David Feddes

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.    (1 Corinthians 15:57)

The Scrabble game was getting tense. There were three of us playing, but it was coming down to a two-person game between me and another person who was in a virtual tie with me. The third person in the game was a good Scrabble player, but she started out with lousy letters, and she fell further behind with each word. Now she was more than 60 points behind, and the game was almost over. The last letters had been taken from the bag, and all that remained were the letters we each had on our rack.

I squinted at my letters, and I wondered what the person tied with me might come up with. It was actually the turn of the third place person, but why worry about her? She was out of it. I just wanted her to get her turn over with so the two of us in the lead could do our thing and determine the winner. As the sure loser gazed at her letters, the two of us in the lead joked with her about how badly the game had gone for her.

She smiled sweetly at us–and then she did it: This poor, helpless victim took all the letters from her rack and put a huge word on the board. And she didn’t put it just anywhere. No, she put it squarely on a triple-word score. I just sat there in shock, staring, my mouth hanging open. When my voice finally came back, I squawked, “What?! How did you do that? How much is that worth?” Well, it was worth a bundle, and because her letters were gone, the game was over. By the time everything was added up, the victim had become the champion. All it took was one amazing event for her to turn the game upside down and win the victory.

Let’s turn from brains to brawn and go from Scrabble to football. I’m thinking of one game in particular, between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Michigan Wolverines. I watched it on TV, along with millions of others. A husband and wife I know were in the crowd at Michigan stadium that day, and I later heard what the game was like for them. They were zealous Michigan fans, and their team was doing great. With just a few minutes left in the game, Michigan had a sizeable lead and was coasting to victory.

Colorado’s coach at the time was Bill McCartney. Coach McCartney had started the Promise Keepers movement a few years earlier, and his faith in Jesus was widely known. With the game almost over and Michigan holding a commanding lead, a Michigan fan sitting near my friends stood up and yelled at the Colorado coach, “Hey McCartney! Where’s your Jesus now?”

My friends were Christians, and when they heard this obnoxious shout, they groaned and looked at each other. Then the wife said, “Oh, no! Now Michigan is going to lose.”

Now, I don’t know if the Lord ever bothers to intervene in a football game, but I do know this: With time running down, the Buffaloes marched down the field for a quick touchdown. Then they got the ball back again one last time. They were hopelessly far from the goal, there were only seconds left, and quarterback Kordell Stewart had time for just one last play. He threw the ball as far as he could, and it sailed far down the field to where a crowd of Michigan defenders stood waiting. But the ball glanced off their hands and floated right into the arms of Colorado receiver Michael Westbrook, who streaked across the goal line for the winning touchdown. The Buffaloes trailed most of the afternoon, but all it took was one amazing event to turn the game upside down and win the victory.

“It ain’t over till it’s over.” That’s true of sports; it’s true of Scrabble; it’s true of life. There may be one setback after another and defeat may seem inevitable, but then comes one electrifying moment that reverses everything, an amazing event that turns defeat into victory.

There has never been an event more amazing, never a victory more stunning, than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All seemed lost when Jesus was arrested and tortured and mocked and crucified. Good had lost; evil had won. Life had lost; death had won. Always, it seemed, evil wins out. Always, it seemed, death gets the last word. But not this time.

This time sin did its worst, only to be trumped by a power greater than sin. This time death was at its most terrible, only to be beaten by a power even greater than death. That one event changed everything. When the tomb turned up empty and Jesus turned up gloriously alive, nothing could ever be the same again. Jesus’ victory isn’t just a game or an exciting story; it’s reality. It is the hope and glory of the universe.

Easter Sunday is victory Sunday! Jesus’ resurrection means victory over all enemies, including death itself. It means victory over sin, victory over our failure to live up to God’s law. Resurrection means victory! As the Bible puts it, “‘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 15:55-57).

In a sense, Easter doesn’t quite seem fair. Imagine how frustrating it must be for Satan to have worked so hard for so long, only to lose it all in a single moment. Earlier I told of games where, for almost the entire contest, one side seemed to be winning, and then something happened that reversed everything. That’s just a hint of what Jesus’ resurrection does. Satan and sin and death are constantly at work, and they seem to have the upper hand much of the time, but then, in one stroke, God takes over and wins the victory through Jesus’ resurrection. It may not seem fair that one event can turn the tide and win the victory, but that’s the way it is.

That first Easter morning came after a time when the powers of darkness had been doing their work very carefully. Satan moved religious leaders who were jealous of Jesus to plot against him. Satan entered the heart of Judas and led him to betray Jesus. Satan attacked Peter and the other disciples so powerfully that their courage melted and they ran away. Satan had Jesus nailed to a cross and killed. And as if that weren’t enough, once they had killed him, the evil powers went out of their way to make sure he stayed dead. The religious leaders got authorization from Pontius Pilate to put an official seal on the tomb and to surround it with armed guards.

