TEXT: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:12-14)
Earlier in chapter 15 of his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote about things which are “of first importance.”
“Of first importance” … according to Paul … are these very few, basic points about the Christian faith:
- Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures;
- He was buried;
- He was raised; and
- He appeared—after his resurrection, Christ showed himself to those who had known him best.
He died for our sins, he was buried—and then … he came back!
That’s the whole gospel in a nutshell. And Paul says that brief summary of the Christian faith is the thing that is most important.
Trouble is … it’s never been easy to believe.
Oh, it’s easy enough to believe that Jesus was nailed to a cross and died. That’s pretty much what always happens to those who buck the status quo—especially if they upset the powers that be. Maybe it’s a cross. Maybe it’s a prison cell. Or a ruinous civil lawsuit. Maybe it’s a firing squad. Or a bullet in the back of the head. This stuff is not unfamiliar to us … is it?
It’s easy enough to believe.
And it’s easy enough to believe that Jesus was placed in a tomb and buried. Because that’s what we do with dead people. Right?
But … this part about him … coming back…
This business of resurrection…
That’s harder to swallow, isn’t it?
It always has been. Even in Paul’s day, resurrection was hard to believe in. That’s why, in the church in Corinth, there were more than a few who did not believe in it. Some of them just did not believe in it, period. Some of them thought that, well, maybe Jesus was raised from the dead, but that was only because he was special. Not like the rest of us. Others thought that he showed up as a kind of apparition, but not in a real, physical body. Others thought …
Well, there were all kinds of different opinions. Some had their roots in classical Greek philosophy … or in Jewish skepticism … or in the kind of materialistic rationalism that still raises objections today.
Now, we hear Paul stand up—boldly—to all those skeptical forces and declare: “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”
“The first fruits of those who have died.” Do you get that reference? It harks back to the Book of Leviticus, chapter 23 (vv. 10-11, 17, 20), which talks about the “firstfruits.” The first sheaf of the harvest was to be given to the Lord as a token that the entire harvest belonged to Him. So when Paul says that Christ is “the first fruits of those who have died,” he’s saying that Christ, who has been raised, is the guarantee of the resurrection of all God’s redeemed people. Jesus is the symbol … the model … the forerunner… of all of us!
Hard to believe though it may be, Paul assures us that Christ has been raised—and so also shall we!
That’s a pretty hopeful view of the future, isn’t it?
I mean … that’s good news, is it not? So many of us today … we dread the future. Whether we worry about our mortgages or our retirement savings or where the economy is headed … or fret about environmental degradation and global warming, about rising sea levels and oil spills and greenhouse gases … or—if you live on the west coast, like my son and his family used to—maybe you’re waiting for a tsunami, or for “the big one” to hit …
So many of us are looking for the next catastrophe, wondering whether it’s going to be the thing that finally takes us out. Like that beloved old hymn: “My Lord, what a morning—when the stars begin to fall.”
“When the stars begin to fall.” When the sky caves in. Do you know what that imagery is about? it comes …
Well, actually, I have to admit, it comes from Jesus himself. In the 24th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, after his disciples have asked him about the “end times,” Jesus is quoted thus: “Immediately after the suffering of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29).
That’s how most of us imagine the end … isn’t it? Whether the end of the world, or our personal, mortal end. The sky will cave in. The stars will fall from heaven.
“My Lord, what a morning!” It’s not a dawn that any one of us wants to face.
But today, Paul wants to tell us that—for us, for we “who are in Christ Jesus”—it’s going to be different. Why? Because: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:1-2).
Even if the stars appear to be falling … even if the sky seems to be caving in … We should have faith. We need to look to Jesus. We need to keep our eyes fixed upon the One who is leading us. And even if he’s leading us into death… we need to believe in the promise of Scripture—that, beyond death, there is resurrection.
That is true for each one of us, as believers. But it is also true for us, as communities of faith. Beyond death, there is resurrection. Beyond what seems like the end … beyond this season when the stars appear to be falling—when the sky is falling in …
Resurrection awaits us.
If we really want them to, our local congregations will continue. Their legacies will endure. Their ministries and missions will persist, in our neighbourhoods!
If we have faith enough … if we have courage enough … Or even if we don’t… The truth is, God is faithful, even if we are not. God is strong, even when we are weak.
Listen, folks … There is a better day coming. Believe in resurrection. Stay faithful. And never give up!
Can I get an “Amen”?