Text: 1 Corinthians 15:51-57
“Jesus lives! The victory’s won! Death no longer can appall me; Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done! From the grave will Christ recall me. Brighter scenes will then commence; This shall be my confidence.” St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
These verses from chapter 15 served as the theme text for our VBS this year. All week long our children learned that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; and that, in Christ, the victory is won.
In Christ, we have received the victory over sin, over death, over hell and all the powers of the devil. Apart from Christ, we were held, as it were, in the dark dungeon of death. We were bound and held tight by the chains of sin and doomed to die. But God, in His mercy, sent His Son to die for us. Through Christ’s perfect life, death, and resurrection, sin and death have been overcome. The bars of death and bonds of sin have been broken. We have received forgiveness of our sins and eternal salvation. Our theme this year, and a sentence we would do well to remember is this: In Jesus, the Victory is Won.
Scripture talks about our life here on earth in many different ways. Sometimes it’s compared to race; Sometimes, to a journey. Sometimes, Scripture talks about our lives on this earth in terms of a battle. We are encouraged, for example, to put on the whole armor of God – the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. These weapons are, of course, spiritual weapons for spiritual warfare against the devil and all his host. However, the spiritual warfare waged against us often carries over into the physical world. In our Bible lessons this week at VBS we learned about some real conflicts and worries that God’s people faced.
Our first two stories went this way. On the first day, we learned how God provided victory to Joshua and the Israelites by causing the walls of Jericho to crumble before them. They didn’t have to do anything, God’s mighty hand alone made the walls come tumbling down. On the second day, we learned about King Hezekiah. While he was king in Jerusalem, the evil king Sennacherib came to wage war. Sennacherib boasted about his own strength and mocked both God and His followers. Hezekiah was greatly afraid until God spoke through the prophet Isaiah that He would provide the victory. Shortly after, Sennacherib’s boasting proved empty when God defeated 185,000 Assyrian soldiers and sent Sennacherib away empty-handed. On the third day, we learned how God provided victory to Josiah and the people of Jerusalem by forgiving their sins against His Commandments.
In Scripture, God’s people faced many battles. Some were actual battles, like with Joshua and Hezekiah. Others faced spiritual battles, like Josiah against the false gods his people worshipped and St. Paul in his missionary work. We also face those same battles. Some of our brothers and sisters in Christ across the world, and certainly throughout history, face actual physical danger as Satan wages war against God and His followers. But, we are not so far removed from that. For, just as Satan wages actual war against God’s people, he also fights against us. His weapons in this arena are more subtle: sin and the veil that is cast over all people, death.
In our daily lives, we battle and wage war against sin. We hear in Scripture that God has revealed to us how He desires to live – to love Him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. These things are expressed to us in the Ten Commandments – to have no other gods, for example, and not murder. When we disobey these commandments, we sin. We also hear in Scripture that there is both a consequence and punishment for sin, and that’s death. The Holy Spirit spoke through St. Paul to the Romans, “The wages of sin is death.” Also, “Just as sin came into the world through the one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all sinned.” The Holy Spirit leaves very little wiggle room there. Try as we might to not sin, we will always fail. On our own, we will inevitably lose the battle against sin and we will die. Death is both the consequence of sin – when we sin we show we lack the glory of God – and God punishes sin with death. Because all men sin, all men die.
And, as I said, the battle against sin and death is one that we cannot win. If it were up to us, the victory would be impossible to win. Therefore, God became man. God had mercy on us in our sinful state. He sent the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, to take upon Himself our flesh. He bore our sin on the cross and is the savior by His rising from the dead. When Jesus rose from the dead, He shattered the teeth of death and cancelled its sting. No longer does death loom over our heads waiting to dropped like a piano on an unaware pedestrian below. No longer can the devil scare and taunt us with sin and death, for, through Christ, the devil is defeated and the victory is forever won.
The children learned about this victory, the most important one in all history, on the final day of VBS. We read how Jesus willingly gave Himself into death for our sins and rose to give us new life. But, the victory of Jesus was present in our other stories, too. God forgave King Josiah and the people though the mercy shown in Christ. He saved Hezekiah from evil king Sennacherib not because Hezekiah and the people deserved it – for they did not love God above all things – but because of God’s own steadfast and eternal love for them. Same for Joshua. God didn’t tear down the walls of Jericho because His people were so good, but in keeping with His mercy and in remembrance of His promise to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey.
Same for us. We also wage war against the sin that resides in our flesh, against the devil, and the power of death. On our own, it is an impossible battle. Often times, we don’t even know what stage of fighting we’re in, nor how serious it is, or that we’re even fighting at all. This deadly battle is revealed to us in Scripture, as is God’s mercy. In love, the Father sent the Son to wage war, to suffer, to die, and rise for us. In Christ, the victory is won. The victory over sin and death has been won. Death is swallowed up in victory. It has lost its sting forever. This victory is given us by God’s grace through faith. Through faith in Christ we are now more than conquerors. God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble. And, He has helped us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
 “Jesus Lives! The Victory’s Won,” Lutheran Service Book, 490.
 1 Cor. 15:54-57, English Standard Version.
 Rom. 6:23; 5:12.