I want you to think about something.  I don't know if Jesus feared dying or not.  He was fully human, tempted like we are, so there is a possibility that He had some kind of fear or dread when it came to dying.
 
But any fear or threat that Jesus had regarding death ended when He resurrected.  That why Paul said in Romans 6, "Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more." Why? Because death has no more dominion over Him.
 
Now, the Bible says, "The wages of sin is death."  So how many times can a man die?  Only once.  It is appointed unto men once to die. That's all. So once you die, if you come back to life, it's death's tough luck.  And that's what Christ did. He died, He went into the grave and came out the other side.
 
Now watch this:  Someday our bodies are going to die also.  But as a child of God, death can't hold my body because Jesus has more power than death.  He overcame it.  And when He comes back, He's going to remove the power of death from my body and resurrect a glorified body to be with Him forever.
That's what we're reading there in verse 54.  Death is swallowed up in victory.  There will be no more death or dying.  As Paul says here in chapter 15, "Death is the final enemy to be destroyed."
 
So we wait for that day. It already happened for Christ. He'll never die again. We're waiting for the time when our physical body dies and we are raised to glorification. Then, and only then, will the full meaning of the statement, "Death is swallowed up in victory," have significance.
 
Someday the sting and the power of death are going to be removed, and death is going to die and all of those who are Christ's are going to liberated from death in glorified bodies. That is the great transformation that is awaiting those who are saved.  
 
Secondly, look at
 
2.  The Great Triumph
 
verses 55-56
 
Now we understand what Paul is writing about is off in the future somewhere.  He does to. He's just written about that.  But in these verse he just kind of looks off into the future and writes about what we are anticipating. 
 
And as he writes, he just begins to rejoice in the fact that death is defeated and almost like a taunt, Paul begins to speak to death.  "Hey death!  You're going down! Christ beat you and made a way for me to do it. I have to wait a while, but that's all right. It's a done deal!  Hey death, where is your sting?"
 
And in glorious anticipation of the when and then, Paul cries out that the sting of death is removed, and the grave is unlocked. What a victory.
 
Now, let me give you something to ponder regarding what Paul is saying.  Paul is voicing a present confidence about a future event before the event happens. In other words, what is yours and mine in reality off out in the future somewhere is mine right now in the promise of God.
 
Do you understand that?  What I will someday inherit in reality, I can still enjoy right now by way of promise.  You may say, "So what?"  Well, think about the power that has to transform how you live. For instance, you may go to the doctor tomorrow and get a diagnosis of cancer.  And obviously, there will be an emotional response to that. 
 
But as a child of God, shouldn't we at some point steady our thinking and response by reminding ourselves that once we get a glorified body, we won't be having problems like this?  And that is true of any physical issue or problem that you may encounter whether it is your health or a family issue, a relationship problem, a financial need. 
 
Whatever it is, I can look at that problem and say, "I may have to deal with you now, but when I look off into the future and what God has promised, I have the promise of victory because death has lost its sting!
 
And then in verse 56, he says, "The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law.   
 
Now we all know that sin is what brings death and the way we understand sin is through the law.  The law defines the terms that are violated resulting in
sin.  So the law spells out sin and sin brings death. 
 
So Paul talks about the law, sin and death.  By the way, those are three enemies that want to kill us.  Did you realize that? The law wants to kill us, sin wants to kill us and death wants to kill us.
 
How so?  The law says, "Break me and you'll die." Sin says, "Commit me and you'll die." And death says, "Encounter me and you'll die." All three of those enemies want to kill us.
 
Now fortunately, as a Christian, two of my enemies have already been taken care of.  In fact, two of them have already killed me and I have resurrected. 
You say, "What are you talking about?" Watch this.
 
My first enemy is the law. The law said, "Here are God's standards.  You break those, and you die  because God is holy.  And if you don't keep God's holy law, you must die." And do you know what happened?  I didn't keep God's holy law and sure enough, I died.
 
Do you know when I died?  I died 2,000 years ago.  You see, a miracle took place!  God allowed Someone to take my place!  Just like happened when the Israelites sinned against God and they would take a lamb and make a sacrifice to God and God would be appeased through the blood of the sacrifice, Jesus got between God and me and shed His blood on my behalf and God let His death represent me.  
 
