“Christ Is Our Victorious King!”
(1 Corinthians 15:20-27 – Christ the King – November 22, 2020)
1 Corinthians 15:20-27 – 20But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27For “He has put all things under His feet.”
Dear Redeemed in Christ, our once crucified, and now our living and victorious King:
When Jesus was brought to trial before the Roman governor, His enemies accused Him of falsely claiming to be a King. Thus, they claimed, Jesus was in competition for power with the Roman emperor – and guilty of treason. When the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, asked him if He was in fact a king, Jesus answered in the affirmative. But He said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36).
In a way it must have seemed like a laughable, though pathetic, idea to Pilate that Jesus would claim to be any kind of king. In our Gospel lesson in Matthew 27:27-31, Jesus certainly does not look like the picture of royalty. He stands there defenseless, having been arrested without a fight, bound and beaten, mocked and spit upon, crowned with thorns. He does not look like a King as they lead Him away to be crucified, like a lamb led to the slaughter.
It was certainly laughable to Satan and his kingdom. Every step Jesus took toward the cross was a step in the right direction. If they could kill this Son of Man, who had demonstrated power from God to forgive sins and raise the dead, then the victory would be theirs! Jesus had concerned the devil and his forces greatly. But where was all of Jesus’ royal power to save now, as He tripped along in weakness under the weight of His cross? Where was His royal power now, as He cried out in helpless agony on the cross? As Jesus breathed His last, a cry of victory rose from Satan’s forces. Hell’s prince thought for sure that fallen humanity belonged to him. For now, there was none to save us from sin and eternal death.
On the outside, Jesus did not appear to be a King, but only a weak man worthy of mockery. But as we focus on our Epistle lesson in 1 Corinthians 15:20-27, we see the more glorious side of Jesus’ rule. We see that “Christ is Our Victorious King.” He is indeed our Savior from sin, death, and Satan; for 1) He lives victorious, and 2) He reigns victorious.
1) He lives victorious
1 Corinthians 15 is known as the great resurrection chapter. The Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write these words to the Corinthians because some were trying to convince them that there was no such a thing as a resurrection from the dead. This false teaching has serious consequences. Just before our text, Paul pointed out that if you deny a resurrection of the dead, you also deny that Christ rose from the dead: “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
Many funerals, which claim to be a celebration of life for the departed, really do no one any favors. For often, they fail to address the root cause of death, which is sin. Therefore, they miss the only way we can really celebrate life, in the victory over sin and death Christ won for us.
But our text does give us true cause for a celebration of life in Christ’s victory. As Paul says in verses 20-23: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.”
This reminds us that death came into the world through the sin of one man, Adam. God had made a perfect home for Adam and Eve. But God commanded them not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Each time they passed this tree, they could show their love of God and their worship by obeying His command. But the devil, speaking through the serpent, tempted them to disobey God and act on their own desires. God had warned that if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would die; but now they ate.
Adam’s sin did not just have consequences for himself; as it says: “in Adam all die.” Adam’s fallen condition has passed on to every one of his descendants. As those who have inherited Adam’s sinful nature, we are conceived in sin and born guilty and deserving death. As Paul explains in Romans 5:12: “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Sin is the reason there is a 100% death rate, affecting all from the womb to old age. Sin is the reason there are countless funerals every day.
But the good news is that heaven’s King loved us and intervened with His saving power. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary. So He was born without inheriting the sin of Adam. As the sinless Son of Man, He was the one human being who did not deserve to die. Yet He took our sin and guilt on Himself, to save us from the death and punishment we deserved. In our Gospel lesson, there is heaven’s King, feeling real pain for us. There is heaven’s King, bound and beaten, mocked and spit upon, crowned with thorns, being led away to be crucified like a lamb led to the slaughter. There is heaven’s King, laying aside His glory, in humiliation suffering and dying on the cross for our sins. No, He did not look like any sort of King. Hell’s Prince had already begun to rejoice in his assumed victory.
But behold the victory heaven’s King won for us! With a note of triumph, Paul declares: “But now Christ is risen from the dead” (vs. 20). Death had to happen, due to our sin. But Jesus’ resurrection also had to happen, because Heaven’s King could not remain dead (Acts 2:24-27). On the cross, He paid in full for our sin and guilt; He removed the cause our death. So Paul says that just as Adam’s sin brought death to all, “even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (vs. 22).
Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (vs. 20). The firstfruits are the first portion of the harvest that was given as an offering to God. In worldly kingdoms, often the king got the first harvest of crops as a sort of tax, and the rest went to feed the people. The giving of the firstfruits was a sure sign that the whole crop was ready to be harvested. Now heaven’s King has risen from the dead as the firstfruits, guaranteeing that all who are in His Kingdom shall also be raised with Him from the sleep of death: “But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (vs. 23).
Through faith in Jesus, we belong to His Kingdom. And one day, He shall gather us to Himself to share His eternal victory. In heaven, He is restoring all things to perfection in that wonderful home He is preparing for us. This is why, even in the face of death, we can truly celebrate life – in the name of our victorious Savior and King!
2) He reigns victorious
Since our King lives victorious, He also reigns victorious for our good.
We need this reminder in His Word every day. For often, we are tempted to doubt this. Sometimes it still seems like Christ’s enemies, and our enemies, are in control. We see the outward appearance of things, and we begin to wonder where our victory in Christ really is.
Sometimes, it still seems like that enemy, the devil, is in control. Satan and his demons are still wreaking havoc in the world through injustice, hatred, persecution, bloodshed, wars and rumors of wars. Satan and his demons are still there tempting us, pushing false teachings, turning many away from Christ, luring many people down to hell with themselves.
And sometimes, it seems like we are still living in defeat under the enemy of sin. Even as believers, we are plagued each day by sin. There is a constant battle going on inside us between our Old Adam, the sinful nature, and the New Man, the spiritual nature. We know how often our Old Adam wins these battles as we fall into sins of thought, word, and action.
And sometimes, it still seems like the enemy of death is in control. It enters our lives and the lives of our loved ones, whether old or young. It may come quickly by accident, or slowly by disease; and when it comes nothing can be done about it. We feel helpless. We grieve.
Sometimes, it sure looks for all outward appearances like the enemy is still in control. But our text reminds us that Jesus reigns victorious. He is still in charge, working all things for our good. He is giving us the final victory over all our enemies. Our text puts things into eternal perspective as it says in verses 24-26: “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.”
Jesus reigns to give us His victory over the devil. 1 John 3:8 says: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” God promised Adam and Eve a Savior who would crush the serpent under His heel. Jesus did that when He cried out on the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Jesus reigns to give us His victory over sin. Romans 6:14 says: “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Since God has removed our sins, we live in freedom – free from all condemnation, free to live a new life to His glory. Romans 8:1-2 says: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”
And finally, Jesus reigns to give us His victory over death. Since He has taken away our sin and risen from the dead, we do not need to fear the sting of death any longer. For believers, death does not mean separation from God and suffering in hell. Instead, death has become a peaceful sleep and awakening to heavenly rest with our Savior.
We share a lot in common with heaven’s King. In this world, He sure did not look like the royal Son of God. He knew what it felt like to be lowly, despised, and rejected. He knew what it felt like to be a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. He knew what it felt like to face death and breathe His last. He knew what it felt like when it seemed by every appearance that the enemy was gaining the upper hand.
Likewise, as we live in this world, we do not always look like very royal children of God. But 1 Peter 2:9 says: “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people.” Dear royal children of God in Christ, when we are feeling the heavy burdens of sin, death, and evil, no one understands like our dear Savior and King. He has been there. And despite all outward looks of things, He has won the eternal victory for us. He lives and reigns to share His forgiveness and eternal life with us. He lives and reigns to work all things together for our good. He lives and reigns to bring us to that victorious ending He has promised.
Paul concludes by saying “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For ‘He has put all things under His feet.'” One day, death itself will be destroyed forever. Our King will return, descending victoriously on the clouds of heaven, with His angels attending Him. At His voice, every tomb will burst open. He will reunite our bodies with our souls in perfect health and bliss. “There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-5). The King of Heaven Himself will place His crown of life on our heads (Revelation 2:10). And we will live with our Savior forever, as royal children of our heavenly Father, in the Kingdom of Glory He has prepared for us.
O that with yonder sacred throng We at His feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song And crown Him Lord of all.
We’ll join the everlasting song And crown Him Lord of all. Amen.
(Hymn: “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”)