1 Corinthians 15
I’m guessing you won’t be surprised if, this morning, we talk about the resurrection. If you are used to coming to church a couple of times a year and one of those is Easter Sunday, you will probably go away thinking, “Doesn’t he ever preach on anything else?” Not on Easter. In fact, if I had to pick one topic to preach on – if I were limited to only one thing I could preach on week in and week out, the resurrection would be it. But not for the reasons you’re thinking.
If you are like me, most of my life I’ve thought of resurrection as primarily focused on what happened in an empty tomb 2000 years ago. Or fast forward to what will happen off in the future, heaven and eternity and pie in the sky by and by. It seems especially true that we talk about resurrection and heaven at funerals – that we lay aside this tired old body to go off and live in a non-body existence where we won’t have death and disease and we won’t ever suffer or be tired again. Am I right?
I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about resurrection recently. There are some outstanding books on the subject written in recent years, and they have challenged my assumptions and pre-conceptions – and I’ve begun to see and think of resurrection in a much different way. And it makes all the difference in the world.
You see, if resurrection is only about what happened a long time ago or what will happen someday – off in the future, distant, intangible – then it really doesn’t change much right now – except that we might live in fear that we’ll be in the wrong line when we get to judgment day – the goats rather than the sheep. And we know that won’t go well. And don’t tell me some of you aren’t a little afraid that’s what will happen if you don’t shape up and get with it. You believe in grace… to a point, but you’re not sure even God has enough grace to let you in.
And what a miserable life that makes right now. You come to church, but you’re not sure how much good that does. You resolve that you’re going to be a better person, but it’s like that diet you keep promising to get on – it’s just more than your will power can accomplish. And so, spiritually, you live in dread, unable to enjoy today, because of what tomorrow might hold.
But what if the resurrection wasn’t just a nice little story about the first Easter morning or a confusing doctrine about the future, but the key to understanding our present – today? What if the resurrection was just as much about how you live right now as it is about the promise of what will happen someday in the future? And that is exactly the picture of the resurrection we have in the New Testament. It’s not just about life after death – it’s also about life before death.
First things first. What do we mean when we say Christ was resurrected from the dead?
Perhaps you think of Jesus’ resurrection simply as another in a series of raisings starting with the son of the widow of Nain, and Jairus’ daughter, and Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus. They were dead, and Jesus raised them from the dead. Or in the book of Acts when Eutychus fell out of the third story window and was killed and Paul raised him, or when Peter raised Dorcas. Is that what we’re talking about? That Jesus, dead for three days, was resuscitated and given life?
The fact is, there is a significant difference between those five and Jesus. Those five were raised from the dead – but it was only temporary. They would die again someday – disease or injury or eventually old age. Their bodies were the same bodies – flesh and blood. They would wear out and death would come.
But when Jesus was resurrected, it was with a brand new body. It was as different from the old body as… that’s the problem – there’s simply nothing you can compare it with that helps us grasp what he’s talking about. There was something familiar about it, and yet it was like nothing ever seen before. Mary didn’t recognize him at the tomb, the two disciples didn’t recognize him on the road to Emmaus, and yet when he stood among the disciples in the upper room he told them to touch the wounds in his hands and in his side. And Thomas declared, “My Lord and my God!” It was a spiritual body, but it was physical to the touch.
When Paul wrote about the resurrection in 1 Cor 15, he described the difference in these bodies:
But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.
The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being” ; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.
I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor 15:35-54)
The resurrection of Jesus was the single most important event in all of human history. It was the shot heard around – not just the world – but throughout history. It was to that moment that everything that came before it was pointing – and everything that comes after it is building upon. The resurrection of Jesus anticipates the resurrection of the dead that will accompany Jesus’ second coming, it anticipates the coming of the new heaven and new earth at the end of time. It anticipates the redemption of everything that has been damaged and corrupted by the fall, and the setting right of every injustice. It is the answer to those beneath the altar in Revelation 6 who cry out, “How long, O Lord, how long?”
I especially want you to hear what he wrote in the same chapter back in vss. 20-21: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
This wasn’t just a one-time event reserved for Jesus. It is the first-fruits – the anticipation of what is to come. It is woven throughout the pages of the NT –
Romans 6:1-5 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
Colossians 3:1-4 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
2 Corinthians 5:14-17 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
1 Peter 1:3-5 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
In addition to these, Ephesians 2, Romans 8, 2 Thess 4, Philippians 3, 2 Peter 3, Revelation 20 all speak of this promise of our participation in this resurrection from the dead – of being clothed with new bodies and experiencing life in the new heaven and new earth.
But, lest we focus on this off-in-the-future view of resurrection, and assume that it has importance only in assuring us of life after death, I want you to notice that in every one of those passages there is the element of the here and now. It’s not just that we will be raised from the dead, but when we are baptized with Jesus we have begun a resurrection life. It is exactly what Jesus prayed in John 17:3 “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” If you know God (iow – if you have been united with Jesus in baptism and are living in an intimate, daily relationship with him – you don’t have to wait until you die to begin eternal life – you are already living eternal life.) The same with the resurrection. If you are in Christ, you don’t have to wait until Christ comes again to begin living a resurrected life – you have already begun living a resurrected life. Listen to the verses that immediately follow those passages we read earlier:
Romans 6:11-13 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life.
Colossians 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ… vs. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
1 Peter 1:3 “…he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead… vs. 13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
2 Peter 3:11-12 [Since Christ will come and bring this new heaven and new earth] “…what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”
Living a resurrected life is as much about how you live now as what will happen then.
Don’t get me wrong. There will be so much more that will happen in the resurrection at the second coming. As Paul wrote, “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
Throughout the NT there is this anticipation of the new heavens and the new earth. And what that anticipates is not a disembodied existence sitting on clouds in an eternity long worship service, but a real physical existence in those new bodies – in a heaven that has come down to earth – where God has renewed and restored the earth to be like life in the garden was originally intended to be. Life to its fullest. Listen to Rev. 21 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
Now, that’s something to look forward to.
But what will happen then has it’s seed in what is happening now. We are living now in the power of the resurrection. Our lives are motivated and empowered by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is not just an event in the past, but the present, living reality of our lives. Again, as Paul wrote, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is.”
I know – that begs the question – so what? It’s the question posed over and over in the NT – so what? And the answer that is given over and over is this: Live now in a way that anticipates how you will live then. Live as though God dwells with you now; live as though you walk daily with Jesus. Because he does and you do.
Here was Paul’s answer at the end of 1 Cor. 15: Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58) What you do matters. How you live matters.