Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sermon: 1 Corinthians 15: 20-34 The Resurrection

I wonder if you’ve ever had the misfortune to include a red sock among a washing machine load of white shirts? You know what happens - the white shirts are changed, nothing is the same again, everything turns a pinky shade. One thing changes everything else.

As we continue our series in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul shows that the resurrection of Jesus is like that. Nothing will be the same again. Paul writes about the resurrection because, as we saw last week, some people in Corinth were saying that there was no resurrection - that this world is all there is. Pure materialism. But as Paul pointed out, if there is no resurrection, then our preaching is pointless, our faith is in vain, our sins are not forgiven, Christians who have died have perished, and that we are just pitied fools. Without the resurrection, we’re idiots.

But as Paul goes on, he says that Christ has been raised from the dead. Forget about those consequences - Christ Jesus is alive, and because he is alive, everything is and will be changed. We’ll see this in three key areas: our future, our world, and our behaviour. In other words, what has happened in the past (Christ’s resurrection) affects what will happen in the future (our resurrection), and therefore must affect our present (how we behave).

Let’s look at our future. As we stand, our future is not a pleasant prospect. Death is what lies ahead, both physical and spiritual. Death is the consequence of our rebellion against God - something that we share in common with everyone else, as children of Adam. Look at the start of verse 22. ‘in Adam all die’. Four devastating words. All of us are sinners, all of us will die because of our disobedience. Further, the start of 21 shows that death came into the world by a man - by Adam - death was not part of the original order - it was brought in by Adam.

Because of him, but also because of our own sin, we share in the curse of death. And yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. Continue with me in 21. ‘For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.’ Adam introduced us to death, but another man has introduced us to life. ‘If Adam’s sin had far-reaching consequences, so had Christ’s resurrection.’ (Morris)

‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.’ The Corinthians thought that there was no resurrection. Paul says that Christ has been raised, but more than that - we too can share in the resurrection. The reference to firstfruits there comes from Leviticus, and was one of the festivals in the Jewish calendar. Firstfruits, as the name suggests, was the first pickings of the harvest, which were brought and dedicated to the Lord. The firstfruits implied that there was a great harvest to come. So, as Jesus has been raised, so we shall be raised. Firstfruits (according to Leviticus 23:10), was celebrated on the day after the Passover Sabbath - which is in fact Easter Day!

Christ reverses the curse and promises life through his resurrection. As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But let’s be clear that those two ‘alls’ don’t point to the same group of people. Just because all are in Adam doesn’t mean that all - everyone - will be made alive. Rather Adam and Christ are contrasted as the representative head of two groups of people: those in Adam, and those in Christ. Verse 23 helps us to understand: ‘at his coming those who belong to Christ.’ All of us will die physically, as we are all in Adam. But those of us who are in Christ will be raised to life eternal with him.

Which group are you a part of today? You’re automatically in Adam by nature, but are you also in Christ? It’s not an automatic entry, but comes by faith in Jesus. Have you taken that step?

Christ’s resurrection changes our future. But more than that, it also changes our world. When Adam sinned, he led humanity into sin and death, but more than that, he also unleashed the forces of sin and death on the world. Remember the curse on the ground in Genesis 3? The opposition to God’s kingdom became widespread, urged on by the devil and his demonic powers.

On the cross, though, Jesus took on the evil powers and our sin, and defeated them (Colossians 2:15) there. D-Day has been won, now we’re in the mopping-up stage, until all his enemies are put under his feet. The final enemy to be defeated is death - when all Christians who have died are released from its power, and are resurrected to live forever, body and soul.

The resurrection demonstrates, therefore, that Jesus reigns in triumph. Every objection to his rule is removed, and all things are in subjection under him. Verses 27 and 28 have a lot of subjections - but what Paul is saying is that all things are put under Christ’s feet, but obviously not God the Father, who reigns over all. Christ returns the kingdom to God the Father, and God reigns over all forever, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Christ’s final consummation has been guaranteed by his resurrection to life. It’s like one of those domino set-ups, where when you flick one domino, everything follows in sequence, leading to the end. Christ’s resurrection leads to Christ’s complete glorification. All his enemies will be destroyed - are you living as his enemy today? Then you stand in real danger.

So far we’ve thought about the future - both Christ’s glorification when all enemies are destroyed forever at his return, and our own future hope of eternal life guaranteed through Christ’s resurrection. These together with Christ’s resurrection have an impact on us today - it should also make a difference to how we live now, as we look towards the future. Paul shows this in three areas - practice, mission, and morals.

Verse 29 is tricky - this baptism on behalf of the dead. One writer has suggested as many as 400 possible meanings of what was happening. It seems, though, that in Corinth, some people were being baptised for the sake of a fellow Christian who had already died before being baptised. It’s not something that Paul recommends, and quickly fades away, but he points even to their strange practice as something which affirms the resurrection. Why bother doing it if there’s no resurrection in the first place?

The resurrection is the motivation and drive for mission, for spreading the gospel. It’s what pushes Paul: look at verse 32. ‘What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ Without the resurrection, our faith and mission is pointless. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. So we must get out there and tell people - no matter what the cost. Those wild beasts were those who opposed the gospel, who persecuted Paul for his message. There is a world to win, souls to save, through the preaching of the gospel. Are you excited about the resurrection?

At FCA on Monday, we sang a hymn: ‘We have a gospel to proclaim, good news for men in all the earth, The gospel of a saviour’s name, we sing his glory, tell his worth.’

The resurrection affects what we do in church, and drives our mission. But it must also have an impact on our morals, on our behaviour. You see, Paul spends a whole 58 verses and one whole chapter of his letter to the Corinthians because they had got into a terrible muddle about the resurrection. They were listening to the wrong people, drinking in what society and culture said, and it was leading not just to wrong doctrine, but also wrong behaviour.

To make the point, Paul quotes a Greek poet to say ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’ By not believing in the resurrection, they were tempted into the eat and drink for tomorrow we die mode of behaviour, because they figured this world was all they would know.

What about us? Are we listening to the wrong voices too? If we do, then we’re in danger of those voices dictating how we lead our lives. Did you see any of the Michael Jackson tribute show the other night? The message that came from the most of it was that Michael is obviously in heaven, possibly because everyone goes to heaven. Friends, not everyone will be raised to life - only those whose trust is in Jesus, those who are his. By thinking everyone goes to heaven, then we can live how we please - it doesn’t matter what you do. Or on the other side, if you listen to Richard Dawkins and the scientific atheistic materialistic fundamentalists, who (like the Greeks) say this world is all there is, then again, it doesn’t matter what you do.

Who are you listening to? Paul says their confusion is like a drunken stupor, and calls the Corinthians to wise up, to wake up, and not continue sinning. Are we also confused in our thinking, and our behaviour?

Just like the red sock in the wash, Christ’s resurrection changes everything. Our future is no longer bleak, so let us celebrate. The opposition to Christ will end, so let us look for the coming of his kingdom. Our resurrection is sure, so let us live up to it. And let us pray...

This sermon was preached at the Lord's Supper in St Elizabeth's on Sunday 12th July 2009.

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