1 Corinthians 15:55-58
O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?…
1. Death has a sting. The fear of death is the commonest and strongest of all man's fears.
2. The sting of death. What is it?
(1) Some say the pain of dying. But this is not necessarily greater than many non-mortals. The pain of dying is but the smart of a wound which the sting of death inflicts.
(2) Others say the distressing changes that accompany death. Death separates friends, etc.
(3) Paul says, "The sting of death is sin" — that which gives death the power to wound, to torment, to kill.
(a) This sting is unlike that of other stings which are material, and can only hurt or kill the body. But the sting of death wounds, poisons, and destroys the soul.
(b) This sting inflicts a dreadful kind of killing. No tongue can portray the case of a murdered soul. And this sort of killing is not soon over: it is a work of eternity.
3. The strength of sin is the law: its passive strength, its strength of resistance is dealt with in the process of sanctification. Its active strength is now meant, and it lies in the law. The law attaches a curse to sin; and thus gives sin its stinging power. If the law had no curse for sin, sin would not be terrible, though it would be hateful.
II. THE VICTORY OVER DEATH.
1. The conquerors of death. "Us" — i.e., believers. Each of us meets him in single combat, one by one, and severally bruise him under their feet!
2. The nature of the victory.
(1) Negatively. It does not consist —
(a) In giving death the slip. In war, by masterly maroeuvres, sometimes advantages may be secured, having all the value of a decisive victory, although the enemy's face has never been seen. In this way Enoch and Elijah overcame. But not thus did Christ, nor will His followers.
(b) In sustaining no immediate hurt from the encounter. Rarely, indeed, does the conqueror win without injury. In the believer's conflict with death the feelings may be wounded, and the body is always laid low for a time. Even Christ was brought down to the grave.
(c) In contempt of death. There are enemies who may be overcome in this way. A powerless foe has no chance, unless he can hide his imposture and work upon our fears; to despise him is to disarm and to conquer him. But death is not powerless. Contempt of him is not victory over him.
(2) Positively. The victory over death consists simply in being too strong for him.
(a) In prevailing over him, and thereby frustrating his attempts and defeating his designs.
(b) In subduing him. He is not only hindered from doing what he wants to do, he is compelled to do something very different. He seeks to be the master and the tyrant; he is reduced to the state of a slave, and is forced to co-operate with the angels in translating the believer to heaven.
3. How is it brought about? "Through our Lord Jesus Christ." In a fight amongst men, much of the issue may depend on a single champion or leader. Christ, is the champion and the leader of His people, and as such He enables them to conquer death.
(1) Through His achievements. The sting of death was paralysed by Christ, because He took upon Himself the curse of the law.
(2) Through His arrangements and preparations. The soldier's success in the day of battle depends much upon these.
(a) Christ furnishes His people with faith. This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
(b) Christ washes His people in His own blood, in consequence of which believers are not only invulnerable, like Achilles, in every place but one — they are invulnerable everywhere. Death has not even a chance against them.
(c) Christ removes the sting of death. He deprived the sting of its strength by enduring the curse. But He does more. As death approaches, the sting is not growing larger, but, on the contrary, is ever growing less, until at last the sting disappears altogether.
(d) Christ fixes the time of the believer's conflict with death, and takes care that it shall not happen before the believer is ready. Death is Christ's Captive, and cannot assail the believer till Christ gives him leave.
(3) By His encouragements. Believers have the encouragement of —
(a) Christ's example. An example of cowardice has a tendency to make cowards of us; and an example of courage has a tendency to make us bold.
(b) Christ's presence. You know what deeds of gallantry a warrior may perform, when he fights under the eye of his leader or his sovereign.
(c) Christ's words. It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. "All things are yours" — life is yours, death is yours, and as to the ultimate destiny of death. And there shall be no more death.
(d) Christ's Spirit. This it is which makes every other encouragement tell. We are strung with a Divine energy, and stirred to a dauntless courage by the Holy Ghost.
4. Its fruits and rewards. We are not to suppose that "thanks" are here given for a barren victory.
(1) It closes the Christian's warfare for ever. It is like one of those decisive battles by which the wars of hostile nations are terminated.
(2) The believer will enter into life. Death overcome, there is nothing between him and life.
(3) The believer will receive a heavenly inheritance.
5. To whom the honour of a victory so great and so fruitful pertains — "to God."(1) To the Sacred Three collectively — in respect of the eternal covenant of redemption.
(2) To God the Father — in respect of the gift of the Son.
(3) To God the Son — in the way we have seen.
(4) To God the Holy Ghost — in respect of His work in the human nature of Christ; and inasmuch as Christ employs Him to take away the sin of believers, and to arm them, and give them effectual encouragement.
Parallel VersesKJV: O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?