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The Last Enemy

March 31 2024

Series: Easter 2024

If we are going to celebrate Easter today, and I mean really celebrate Easter the way it is meant to be celebrated – with every cell in our bodies crying out with joy to the Father – then first, we’re going to have to talk about death.

I miss Andy Winberry and Debbie Simpson. I miss Roletha Williams and Michael Ford.

I miss my grandmother. I miss her a lot. She died two years ago at the age of 95. By our standards, that’s a long life. But death is evil. We try to make the best of the situation, but it’s just wrong. People are not supposed to die.

20 years ago, a band named Death Cab for Cutie released a song called “What Sarah Said”. The song is about sitting in an ICU waiting room while someone you love dies. And we don’t really want to be there. The grief. The anxiety. The pain. We don’t like facing death.

But the song ends with these words, and they hit me like a truck when I first heard them: “Love is watching someone die… So, who’s gonna watch you die?”

My grandmother loved and served her family selflessly her entire life. She knew how to make us feel special. And I wanted to be there for her when she died.

I got the call on a Sunday afternoon that she and my Aunt Tommie were both close to death. Tommie was 97. They were sisters, both widows, and they lived together. I made it to Grenada just in time to watch my aunt die.

And I was determined to sit with my grandmother – to be there for her, to hold her hand, to sing hymns, to tell her she is loved. For four days, I sat there waiting– barely sleeping. On the fourth day, I had to leave to go to my aunt’s funeral. And just as the graveside service ended, we got a call from the sitter that my grandmother had passed.

I was heartbroken that I wasn’t there with her. And yet, it was clearly the Lord’s will to take her in that moment. I felt the cruelty of death – that even at 95, it’s evil. It’s wrong. It’s not natural. And we never get used to it.

And that’s where we have to begin if we want to celebrate Easter the right way.

I want us to consider the argument from 1 Corinthians 15, beginning in verse 12.

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 

There were apparently some Christians denying the hope of the resurrection. And even though we would say we believe in a resurrection, practically speaking – I’m not sure how much that belief really affects our daily life. Paul continues:

13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 

14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 

In other words, there is no point to this! We are wasting our time if we don’t believe in the resurrection. Last Wednesday, at family night, we talked about the decline of the mainline churches. It’s not complicated. They don’t really believe the Bible anymore. So what’s the point? Potlucks and bingo night? There are better social clubs out there. It’s a waste of time.

15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 

16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins. 

Without the real bodily resurrection of Jesus, there is absolutely no point to Christianity. None! If there is a problem in this world, Jesus didn’t solve it. If the resurrection didn’t happen, then Christianity is gutted of any relevance.

And this next verse delivers the knockout punch.

18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 

Without a resurrection, death is final. It’s the end. Our loved ones are gone…

19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

What’s the point? No one even expects you to come to church anymore. And if you keep coming, but you don’t really believe in the resurrection – this really is a waste of your time. Go fishing. Play soccer. Enjoy a nice brunch.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were expected to bring God the first yield from their harvest. It was a way to thank God for the harvest and it demonstrated that they trusted God to provide. It was a representative portion of the entire harvest.

In the same way, Paul says that the resurrection of Jesus was a kind of firstfruits – proof that God would provide resurrection for all His people!

21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 

22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 

23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 

He’s explaining here the redemptive, historical theology of the resurrection. We die because of Adam. The first human sinned and brought death into the world. Death is not natural. Humans were not created to die.

If you don’t believe me, look up the science of death. We think aging is natural because it happens to everyone, but there is no law in biology that explains the aging process. We actually have genetic mechanisms that are capable of regulating and repairing our aging cells indefinitely. At some point, these mechanisms start to malfunction in every single human and there is no scientific explanation – not even a solid theory. Google it!

But the Bible explains it… We die because we sin. Underneath the physical death we all experience is a form of spiritual death. If Adam had never broken covenant with God, then he would never have died. He rejected the authority of God’s Word, making a choice that severed his life-giving connection with the Creator.

And I believe this is the best explanation for what we experience. It explains why death feels so wrong. It’s not the way things are supposed to be.

The Bible’s explanation also tells us something important about God. He means what He says. God said we would die if we sinned, and He meant it. Not trusting God led to death – and it still does.

But that’s not the end of the story. It doesn’t have to be. God made it possible for us to trust Him again and live. We will die once, but it doesn’t have to be permanent.

This is the point of Christianity – trusting that God raised Jesus from the dead! If that happened, then we have hope!

But pay close attention as we come to the end of our text.

24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 

All this business about sin and death and evil – all of it is connected to this fundamental question. It’s the question the entire universe is begging us to ask. Who’s in charge? Who has the right to decide your fate? Who has the right to tell you what to do with your life?

It’s not you. You realize that don’t you? I know every marketing campaign you’ve ever seen says otherwise, but they just want your money. The truth is that you have no control over your life. Every plan you make is a tiny prayer to your Creator. If you haven’t realized that yet, you will understand as you get older… as your body starts to fall apart. Even the powerful people of this world, the wealthy, the famous – none of them escape death.

And what is Jesus doing right now, while we all grow old and die? He is actively delivering the kingdom to God by destroying every other power.

That’s battle language. God is at war. And this is how our text ends.

25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 

26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 

Notice, Paul uses the word “destroyed” not defeated. Why? Because death is already defeated.

In ancient Rome, gladiators fought to the death in the arenas, but they waited to deliver the final blow. The crowds had the authority to pass judgment on the defeated warrior with a turn of their thumb. You’ve probably seen it movies.

This is the picture Paul gives us – King Jesus is standing over death, already helpless at his feet, and He’s waiting for the Father to give the signal. But the signal has not yet been given.

And so, we die, until the last of God’s enemies are under his feet. But that means there is still time. You don’t have to be an enemy of God. He invites you to profess faith in Christ – to trust Him again. To believe in the hope of the resurrection. To live like it’s true, no longer fearing death – because he’s an enemy on his back. The boot of King Jesus is pressing down on death. The sword is already at his neck!

If we reject Christ, the sad reality is that we will face God’s wrath along with death – as an enemy of the kingdom. When we die, we will either die a friend of Christ or an enemy.

This is why Jesus said over and over again, “Repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” He’s intentionally claiming authority over your life. But you absolutely need to count the costs. Becoming a friend of Jesus will make you an enemy to this world. And the enemy wants you suffer like a traitor until your last breath.

But today, we celebrate! Today, we mock the enemy! Death has no victory over Jesus, and it has no victory over me! It has no victory over my grandmother either because she loved Jesus. More importantly, Jesus loves her.

My grandmother was not alone when she died. Physically, she died in an empty room. But she was not alone. As Jesus stands over death, ready to strike the final blow, he also stands at the bedside of every believer – ready to receive them and lead them home at final breath.

How do I know this? Psalm 116:15 – “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” LOVE watches us die and the dead in Christ will rise!