I Cor. 15:20–28
1 Corinthians 15:20 But in fact aChrist has been raised from the dead, bthe firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as aby a man came death, bby a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For aas in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then aat his coming bthose who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers athe kingdom to God the Father after destroying bevery rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign auntil he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be adestroyed is death. 27 For a”God1 has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When aall things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that bGod may be all in all.
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Today we celebrate Easter… Oops! I think I got the wrong sermon. Let me start over. (shuffle papers around)
Today is the last Sunday of the church year, the day we look forward to the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. But Christ has already been raised from the dead; the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. So, maybe today is in fact a celebration of Easter. Every Sunday is a celebration of Easter, of Christ’s glorious victory over sin and death for us. But today, the Last Sunday of the Church Year, is especially so, because the Last Sunday, pointing us to the Last Day and the resurrection of all people, shows us where Easter is headed.
What do I mean, where Easter’s headed? If on Easter Christ was raised, then Easter is just the beginning of the resurrection which will be completed at the final resurrection of all people. The last Sunday of the church year points us to Easter fulfilled. Today we celebrate Easter Sunday completed.
Easter brought forth the firstfruits: Jesus raised to life again. St. Paul says: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Christ indeed has been raised from the dead! But he is just the first fruits of the resurrection; the beginning of the harvest.
The whole harvest has not yet come. Nevertheless, the firstfruits have come in. The harvest has begun. The firstfruits are the promise that the harvest will indeed come. Christ is the “firstfruits.” What does that mean? In the Old Testament, Israel offered the first gathering of wheat as a sacrifice to God. But that was just the beginning of the harvest. They knew that an entire harvest was yet to come. The firstfruits were just the first of many fruits. In the same way, Jesus’ resurrection will inevitably lead to the resurrection of all flesh (vv 22–23). The resurrection of Jesus on Easter is not an end in itself, it is just the beginning. It is going somewhere.
Christ Jesus died on the cross, but his resurrection is an accomplished fact. Like all of you, you too shall die. Death is here. You live under the reign of death. As Luther says in his hymn: In the very midst of life, snares of death surround us.
But the resurrection has already begun. Death has been vanquished. And today we are living in that new reality. We already have the beginning of the harvest. The fristfruits of the resurrection are Jesus Christ. Easter is the beginning of the resurrection from the dead. Great good news! We need never doubt this.
But where is it headed (vv 20–21)? Where is Easter headed? Christ was raised from death as a promise that all who have fallen asleep will be raised to life again. That’s the Last Day, Judgment Day, the focus of today, this Last Sunday of the Church Year.
Today, therefore, we look to the end of the world. What will that great day bring? You heard it in our Gospel: all people who have ever lived will be gathered before Christ, the Judge—bodies raised, reunited with their souls, the resurrection of all flesh. This is what we confess in the Creed: I believe…that he will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe…in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. That is the faith of the Christian. Easter is the first fruit of the resurrection from the dead, and this great last day is the fullness of the resurrection. It is where Easter is headed. It is where Easter becomes fulfilled.
What a day this will be for those, as Paul says, “who belong to Christ”! Christ walked in the way of human beings. He lived life as one of us. He not only suffered all that we suffer in this life, but he also died as we all die. This was God’s plan. Death came when Adam and Eve sinned. In his wisdom, God sent his Son in human flesh and blood to overcome sin and sin’s death by his death on that cross.
So then, who are those who belong to Christ? You belong to Christ. In Baptism, in his Supper, in God’s Word proclaimed to you, Jesus’ cross is given to you; you have been made to belong to Christ. Christ’s resurrection is the beginning, then, giving certain hope of eternal life with him to all who believe in him. And where is this headed?
Your resurrection to life means that death and all its allies are destroyed under Jesus’ feet (vv 25–27a). In the ancient world, when the battle was done, when the enemy had been defeated, the king or emperor who won the victory would place his foot on the corpse of the opposing king or general who had lost the battle. Or if still alive, the loser would prostrate himself before the conquering king and the victor would place his foot on him as a sign of victory. A sign that he now reigned over the defeated king. So at his resurrection and ascension, all his enemies have been placed under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. If death cannot hold you, as it couldn’t hold Christ, nothing can. On that Last Day, all enemies will be defeated! Christ has defeated all your enemies.
Christ has defeated sin and its grip over you. And if sin is defeated so is death, for the sting of death is sin. The wages of sin is death, so if sin is conquered, then death is defeated.
Christ has defeated the devil and all his demonic forces. They now have no power over you. No need to fear.
Christ has destroyed every other evil force in the world that opposes him. He has not simply brought them under control, but so thoroughly vanquished them that we have nothing to fear.
This, though, is why far too many will be raised on the Last Day only to hear the judgment: “Depart from me to the eternal fire prepared for those enemies of mine. “For you did not belong to me by faith. “You present yourself here today on the basis of your deeds in life, but you have nothing to show. You stand condemned in your sin.” For, like all of you, they were born in sin and have sinned from the beginning. The wages of sin is death and unto death shall every sinner go. This will be a great day for those who belong to Christ, as St. Paul says. But those who stand on the basis of their own deeds, rather than on the basis of Christ’s deeds, do not belong to Christ.
But for us who belong to Christ, the last enemy will now be defeated: death (v 26). Death is the last fruit of sin. Death is what comes after all else is done and over. It is the last fruit, it is the final end of sin. It is where sin is heading. Death is the end of the story. But Christ, the firstfruits of life, changes the end of the story. Is that where this is headed? Almost.
Finally even Christ will be subjected to the Father (v 28). For Christ, the mission will be accomplished. Every need of God’s people in a fallen world will be met—every enemy in the universe conquered. And then Christ will lay it all at the Father’s feet.
Then all things will be restored. When God looked upon his creation at the beginning, he said, “It is good.” When God restores all things to himself, He will look upon his people and again say, “It is good.” God will be “all in all.” God will be the beginning and the end for you. Will you need food, clothing, shelter? No, you will have God. Will you need love, comfort, protection, deliverance? No, you will have God, with all those good things he is. He is your comfort. He is your food, your clothing, shelter. He is love, he is deliverance. You will have all things; you will have God.
“Then comes the end, when [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (v 24). When Christ presents you to his father as his bride, spotless and without blemish.
This Then Is the End, When Christ Delivers the Kingdom to God the Father.
This is where Easter is headed.
Our faith is in the one who rose again for us. He is the firstfruits of all those who have fallen asleep . . . and we follow him. Christ’s victory over death gives us certain hope in our own resurrection and eternal life with God. On this Last Sunday of the Church Year, a blessed fulfillment of Easter to you! Amen.