When Jesus was on the earth, he raised four people from the dead. He raised the widow’s son in the village of Nain (Luke 7:15). He raised the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue (Mark 5:42). He raised Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha in Bethany after he had been dead four days (John 11:44). And he raised himself from the dead after he had been crucified.
It’s true that the New Testament teaches that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 6:4; Acts 2:32). But it is also true that Jesus himself was acting to bring about his own resurrection. We know this because he said in John 10:18, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” God the Father gave Jesus the authority to take up his life again from the grave where his body lay dead.
Here it is again in John 5:21–22: “As the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father . . . has given all judgment to the Son.” So the Son has authority to raise from the dead whomever he will, including himself. So Jesus says in John 2:19: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And John adds, “He was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). Destroy this body, and in three days, I will raise it up. And he did.
Only Jesus Removes the Sting
Why is it important to remember that Jesus raised not just the widow’s son, and the ruler’s daughter, and Lazarus from the dead, but also himself with the authority of God the Father? It’s important because the scorpion-sting of death was not removed by the raising of Lazarus, or the ruler’s daughter, or the widow’s son. The scorpion-sting of death was removed by the resurrection of Jesus. None of the other resurrections, none of the other miracles of healing or exorcisms or multiplied loaves and fish, or stilled waves and wind — none of them would do us any good if Jesus had not raised himself from the dead by the authority of his Father. The fact that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead after four days would have done John Levy no good whatsoever, if Jesus had not raised Jesus from the dead.
“Jesus came — sovereign and sinless — to take our place under the judgment of God.”
Why is that? Why is it that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the only resurrection that does John Levy any good at all?
It’s not just because this resurrection was one of a kind, which it was — the eternal, divine Son of God, with the authority of God the Father raising himself from the dead — that’s one of a kind. That had never happened before, has never happened since, and will never happen again in the history of the world. It did everything it needed to do! But simply being one of a kind is not the way this resurrection makes all the difference in the world to John Levy, whose body lies before us.
Death Swallowed Up
The reason this one-of-a-kind resurrection makes all the difference for John Levy is because it followed and it vindicated a one-of-a-kind death.
“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 [who gives John Levy] the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54–57)
Death was not swallowed up in victory when Lazarus came out of the tomb. Death was not swallowed up in victory when the widow’s son or the ruler’s daughter was raised. Death — John Levy’s death — was swallowed up in victory when Jesus raised Jesus from the dead as the God-man with all authority in the universe never to die again. How did that happen? What does that even mean?
Sin Damns Us All
The apostle Paul lays it out for us to understand. “O death, where is your sting?” In other words, the scorpion, venomous, destructive, damning effect of death is missing. Where is it? Where’s the sting? It’s gone. The scorpion-sting of John Levy’s death is gone. How can that be?
Sin Is the Sting
The word goes on: “The sting of death is sin.” The scorpion-sting of death is sin. What makes death eternally destructive and damning? It’s our sin. The Bible says that “the wages of sin is death” — eternal death, as opposed to eternal life (Romans 6:23). And it says we are all guilty, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
This is why death scares everyone. Because deep down all of us know we are sinners who are guilty before a good and righteous and just and holy God. We may not even know those words — or even use them. But even without words we know we will give an account to him when we die. When we’re not numbing ourselves with work or play or food or drugs, our hearts tell us the truth. Death has a sting. And it’s not a little bee-sting. It’s a scorpion-sting. A deadly, damning, never-ending sting. And the sting is our sin.
Power of Sin Is the Law
The word goes on: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” God’s law — God’s will for his creatures — gives the authority of power and justice to the destructive effect of sin. In other words, the destructive effect of sin on our eternity is not like a random mutation of sin that just happens to go bad and makes us miserable forever. No. The destructive effect of sin on our eternity is owing to the law of God. The eternal effect of sin is not random or arbitrary. It is punishment from God. And it is just. The sting of death is sin. And the power of sin is God’s just and holy law.
Now all of that — all of that scary reality (at least it ought to be scary) is leading up to the discovery that the death of Jesus was one of a kind and it turns his resurrection into an event that makes all the difference for John Levy, and, I hope, for you. Paul goes on like this: “O death, where is your sting?” Gone. How? “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us (who gives John Levy) the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Victory Through Jesus
When the Bible says, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” the words “through our Lord Jesus Christ” sum up the great saving miracle of Jesus’s one-of-a-kind death. He had existed from all eternity in perfect unity with God the Father and God the Spirit. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). He lived here as God and man — one Person with two natures, divine and human — for about 33 years, and he never sinned. “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” he asked. No answer (John 8:46). Why? Because he is the one “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
“There has been one human being — and only one — who did not deserve to die. Because he never sinned.”
