This is the Easter Gospel that we have heard for many, many years. And we have to still ask ourselves what we make out of it. It is so glorious that death has been conquered!
We turn to St. Paul who tells us the benefits we get from Easter. “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (I Corinthians 15:1-2).
Paul is telling us that our whole salvation is contained in this gospel. We still have it; it’s still ours. We know the power and glory of a Savior who walks with us and takes us into heaven. But if we’ve left it, our faith is in vain.
So he wants to lay the matter on the line with us today on this Easter Sunday. We can celebrate Easter all we want, but if we have denied the resurrection Ð if the risen Lord does not live in our hearts Ð then there is no glorious note of this day and it’s just another day. But we take the positive Ð it is true. Jesus Christ comes to us with this one great blessing Ð our salvation.
As we look over our many blessings, we are hard-pressed to find anything that means more to us than the message of the resurrection. Stop and think of the funerals we have attended. It is very sad when we lose a loved one. I think of some of the young lives that have been blotted out Ð young children and youth killed in accidents.
Perhaps this past year you had to say goodbye to a beloved parent who had grown to be quite old. You had to make arrangements Ð purchase a nice casket, meet with the funeral director, hold a viewing the day before, and arrange the funeral. Your friends and relatives came, and it was good to be together. But when the lid was closed on the casket, was it the end? If you do not believe in the resurrection, then you believe that it was.
Yet, according to Paul, our salvation comes only through the Gospel. He received it from the Holy Spirit and passed it on to us. (It is verbalized quite well in the Apostle’s Creed.) Paul tells us, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve” (I Cor. 15:3-5).
Yes, Jesus appeared. And Paul says that Jesus also appeared to him, although Paul wasn’t one of the Twelve. Jesus appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road, when Paul was going to bring some Christians back to Jerusalem to kill them, and He said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Then the Lord sent Saul (Paul) off into Damascus, and then to Arabia where he learned more from other Christians and occasionally had a direct revelation from the Lord Jesus himself.
This is not a made-up message. This message has come through revelation, and far be it from any person Ð no matter how educated the mind may be Ð to say it was all right for another day, but we don’t believe it today. For if that is your belief, then you either have a made-up story of your own, which carries no background whatsoever, or you believe that the funeral is the end of it all. If the funeral is the end of it all, then we’d better do something to really make this life much better than it is. And so we live that type of life.
However, that isn’t the way it is, friend. It isn’t the way it is at all, for Christ has been raised from the dead, and we, too, will be raised if we trust in him.
In the closing part of I Corinthians 15, Paul says, “Where, O death, is your victory. Where, O death is your sting?” Death has no victory for “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Stand firm, even in a day when it is sometimes very difficult. Stand firm! For you are standing on the fact that Christ died for your sins, and they will be forgiven when you repent. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and that glorious victory can be yours.
This leads us to the part that makes Easter either really meaningful or just another holiday where some of your friends and relatives have gathered.
Perhaps you come from a family where Easter was celebrated as a glorious day in your home. You wore some new clothing and celebrated the fact that Jesus came forth from the grave in a very real way.
I remember that, during my childhood, my father would occasionally drive through the cemetery on Easter Sunday afternoon. We envisioned the day when, because Christ died for our sins, he would return. And so I have been blessed with that knowledge and have never been without the faith of knowing that Jesus Christ lives.
I am very fortunate, and I know many of you also had God-fearing parents who were true to the Scriptures. You heard the message from them and from others that death is not the end. “O death, where is your sting. O grave, where is your victory?”
Others of you may have a different story. You may be saying, “Easter in our house was a glorious day when our family gathered. However, I cast all this aside in my late teens and early 20s. I thought it was a lot of foolishness. But then a terrible trauma occurred in my life, and I began to see that everything I trusted was right here on this earth Ð what I could acquire, the material. I needed something more, something eternal. No longer did I want to say, ÔI hope there is something more.’ I am sick and tired of hope, and I want to know!
“So I came back to the faith. I now know that I have a resurrected Savior. I received him back. I was so excited to tell my parents, for they have sorrowed over me all these years because I didn’t have the joy of salvation, and I wasn’t going to heaven. I still remember the day I said to my loved ones, ÔI’m back. And I will never leave him again, because I know he will never leave me. He never left me when I rebelled, and he is still with me now. I am back with him.'”
Perhaps you were not raised in a Christian home. You never knew what it was to believe in a life after death. Here it is, another Easter day, and you have an opportunity to accept what God has given you in his Word. Paul said, “I delivered to you what I received.” Paul received it from God, he gave it to others, and it has been passed on so we have it here today.
My beloved, on this Easter Sunday, if you confess your sin and trust the resurrected Lord, then all will be well and you can stand firm in this great truth that Jesus Christ is alive. No longer need you fear. No longer must you move about believing this life is all there is. You can be very concerned about all the bad news happening in our world today. Yet, beyond that is the Good News that on the first day of the week Jesus Christ came forth from that beautiful tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, and the angels sang “Hosanna in the highest!” And you sing, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”
Leave it there friend, and God will give you the peace that passes all understanding and the peace of knowing that you are not roaming through this world alone. You will not face eternity alone, for Lord Jesus Christ is with you.