Breaking Free from the Power of Death

“Breaking Free from the Power of Death”

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

April 20, 2014 – 11:00 AM Easter Service – Dr. Jack Graham

[Dr. Graham, message, “Breaking Free from the Power of Death”]

It’s wonderful to see everyone here today and in churches like this one, large churches and small little chapels all across the world. In villages, in small county seat towns and great cities across the world we are proclaiming and declaring that Jesus is alive and an empty tomb in Jerusalem with the words “He is risen” testify to the fact… to the reality that Jesus Christ came out of the grave. And so that is why we sing, this is why we say Jesus saves. We unapologetically say Jesus saves and that every person needs to be forgiven of their sin and receive the living Christ and the hope that is ours in heaven because we know Him. Chains are falling, hope is dawning and God is making all things new including you and me. The miracle of the resurrection! God is making all things new.

Over the next several weeks we’re going to be talking to you about how to break the chains that bind us in life. We all suffer from time to time and there is sin and there is shame and there is sorrow and there can be bondage and brokenness as a result. And so we’re going to take some time over the next several weeks to speak on this message UNCHAINED. Unchained… unchained from the power of addictions or anxiety and fear and depression… emotional bondage. Even financial bondage because many people face and struggle with their finances in these days and there’s a financial bondage. We’re going to address that. We’re going to be talking about grief and how to overcome by the power of Christ grief. In a personal relationship with Christ we are unchained. Jesus said,[John 8:32] “You shall know the truth and the true shall set you free.”

So I hope if you’re a guest with us today and you live in this area, or if you’re watching online as many of you… thousands of you are watching online with us right now, in the overflow that’s in the chapel, I understand. We bring you in here to the main auditorium at Prestonwood and invite you to take your Bibles and turn to 1st Corinthians, the fifteenth chapter… the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, because today I’m going to talk to you about “Breaking the Power of Death.”

The ultimate enemy is death itself, but Jesus broke the chains of death and hell. He crushed the enemy. When Christ came out of the grave, physically, bodily, visibly He left His grave clothes behind! They wrapped Him and laid Him in a tomb, but He is now unwrapped and unleashed upon the world because He lives and He reigns forever. And as a result of that victory we read in verse 54:

54) “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55) O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56) The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57) But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58) Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for you know that your labor… your life in the Lord is not in vain.

There is victory in Jesus! Victory over the ultimate enemy which is death.

Recently I was coming back actually from a funeral service in south Florida. I spoke at the service of one of my dearest friends from years ago, and so I was already emotional, and I got on the plane and it was one of those new planes where everyone had a… had a movie screen. So I was excited about that and I said, “Okay, what am I going watch?” And typically I would pick some action fare of some kind, but for some reason because my wife had been reading the book called, The Book Thief, I said, I’m going to watch this movie. So I… I with interest began to watch the movie and it brought me right in.

The scene is… It is historical fiction and the scene is Nazi Germany during the Second World War, and it is the story of a young girl and how she overcame so many tragedies in her life, overcame death and destruction; bombs are falling, and it was during the holocaust and Jewish friends were perishing, and so on. And so this book, very powerful book put into this movie, and I found myself, you know, just weeping, and I’m looking around to make sure that no one sees me on this plane, but I’m pouring tears. And this typically isn’t me, because I was just overwhelmed with the whole idea that death was so powerful.

And the book actually is a rather humanistic view of life and death. It treats death as this random figure that just move indiscriminately in power and control. And it was… it was obvious from the movie that… that no matter what you do… no matter how much you may overcome, that death is in charge, death is powerful, death is moving and death is unstoppable! And I began to weep because I know friends who are perishing and dying. I realize I’m dying and death is so powerful!

But then I stop to breathe again when I remembered that Jesus conquered death! That death is not in charge! Because of the empty tomb Jesus is in charge! And this Book tells me that because He lives we will live also! He said, [John 11:25] “I am the resurrection and the life. You believe in Me, you will live forever. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet will he live.” And then the question is asked, “Do you believe this?” This is the biggest question of life. It is the question asked ages ago by Job in Job 14, and verse 14: “If mortals die, can they live again?” Can we live again? Will we live again?

