Easter Sunday – That’s A Winner!

Pastor Craig Carter

Happy Easter! Since I’m a pastor, you’re probably not surprised when I say this is my favorite time of the year. Not even the Coronavirus pandemic and social distancing has kept me from thoroughly enjoying this week as we celebrate the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, church buildings all across America are empty today, but so is the tomb. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

This is also my favorite time of the year for another reason. You see, not only am I a pastor, I’m also an avid sports fan.

Normally, the major league baseball season would have just opened, the college basketball Final Four would have been held last weekend, and today would be the final round of the Masters golf tournament.

But those events, along with all sports contests, have either been postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic. So, for the past month or so, I’ve been suffering withdrawal symptoms of not being able to view athletic competitions and I’ve looked everywhere for a fix.

I’ve tried tuning in to ESPN but replays of past cornhole national championships or hot dog eating competitions just don’t do it for me.

Recently I have found something that has brought me a little bit of satisfaction. Joe Buck is probably the best known play-by-play announcer of this era. He’s called almost every World Series game and Super Bowl for the past 20 years.

Last month, quarantined to his home with wife and twin boys, Buck made an offer on Twitter to narrate home videos. So now you can listen to his play-by-play calls of kids playing backyard football, dogs fighting over sticks, guys grilling on their patio, and even an airline worker guiding a plane to its gate. If you need a good chuckle, just google “Joe Buck Quarantine Calls.”

Joe Buck got his play-calling abilities from his dad, Hall of Fame announcer, Jack Buck. I grew up in Missouri listening to Jack Buck as he was the broadcast voice of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball club for nearly 50 years. Originally, he teamed with the legendary, Harry Caray, who had a trademark phrase, “Holy Cow!”

Jack Buck had his own distinctive saying that, while not as famous, was even more memorable and meaningful to me as a die-hard Cardinals fan. Whenever the last out was made or the winning run was scored by the home team, Jack Buck would decree, “That’s a winner!”

As a kid, I can remember falling asleep many a night, basking in the glow of a Cardinal victory, with those words echoing in my ears. But, on many other occasions, I experienced the pain of defeat and knew I would have felt much better if I had heard Jack say, “That’s a winner!”

We all want to be on the winning side, don’t we?

Sure, most of learn to lose gracefully, but we’d rather be able to win gracefully. As my high school baseball coach used to say, “Don’t ever forget, we’re just out here to have fun. But it’s a whole lot more fun to win!”

That sentiment transcends the baseball field and extends to the whole of life. No matter the endeavor, we want to be winners – in the classroom, at work, in our homes and families, in drawings for prizes, even going through the checkout line.

It’s what makes Easter such a great holiday. Let me show you what I mean.

In the fifteenth chapter of his 1st letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul reminds his fellow believers that the gospel he preaches is based on Christ’s resurrection. According to him, the Christian faith rests upon the truth of the extraordinary assertion that Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day.

What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins… that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NIV)

Then, after citing several pieces of evidence that support the authenticity of this claim, Paul goes on to outline the significance of this historical event. But as he winds his essay to a conclusion, his emotions overtake his reason. He breaks forth in a rousing cheer that celebrates the work of Christ:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54b-57 NIV)

In other words, Paul looks at the triumph of Easter and exclaims, “That’s a winner!”

I don’t know about you, but I love the sound of those words. When Jesus laid aside His grave clothes and stepped out of the tomb some 2,000 years ago, He won a great victory… but the good news doesn’t stop there. According to Paul, through our faith in Him and His saving work, we become winners as well.

For just a few minutes on this Easter morning, I’d like to share two types of victory that now belong to us because of Christ’s resurrection.

1) Jesus’ Easter victory makes us winners over SIN.

There are two types of persons in the world: those who recognize they have a sin problem and those who don’t. Either way, everyone has a sin problem.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 NIV)

And the consequences of that condition are severe:

The wages of sin is death [eternal separation from God]… (Romans 6:23a NIV)

But there’s another side to the story as Paul provides some good news to counterbalance the bad news:

…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23b NIV)

Through the work of God’s Son, Jesus, the problem of sin has been solved. Easter is a reminder of two types of victory over sin that have been won. By being raised from the dead, Jesus brings PARDON & PAYMENT for our sins and He gives us POWER over sin.

We normally look to Good Friday as the occasion when our sin was dealt with once and for all in a decisive way.

[God] forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13b-14 NLT)

On the cross, Jesus paid the price for our sins and received the punishment we deserve for them so that we might be forgiven.                   