There has been one human being — and only one — who did not deserve to die. Because he never sinned. Why then did he die? Because that’s why God sent him into the world. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). But how could that be? What did he do?
The answer is stunning. It is the best news in the world. It is the heart of true Christianity. It is the hope of John Levy and those who love him. It goes like this:
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [That’s why this sinless, innocent God-man died.] For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8)
The apostle Peter puts it like this:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree. (1 Peter 2:24)
The prophet Isaiah predicted it like this 700 years before it happened:
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned — every one — to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5–6)
Jesus came — sovereign and sinless — to take our place under the judgment of God. It was the most amazing and most precious exchange that has ever been made. Paul put it like this:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God [in spite of our sin]. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
No Condemnation Now We Dread
But what about the law? Didn’t God’s word say that the sting of death — the scorpion, eternity-ruining effect of sin — gets the power and authority of its justice from the law of God? We can’t sweep the law of God under the rug of the universe. We can’t just pretend that John Levy didn’t break the law of God over and over — the law that says love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. What about the law? Listen to Romans 8:3:
God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.
God executed the law’s just sentence in the flesh. Whose flesh? Jesus’s sinless flesh. Whose sin? John Levy’s. And since the law’s sentence against John Levy’s sin was carried out in the death of the sinless Son of God, what does Romans 8:1 say about John Levy?
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
And when the sovereign Jesus raised Jesus from the dead, he wrote across the sky of eternity: That one-of-a-kind death that I just died does what I designed for it to do. My people will never be condemned.
“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. (1 Corinthians 15:54–56)
But Jesus says, “I paid your debt of death, and I satisfied the justice of God’s law.” No condemnation — ever — for those who are in Christ Jesus. No condemnation for John Levy. What happened last Tuesday when John Levy’s heart stopped was not condemnation. God was not settling accounts. Those were settled two thousand years ago. For reasons we do not know, Jesus said, I want John Levy with me. This will be painful. Very painful. But I love him. And I love you. And I know what I am doing. Trust me. He said to Martha at the tomb of Lazarus,
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25–26)
Do You Believe?
Perhaps you can picture Jesus standing here saying, like he did to Martha, “Do you believe?” If you do, I will be your resurrection. If you don’t, I won’t.
Suppose someone says, “I would believe if I saw John Levy sit right now and climb out of that casket the way Lazarus came out of the tomb.” I don’t think you would. Because believing on Jesus in a saving way does not mean being wowed by miracles. The devil believes in miracles. Believing means seeing Jesus as the most precious Person in the universe, and treasuring him above everything and everyone else.
There was a time when someone pleaded with Jesus to send a Christian who had died back from the dead so that his family would believe. Here’s what Jesus said: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets [if they do not see enough of my truth and glory and beauty in God’s word], neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
What Do You Love Most?
I close with a picture of this amazing fact. A few days after Lazarus was raised from the dead, Jesus came to Lazarus’s house with his disciples to have dinner with him (John 12:1–8). So here was a man sitting across from them who had been dead four days. He was now alive and well. And these disciples had seen it, including Judas. Mary took some very expensive ointment and put it on Jesus’s feet and wiped them with her hair. It was a lavish way of saying, “Thank you. I love you.” This is what believing looks like.
“You’ll never deny Jesus because you lack sufficient evidence that he’s glorious and beautiful.”
But Judas said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” To which John comments, “He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.” And then Jesus said, “Leave her alone” (John 12:5–7).
Judas had seen John Levy sit up in the casket and walk out of this room. And when the opportunity came to join Mary in thanking Jesus, and loving him, he got angry instead of believing? Why. Because he loved money.
If you don’t believe in Jesus — if he is not your trusted Savior and reliable Leader and precious Treasure — it is not because you lack sufficient evidence that he is true and glorious and beautiful. It’s because you love something more. So I join John Levy and Carol, and every true believer in this room, to say: This one-of-a-kind death, and this one-of-a-kind resurrection, has been carried out by this one-of-a-kind Person who is more beautiful and more valuable than anything else you could possibly possess. And he offers himself freely to everyone.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25–26)