Tony Evans - Twice Saved
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Death was never part of God's perfect plan for you and me. Rather, death was the tragic consequence of mankind's rebellion against him. Gratefully, God provided a solution. Today we're going to look at 1 Corinthians 15, in which the Bible describes the one who died in our place. My message is titled "From Tragedy to Triumph," on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Our friend and bestselling author lee Strobel has released a brand new book entitled, "The case for heaven". And in a recent interview with "The Christian post," lee explained what the impetus for the book was. It was a rush with death he recently had that made him acutely aware of what really matters in life. He said, "So I lingered between life and death in the hospital for a while until they were able to save my life, but it was a very clarifying experience. Because when you're in that situation, nothing is more important than what really happens after we close our eyes for the last time in this world". Today we're going to cut through the syrupy sentimentality that characterizes a lot of sermons about Easter. Easter is not about spring renewal families or daffodils. Easter is the answer to life's most important question. It's the question that job first asked 4,000 years ago when he said, "If a man dies, will he live again"?
When I close my eyes for the last time here on earth do I enter into an eternity of nothingness? Or do I enter into a different existence that last eternally beyond the grave? And if there is something for me beyond the grave, how do I prepare for it right now? The best answer I know to that question is found in the passage we're going to look at today. If you have your Bibles turn to 1 Corinthians 15, as we look at how we move from tragedy to triumph. Before he talks about the victory, Paul acknowledges the democracy of death. Everybody is going to experience death. In his book "Facing death," the late Billy Graham makes a good point when he notes that many of the media accounts about tragedies are misleading. You get the idea from the media that somehow tragedies like war and pandemics, and famines and earthquakes somehow increase the death rate. They don't at all. No, the death rate is fixed. It is certain for every generation.
As George Bernard Shaw said one time, the statistics on death are quite impressive. One out of everyone dies, we're all going to die. Your said death is the death that every man must pay. You know one reason we know the Bible as God's inspired word is, it doesn't gloss over hard experiences. It tells us the truth about death. Somebody has noted that the first book of the Bible, Genesis, ends with a coffin. The first real estate transaction in the Bible was buying a plot of land to bury a loved one. Paul explained in Romans 5:12, "For through one man, Adam, death came into the world, and death spread to all people because all sinned". It doesn't say death spreads because we all sin, present tense, it's because we all sinned when Adam sinned, that's the theological reason we die.
But there's a very practical reason we must die as well that Paul explains in verse 50. He says "Now I say this brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable". Translation, your body was not designed to last forever. Katherine Hepburn, the late actress once said, "I think we're finally to a point when we've learned to see death with a sense of humor. I have to. When you're my age, it's as if you're a car. First a tire blows and you go get that fixed, and then a headlight goes out and you go get that fixed, and then one day you drive into the shop and the man frowns and says, 'sorry, miss, they don't have the parts for your model any longer".
Look at verses 51 and 52 of 1 Corinthians 15. Paul explains that need for a new body. He says, "Behold, I tell you a mystery, we will not all sleep but we shall all be changed". When he says we shall not all sleep, sleep is a euphemism in the Bible for what happens to Christians when they die. Their soul doesn't go to sleep, but their bodies go to sleep awaiting the resurrection. And Paul says we're not all going to die, there is a generation that will not die, the generation that's alive when the rapture occurs, and it could occur at any moment. But whether you die before the rapture, or you're raptured when Christ returns, you still have to be changed. We'll not all die, but we all be changed, and it will happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.
By the way, that doesn't say the blinking of an eye. It's going to be even quicker than the blinking of an eye. The twinkling of an eye is the amount of time it takes for light to enter into the iris and travel back to your retina, it's just like that. In that short of a period of time, at the last trumpet for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised and perishable, and we will all be changed. Paul describes that further in 1 Thessalonians 4 when he says at the rapture the dead in Christ shall be raised first. And then we who are alive at that time and remain shall be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. What a sight that will be when the graves are opened and the bodies of believers of ages past will be raised and will be raised. And as we're headed to heaven in a moment, in the twinkle of an eye, we receive our heaven suits that are designed for all eternity, we shall all be changed.
Why verse 53, "For this perishable must put on the imperishable and this mortal must put on immortality". There's a democracy of death. God says, we must die so that we can be prepared for eternity. But that's not all, the Bible talks about a distress of death as well. The distress, the pain, the agony of death. William Willman was the former dean of the chapel at duke university. And he said that he used to hesitate to preach about the resurrection because it seemed so improbable for sophisticated people to believe that a Jew who died 2000 years ago was crucified, would miraculously be raised from the dead. But then Willman said, "I realized that in one year alone, seven major movies all dealt with life after death. It's not that people today don't believe in immortality, they just believe the wrong thing about immortality. They believe that we are all so wonderful that we're going to just go on forever and that there'll always be some spark of you that will remain".
Now, that's not what the Bible says. The Bible says, we're all going to go on forever but it's not because we're so wonderful. There's going to be a resurrection of everyone. Some will be raised to eternal life, and some will be raised for eternal judgment. But before any of us faces eternity, there's death. And death can be agonizing and painful. Verse 54, "But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable and this mortal must have put on immortality, then we'll come out about the saying that is written, 'death is swallowed up in victory. Oh, death, where is your victory? Oh, death where is your sting"?
There's a sting, there's a pain, there's an agony of death. One of my favorite descriptions of death for a Christian comes from John Bunyan's allegory, "Pilgrim's progress". You remember two of his main characters are named hopeful and Christian. And they're on their way to the heavenly city, but first they must cross a river, the river of death. And Christian is afraid to enter into that river, afraid he will sink. But his friend hopeful is a few yards ahead of him and he says, "Be a good cheer, for I have felt the bottom, and it is good". We're not left alone in death. If we have trusted in Christ as our Savior, we have a firm foundation even in death. But there's nevertheless an agony, whether it's physical or emotional agony for those who die. There's also an agony many of you know for those who are left behind.