But at sunrise on Easter morning, all the efforts of evil were completely overthrown. “There was a violent earthquake,” says the Bible, “for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men” (Matthew 28:2-4). An official government seal doesn’t do much when an angel decides to break it! Armed soldiers become wimps and faint dead away in the presence of a heavenly warrior. So much for the attempt to keep the grave undisturbed!

The greatest grave robbery in history had just taken place– and it was an inside job: the Person inside the tomb robbed his own grave and plundered the realm of death. God sent the earthquake and the angel to remove the stone and flatten the guards, not so that Jesus could get out, but so that everybody else could get in and see that Jesus was already gone.

Some women who were close to Jesus were the first to discover the unconscious guards and the empty tomb. They were the first to hear the angel say, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matthew 28:5-6).

Before the day was over, Jesus appeared to women and men who were his followers. He ate with them. They touched him. And the news of his victory began to spread like wildfire.

The enemies of Christ tried to stop the news of his victory, first by bribing the guards to keeps their mouths shut, then by spreading phony stories about how Jesus’ grave had turned up empty, then by threatening Jesus’ followers with prison and death unless they’d stop talking about his resurrection. But how can a death threat scare somebody who knows that death has been defeated? Jesus’ followers couldn’t keep quiet about him. They said, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). They had to speak–they couldn’t help it.

And so the news of the risen Lord spread and spread and spread some more, down through the years and all throughout the world. Ruthless dictators have tried to stop it with fire and sword and wild beasts and gulags and machine guns, but that just made the resurrection faith spread faster than ever. The risen Savior continues to win people to himself, while dictators vanish. Again this Easter, millions of people in every part of the world are saying, “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What a joy and triumph to know the living Lord! People who follow Jesus sometimes have a tendency to think about sin and about death more than most other people do, and so you might think that Christianity is gloomy. But you couldn’t be farther from the truth. Christians believe in victory! So why would Christians talk about sin and death more than other people do? Well, maybe it’s because we’re the only people who can face these awful realities and still have an assurance of victory.

If you don’t believe in the resurrection, then death is the end, and you’ll want to think about it as little as possible. Just eat, drink, and be merry. Have a blast while you last. Party till you drop. Don’t think about death or talk about it until you absolutely have to. And if you find yourself in danger of dying and it’s no longer possible to avoid thinking about death–well, then, try to convince yourself that death isn’t really so bad, that it’s really okay, a natural part of being human that you just need to accept.

Those of us who know the risen Jesus don’t have to play those games. We don’t have to avoid thinking about death. We know that death is real. We know that our Savior died and that everyone else in the human race is destined to die, unless Jesus returns first. And we don’t have to pretend that death is just a natural part of being human. Death is an enemy! God did not create me for death. He created me for life. Death is my enemy, an enemy I can’t avoid. But should I be gloomy about that? No! Death is my enemy, but a defeated enemy. I say along with the biblical writer, “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?”

If death couldn’t hold a man who was punched and whipped and nailed to a cross and stabbed in the heart, who died and was sealed in a tomb and guarded by soldiers–if death can’t hold a man who was so thoroughly murdered and mutilated and buried, then it can’t hold me either. For I belong to that man, the man who is God, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sure, there’s a grim element in thinking about death. But for the Christian, there’s also the element of joy. When we Christians think about death, we’re not just groaning and grumping about the inevitable. We’re sizing up the enemy, and we’re anticipating what a thrill it will be to face such a terrible opponent and come out victorious. “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I remember a card game in which a friend and I were playing against two other friends. The game was close, and it all came down to one decisive hand. We played a number of cards from the hand, and it got more and more tense. Then, with the game on the line, the opponent to my left led with a card. My partner across the table played a higher one. Now it was the turn of the opponent to my right. He triumphantly smacked a card on the table that he knew nobody could beat. He and his partner leaped to their feet and howled with glee, and my partner got a sick look on his face. I hesitated for a moment, silent. It was my turn to play, so finally I tossed a card onto the table.

Our opponents were right in the middle of a high five when they looked down at my card. Suddenly their gloating stopped, their upraised hands halted in midair, and they both crashed back down into their seats. My partner’s face lit up, and we both started to laugh and laugh. I had just played the high trump card. Somehow, my opponents and my partner had lost track of things. They thought that the highest card had already been played earlier. But it hadn’t. I’d been holding it back, hoping my opponent would make the mistake of playing the second high card at the wrong time. That way I could wipe it out with mine and take its point value for myself. And it worked.

