I Corinthians 15:12-26 (click to display NIV text)
March 31, 2013: Easter Sunday
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a human being. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.”
Some have asked me how I am feeling about my last Easter. I think I should clarify that I do not intend for this to be my last Easter. Of course that is up to the Lord, when our lives end. But I do believe that there are Easters after retirement, and there may even be more Easter sermons in my future.
But, even though this is not the last Easter, it is a significant one for me. That hit home this week when I received a letter from the Board of Ministry telling me that I would be receiving my “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the Covenant Annual Meeting. On Saturday morning, June 29th at 9:30 a.m. in Detroit, all the Covenant pastors who will turn 65 this year will come forward and a few kind words will be said. It is interesting about ministry: You begin quietly. You just start somewhere and no one seems to know, no announcement is made. For me it was September of 1970 when I would travel from school in New Haven, Connecticut, to Naugatuck to be the weekend youth minister. Nothing was said at the Annual Meeting until 1976 in Tacoma, when I was ordained. And then the next time something is said is at 9:30 on Saturday morning in Detroit: that you have completed your time. But it does not end there. You carry on, quietly. Something comes your way to do. The end is not the end.
This is what Paul is saying about our lives, and he seems to be quite excited about it. When your life ends, it doesn’t end. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we will be raised to a new life. They can say all they want at your funeral, but that is not the end. The last day is not really the last day. Death is not the final word. It is more like the Lifetime Achievement Award.
There were some in the church in Corinth who said there is no resurrection. These were apparently influential voices in the church. They would agree that in some way the spirit is immortal, but they said there is no resurrection, no real life after death. Gordon Fee says they felt the body was unnecessary and unwanted. “Life in the Spirit meant a final ridding oneself of the body, not because it was evil, but because it was inferior.”
The problem with that is, as one of our men at Bible study said, “It isn’t enough, it is not satisfying.” We want to be more than disembodied spirits. But the main problem is that such a view excludes Christ, who is risen.
Steve Mathewson, the pastor of the Evangelical Free Church in Libertyville, has recently written a wonderful devotional book on the resurrection, called “Risen: Fifty Reasons Why the Resurrection Changed Everything.”
He writes, “God made human beings to experience life through bodily existence. He gave us noses to smell lilacs, eyes to view sunsets, fingers to play piano keys, arms to hug loved ones, toes to wiggle in wet sand, ears to hear songbirds, and legs to climb mountains. For believers in Jesus, death is not the end of bodily existence. We can look forward to the day when God’s Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies so that we can run and talk and hear and taste in the new earth – God’s restored creation.”
Craig Blomberg writes that Greeks and Romans would have asked, “Why isn’t immortality of the soul enough?” Then he says the answer is that God created the world as good. Human bodies are God’s good creation. Human beings were intended to live in bodily form in a material world. God will create new heavens and new earth. God’s original created purpose will not be thwarted. The resurrection vindicates God against his enemies, especially the power of death.
Beyond that, there is not too much we can say. What will resurrected life be like? There is much we do not know.
Philippians 3:20: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
I John 3:2: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
There are two parts to Paul’s response. The first is an argument; he is building a case for the resurrection. He sounds like Perry Mason. If there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised. That means, when you die, you are still in your sins. The forgiveness of God depends on the death and resurrection of his Son. Also, if Christ was not raised, death is not conquered. The resurrection is the center of the whole faith, and if it is not true, the whole faith collapses.
In verse 20, Paul moves into a new voice. He is no longer building a case, an argument. Now he is excited. He is like a sportscaster whose team has just won the big game in the last second. He is Ron Santo yelling “Cubs win, Cubs win.” You have to pick up Paul’s energy and exuberance in verse 20 to read it correctly. There are several tons of confetti coming down from the ceiling when this verse is read: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!” Craig Blomberg writes, “Since Christ has been raised, it sets into motion an inexorable chain of events that will culminate in the universal demonstration of the absolute sovereignty of God.”
This is what Paul calls firstfruits. At harvest time, the first cutting of grain was made, and that portion was brought to the temple, with joy and thanksgiving. The first cutting, given to God, guarantees the greater harvest yet to come. The resurrection of Jesus is the firstfruits. It guarantees the resurrection of all who are in Christ, and it spells the death of death itself. Gordon Fee writes, “The resurrection destroys death by robbing it of its storehouse of those who do not belong to it because they belong to Christ.” We are children of Adam, and you do not need to have faith in Adam to be like him and to die with him. But faith in Christ leads to resurrection life.
Resurrection hope gives us a future, an anchor for our lives. When we know where we are headed, we can make better decisions about how we spend our lives. We can question attitudes that come from the world’s thinking. We can set priorities that do not come from a corporation or a TV ad or from what our neighbor does. In other words, the resurrection gives us freedom to live in a new way.
Dallas Willard writes, “To live strongly and creatively in the Kingdom of God, we need to have firmly fixed in our minds what our future is to be like. Our future must make sense to us. It must be something we can now plan or make decisions in terms of, with clarity and joyful anticipation.”
Today is Easter Sunday. It is not my last Easter. Resurrection life is my future. The end is not the end. He is risen. He is risen indeed.