1 Corinthians 15:51-57
"There ain't no grave can hold my body down
There ain't no grave can hold my body down
When I hear that trumpet sound I'm gonna rise right out of the ground
Ain't no grave can hold my body down."
So sang the late country and western legend Johnny Cash. And he's right, isn't he? That's why we're all gathered here today. There ain't no grave can hold any of our bodies down. We're here to mock death, to gloat over our own graves.
Just two nights ago the church gathered here to remember the passion of our Lord. We witnessed Christ's betrayal, the mocking, lying, beating, scourging, the nails and thorns, yes, even the last breath. We saw our Lord Jesus laid lifeless (dead!) into the tomb. And yet we gather again here this morning. Why? Not like Mary Magdalene and the other women looking for a dead body. We know something don't we. We know that Christ did not stay dead in that tomb. We know that he rose from the dead! We come to celebrate Christ's victory over death. We come to celebrate our own victory. Yes, we come to mock and deride the consumer of all mankind.
You see Jesus' death was not just any death. Jesus is God. God cannot die. It's impossible. Death had no claim on him. Yet, Jesus is also a man, born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus is a human being just like each of us, yet unlike us he has no sin. Jesus never broke any commandment of God's, but rather fulfilled God's Law. The wages of sins is death, but Jesus didn't earn his pay. Yet death took him. He took the one he had no right to take. Even God! Jesus is both God and man. Everything he does he does both as man and God. His body and blood are God's body and blood. His suffering is God's suffering. So yes, when Jesus was nailed to the cross, God was pierced. When Jesus was enclosed in the tomb, our God lay dead, as we sang the other night, "O Sorrow dread! Our God is dead."
Death had no claim on Jesus. And so he did not die for himself. Jesus died for you. Not simply as an expression of love, but on a successful mission to free you from death. Jesus died with your sins. Isaiah prophesied, "And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." And so taking from us our sin, Jesus consumed our wages, he died in your stead. John the Baptist proclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" Now I ask you dear Christian, if the sins of the whole world are on Jesus, where are your sins? And if your sins are on Jesus, then they aren't on you, are they? And so we rejoice.
Jesus came to conquer death, as the prophet Hosea prophesied of him, "I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol. I shall redeem them from Death!" And Jesus did just that. On Sunday morning, the first day of the week he lay a serious smack down on death. He broke his winning streak. And as we heard St. Paul say, "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 15:57)
And so we come to mock death. Isn't that what we're doing, when we say, "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" We're gloating over a victory we didn't win! We're like the little pipsqueak, who taunts the big bully while our 6' 8'' muscle-bound older brother stands behind us. "You lose death! Nana nana boo boo!"
Yes, it is in faith in Christ's resurrection from the tomb that we can taunt death everyday. Even as he taunts us. Every muscle and joint pain or pinched nerve, death reminds us that we will die. Every sickness, diagnosis, and gray hair, death reminds us that he's coming for us. And we can taunt him back. "So what death? You can't touch me. Death for me is temporary. Christ beat you! And he took all my sins with him. You have nothing on me. I will live forever."
Yes, we know we're going to die. But we will live. We too will rise from our graves, just as Jesus did. Ain't no grave can hold my body down. I believe in the resurrection of the dead! This is the hope of every Christian!
Jesus was delivered up to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification. We are justified. What does it mean to be justified? To be justified means to have a right relationship with God. It means God is your friend. It means your sins are not counted against you. Justification means that your sins are forgiven. This is what Jesus has won for you: the forgiveness of sins and a right relationship with God.
There is nothing more precious than the forgiveness of sins. If our sins are counted against us we will die. And I don't mean just the first death. We will die eternally in hell, to bear the punishment for our sins. Without the forgiveness of sins, we've got nothing. No life. No hope. No love from God. No relationship with God. And the grave will swallow us up eternally. But since Jesus has taken away all your sins, you have the forgiveness of sins as surely as St. John says, "[Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins and not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2)
Jesus has taken away your sins on the cross. His resurrection vindicates him and you. There are no sins left to condemn you. Look around, does no one accuse you? No, not one! That means no sin can drag you down to the grave. It doesn't matter who you are or what you've done. No sin of yours will keep you in the grave. None of your sins will condemn you to hell. Christ has done away with them.
Christ has won the victory and he gives it to you by faith. It is only by faith that you can enjoy this victory. Many reject Jesus' victory and so they forfeit their own victory. Many refuse to repent of their sins. They turn from God's word and rather worship food and drink that will meet them in the grave. But faith in Christ turns us from sin daily and so faith turns us from the grave every day.
Your good works will not save you. Your strength will not keep you in God's favor. Only faith in Jesus will save you. But what does it mean to have faith in Jesus? Is this simply knowledge that Jesus died and rose? Certainly not, even the demons believe this and they shudder. Faith is trust in Christ. Faith comes from hearing God's Word and receiving his Sacraments. Faith desires to hear God's Word and receive his Sacraments, because faith desires to be with Jesus.
The angels said to the women, "You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him" He's not here? How can that be? Jesus is everywhere, isn't he? Well, yes, Jesus is God, so he is everywhere. "Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?", the Psalmist cries. (Psalm 139:7) Yet Jesus does not everywhere forgive your sins and give you victory over the grave. Otherwise, everyone would be saved without faith. No, if you are to have faith, you need to know where to receive Jesus. Jesus says, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples" (John 8:31) and "Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51)
If you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who will give you victory over death, you must abide in his word. Jesus' word creates faith and forgives sins. It is Jesus' word that says, "Take eat, this is my body" and "Take drink, this is my blood of the testimony shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." In the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood, Jesus feeds us the medicine of immortality, because where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. When you receive this Sacrament in true faith you are able to proclaim to death and hell, "Christ Jesus abides with me and I in him. The grave can't hold me down neither can hell contain me, for they could not contain my Lord Jesus, who dwells in me."
We celebrate Christ's resurrection from the grave every Sunday, the first day of the week. In our celebration we mock death and hell, who are defeated. Yet even more than that, in Christ's precious Gospel preached and Sacrament fed to us we receive the victory over death from the hand of our Lord. We become victors every Lord's Day as our sins are forgiven and our faith is renewed. Jesus is here as he promises. And with him your victory. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, alleluia.