From Tragedy to Triumph

By Dr. Robert Jeffress

Bright shadow appearing in tomb.

I want to cut through the fog of the hazy theology and the syrupy sentimentality that often characterizes Easter messages and focus on the question we all want an answer to. When I die, is there anything waiting for me on the other side of the grave? Or, when I close my eyes for the last time, do I drift off into an eternity of nothingness?

One way to look at the resurrection is from a historical viewpoint. Another way is to talk about the theological implications of the resurrection. The fact that Jesus was raised from the dead means, first, that God has accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. If Jesus had remained in the grave, then it would mean that He died for His own sins, just like every other person who has ever lived. But the fact that God raised Him up means that God accepted His sacrifice on our behalf.

Not only does the resurrection validate the deity of Christ and His atonement for our sins, the resurrection means that we can enjoy a new quality of life. Paul reminds us in Romans 6:4, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

If you are a Christian, the same power who was able to raise Jesus from the dead—the Holy Spirit—is working in your life to free you from the power of sin so that you might experience the quality of life God wants you to enjoy.

Theologically, Jesus’ victory over the grave answers the question we all have lurking in the recesses of our minds, the most basic question of all: “If I die, will I live again?” Paul answers that question by describing how tragedy leads to triumph in 1 Corinthians 15. In this chapter, Paul explains the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, the participants and order of our resurrection, and the superiority of the resurrection. But beginning in verse 50 he describes the final victory that the resurrection will bring.

1. The Democracy Of Death (1 Corinthians 15:50-53)

We can all think of people who were once here and who are not here today. One day you won’t be here either. And yet we live our lives as if we are going to go on forever. Every second that passes moves us closer and closer to the grave. 

The Bible is very realistic in its treatment of the subject of death. Even the book of Genesis ends with a coffin, and the first real estate transaction recorded in Scripture was the purchase of a plot of ground for a cemetery. Read the first five books of the Bible and you find this constant refrain: “…and he died.” Death is the most democratic experience of all—it comes to the rich and the poor, to the young and the old, to the healthy and to the sick. 

2. The Distress Of Death (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

There is something terrifying about death. Part of the terror is the unknown. We wonder what really awaits us on the other side of the grave. Is it a God who accepts us, a God who will condemn us, or no God at all? Yes, there is a natural fear of the unknown, but a Christian has an assurance others do not possess. 

When I think about the sting, the agony of death, I think of a funeral service I conducted years ago for a young Christian mother whose body had been destroyed by cancer. As long as I live I will never forget the sight of that casket being loaded into the hearse, and that little five-year-old daughter watching intently, crying uncontrollably, and yelling, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” Don’t let anyone mislead you. The sting of death is real, and it is agonizing.

3. The Defeat of Death (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)

What does Paul mean when he writes, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law: but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” in verses 56–57

You know from nature that a worker bee can sting only once in a lifetime. It has a needle-sharp stinger that is equipped with little barbs along its sides like the quill of a porcupine. This is so that when the stinger is inserted, it goes in to stay. The only way the bee can free itself from its victim is to tear away from the victim whom it has stung. The bee without a stinger can still buzz and scare people for a while, but it has no sting and soon will die.  

What a wonderful analogy of death. When Jesus hung on the cross, He received the sting of our sin and in some way, He experienced the condemnation we deserve. He experienced the sting of eternal death for us all. Like that bumblebee, death is still with us and frightens us, but it has no lasting power to harm us. The Bible says when Christ returns, death itself will pass away.

I say it again, our assurance of victory over death is not based on wishful thinking but on the promises and the power over death of Jesus Christ Himself. That is why Paul confidently wrote in verse 54, “one day death will be swallowed up in victory.” Through the tragedy of a crucified Savior, Jesus Christ, we have the triumph of a resurrected Savior. Because He has conquered death, one day so shall we.


Full Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:50—57