Pastor Gary Wong November 22, 2020
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came by a man, the resurrection of the dead also is going to come by a man. 22 For as in Adam they all die, so also in Christ they all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ as the firstfruits and then Christ’s people, at his coming. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has done away with every other ruler and every other authority and power. 25 For he must reign “until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” 26 Death is the last enemy to be done away with. 27 Certainly, “he has put all things in subjection under his feet.” Now when it says that all things have been put in subjection, obviously that does not include the one who subjected all things to him. 28 But when all things have been subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who subjected all things to him, in order that God may be all in all.
I am small. Now, I don’t notice how small I am when I’m around my wife or Kindergarten-aged children. However, the fact that I am really short became obvious to everyone when I stood next to Wilt Chamberlain, the Hall of Fame center for the LA Lakers. “Wilt the Stilt” was over two feet taller than I am! Yes, standing next to Chamberlain reminded me of how small I am; but when I think about how vast our universe is and the fact that I am only one person among seven and a half billion people, I start to think about how insignificant one person might be in the grand scheme of things. A person can live his entire life, die, and only a handful of people might know that he ever existed. What impact can one man have on this world? What difference can he make?
Today’s lesson answers those questions. In his first letter to the Christians in Corinth, the Apostle Paul identifies two men who have had an incalculable impact on mankind. The first man is Adam, who literally was the first man to walk on the face of this earth. The Bible tells us that Adam was created in God’s image. Adam and Eve were blessed with a perfect knowledge of God’s will, and the perfect ability and desire to carry out his will. That perfection would have been handed down to their children had they remained perfect. Unfortunately, they did not. Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command by eating the forbidden fruit. So, rather than passing down perfection, Adam passed down a sinful nature that puts everyone on the wrong side of God. By nature, we fight God at every turn. Sadly, it’s a war that we cannot win. Adam brought sin into this world. Sin makes our lives miserable; but sin’s worst consequence is death. While we can blame Adam all we want, the facts are that we were sinful at birth, and with the sins we commit every day, we add to the debt we owe God. Paul summarizes the impact of Adam’s sin on all mankind this way: “just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
Friends, this is horrible news. Because we are sinners, we were all under the curse of death. What’s more, there is nothing that we could do to remove that curse. The only one who could is God. The question is would God do that? Please understand. God was under no obligation to help us. After a lifetime of toil and tears, God could have simply let us suffer the punishment we deserve. Fortunately, God did not leave us to our own devices. God stepped in and changed the course of human history. Consider the wisdom and love that God put into his plan of salvation. One man, Adam, brought sin and death into this world. So, God had another man come into the world who would be able to undo the damage that Adam had done. Now, it couldn’t be just any man. This man would have to be someone who could keep God’s law perfectly. An additional requirement would be that his death would be a sufficient payment for the sins of every human being who has ever lived, is living, or will ever live.
Who on earth can meet those requirements? The answer, of course, is no one. There is no human being who can save himself or anyone else from death and eternal damnation. Knowing that, God sent his own Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior. Jesus was and is fully human, having been born from the virgin Mary. But here’s the difference: Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the holy Son of God. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that in Jesus, “we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Where you and I fail miserably, Jesus succeeded spectacularly. As our Substitute, Jesus kept the law perfectly and then credited his righteousness to our accounts. The other miraculous thing that Jesus did was take the sins of the world upon himself. As our Substitute, Jesus died the death we deserve. In second Corinthians, Paul describes God’s underserved love for sinners this way: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). What amazing love! After Jesus suffered and died for our sins, God raised Jesus from the dead. God’s promise is that all who believe that Jesus is their Savior will not perish, but have eternal life. At the end of this appropriately called Resurrection Chapter of the Bible, Paul breaks out into a doxology of praise: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. ‘Where O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ 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” (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
What a difference Jesus makes! Jesus makes all the difference in the world. I’m not exaggerating when I say that one man, Adam, wrecked the lives of every human being. Because of Adam, we were facing certain death and everlasting pain and suffering in hell. But through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus fixed what Adam had wrecked. Through faith in Christ, we have the sure and certain hope that when we die, we will leave this earth and enjoy a perfect, joy filled life in heaven. Paul sums up what Jesus has done this way: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21, 22).
