The Last Enemy is Conquered

Easter 2013

“The last enemy to be destroyed is Death.”

Today is the Lord’s victory day. The fight is over. The battle won. Christ is risen. Death is defeated.

The victory was not won today but on Friday. At 3 PM. In the darkness, when Jesus drew in His last breath and shouted, “It is finished.” That was the end of Death’s reign. The sting of Death is Sin and the power of Sin is the Law. Jesus fulfilled the Law. Jesus absorbed the power of Sin by becoming Sin. Jesus took the sting of Death into His own flesh which is our flesh. The Law is fulfilled. Sin is judged. Death lies defeated.

Easter is not the victory. Good Friday is. Jesus’ death is the decisive victory when Death swallowed up Life and lost. But without the resurrection, the world would not know. Without the resurrection, the victory remains hidden. Without the resurrection, we wouldn’t know Jesus from Adam. But Christ is risen, the first-fruits of the dead. He unbarred the gates, He broke the chains, He threw open the prison. The stone is rolled away. The burial clothes are folded neatly. The tomb is empty. Jesus has risen.

Every harvest has first-fruits. The first berries of spring. The first tomato of summer. The first wheat and corn. First-fruits means more to come. Jesus is the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. He’s the first of the dead to rise. But there’s more. Many more. A whole humanity more.

“As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” When Adam fell, humanity fell. When Adam sinned, humanity became a sinner. Death came into this world through one man, Adam. His death was the death of us all. His Sin is our Sin and our captivity.

This is why Christ has to come in the Flesh. This is why the Word had to become flesh to dwell among us. Humanity needed a new head. A new Adam. A second Adam who was like the first and not like the first. Like us in every way except for Sin. A sinless Adam who would do what the first Adam did not do and what we in Adam cannot do.

When Christ died, humanity died. When Christ rose, humanity rose in Him. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

The battle is won, but the war is not yet over. There are still border skirmishes, pockets of resistance, enemy soldiers lurking. We still get sick, have accidents, grow old, and we still all die. We are born of Adam, children of Adam. We are conceived and born with Adam’s inherited Sin. We are born destined to die. Birth is one hundred percent fatal. Everyone enters this world with an expiration date.

But Christ has conquered Death on behalf of fallen humanity. Christ is humanity’s new head, a humanity that is destined to rise on the Last Day. That doesn’t mean that all rise to eternal life. It does mean that all rise. Those who trust in Christ and His merits rise to eternal life. Those who trust in themselves and their works rise to eternal condemnation. But all rise. There’s no way around it. All humanity is caught up in the victory of Jesus, and no one is left behind.

What Christ has won for all, He has given to you in your Baptism. In Baptism, you have been declared by God dead to Sin but alive to God in Christ. What happened with Jesus in His death and resurrection now is made yours in Baptism. You are dead and you are alive. Dead in Adam and alive in Jesus. Jesus’ victory over Death and Sin and the Law are yours. God has granted it in His Name.

“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
You see, Jesus is not simply about “this life.” He’s not some kind of divine lucky charm who will grant you your every wish and make your life easy and happy and healthy and wealthy.

How pitiful it is when Christians talk as though Jesus was nothing more than a crutch to lean on. How pitiful it is when Christians live in cowering fear of death and the grave in full view of Jesus’ open and empty tomb. How pitiful it is when we act as though our puny hold on this life is all there is and all there ever will be. Jesus’ resurrection proves that Death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you!

Christ is risen, the first-fruits of the harvest of the resurrection!

“First-fruits” means more to come. A future, a destiny, a hope. You. Though you die, yet in Christ you live. And living and trusting in Christ, you never die forever. There is now and there is not yet. Now we live by faith in the Son of God. Now we live trusting God’s promise of life in Jesus. Now we live believing that we no longer live but Christ lives in us.

But there’s a coming Day, a great Day, a glorious Day when we will see with resurrected eyes what we must now believe and take God at His Word. The end, the Last Day, when every temporal rule and authority and power will be destroyed, when every dead will rise, and every tongue confess Lord Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father.

“He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.” Christ has enemies. The war still rages on. The devil, the world, our flesh still tempt us, causing us to doubt, to disbelieve, to wander. We forget the open, empty tomb and live in servile fear of Death. We bargain with false religions and quack cures trying to cheat Death. We live in denial, as though Death were an illusion.

The victory is won, the outcome is guaranteed, but the war rages on. It is not a war against flesh and blood. It is not a war fought by power and might. It is not a war that we fight, but one that Christ fights seated at the right hand of the Father. He is restless to put all His enemies under His foot along with the head of the serpent. And He fights that battle with the Word of His mouth and with the fiery breath of His Spirit. That’s how this war is fought. Word and Spirit. Word and Sacrament. Baptism, Body, Blood, forgiveness, holy Church, holy Ministry. That’s how the Son of God fights His war against every rule and power and authority.

At the end of World War II, there were Japanese soldiers on isolated islands in the Pacific who did not know the war was over. They were still fighting a war that had ended years before. Someone had to tell them, and it wasn’t always safe. They were at war.

That’s what you and I do in the world. We tell the people we meet that the fight over Sin and Death is over. The battle is won. That’s why we’re here today in the Lamb’s foreign embassy, to hear it again, over and over and over again.

Death is conquered! Christ is risen! The grave has lost its sting!

In the name of Jesus,
Amen

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