So as far as the law is concerned, I've already died and it's the law's tough luck that I rose from the dead. By the way, that's why Paul says in Romans 6:14, "For sin shall not have dominion over you. You are not under law, but under grace."   I have already paid what the law required. I died in Christ.
 
The second enemy is sin. Sin says, "I demand death." I say, "Okay!"  One day, I came to understand that the wages of sin is death and I admitted that I was a sinner.  But wonder of wonders, another miracle took place and when I confessed my sin, God forgave me of my sin. The same miracle that dealt with God's anger and justice also extended his grace and forgiveness. 
 
So the law said, "You have to die", and I did, then sin said, "You have to die" and I did when I died in Christ. That took care of two of my enemies.  I've only got one enemy to go, and that's death itself.
 
And someday I'm going to die to death.  Even if I die and death appears to win, it won't be long before I'm coming right back out of that grave. In fact, it's only an old worn out body that will be there anyway!
 
So if I die soon, don't make a lot of fuss about it.  Take a few minutes to thank God for His faithfulness and celebrate His grace and forgiveness and just know I'll be floating around in Heaven, loving every second of it, waiting for my body to reconnect. 
 
Listen, as born again believers, we've only got one remaining enemy and that enemy is a defeated enemy.  Christ defeated him at the cross and in the grave and one day, death will be destroyed. 
 
The great transformation,, the great triumph.  Next notice
 
3.  The Great Thanksgiving
 
verse 57
 
Here is the crescendo of Paul's praise. He's just rejoicing in God's power and goodness.   Paul understood he was victorious over death, but he also understood Who made it possible.
 
It was God who gave the victory and used Christ to make it happen.  God worked through Christ. That's what Paul is saying.  The source and author of the victory is God, and no power but God's power could defeat the mighty death. The victory came through Christ.   
 
These three enemies of life all fall at the feet of Jesus.  He satisfies the demands of the law.  As Paul wrote to the Galatians, "He has redeemed us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us."
 
He Who knew no sin became sin for us." Christ  paid the penalty of sin in death.  And He took care of death when He went into the grave and came out the other side. So in every case, it is true what verse 57 says, look at it again. "God gave us the victory through Christ."
 
Christ took care of the law, Christ took care of sin, and Christ took care of death. And, consequently, Paul says, "Thanks be to God."
 
So why should we fear death? Christ has conquered death. What is death to the Christian? It's nothing but a going to be with Jesus Christ.
 
Bishop Bergeroff from Norway was once asked, "What is death like for the Christian?" And this is what he said:  "Once there was a peasant who had a little son, and he took his little son by the hand one day, and he said, "Son, I want you to come with me on a journey to another village. I have some business to take care of." So, off they went.
As they traveled, they came to a deep stream that was running very rapidly.  An old rickety old bridge crossed that stream, but it didn't look like it would hold them. And it was rather insecure, and parts of it were broken out. And the little boy became very afraid, and he said, "Dad, we'll never make it across, because the bridge won't hold us." His dad said, "Don't worry, I'll hold your hand, and we'll be careful, and we'll make it.
 
"So he took he little fellow's hand and they were able to safely cross the bridge.  They got to the other side, went to the village and finished their business. On the way home, it became dark, and the little boy began to remember the bridge and the stream. And with tears in his eyes, he looked up to his dad, and he said, "Dad, I know we won't make it. It's dark, and we can't see." And his dad, without saying a word, reached down and picked him up in his arms and, in a matter of seconds, the little boy was sound asleep in his dad's arms.
 
The next thing he knew, the little boy woke up, and he was lying in his own bed in his own room in his own house, and the sunlight was breaking through the window. He was home.
 
Now Bishop Bergeroff said, "You see, that's what death is. What you fear the most, you don't even experience. One day you fall asleep in the arms of Jesus, wake up, and you're home."  For the Christian, that is our hope. No wonder Paul says, "Thanks be to God!"
 
One final thing I want you to see in this text and that is
 
4.  The Great Therefore
 
verse 58
 
It's interesting that the Bible never stops with just being doctrinal. It's always practical. God never lets us by without a "therefore". So true to form, Paul teaches and rejoices in the teaching and then says, "Now, here's what you need to do with this."
 
And in essence, he says, "You know Jesus Christ is coming back. You know He's won the victory.  You know He's going to give you a glorified body. Now I want you to know everything you do for Him is going to be rewarded.  Your labor is not in vain in the Lord."  Simply put, that means it pays to serve Jesus. 
 