Death is an enemy that we often fear. I know I hate death. There’s nothing about death that I like. Death is a terrible enemy. It stalks the earth, relentless, taking young lives as well as older ones. It is indiscriminate between rich and poor, young and old, educated, uneducated. Death is an interloper, death is an intruder. Death is a result of sin, because [Romans 6:23] “The wages of sin is death.” Not only physical death, but spiritual death. So the fact is that everyone must come face to face with the reality of death.

So Happy Easter! [laughter] (I’m getting to the good part.) But you know, it’s the bad news that makes the good news so incredibly good. The bad news of sin and death. If I called your office and said there’s an emergency call; I need to speak with you, and you answered the phone, and you said, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” And I said, “Well, I just called to tell you that your house is not on fire.” [laughter] No, it means… it means nothing because that’s not bad news. But when there’s the possibility of bad news… when there’s the possibility of cancer and the doctor says, “It’s benign,” that’s good news! It is the fact of death that makes the good news of Jesus Christ so wonderful.

Did you know that death is [pastor clears throat] called a debt? That it is a bondage that we live according to the Bible in bondage, or the fear of death our entire lives. We deal with death. So how you going to deal with death? People choose different ways to deal with death. Some people choose to deny it; to pretend that it doesn’t exist, or just to put it… block it out of your mind. Now I’m not suggesting that you dwell on death, or that you take, you know, walks through cemeteries and contemplate it. But I am saying that you should consider your own mortality and the fact that we all die, young and old. Death is no respecter of persons! You will die, and so you need to prepare.

I heard about three men… they were having coffee and they were talking about… The subject of death came up and they were talking about their funeral services and one said, “Well what would you like said at your funeral service?” And the one talking to the man said, “Well, I want them to say I was a great humanitarian, that I was a good person, that I did well for my community, that I did accomplish some good things in my life.” The other man said, “Well, I would like to say… for people to say that I was a good dad, a good father, a good husband, a good family man. That’s what I would like to be said at my funeral.” The other fellow wasn’t speaking. He said, “Well, what would you say, Joe?” Joe said, “I’ll tell you what I’d like for them to say at my funeral when they pass by my casket and they look in, I would like for somebody to say, “He’s moving!” [laughter] But there’ll be a day when we all stop moving and there will be no recalling from death.

Some try to diminish it by laughing about it, but death is no joke. It’s a cruel reality. Some try to diminish death by just saying, “Well, when I’m done, I’m done. I’ll just die and sleep forever. Death is… There’s nothing after death. I’ll just cease to exist.” Some people deal with death by diminishing its power and its consequences.

Others, by delaying it, or at least attempting to delay it. We… we should all do everything that we can to keep ourselves healthy and practice preventative medicine and exercise to stay healthy because you don’t want disease to catch up with you if it’s at all possible. And so there are things that we can do to… to delay the prospect of death… disease and death, and we should eat healthily and take care of ourselves. As my physician Dr. Ken Cooper says, “You don’t want to die of something stupid.” [laughter] Right? So there’s certain things that we can do to delay, but it is inevitable.

Now, you know, others, you know, try to delay death by trying to look better, not just feel better, but look better. Cosmic… cosmetic surgery, not cosmic surgery, but… [laughter] I’ve seen some cosmic surgeries. [laughter] But cosmetic surgery. And, hey, I’m okay with that. Do what you need to do. I did hear about a lady who had had so many surgeries… cosmetic surgeries that when she went to heaven they sent her back because they said, “We didn’t recognize her!” [laughter] Please don’t send me an email on that one! [laughter]

You know the Bible says,[Hebrews 9:27] “It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment.” The Scriptures says that [Psalm 90:12] “we are to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” There’s something about realizing that life is day to day and the statistical fact is one out of one persons die. There’s something about knowing and accepting our mortality that gives us a greater depth of meaning every day of our lives. But ultimately you can’t delay it. You can’t diminish it! You can’t change the fact that you’re going to die. But what you can do because of Jesus Christ is to defeat it. Because Jesus defeated the enemy; He destroyed death. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The victory is ours in Jesus Christ.

