51 Look, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 But once this perishable body has put on imperishability, and this mortal body has put on immortality, then what is written will be fulfilled: Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory? 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!1 Corinthians 15:51-57
It brings a tear to my eye just to think about it! The first time it happened I was edging the lawn at my parent’s house. I think I was about 10 yeas old. We didn’t used to edge with a weed eater-but with a garden sheers. So, I’d sit on the curb and work my way down clipping the grass. Then it happened. I had this quick sting under my leg. Did I just sit on a thorn or piece of glass! When I lifted my leg out crawled the red hornet. I experienced my first sting. Wow! Did that ever hurt! And since them I’ve been stung several times, and sure enough I hurts like crazy every time I get stung. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Well, the sting of a hornet creates its own pain and suffering, but perhaps the pain and suffering we experience in our hearts due to the sting of death is worse. It sure was for Mary Magdalene! There she was sitting at the tomb visibly upset. She was there when Joseph of Arimathea (Matt 27:26; John 20:17, 18) had laid Jesus’ body in the tomb to rest in peace. That stung her heart. Now, she points to the empty tomb sobbing with confused hear that his body had been stolen, “We don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:2). That stung her heart.
You’ve probably had a heart stinging experience, too. Did someone say something mean to you and you said, “You poked my heart!” Was it a breakup in the family? Was it the news of you losing your job? Was it the “shelter in place” order and your heart got stung with loneliness? When it happens, really, all we want to do is Get the Stinger Out! Today in 1 Corinthians 15 may the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts through the inspired pen of St. Paul to
Get the Stinger Out!
From Terminal to Transitional
Do you know Mary Magdalene? We first hear of her in Luke 8. “Soon afterward Jesus was traveling from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and diseases: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out; 3 Joanna, the wife of Cuza, Herod’s household manager; Susanna; and many others who provided support for them out of their own possessions.” Mary had been following Jesus around for a while, and she was more than interested in Jesus, she was committed! She was part of the group that followed Jesus around during his ministry to support him and his disciples. She should have remembered Jesus’ telling them that he would rise again on the 3rd day. But, the sting of death is painful, and even blinding to reason. It was too much for her to bear—having Jesus’ body stolen and perhaps gone for good. Death stings! It’s terminal!
But, it’s Easter Sunday, and we who stand on the future of the 3rd day find it somewhat incredible that we are hearing about crying women and disturbed disciples. There is a part of us that feels sorry for Mary, but another part that looks at Mary and can’t help but want to ask with the angels, “Woman! Why are you crying?” (John 20:13,15). Mary, Jesus spoke so clearly about rising on the 3rd day. You should have known better after seeing Jesus raise Jairus’ daughter, the Youth of Nain, and just two weeks ago, even Lazarus from the dead! Mary, is your heart so stung because you’re so much like me?
And maybe your heart, too? How can it be that Jesus speaks so clearly about the power of prayer as we recall his promises and he commands us to pray to him with confidence based on those promises, but our prayer life is stung with inconsistency, and the prayers we’ve memorized we can pray without even thinking! How can it be that Jesus speaks so clearly about trusting in him during times of trouble, but we so quickly give ways to the sting of fear? How can it be that Jesus speaks so clearly about forgiveness for all our sins, but we insist on taking care of our own guilty by stinging ourselves with punishment? How can it be that Jesus speaks so clearly about the cost of discipleship, but we’re surprised when we’re stung with discomfort or inconvenience for being a Christian. Yes, we are stung just like Mary because we forget, doubt, and our tears blind us to the heavenly truth. It’s Time To Get The Stinger Out!
But, it’s Easter Sunday and we woke up this morning ready to clink the Mimosa Glasses with Jesus on the exalted victory stand and bask in the glory! Instead, the Bible shows us the resurrected and glorified Jesus on the ground-level with concern for his fickle followers. They are full of forgetfulness and stung with fear. Jesus comes with the solution. Jesus’ resurrection transitioned him from humiliation to exaltation, but his exaltation has not changed his heart of love. Jesus comes to them to Get the Stinger Out! Here’s how he did it. Paul explains: “3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. 6 After that he appeared to over five hundred brothers at the same time, most of whom are still alive, but some have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:3-6). Christ Jesus, through his death, paid the penalty of all our sins. His resurrection proves that the work he did worked. Jesus was seen by over 500 people—witnesses to his being alive. Jesus is alive! Death is dead! Jesus took out the stinger! So Paul says, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory?” Yes, it looks like death wins when a loved one draws their last breath. Yes, it looks like the grave wins when a loved one if put into it. That’s what stings us. But, when Jesus rose from the dead he proved his power over death. He took the sting out of death. It’s like taunting a tiger in a cage because you know he can’t hurt you. Jesus takes the sting out of death because Christ’s resurrection changes death from terminal to transitional. Death doesn’t end our existence, but escorts us to Jesus. Not terminal, but transitional! Believe it! Christ’s Resurrection Takes the Sting out of Death!
From Perishable to Imperishable
Lord, we believe! Help us overcome our unbelief! That’s because we hear and believe the Good News of Jesus, but still death stings. St Paul helps us with this as well. For everyone who has been baptized into God’s family, while physical death still comes, has a beautiful picture given from God’s Word. “51 Look, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, First Paul talks about those who died in faith as “those who have fallen asleep” (15:20). When we die our souls go immediately to heaven to be with Jesus. Our bodies are put in the ground to “sleep”—meaning, on the Last Day they will be raised up to join our souls in eternal life. The Bible calls death, “sleep” because we all know sleep doesn’t last forever. When Jesus returns “we will all be changed 52 in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” What change? No longer will we be stung by the failure to pray, our doubt, our being forgiven, or our failures as his disciples. All our sins will be gone—perished. And our bodies will be raised holy, pure and imperishable. The stinger will be gone!
Spring is a season of change and new life. The obvious changes are green grass and trees, budding flowers and warmer temperature. This Spring has also brought a change none of us could have imagined. This Spring we are not outside gathering for picnics or parties with friends, gathering to watch baseball or soccer, not even gathering in God’s House of Prayer to celebrate Easter together. Yet, despite the circumstances that surround us, the change of Easter cannot be quarantined. While Satan laughed because he closed all the churches, God laughed louder because he opened up a church in every home! The new life of Easter is all around you, it is in you, because today we remember that Jesus has removed the sting of death!
So, like many of you, I have dropped some radish seeds, bean seeds and cucumber seeds into the suffocating black earth of my garden box in the back yard. It all seems so lifeless, so like a body into the grave—so perishable. But Paul said, “53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 But once this perishable body has put on imperishability, and this mortal body has put on immortality, then what is written will be fulfilled: Death is swallowed up in victory.” Yes, we will be stung by death in order that we might lose this sinful body. But, when Jesus calls us home and we receive our glorified bodies, with the stinger removed, with our bodies forever changed by his almighty power, then we will be clothed in the eternity of heaven.
Oh, you will never forget the sting of a hornet. It brings a tear to my eye just to think about it. Neither will we forget the sting of death. But, our tears are changed from terminal to transitional, from perishable to imperishable. It’s Easter Sunday, and because Jesus rose from the dead and changed everything, even the sting of death has been swallowed up in victory. “57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed! Jesus got the stinger out of death! Amen!