I imagine there are some of you right now who are thinking of a loved one who was here last Easter and is no longer here. Many of you have lost people important to you, a parent, a mate, a child, a close friend, and there's an agony that comes from that kind of loss. Rabbi Harold Kushner lost his 12 year old son to leukemia. And in talking about his son, he said, "I have not known a day in which I did not think about him, in which I did not probe the empty space his death left behind like a tongue probing a missing tooth". You understand that? You understand the agony of death.
I'll never forget an experience from many years ago. I conducted the funeral service for a young woman in our church, a young mother whose body had been ravaged by cancer. And as I stood after the service by the hearse and watched the pallbearers load her casket into that hearse, the woman's little six year old daughter was standing beside me. And she cried out, "Mommy, no, no, no. Mommy, no, no, no". That is the sting of death, the distress of death that we will all experience at some point. But thank God that's not the end of the story. Yes, there is a distress that death produces, but because of Christ Jesus, there will one day be a defeat of death. And that's how Paul finishes the defeat of death. He says, "For as in Adam all die, but in Christ all shall be made alive".
It is through Christ that we have the hope of the defeat of death. The late theologian R.C. Sproul, used to explain how some people have it all wrong when they think about why we go to heaven. Many people Sproul said, believe in justification by death. That is all you have to do is die and you're welcomed into heaven, and everybody's going to heaven. No, it's not justification by death, it's justification by faith in the grace of Jesus Christ and only those who have been justified by faith have the hope of heaven. Remember Job's question? "If a man dies, will he live again"? Job answered his own question in Job 19 when he said, "As for me, I know that my redeemer lives, and that at the last day he shall take his stand up on the earth even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh, I shall see God".
Job was looking forward to something that would happen 2000 years after his death, when the redeemer Jesus Christ would come and pay the ransom for his sin. That is our hope. It is our hope in a redeemer. Paul said the same thing in verses 56 and 57. That 1 Corinthians 15, he said, "For the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ". And one day even physical death, that buzzing of death will be swallowed up in victory. That's what Paul means in verse 54 when he says, "But when this perishable will put on the imperishable and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'death is swallowed up in victory. Oh, death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory"?
That's the future defeat of death that we look forward to. You know every time I share this truth with a family that is grieving over the loss of a loved one, they'll either ask me verbally, or they ask me by the look in their eyes. Pastor, how do you know this is true? How do you know this resurrection stuff is really going to happen? How do we know? Ladies and gentlemen, the resurrection of believers from the dead is not legend, it's not myth, it's not hopeful thinking. The resurrection is based on the promises of Jesus himself.
Just listen to what Jesus said in John 5:24, "Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but shall pass from death into life". Or John 6:40, "For this is the will of my father, that everyone who beholds the son and believes in him shall have eternal life and I myself shall raise him up in the everlasting eternity". Or John 11:25, "For I am the resurrection and the life: he who believes in me though he were dead, yet shall he live again". Or John 14, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid: you believe in God, believe in me, for in my father's house are, many mansions. If it were not so I would've told you for I go to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you unto myself that where I am there you may be also".
Ladies and gentlemen, I say it again, the resurrection is not a myth, it's not a legend, it's not hopeful thinking, it is based on the promises of Jesus Christ. And the fact that Jesus conquered death himself mean he has the power to deliver on that promise he's made to us. That is why we know this is all true. And it's because of that, Paul could say with absolute conviction in 1 Corinthians 15, "One day death will be swallowed up in victory". It's why the apostle John could say with confidence in Revelation 21:4, "For on that day God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there shall no longer be any death or mourning or crying or pain, for the first things will have passed away".
Was John saying that one day in heaven, God's going to do a memory wipe and we no longer remember the agony we experienced of losing a loved one? He's not saying that at all, but here's what he's saying. He's saying when that day comes, that we cross the river of death and we are welcomed into heaven by the Lord Jesus and by our loved ones. As we stand there with our loved ones and look back on what had happened on earth, we'll see for the first time how what appeared to be an unending tragedy was simply a prelude to a never ending triumph, and we will laugh and rejoice forever and ever and ever.
In his book, "The darkness and the Dawn," Chuck Swindall relates the story of a Norwegian fisherman and his two sons who were out on their daily fishing journey. By early evening a fierce storm arose extinguishing the light in the lighthouse, leaving the men dependent on their own guesswork to find the shore among the smothering darkness. At the same time, they were trying to find a way home. The wife and mother was back home unaware of what was happening to her family. She was preparing the evening meal when a fire broke out and totally destroyed their house. She stood outside watching her house burn to the ground, wondering how she was going to explain it to her family, and she stood on the shore awaiting her family's return.
As the man and his sons made their way onto the shore, she told them about the fire. "We've lost everything," she cried. But the father was strangely unmoved. She said, "Carl, didn't you hear me? We lost everything". He said, yes, "I heard you. But this evening we were lost at sea. We were depending on the light of the lighthouse to lead us to safety. But when the light went out, I thought we were doomed. And then we noticed a yellow light in the distance. We turned our boat around and started rowing toward the light. It grew brighter and brighter until we followed it safely to the shore. The same fire that destroyed our house created a light that saved our lives".
Ladies and gentlemen, we are in a boat in the sea of life, and that boat is sinking. All of the lights on the shore have been extinguished. There is only one light that can lead us to safety, and it is the light of the resurrected Christ. Because of the tragedy of a burning house, a family was saved. Because of the tragedy of a crucified Savior, we had a resurrected Savior, and because he has conquered death, one day, so shall we. That's the hope of Easter.