And so now we live with a promise that we will live because He lives! We are no longer in this bondage, but according to Romans 5:17, “We now reign in life.” We live and this is our hope! Yes, we live again! We live again in the power of the resurrection. [Matthew 28:6] “He’s not here,” said the angel, “but He is risen.” This is the greatest message, of course, the world has ever heard. This is the truth! Hey, I love the happy songs, but happiness is not the truth. Jesus is the truth. The resurrection is the truth and ultimately that’s what makes Easter happy. That’s what makes life full of joy.

This is the Gospel. The first verses of First Corinthians 15 tell us this is the Gospel: how [1 Corinthians 15:3-4] “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, he was buried, and on the third day He rose again.” The Bible teaches the bodily, physical resurrection of Jesus. This is not some ghostly or spiritual appearance, but the actual Jesus came out of the grave. This resurrection is real and, guess what, because He is now in the heavenlies… He is now at the throne of God, one day we will see Him face to face.

After the Masters Tournament last week… I always enjoy watching the great tournament, the Masters in Augusta, Georgia. There are a lot of stories that come out, of course, about golf, but here’s a story that came out of the Masters, not about golf, but about God. There’s a man by the name of Clebe McClary. In 1968 on his fifteenth to twentieth reconnaissance mission in Viet Nam he was severally injured. He lost an eye, he lost an arm and was left for dead. They got him to a hospital where after days and weeks of treatment it was apparent this man would not make it. Clebe himself gave up. Seemed to be a hopeless situation.

At that same time there was an American golfer who was like many entertainers and athletes at that time were touring Viet Nam and encouraging the troops and so on, there was a golfer… a winning golfer by the name of Billy Casper who had won the Masters Tournament back in the 1960’s. He was over there and someone said, “Would you like to go by and see the troops; encourage them in some way.” Because Billy’s a really good man, he wanted to do that and as a Christian man he thought it was a part of his responsibility so he went. And he was moving from bed to bed and… and he looked over there and out of the corner of his eye he saw this figure… one eye gone, arm gone, in despair. He said, “Who is that?” They said, “That’s Clebe McClary. Don’t even bother. He’s given up. He’s going to die.” But Billy walked over to him, and he knelt down, and he began to talk to him and he encouraged him. He challenged him, don’t quit, don’t give up. God has a purpose for your life.

Now flash forward from 1968 to last week at the Masters Tournament. A friend… a mutual friend knew about Clebe’s story because Clebe ended up surviving his injuries, he found a hope to go on, he trusted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and he came back to America and as a result of the life-changing power of Christ he began to share his faith. He became a preacher in effect, a motivational speaker. He went from place to place and has all these forty-something years. He’s spoken at Prestonwood in the passed. Clebe McClary. This fellow knew Clebe and he knew Billy Casper. He said, “Don’t you think it’s about time you get together?” They had not been together in all these years since that moment back in Viet Nam.

And so they brought them together on the beautiful blue heaven of Augusta national, golf heaven. And those two grown men, one in his eighties, another probably in his seventies, embraced. And both began to weep. And they hugged and they hugged and they hugged and they held on, and they hugged. It was almost embarrassing to those who are around. These two grown men are holding on for dear life. They are hugging. Over 5 minutes they held and hugged one another! And Clebe McClary for the first time had the opportunity to say “Thank you, Billy Casper, for giving me hope and the courage to go on. You saved my life.”

I got to thinking about that. One day those of us who know Jesus are going to heaven, and after all these days and all of these years, we’re going to see Jesus, the One who gave us hope, the One who gave us life, the One who gave us reason to go on sometimes when we couldn’t, who gave us the power and the strength! We’re going to see Jesus, the risen Redeemer, and we’re going to embrace Him and we’re going to hug Him. I’m just wondering how long is that hug going to be? We’re going to hug Him and hold Him and worship Him forever and ever! Because how grateful we are, how thankful we are for the One who saved us!

