2008-07-27pm Lord’s Day 17 Not Your Typical Guarantee
What’s a good warranty these days? Three years? Five years? When you purchase a new vehicle, how long does the manufacturer guarantee you’ll be able to drive it without problems?
What about expensive products for the home? Linoleum is guaranteed for what, seven years? I just learned that last week!
What about a new television? Does it make sense that a product that costs over a thousand dollars isn’t guaranteed to last much longer than a year?
When you look at it, it doesn’t seem like many manufacturers place a great deal of confidence in the products they make. It is crazy, don’t you think?
No matter how you look at it, purchasing a vehicle, a product, a household item, anything, requires faith. Oh sure, for a while you are assured that even if your product breaks down, they’ll pay for the repairs, well, mostly. But you have to have faith that the product you purchase will do what you want it to do.
And most products deliver. Most products live up to their advertising. Only occasionally do you get a lemon.
But what about the Christian Faith?
What kind of guarantee do we get?
Even if we take into consideration what I said this morning, what guarantee do we have that anything we believe is true?
I’m so glad for God’s Word.
Every now and then, a doubt will come across my mind. Some fleeting thought will say, “How do you really know that what you believe is true?”
And then, also at the precise right moments, I come across passages like the one we’re looking at this evening.
I appreciate Paul’s upfront attitude. At times, it sounds like he’s a patient father, explaining the obvious to a confused child.
The Christian faith hangs on the resurrection. This is a fundamental truth. Yes, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is important. But it is even more important that he didn’t stay dead. Jesus arose from the dead. He is alive.
In the verses previous to our passage, he tells his readers that yes, Jesus Christ did rise from the dead. Yes, he was really dead, and yes, people saw him alive. In fact, when he wrote this letter, Paul says that there are still eyewitnesses who are alive to verify this fact.
This is significant.
We know that Jesus is a true historical figure, and not just from the Bible. Josephus, the great Jewish historian, mentions Jesus.
But what about the date of Paul’s writing? How do we really know that he wasn’t making up those references to living people? How much travelling was going on? Would people go out of their way to verify these details.
The answer, even from Paul’s own life is obvious. There was quite a bit of travelling going on. Not to mention the trade routes, especially through Corinth, which was an important city.
So, by putting those facts down on paper, Paul wasn’t just blowing smoke. He was giving real credibility to what he was saying.
But he goes on. He builds his argument not only on what he said, not only what could be deduced from eyewitnesses, but he goes on to explain the logic of believing in the resurrection.
He says, if there is no resurrection, then Christians have no hope whatsoever.
Now, we have to realise that Paul is speaking to the church. He was addressing people in the church who were denying the resurrection. Sounds improbable? Still there might be people in the church today who deny the resurrection. Or they come up with medical explanations, or that Jesus didn’t have a physical body after his resurrection.
But we have not just three eyewitness accounts, but four. The requirement for truth was to have three witnesses. Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be also, is a testimony of witness. So, if someone hurts you, or offends you, you bring along two or three witnesses to verify the truth of your claim. If you’re unable to bring that number of witnesses, your case will not stand up in court.
So, Paul is saying that there were more than the minimum requirement of witnesses.
The implications are significant. If we, or others, in moments of doubt, persist in our doubt, and deny the truth of the scriptures, or the truth of the virgin birth, or the truth of the resurrection, then we’ll be held accountable to that view at the end of the age.
Now, does that mean doubting is sinful? Not at all. Doubt is the opposite of faith, so if you persist in doubt and your doubts turn into faithlessness or unbelief, then yes, you will be guilty of sin.
Faith must be exercised here because we have to trust these eyewitnesses. Now, it is interesting that Paul brings up the other witnesses. He could have just as easily focussed on his own experience with Jesus. He brings it up, almost as an afterthought. He could have reiterated for them what happened to him on the Damascus road, he could have given them his description of being taken up into the third heaven.
But Paul knew the situation there. There were people in Corinth who were trying to undermine his authority. They were cutting him down, saying that he wasn’t a real apostle. He wasn’t really the authority he’d claimed to be. They should listen to them instead of Paul because they are super apostles. They have the corner on the truth, and this guy, well you heard about what happened to him in Ephesus, didn’t you? He came under all sorts of trouble.
But Paul references all of that obliquely. He admits that he’s not in the same league as the other apostles. He wasn’t a follower of jesus. He was a proud Pharisee, and yes, he’d even persecuted the church, and people used that against him, though that plan often backfired, because he always brought it up, and with immense regret.
Nevertheless, Paul was a good witness to the power of God at work in peoples lives. God took that enemy and turned him into his greatest weapon for the truth. Paul gave his whole life to the purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And that too is a testimony to the truth of what he’s writing. Either Paul was a raving lunatic, or he truly believed what he wrote was true.
And he did believe. He suffered to the extreme because of sticking his neck out for the truth.
In Ephesus, he was making so many converts that people stopped buying idols. The silversmiths started losing business. And they turned the city council against Paul and all sorts of horrible things happened to him. But Paul counted it worth fighting for. He stood by the truth, regardless of the consequences for his life. Because he knew that he was a witness for Christ. That, if he turned away, that would influence others to turn away. No, in Christ he’d found the truth, and there was nothing more precious to him. For he determined to know nothing but jesus Christ crucified. He knew that to live was to live for Christ, and that death would bring the greatest gain.
So, what’s at stake here? If we doubt the veracity of this letter. If we, like some of the Corithian church, doubted the truth of the resurrection, then we’d miss out on the guarantee.
Jesus Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection.
Now, get this. God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites to offer a first fruits offering the day after the Passover Sabbath. So, on the Sunday after Passover, the Israelites gave a wave offering of the first grain harvested, on the Sunday. Jesus Christ is the first fruits offering of all people, for he was given and risen on a Sunday. Then, seven weeks later, the Israelites were again commanded to make an offering. Seven weeks after Jesus resurrection of the first fruits, he gave his people as an offering, through the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
At Pentecost, we received the Holy Spirit, and became a first fruit, living sacrifice to the Lord.
Therefore, the significance of Jesus resurrection, is immediately seen in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. By talking this way about firstfruits, those who were familiar with such Old Testament language would have immediately known what Paul was talking about!
The firstfruits are just the beginning of the harvest. What follows is bushel after bushel of grain.
So, if Christ is the firstfruits of God’s harvest, then it stands to reason that there will be much more in the harvest to take in. We are part of that harvest. Furthermore, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14:1-4).
Jesus’ words are a guarantee. Yes, we have to trust that what he says is true. But clearly, Christ’s resurrection is the down payment, the guarantee that all those who believe will also be resurrected.
But it is not your typical guarantee because you get the guarantee before you get the product. Jesus Christ is the guarantee. He was raised from death. That’s the assurance that we will be raised from death as well.
Now, usually, a guarantee only kicks in when something breaks. This guarantee kicks in now, and comes into fruition when someone dies. They do not stay dead, but are raised to everlasting life. Not simply their souls, but their bodies as well.
So we have this guarantee for the future. And, like we confessed with the contemporary testimony, we say, “Come Lord Jesus, Come soon!” Amen.