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One little word

James Pope
Pastor James Pope, executive editor

The title of this article can get you thinking about Martin Luther’s Reformation hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (Christian Worship 863/864). The third stanza ends with the observation that “one little word can fell him.” One little word of Scripture can defeat Satan. Jesus demonstrated that when the old evil foe tempted him in the desert shortly after his baptism, and the Lord countered every temptation with a word of Scripture.

The “one little word” that I have in mind is not from the hymnal but the Bible. The word is from 1 Corinthians 15:20. The little word is only three letters long—in both Greek and English. It’s a little word, but it has huge significance. I’ll reveal the word in a minute.

In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, the apostle Paul explained some of the dire consequences people would face if Jesus’ body were still lying in a grave somewhere. If Jesus’ resurrection had never taken place, then the apostle wasted the Christian years of his life traveling and preaching about Christ crucified and Christ arisen. If there never was an Easter Sunday, then everyone who listened to Paul and other Christian pastors—believing the message of Christ crucified and Christ arisen—wasted their time. Worst of all, if the final words of the Jefferson Bible describe the last event of Jesus’ life on earth (“There they laid Jesus and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre and departed”), then we are left with our sins and have no way of getting rid of them. How disastrous!

Then comes 1 Corinthians 15:20 and the one little word.


“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The two-letter word if had us think about how horrible life and eternity would be if there were no Easter season on the church calendar. But there is no need to consider those what-ifs. Jesus’ tomb is empty, and that empty tomb is full of meaning.

Jesus’ resurrection means our salvation is complete. Jesus’ holy life and sacrificial death absolutely comprise the full payment for the sins of the world, including yours and mine. Scripture states about Jesus, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The empty tomb is proof positive that Jesus lived up to his name, which means “Savior.”

Jesus’ resurrection means that the Lord’s followers have life beyond the grave. “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19) is Jesus’ promise to you and me. For Christians, death is a defeated enemy.

So is Satan. John Schuetze’s article on Jesus’ descent into hell (p. 12) highlights a significant event that deserves more attention and appreciation. As prophesied in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15), Jesus crushed his hellish opponent, and his victory march through hell offered visible proof.

First Corinthians has its share of content-heavy words—words like righteousness (1:30), sanctified and justified (6:11), resurrection (15:13), and imperishable (15:42). We need to unpack those words to understand their meaning and appreciate the Lord’s power and love.

The “one little word” of 1 Corinthians 15:20 is not heavy in content; it is a word that is quite easy to understand. What it does, though, is steer our thoughts in an entirely different direction from the previous verses. It leads us to words of Scripture that lift our spirits and provide meaning to life and certainty to eternity.

It’s amazing how one little word changes everything.

Author: James Pope
Volume 110, Number 04
Issue: April 2023

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  • James F. Pope

    James Pope brings a variety of experiences to his ministry at Forward in Christ, including serving parishes in Wisconsin and Florida; teaching history, theology, and staff ministry courses at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.; serving as the “Light for our path” columnist for FIC from 2014–2019; and answering theological questions submitted to the WELS website from 2014–2021.

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