When you think of victory, do you think of the 1990 Buffalo Bills? How could you not!? They are arguably the greatest team to ever play in any professional sport in Western New York. And you want victory — well, this team was undefeated at home. Every game they played in Orchard Park that year was a win! They went through the regular season at 13-3. They marched through the playoffs. They were the AFC champions. And they even made it to the Super Bowl. They gave Buffalo and all of Western New York the victory!
Right? Well, okay, there is that one tiny little problem. The season itself did not end in complete victory. Behind by one point, the Bills had the chance to win the game. But with four seconds on the clock, the field goal sailed wide right. It missed. Game over. No victory. It was a loss. Something tells me that even though that team was fantastic, even though they won every single game at home, even though they marched through the playoffs…it doesn’t feel like a victorious season for you. It did not end in victory.
Unfortunately, the life of every human being in this world could be compared to that season of the Buffalo Bills. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your accomplishments, how many friends you had, how big your family is. The death rate for the human race is still 100%. And if you accomplish everything and still die…well, you still died.
Death is inescapable in this world. Try to avoid it as we may. We enact all sorts of safety laws — seat belts, speed limits, air bags, no talking on cell phones, no texting. But people still die in car accidents. Your water is purified. You go to no smoking restaurants. You get checked up by the doctor every year. But people still die of cancer and other diseases. You have age-defying creams and oils. You have face-lifts, Botox, and tummy-tucks, but people still age and eventually die. If victory in this life is living forever, then none of us gets the victory; we all fail. Death comes to all.
Except! Except, this morning, there’s an empty tomb. Today, there are grave clothes lying folded up. Today there is a stone rolled away and an angel sitting on it. Today may be just one day but today has one powerful message. Today’s message is: don’t be afraid. Today’s message is: death does not win. Today the message is: Jesus was dead, but Jesus is risen! Jesus lives and in him so will we! Jesus won the victory over death forever. And he gives us the victory!
In our gospel this morning, we heard about some women going to visit Jesus’ tomb. When you heard the story again just a minute ago, you might not have thought too much about those women going to the tomb. After all, that’s just what happens in the Easter story. People have to go to the tomb to discover that Jesus isn’t there, right? But do you remember why those women were going to the tomb?
It wasn’t just to pay their respects. Nor were they going there hoping that Jesus had risen; that didn’t even enter their minds. No, they were going with spices to anoint Jesus’ body. The Jews didn’t embalm people when they died. The bodies weren’t preserved in any way. So, in a matter of days, the bodies would start decay. And decay does not smell very nice. These women were going to help Jesus’ decaying body smell better.
It almost seems foolish to us now! Foolish that someone would think Jesus would stay dead. Foolish that all the disciples and all of Jesus’ followers weren’t waiting outside of the tomb on that Sunday morning ready to hold a “Welcome back Jesus!” party. It didn’t matter how many times Jesus had predicted he would rise. None of Jesus’ followers seemed to really be expecting anything but a dead body inside of his tomb.
But can you blame them? Really, would you expect anything else? If experience in this world has taught us anything, it’s that human beings die. And when they die, they don’t get up again. This is how it has always been.
But the empty tomb means that things are different. The empty tomb means that things are back the way they were supposed to be. You see, death isn’t the way we were made. We talk about death being natural, but it’s anything but natural. No, Adam and Eve were not created to die. They were created to live forever. It was their sin that brought them death. That brings us death.
Yes, the reason you or anyone you know dies is because you are sinful. You do not obey God perfectly in everything you do. You do not follow your Savior with your whole heart. Like the women going to the tomb and like the disciples, you have your doubts once in a while whether or not Jesus could really do what he says he could do. Yes, deep down or not so deep down in all of us is sin. And with sin comes death. That’s how it’s always worked.
But if sin could be done away with, If sin could be erased forever, then death would no longer have any power. That’s where Jesus came in. He did away with sin. He lived perfectly. He never sinned. He never took his eyes off of the will of his heavenly Father. He was perfect where we never were and never could be.
But he died anyway! He was killed! He was executed on a cross! A horrible way to die! But Jesus did it for you and me. Jesus went to face death and hell in our place. He faced the full force of the wrath of God that our sins owed. He paid for it all. He’s forgiven you. He’s won you life. Because he lives, you will live.
True, we don’t have the full victory of that life yet. We still live in a sinful world, we’re still not perfect, and most of all we still die. But that won’t always be the case. You see, Jesus, who died and rose again — he will return. And when he does, he will bring the victory with him. He gives us the victory!
We will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51-52) Easter Sunday is special. It should be. It’s the day Jesus’ rose! It’s the day our salvation was guaranteed. But there will come a time when what happened on Easter will no longer be unusual. When Jesus returns, we will be changed. We will all have empty tombs. Because he triumphed for us. He gives us the victory!
Our text ends with some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture. These are words that need to be imprinted on our hearts. They need to be near to us at all times. They are our hope when we’re hurting, our help when we’re dying. These are words to hold on to when nothing else makes sense and when it seems like everything else has gone wrong.
Listen again. 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)
He gives us the victory. Never forget that. There will be times in your life after today when you feel like you are the farthest thing from victory. There will be times when it seems like nothing will ever go your way. There may even be times where you will be angry at God for something that has happened to you in this life.
When those things happen, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I want you to go back to the empty tomb. Go back to where your Savior lay dead once, but then was dead no more. Go back to the place that should be filled with horror but instead is filled with joy. Go back to that tomb and recognize that it is death itself that really died. Jesus put an end to death. He will put an end to your death. He will one day solve all your problems. He did it, not because you deserve it, but because he loves you.
Jesus lives! Because he lives, you will live. The grave couldn’t hold him, and it won’t be able to hold you. Jesus won the victory. And by faith, that victory is yours. He gives us the victory!