Satan played his top card when he had Jesus betrayed and killed. The forces of darkness were gloating and celebrating, and the friends of Jesus were sure that all was lost. But God was still holding one card that everybody had forgotten about. And on Easter he played it. Resurrection beats everything.

Now, maybe I shouldn’t be comparing something as great as the resurrection to something as trivial as a card game. But if Jesus could compare the kingdom of heaven to a handful of seed, and the final judgment to a netful of fish, maybe it’s okay to compare resurrection victory to a game of cards. So let me take the comparison a step further.

When I played the high trump, I not only got the points for the card I played, but I also got the points from the card my opponent had been suckered into playing. When he played the card, it looked like big points for them and defeat for us, but when I played the high trump, that card of his suddenly became ours and its point value was added to our total.

Similarly, Jesus’ crucifixion seemed to be a big score for Satan, but once Jesus arose, it wasn’t just the resurrection that was included in the Lord’s victory total, but even the crucifixion itself was revealed as being part of the victory. Let’s not just think of the crucifixion as a defeat that the resurrection later reversed. No, the crucifixion was itself a crucial part of Jesus’ victory. As it turned out, the crucifixion and resurrection were all along both part of a single divine strategy. Like a shrewd card player, the Lord knew how to take his opponent’s strongest card and make it count in favor of himself and his partners.

It might seem that Jesus’ death should count as an infinite debt against humanity for killing the Son of God, but in light of Easter, we see that Jesus’ death counts as an infinite payment in our favor that buys the salvation of humanity. It might seem that Jesus’ death would forever separate humanity from God, but in light of Easter, we see that Jesus’ death is the thing that brings humanity and God together again.

So if Christians wear crosses and talk a lot about Jesus’ death, and if we talk about our own sin and death, it’s not necessarily because we’re morbid. No, we know that the gruesome murder of Jesus now counts as the complete payment for sin. We know that his blood cancels the penalties of God’s law and pardons the guilt of all who trust him. We can talk honestly about the cross and about sin and death because we do all this in the light of resurrection victory.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that I just whistle merrily without a care in the world when I think of sin and death. Sin is still evil, and death is still an enemy. There’s an element of sadness as I think of my sin, and a good deal of trembling as I think ahead to death. But facing these things and feeling the weight of them magnifies the victory of Jesus all the more. Because of Jesus’ victory, I can look squarely at my own sin and say, “But Christ died to conquer sin!” I can look squarely at death and say, “But Christ arose to conquer death.” “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.”

It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Satan–almost, but not quite. Satan leads the first man, Adam, into sin, and that puts Adam and Eve and all their descendants under the burden of sin and under the power of death. Generation after generation invent new ways of sinning. Wars and disease and disaster bring every conceivable way of dying. But God still doesn’t give up. Instead, he sends just one Person, born of a woman, and this one man’s righteous life and bitter death and glorious resurrection trump everything that the devil has done. This one man’s death pays the debt for millions of people; this one man’s resurrection brings life to the world. “For,” says the Bible, “since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

Oh, I wish I could say or do something more to make you realize what an astonishing day this is. I almost wish I could jump out of this production studio and into your car or your house or wherever you happen to be, and grab you by the shoulders and look you in the eye and shout, “He’s alive! He’s alive! Do you know what that means?”

I can’t get all of this across to you on my own, but I don’t have to. There’s a Savior, risen from death and alive right now, and it his he who reaches from heaven by his Spirit to touch and transform you–something I can’t do for you on my own.

Perhaps you sense the living Jesus speaking to you and touching your heart right now. If you’ve been living in sin for so long that you think you’re beyond hope, just remember: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” A single drop of the Savior’s blood is more than enough to wipe all those sins away instantly.

If you feel like the only sure things in life are death and taxes–well, you may still have to pay your taxes this month, but I guarantee you one thing: death is not so terrible or so final as some folks think. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one recently, or you’re facing death yourself. If so, just remember: death doesn’t get the last word. Jesus does.

Many of you listening to me already know these things. You’ve put your faith in Jesus, and you’re as excited and joyful as I am about the victory we have in him.

But if you’ve never admitted your sins, if you’ve never faced the reality of death, and if you’ve never trusted Jesus to forgive your sins and give you eternal, resurrection life, then there’s no better time than right now. Will you pray with me?


Father, I thrill at how you sent your Son, Jesus, to upend the power of sin and death and Satan. I marvel at your brilliant strategy and your amazing power displayed in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

Lord, I want to share in your victory. I am a sinner. I can’t change myself or earn your approval. But I ask you to pardon me for the sake of the Savior who died in my place. I am weak and mortal, Lord. But I ask you to live in me and give me a share in the resurrection life that lasts forever.

Thanks be to you, O God. You give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.