Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sermon: 1 Corinthians 15: 19-34 Raised: The Firstfruits

I wonder if you’ve ever got a shock when doing the laundry. You’ve had a load of whites in the wash, you open the washing machine, and your nice white shirts or blouses are now a delicate shade of pink. One stray red sock made it into the pile, and everything else is affected by it.

We’re taking a few weeks to look at 1 Corinthians 15 - the resurrection of Jesus and what it means for us. So far we’ve seen that Jesus was raised according to the Scriptures (as told by the eyewitnesses); and last week we thought about the consequences of Jesus not being raised - our preaching would be in vain, your faith is in vain, we’re telling lies about God, we’re still in our sins, and we’re to be pitied most of all.

But, Paul says, we don’t need to worry about those things - because ‘in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.’ So Jesus really was raised - we can be sure of that fact. From today on, we get to see what that means for us - both in the future, and in the here and now. It all starts with v20. ‘But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.’ Jesus is described as the firstfruits.

The farmers and gardeners will know what this is straight away. After you’ve planted your seed there’s a bit of a wait. You might wonder if anything is happening. But eventually, you’ll see the first shoots appear, and then the very first apple or tomato or ear of corn. That’s your firstfruit - the first fruit of the plant, the sign that the harvest is on the way. The rest of the crop will follow, and it’ll soon be time to gather it in.

Jesus is the firstfruits - ‘of those who have fallen asleep.’ So Jesus’ resurrection is a pointer to our resurrection, if we’re linked to him. Do you see how verses 21-22 compare and contrast? ‘For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.’

Death came into the world through one man - Adam. That was in the Garden of Eden, when he took the forbidden fruit, when he disobeyed God’s command, and sinned. As Romans reminds us - the wages of sin is death - so Adam’s sin brought death into the world. But now through one man - Jesus - the resurrection of the dead has also come. Jesus has done all that was necessary to overcome death, through his perfect obedience and his sin-bearing death and his being raised to new life, so resurrection to new life is available to us.

We just need to be connected to him. That’s what v 22 shows us. By nature, all of us are in Adam. You see, Adam wasn’t just acting on his own behalf in the Garden of Eden. He was acting as our representative, our head. The choices he made, the action he took affects us all. We see something like it all the time. For example, you might talk about how ‘we won’ or ‘we lost’ even though you weren’t playing on the field - how your team plays affects you, you are connected to their actions, for good or ill.

Or maybe your boss decides that everyone will have to work longer hours. Their decision affects you, whether you like it or not. Well, in the same way, we are all in Adam. He chose to disobey, and we all follow him in sin, and will also die. But the contrast is there again - ‘so also in Christ shall all be made alive.’ Being connected to Adam brings death, but being connected to Christ brings life.

So which one are you in? Or, if you’d like to put it like this - who is driving your bus? We all start in Adam’s bus; we all have the end destination of death - but have you got off his bus and got onto Jesus’ bus? Are you in Christ? It’s not automatic. The ‘all’ in Adam is not the same ‘all’ in Christ - as we see in verse 23. ‘But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming, those who belong to him.’ Those in Christ are those who belong to him.

The bus driver gets to the stop first, the passengers follow behind. The firstfruits are gathered in first, and then comes the rest of the harvest. Christ has been raised. That has already happened. We can now be sure that those who belong to him will also be raised. So are you only in Adam, or are you also in Christ? Are you confident of this hope?

Jesus has been raised, the firstfruits. Our resurrection in him is assured. But Jesus’ resurrection is also the first taste of his kingdom rule. The Old Testament prophecies of Psalms 8 and 110 are fulfilled as Jesus reigns until all his enemies are under his feet. It’s maybe a sign that I’m getting old, but I’ve invested in a footstool, which sits in front of my rocking chair. It’s so good to sit down, but even better to rest my feet on the stool. Well Jesus’ enemies are what he rests his feet on, and Paul says that the final enemy to be destroyed is (26) death.

The resurrection is like D-Day in World War Two. The victory is assured, but the war isn’t over yet. Death continues to claim us. We continue to have funerals, but not forever. Death will not have the final say. Death cannot have the final say. It too will be like my footstool, under the feet of Jesus. Death will be no more. The firstfruits shows us that. Just as Jesus rose, so we too will rise, freed from death, in new resurrection life, just like Jesus.

And knowing that this will happen in the future must change how we live in the present. The Corinthians seem to be aware of that, based on what might be one of the hardest verses of the Bible to understand. Verse 29, people being baptised on behalf of the dead. One commentator suggests there are 400 different possible interpretations. We’ll not look at them all today. It might be that someone had believed in Christ, but died before they were baptised, and someone else was baptised on their behalf. But why bother with that if the dead aren’t raised?

Or why would Paul bother putting himself in danger, travelling round the known world to tell people about Jesus if the dead aren’t raised? No reason at all. To sum it up, look at verse 32b: ‘If the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ If this world is all there is, if this life is all we have, then we might as well enjoy it while we can. And that’s what the Corinthians had been told by the false teachers they were listening to, and by the society around them. They needed to stop being deceived, waken up, and not keep on sinning.

Christ has been raised as the firstfruits. We too, if we are in him, will be raised. The life we have is not our own - it is Christ’s, for him to use us as he pleases. For Paul, it felt like dying every day, as he gave himself to share the good news of Jesus, in danger every hour. Of seeking to persuade people to move from being united to Adam, to being united to Christ. Of giving people a hope and a future.

Harvest time is coming. The firstfruits have already been gathered in. Christ is raised - will you be gathered with him to reign with him?

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 24th April 2016.

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