I’m not much of a sports fan. I know the rudimentary concepts of baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, but don’t get too excited about watching any of them. My wife is a bigger sports fan than I am, and so she’s the reason I know when big sporting events are happening.
On February 5th of this year, the television came on, so I knew something big was happening. The New England Patriots were playing the Atlanta Falcons in the 2017 Superbowl. Laura watched the game. I kept poking my head in the room to see what was happening. It wasn’t a pretty sight. The Patriots were getting creamed.
At half time the score was 21-3, and I started hearing grumblings from Laura that she probably wasn’t going to watch much more. And then the score was 28-3, and Laura shut the television off. It was time for bed, and we had work to do the next day. This was a dismal, hopeless situation, and there wasn’t a chance that the Patriots could pull off a win. So why stay up, stressing over each play and each point? It was finished.
Except…when I got up in the morning, I discovered a vastly different story. The Patriots had come from behind to tie the game at 28-28, and the game went into overtime, where the Patriots finished their comeback with a touchdown to win the game 34-28.
After the game was over, Tom Brady appeared in a commercial (pre-recorded, with the intent to air only if the Patriots won) in which he flaunted his brand new SuperBowl ring. There was celebration, the thrill of victory, and there was a great deal of flaunting and taunting.
And speaking of taunting, if the Apostle Paul had been watching the Superbowl, perhaps he would have said, “Where, oh Falcons, is your victory? And where, Atlanta, is your sting?”
Because what happened at the cross, and at the tomb, that first Easter morning, was the biggest upset victory in the history of the entire human race. Never has a team come from so far behind, to win so great a victory.
From the beginning of the human race, death has always been the greatest of enemies – one could even say the most grave of enemies. It was always possible to defeat any other foe. If you were poor, there was the hope of better crops next year. If you were oppressed, there was the hope of an uprising. If you were sick, there was the hope of healing. But there was one enemy you could not defeat. Death. Once you were dead, there was no coming back. The human race was running a disastrous scoreboard against death. Because even those who cheated death, like the child raised from the dead by Elijah, or Lazarus raised by Jesus, eventually succumbed again to the same enemy.
And so we feared this one enemy we could not defeat. Since the dawn of time, humanity has been running on in terror from the day of our death.
And then came the ultimate hero. Greater by far than Tom Brady, greater than Superman or Iron Man. The one they called the Christ, the Son of God. If anyone could defeat death, it would be Him. None before had done so many miracles. None had taught with such authority. None had proven so clearly that He had the authority of God at his fingertips – demanding of the winds and the waves that they silence, calling out to raise the dead, and announcing with utter confidence that He was the fulfillment of prophecy from ancient times.
If anyone could win the victory for humanity, it would be Him. If He couldn’t do it, no one could.
And then came the cross. The vicious blows, the cruel scourging, the pounding of nails into flesh, and then – the ultimate disappointment – the great hero breathed his last, and with a declaration of “It is finished,” released his own spirit from his body and gave in to death.
It is finished. Game over. There was no half-time show. There was nothing to see. The people walked away. They turned their faces from him. There was no point in continuing. The people who had waved palm branches went back to their homes and their jobs. Dejected and fearful, the disciples hid behind closed doors. What had promised to be a dramatic victory turned out to be a terrifying defeat.
If it was a football game, the stadium would have emptied. There were no spectators to witness that extraordinary overtime battle that took place within a closed tomb, where Jesus grappled with death.
But as morning broke upon the tomb, and the women came to anoint the dead body of their fallen, defeated hero, something was terribly wrong! The tomb was already opened, and a man in white clothing, whose face glowed brighter than lightning, said to them, “Why are you here in this place of despair and defeat? Don’t you know that no enemy – not even death itself – could defeat Jesus?”
And suddenly, the terribly wrong became terribly right, and the women raced back to the hiding disciples to announce this extraordinary news. A man who was dead, with no prophet to raise him up, threw back the curtains of death and burst forth victorious.
But it’s not just that Jesus rose from the dead; the victory was even greater than that. Lazarus, and all the others who cheated death – each of them succumbed once more to death. But not Jesus! Paul writes in Romans:
Let that sink in. He cannot die again!
But what does that mean for you? What does that mean for me?
Think of it! A resurrection that utterly defeats death for all time! A resurrection to eternal victory beyond the reach of the most terrifying foe we have ever faced.
“Death is swallowed up in victory! Where, Oh death, is your victory? And where, oh grave, is your sting?”
Do you understand the delight in Paul’s heart when he said this? Do you hear the taunting in his voice? No football player, no football fan, ever faced a taunt like this, straight from the mouth of the apostle. Let these words ring in your ears like the joyous, unbridled taunting that they are. Laugh, and rejoice, and lift up your voices in song like you’ve never sung before, because although you will face your own half-time with death, the overtime victory is yours through Jesus Christ!
Christians, dry your flowing tears! Chase away your doubting fears! Look on His deserted grave! Doubt no more His power to save!