Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, August 24, 2019
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Greater Things In Store

1 Corinthians 15:19-28

A few months ago, I saw a headline for a news story. The gist of it was that there are people alive in the world today who will live to be 150 years old. Advances in medicine and healthy living and so on and such forth will make that possible.

Personally, I think that’s a pretty bold claim, considering that there is only one documented case of a person living to the age of 120. That was Jeanne Calment of France, who lived to be 122.5 years old. And even in that case, there are some who doubt the authenticity of her claim! But we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Adding 30 years to the human lifespan seems pretty ambitious.

And you know what: Even if it actually happens, we all still die. If you take the very best possible care of yourself; if you eat all the right things, do all the right things, get the best possible medical care; you will still die. Just as surely as the person who takes the worst care of him or herself, you will still die.

Death is the great enemy. We fear death, both for ourselves and those we love. We hate death when it happens to those we care about. We try to resist death by “doing the right things,” but in the end, death always wins. Life has a 100% mortality rate.

We all die because we all belong to Adam, Paul says.

Now, this is something that we have to understand Paul’s “cultural context” to grasp. Paul is, of course, a first century Hebrew. And the Hebrew people thought of themselves first and foremost in terms of a corporate identity. We are inclined to think of ourselves as individuals. We flaunt our individuality. But Paul, and all Hebrews, thought first in terms of group identity. “We are the children of Abraham,” they said.

But before there was Abraham, there was Adam, the first man, the father of all human beings. And we are all children of Adam. We are all “in Adam” connected to him by virtue of our natural birth. Adam sinned. He rebelled against God. Eve, too, by the way. And the result of sin is death. And since we are all in Adam, we all share in his sin and death. And of course, obviously, we all continue to sin, as well. Paul writes about this in more detail in Romans chapter 5, if you’d like to read more.

By virtue of our natural birth, we are all going to die. But in Christ, we can experience a “supernatural birth;” we can be born again from God. In the Gospel of

John, chapter 1, it reads: “To all who believed him and accepted him,” that is Jesus, “he gave the right to become children of God.” By being children of Adam, we follow in the pattern of Adam. We grow old and die. But by becoming children of God through faith in Christ, we can follow in the pattern of Christ: After we die, we can experience the resurrection from the dead.

Christ rose from the dead, the firstfruits of the resurrection. And again, we are back into Hebrew culture. Leviticus 23 tells of the festival of firstfruits. Each year, when the first barley grain ripened, they were to take some of it and grind it into flour and offer it as a sacrifice to God. Only after that was done could the rest of the barley be used for ordinary purposes. Part of the meaning of offering firstfruits is that they were understood to be a sign of God’s promise. The rest of the harvest was coming.

Paul applies that idea to Jesus. His resurrection is the firstfruits. We have confidence that the rest of the resurrection from the dead is coming because Christ rose. Christ rose from the dead first, and those who belong to Christ will rise from the dead when he returns.

“And then the end will come.” In Hebrew thinking, the end of the world is always understood to be a battle. Well, you can’t have a battle without an enemy. So who are the enemies of Christ? “Every ruler, authority, and power.” These refer to “spiritual powers,” demonic forces opposed to God. “And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

“God has put all things under his authority.” Christ will reign as God’s viceroy. Think of the words of the Prophet Daniel: “I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”

And then, God “will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.”

The resurrection, the reason we celebrate Easter, is an amazing event. But it’s not the end of the story. It is only the first step on the “upward swing” of Christ’s work.

Last Sunday, we were talking about Philippians chapter two, a text that speaks of Christ’s work. And it talks about his work in the terms of an arc. Usually, we think of

arcs rising and falling. You throw a ball, and it goes in an arc. It goes up, reaches its high point, and then it falls, completing the arc. The arc of Christ’s life goes the other way.

It begins with Christ eternal in the heavens. He is God, after all. But he doesn’t cling to his divine rights. He empties himself. He takes on human flesh. He is obedient to the will of his Heavenly Father, even to the point of death, even to death on a cross, a death fit only for slaves and poor people. That was the low point of the arc. But the resurrection is the first step on the upward swing. He is raised from the dead. He ascends into heaven. He is seated at the right hand of God the Father. He returns to judge the living and dead. And he defeats every enemy, reigning supreme forevermore.

Easter is foretaste of greater things to come. The resurrection of Christ is a foretaste of the resurrection of God’s people. And the glories of Easter are a foretaste of the glory of the Kingdom of God.

Easter is great, but the best is yet to come!

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