Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, August 20, 2018
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The Indispensable Resurrection

1st Corinthians 15:12-26

 A couple months ago we looked at Romans 10:9, which says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  I think that’s one of the best summaries of the Christian faith to be found in the Scriptures.  In that verse, we see that there are two key pieces of content to the Christian faith.  The first is the Lordship of Christ, by which we mean that Jesus is Lord, that he is God.  The second is the resurrection.  Those two pieces are indispensable to the Christian faith.  

 There are many aspects of Christianity that are not essential.  Do we baptize by sprinkling, by pouring, or by immersion?  It’s not essential.  Do you believe Christ will come back before or after a 1000 year reign?  Are you a pre-millenial, post-millenial, or maybe even an amillenial Christian?  It’s not essential.  

 But these two things are essential:  The Lordship of Christ and the resurrection.  You can’t be a Christian if you don’t believe in them because they are the essence of Christian belief.  

 Why the resurrection?  Why is it the essential, indispensable event of the Christian faith?  To answer that, let’s consider the Scripture before us today.

 First Corinthians is the only place in the New Testament that the resurrection is really defended.  There must be a reason for that.  Why didn’t Paul have to convince the Colossians of the resurrection?  Why only Corinth?  Well, Corinth was a Greek city.  In fact, you could say it was the THE Greek city, the most “Greek” city we encounter in the New Testament, with the possible exception of Athens, but there is no Epistle to the Athenians.  As a quintessentially “Greek” city, Corinth was steeped in that culture, thought, and philosophy.  Part of Greek philosophy was a view of human beings that was very different than a biblical understanding of human beings. 

 In Hebrew culture and thought, there is an essential unity of the body and the spirit.  To a Hebrew, the thought of “splitting” the body and spirit was silly.  So the Hebrew mind had no problem conceiving of a resurrection of the body.  But the Greek philosophy was that the spirit is good, but everything physical is evil.  The body is evil.  They believed the human spirit to be trapped, imprisoned inside the body.  And they only believed in a spiritual afterlife.  They did have a problem conceiving of a resurrection of the body.

 Because of this cultural situation of Corinth, Christians there had a hard time accepting the idea of a bodily resurrection.  But if there is no resurrection, what happens to the Christian faith?  What follows from a rejection of the resurrection?  What dominos fall if you knock over the first one?  

Well, if there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our faith is empty.  The content of our faith is missing.  If Christ has not been raised, our faith is meaningless.  We have no reason to hope in Christ.  If Christ has not been raised, then our faith is fruitless.  Christ has not saved us from sin and death.  And finally, if Christ has not been raised, then we who say that he has are liars.  

Without the resurrection, there is no compelling reason to believe Christ has saved us from our sins.  He may have died for our sins, but how do we know, apart from a resurrection, that his death was able to save us from our sins?  Why should we believe any of Jesus’ promises if he promised to come back from the dead and then didn’t deliver on that promise?  And why would we ever think that Christ is Lord if he didn’t come back from the dead?  How can he be God if he’s dead?  For that matter, how can we “know” him or “walk” with him if he’s dead?  If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, the most we can do is follow his teachings.  But if all we want to do is follow the teachings of a dead man, we have plenty of dead people whose teachings we can follow!  

“If only for this life we have faith in Christ, we are to be pitied more than anyone in the world.”  Many early Christians were persecuted for their faith.  Some were cut off from family and friends.  Many died for their faith.  If they suffered all this for a lie, they were to be pitied, and so are we!  Not to mention all the things we are giving up for the sake of following Christ.  If Christ is dead and gone, then we’d be foolish to avoid the things of this world that we do because they are “sinful.”  

But the fact of the matter is:  Christ has been raised from the dead!  

Paul knew that firsthand.  He had experienced the presence of the Living Christ for himself.  And I hope you have, too!

Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection.  Paul is referring here to an ancient Hebrew festival called firstfruits, which can be found in Leviticus 23.  The idea was that when the grain first ripened, before the harvest began, a single sheaf of wheat was offered to God, as an expression of thanksgiving.  Only then could the harvest begin.  That first sheaf was a promise of God.  It was God’s promise that the rest of the harvest

was soon to come.  In like way, the resurrection of Jesus is God’s assurance that the rest of the resurrection is soon to come.  Because he rose, we also will rise!  

I was reading recently in a book by a fellow named John Ortberg.  He observed that there have been two great revolutions in the history of human beings.  The first was the agricultural revolution.  We started to plant crops and harvest them instead of only living off what grew naturally.  But it took an act of faith for that to happen.  For agriculture to start, someone had to look at a grain of wheat or barley or a piece of fruit, maybe a grape or fig, and say to himself, “This thing is good to eat.  And I can enjoy it right now.  But if I bury it in the ground, some time later, I’ll have more to show for it.”  It takes an act of faith to bury perfectly good food, to “throw it away.”  

The second great revolution is the Christian revolution, and it is very similar in nature.  Jesus says that if we trust in him and “die” to self, then we will have life in the world to come.  If we “throw away” our life in this world, then we’ll have something better to show for it on the “last day.”  

So we do not tremble in fear of that great enemy, death.  That’s what death is, a great enemy.  We hate it.  We rebel against it.  We fear it.  When it happens, we cry and lament it.  But as believers, we hold on to this:  Death does not have the last word.  

Death is the final enemy to be destroyed.  Its days are numbered.  Its power is already broken, even if its “presence” in this world is allowed to persist for a while longer.  It does not have power over us.  I love the words of the old hymn, All Creatures of our God and King:   And thou, our sister, gentle death,    waiting to hush our latest breath.   Thou leadest home the child of God   and Christ our Lord the way hath trod. To us, death is no longer the enemy.  In a strange way, it becomes our friend, ushering us home to God.  Death’s presence in this world is allowed to continue, for now.  But one day even it will be humbled before Christ.  

Death reigned through Adam, but now life reigns through Christ.  

Again, this is a place where the Hebrew mindset helps us to understand the meaning of Scripture.  The Hebrew people believed strongly in “human solidarity.”  For

example, they proclaimed “We are children of Abraham.”  Whatever else they were, they were defined by their solidarity with one man, Abraham, the father of faith.  

In a similar way, we are all “in” Adam by virtue of our birth.  We are his descendants, his children.  Adam sinned, and then he died.  And because we are “in” him, we too sin and die.  

But now the resurrection has begun through Christ.  We can be “in” Christ through a second birth, a spiritual birth.  He was obedient, so he lived.  Death no longer has power over him.  And by becoming one with him through faith, we too can live.  

 So the question is, “In whom are we?”  Who is our “spiritual father?”  Adam or Christ?  

 If we are in Adam, death has the final word.  Death remains the great enemy.  At best we can put him off, we can delay his victory, but we have no hope of beating him.  

 But if we are in Christ, life has the final word.  And death becomes our friend, ushering us home to God.  All because Jesus died and rose again and has defeated the power of death.  That’s why the resurrection matters so much.

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