Now, while it's good to know that and enjoy all the blessings and promises, it also means that knowing what we know ought to change the way we live. Living in the knowledge of the resurrection, knowing what  you're going to be in Jesus Christ someday ought to change how you live right now.
 
In particular, he says,
- be steadfast
 
That means to sit tight.  It is this inner quality that speaks of being seated.  Did you ever notice that there are a lot of people wandering around in life?  Do you know why that is?  They haven't found a seat yet!  Eventually, they will find something they think they can trust and they'll be seated.  But for now, they are still looking. 
 
But Paul says you and I can be steadfast.  We know the truth.  Jesus has come to live and dwell within us.  We have the promise of a new life with a glorified body.  Now sit down on that truth and be steadfast.  You and I don't have to constantly be searching for additional truth.  We don't have to spend our days wandering around.  Sit down.  And if anybody come along and tries to get you up, be
 
- Immovable
 
Don't let anybody take you out of your seat or shake you from what you know to be the truth of God's word.  The devil always has somebody out there with a new truth or a new way of doing things.  They've got new insights and revelation.  They are trying to get you out of your seat. 
 
But Paul says, because of what you know about the resurrection and the victory Christ has gained over death, sit down and don't move.  And when you do that, you will find yourself  
 
- always abounding in the work of the Lord
 
That means you're super-abounding, doing way more than you ought to do by all human standards. And you don't have to worry about your time being wasted. You will never waste one second of time if you spend it serving Jesus.  Now let me show you something interesting from these verses. 
 
The order that we find here is important in that being steadfast and immoveable comes before you can abound in the work of the Lord.  You cannot take a seat on the truth of God's Word, become a steadfast follower of Jesus Christ and do nothing. A lot of folk try to do that, but it doesn't work.
 
However, rest must come before activity.  And once we learn to rest in Christ and His finished work on the cross, then we can be productive in serving Him.
First comes steadfastness, then we abound. 
 
Listen:  as Bible believers and followers, we know something that nobody else knows!  That's rather frightening isn't it? As Christians, you and I are much smarter than most other people in the world.
 
We know something!  And we can be steadfast and immoveable and be abounding in the work of the Lord because of what we know! So what is it?
We know that our labor is not in vain in the Lord. Whatever you do for Jesus, under His Lordship, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, is not in vain. 
That means it is not foolish or empty.  It is no useless.
 
Do you ever feel foolish?  Other people are using their money to collect toys and trinkets and you're giving yours to the Lord?  Isn't that foolish? Others are out partying and drinking and having a good time and you're guarding your testimony and doing right.  Isn't that foolish?
Your buddies are out hitting on anything that walks by in a skirt and your home honoring your wedding vows and taking care of your wife and kids.  They think you're foolish.
 
But Paul says, "Be steadfast and immoveable!  Why?  Because you know something!  They can laugh and ridicule and mock you if they want.  They can tell you you're wasting your money and living like a fool.  But we know something!  We know, in simple Southern Oklahoma vernacular, that it pays to serve Jesus.   Whatever we do for Jesus is not in vain. 
 
I heard about a little boy who had a little league baseball game one Saturday afternoon.  His dad was late arriving and when he got to the field, he found out his boy's team was behind about 15-0.
 
He went down to the dugout, found his boy and said, "Son I'm sorry I was late."  It's all right dad, it's a great game!"  "Son, I'm sorry about the way things are going."  "It's all right dad, it's a great game!"  Son, you're behind 15-0.  How can you say it's a great game?  We've haven't got our turn at bat yet!
 
There are times when the devil will approach you and say, "Are you still serving Jesus?  How's that working out for you?  You're friends are out having a good time, they've got more money than you and they're living the dream!  It really pays to serve Jesus, huh?"
 
But upon the authority of the Word of God, you can say to him, "It's okay, devil.  We've not got our turn at bat yet!"
 
You can remind him that one of these days, there is a trumpet that will sound, a shout will be heard, and we will shout as we rise through the heavens,
 
verse 55-56
 
Today, the bloody cross and the empty tomb deliver a message of victory to those who have placed their trust in Jesus.  If you've not yet done that, respond today.
 
Let's pray.
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