That being said, why then does the Apostle Paul make this claim?

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17 NLT)

What does Easter have to do with the pardon and payment for our sins?

It’s one thing to say sins are forgiven, but it’s another thing actually to do it. Remember in the Gospel of Mark when Jesus said to the paralytic man, “Your sins are forgiven,” but some of the scribes who were present questioned Jesus, saying, “Only God can forgive!

Jesus replied: “So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” (Mark 2:10-11 NLT)

The physical act of healing confirmed the pronouncement of forgiveness. In the same way, Christ’s resurrection from the dead confirms the sufficiency of His sacrifice on the Cross.

[Jesus] was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. (Romans 4:25 NLT)

Yes, payment for our sins was made on Good Friday through Jesus’ death. But the receipt was given on Easter through Christ’s resurrection.

Thought of another way, by raising His Son from the dead, God the Father placed his divine seal of approval on the saving, sin-defeating death of Jesus for sinners. The penalty had been paid, the curse had been lifted, the victory had been won.

Through Christ’s resurrection, God declared, “That’s a winner over sin!”

But Christ’s victory over sin doesn’t stop there…

His resurrection also gives us POWER over sin.

It’s one thing to be able to pause from our sinning and be forgiven, but it’s another thing to be able to keep from starting up again. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory over the power of sin.

For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives…So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. Do not let sin control the way you live… (Romans 6:4, 11-12a NLT)

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you…The same life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. (Romans 8:2, 11 NLT)

So while sin may remain in believers, it need not reign. Our new life in Christ brings us victory over sin and its grip on our lives.

Have you received pardon for your sins by trusting in the payment made by Jesus?

Are you experiencing power over sin by allowing the Spirit of Christ to control your life?

Those victories are available because of the event we celebrate on Easter.

2) Jesus’ Easter victory makes us winners over DEATH.

According to Paul’s discourse in 1 Corinthians 15, death is a formidable foe.

He contends death is the ultimate enemy (v. 26) and we must all face it (v. 22). But the resurrection of Jesus makes us winners over death and the grave.

“Death has been swallowed up in victory…But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54b, 57 NIV)

What does Christ’s victory over death have to do with us?

According to v. 23, He is the “first-fruits” of resurrection (NLT: first of the harvest). Through our faith in Him and His resurrection power, we become the “other-fruits,” meaning we too will be victorious over death.

But we must remember, while death has been defeated, it has not been abolished – yet. That will happen when Jesus comes again and establishes His eternal kingdom.

Until then, we may all still have to experience it, but we can face it with a new outlook – one of hope.

You may recall the 1980 Olympic hockey game dubbed the “Miracle on Ice.” Years later I watched the movie and even though I knew that Americans had defeated the Russians I was still nervous as the clock wound down with USA leading 4-3. Why was I nervous? I knew the outcome! Just like I know the outcome of God’s victory over death.

While death is still a bit unnerving, we can face it confidently and optimistically.

Right before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He made this statement and asked this question: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 NLT)

If you do, that’s a winner because you now have a great victory – over death itself.

Let’s close by looking at an important implication of Christ’s victory on Easter. After making the case for Jesus’ resurrection and showing its significance regarding sin and death, Paul arrives at this conclusion:

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.” (1 Corinthians 15:58a NIV)

Paul is employing a bit of logical reasoning – it’s an argument from the greater to the lesser that goes like this: If Jesus has been raised from the dead and thus conquered our greatest enemies – sin and death – then nothing else is so powerful that He can’t overcome it.

That’s because in the words of the modern praise song: “The same power that rose Jesus from dead…Lives in us, lives in us.” (Jeremy Camp)

It’s what Paul is talking about in Romans 8 when he says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?…Christ Jesus, who died [and] was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors…” (Romans 8:31-37 NIV)

In other words, no matter what circumstances we may face, we can be confident that if God is with us, we can and will emerge victorious.

Sickness? “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory!”

Financial hardship? “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory!”

Marital trouble or broken relationship? “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory!”

Rebellious child? “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory!”

Held in the grip of addiction? “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory!”

Overwhelmed by fear and anxiety? “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory!”

Devastation of a Cat 5 hurricane? “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory!”

COVID19 global pandemic? “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory!”

Friends, by holding firm to resurrection faith and by trusting in the saving goodness of our Risen Lord, we are more than conquerors. Armed with the very power that raised Jesus from the dead, we can boldly claim victory in any and every situation. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

“That’s a winner!”