The good news of Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope. Because of Jesus, we have a bright future ahead of us. We will live perfect lives in heaven. But what about our lives here on earth? Are they perfect? Far from it. While the majority of us can and should say that our lives are being richly blessed by God, we often find things to complain about or things that fill our hearts with worry. Some people are dealing with health issues. We go to the doctor and he tells us that the chronic cough that won’t go away is cancer. Others find themselves in a squeeze between too many bills and not enough money with which to pay them. Everyone is dealing with the effects of the coronavirus. Sometimes our problems just pile up, one on top of the other, until we feel overwhelmed. And as hard as we try, there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. Then the light of the gospel goes on in our hearts. We remember that Jesus has fixed our biggest problem. He has taken away our sins. Jesus has conquered death and has given us eternal life.
Jesus has finished his work of salvation on earth and has ascended into heaven where he is sitting at the right hand of his Father. So, what is Jesus doing there? The Bible tells us that Jesus, the King of kings, is sitting on his heavenly throne and ruling over all things on our behalf. In our text, Paul tells us that God “has placed all things under [Jesus’] feet” (1 Cor. 15:27a). So, what does it mean that “everything is under his feet”? In quoting Psalm 8, Paul is describing the picture of a Roman soldier who has defeated his enemy in one on one combat. That vanquished enemy, lying on the ground with the victorious soldier’s foot on his neck, is completely at the mercy of the victor. That victorious soldier is none other than Jesus. Jesus has won the victory over sin, death, and the devil. He has triumphantly risen from the grave and has ascended to his heavenly throne.
So, the question we might ask is since Jesus has conquered our greatest enemy and is ruling over all things, why are our lives sometimes filled with troubles? To answer that question, we need to remember a few key points. First, God never promised that we would live trouble free lives on this earth. Paul reminds us that “we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). However, Paul also assures us that one day we will enter God’s heavenly kingdom. God’s Word assures us that, one day, all believers will be raised from the dead. When Jesus returns on the Last Day, the glorified bodies of believers will be reunited with their souls and they will rise up with Jesus to live in heaven forever. How can we be sure of that? In the first verse of our text, Paul declares, “Christ … has been raised from the dead.” Paul also tells us that Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).
In other words, in God’s perfect plan of salvation, Jesus was the first one to be raised from the dead. His resurrection guarantees that all who believe in Jesus will also rise. When will that day come? The end will come when the very last soul whom God has chosen from eternity to be saved has come to faith. Then, as Paul says, Jesus will completely destroy all earthly dominion, authority and power. He will then hand over the kingdom to his heavenly Father. Jesus will bring all of us to the heavenly kingdom prepared for us before the beginning of the world.
As we wait for Jesus’ return, we still have to fight our Old Adam, the devil, and the temptations of this sinful world. At times, we can feel small, insignificant, and overwhelmed. But we are not alone in our fight. Jesus promises to be with us every step of the way. He gives us his Word and his sacraments to strengthen our faith and to guide us on the path of righteousness. Without Jesus, we had no hope. With him, we are more than conquerors. Jesus makes a world of difference in our lives. Rather than living for ourselves, we now live for Christ. We can make an impact on those people whom God has placed in our lives. We can let our lights shine as Christian spouses, parents, children, coworkers, neighbors and friends. We can share the gospel with those who don’t know that Jesus is their Savior. All honor, glory and praise to Jesus—the King of kings and the Lord of lords—who makes all the difference in the world! Amen.
“Crown Him with Many Crowns” (CW 341)
Crown him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon his throne;
Hark how the heav’nly anthem drowns
All music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing
Of him who died for thee,
And hail him as the matchless King
Through all eternity.
Crown him the Lord of love—
Behold his hands and side,
Rich wounds, yet visible above,
In beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But down-ward bends his wond’ring eye
At mysteries so bright.
Crown him the Lord of life,
Who triumphed o’er the grave
And rose victorious in the strife
For those he came to save.
His glories now we sing
Who died and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring
And lives that death may die.
Crown him the Lord of heav’n,
Enthroned in worlds above;
Crown him the King to whom is giv’n
The wondrous name of Love.
Crown him with many crowns
As thrones before him fall;
Crown him, ye kings, with many crowns
For he is King of all.