He gives us not only this abundant life, but eternal life. Not just an endless life, but eternal life. And then a full and forever life. Because life is now full of meaning and purpose. That’s why this great passage I spoke of earlier… “Death, where’s your victory? Death, where’s your sting?” Death and grave, you are defeated. Jesus has conquered.” It says at the close:

58) Therefore, beloved, be steadfast, be strong, always abounding in the work of the Lord…

You see, the Lord gives us purpose now. We have a reason to get up in the morning. What gets you up everyday? I hope it’s more than an alarm clock. I hope that you hear those trumpets in the morning because you have a purpose and a meaning. So many people are just taking up space when God’s called us to make a difference with our lives. “Our labor in the Lord… our life in the Lord is not in vain!”

So many people live not so much vile lives, just vain lives, empty. On the Oprah Winfrey Show several years ago she did some kind of a survey in which she asked people “What is your purpose in life?” And far and away most people had no clear purpose or direction in their life. I can’t imagine living like that! Not knowing why I’m here, why did God make me?

But in Christ in the resurrection we have purpose, we have a passion for living! He said “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding…” It’s almost a picture of bouncing through life. Not that there are not sorrows and struggles and trials. We know there… there are and there are others yet to come. But yet we overcome. That word means overcoming, overflowing! We’re abounding because we know that even our suffering is not in vain, even our pain has a purpose. Now we live a legacy. Now we live our lives for Him and for His honor and for His glory as a way of saying thank You for what You’ve done for me.

I’ve been preaching this message on Easter for well over forty years. I started when I was about ten. [laughter] Not really, but as a teenager. I’ve been preaching this message of Christ and the resurrection all these Easters, all these years. Can I tell you that I believe it now more than ever! Can I tell you that through the years and the tears as I’ve watched in our own family… You say, “Well, you’ve had a great life.” Yes, I’ve had a great life but we’ve known sorrow, we’ve know trouble, we’ve know trials.

But I’m telling you the risen Christ has overcome in us with His power and His resurrection every struggle, every pain, every problem, and He will for you. You may not see it yet, but He will give you victory… He will give you victory over all the works of the enemy. I only wish… I mean I look at you today and I only wish I had forty more years to do this! Not because I’m not willing or ready to go to heaven; I am! But I want to take as many people with me as possible! I want to keep preaching this message as long as God gives me breath, that Jesus is alive! I want to see people come to Christ as never before.

This is why we have this church. This is why we build buildings. This is why we start campuses. This is why we minister to families and their children, to students. This is why we have a sports ministry and Crisis Pregnancy Center ministry. This is… this is why we have small groups where we teach God’s word. We do this all because we want to reach more people with this message of eternal life! We want to tell more people about Jesus, our Savior and our Lord. Yes, there’s power and victory over the greatest enemy of all, the enemy of death.

Do you know for certain that you are living in this victory today? Has there been a time and a place in your life when you have personally responded in faith and received Jesus into your life? I want to put a prayer on the screen for you. And this prayer is a prayer that many of you will pray today to invite Christ into your life. Look at it:

O God, I am a sinner. I’m sorry for my sin. I want to turn from my sin. (That’s repentance) I do trust in You. (That’s faith) I believe Jesus died for me and rose again. (That’s your confession of Christ) I give my life to follow You. Come into my life, Lord Jesus. Amen.

In just a moment we’re going to bow our heads together in prayer and I’m going to invite you to pray with me a prayer like this to receive Jesus Christ into your life. I know you didn’t come today on Easter Sunday at Prestonwood just to play church. You came to hear a message of hope and eternity. I pray that we’ve been able to do that in the brief time that we’ve had. But there’s a decision you need to make, a choice that you need to make, a commitment that God calls all of us to make as we confess Jesus as Lord and Savior and you personally receive Christ.

You see, for me, Easter is personal. It’s personal because Jesus is real to me. And I want Him to be real to you. So would every head be bowed and every eye closed, all over this room, in the chapel, online… wherever you are… watching over the internet. Just bow your head right now and pray this simple prayer as an act of personal faith:

Lord Jesus, I believe. I believe You died for me and rose again. I trust in You. I turn from my sin and receive You as my Lord and my Savior.

Just pray that prayer. [Romans 10:13] “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord (the Bible says) will be saved.” [Acts 16:31] “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

I believe, I receive You (Jesus) into my life. Help me to live for You in the power of Your Holy Spirit all the days of my life until I see You face to face.