Our Risen Lord Reigns!
It’s natural for us to doubt its truth isn’t it? It sounds as if it’s something straight from a fiction novel. We understand why the people of Corinth doubted, why they feared because sometimes those same fears and doubts are ours!
This chapter of 1 Corinthians is known to many by its subtitle – “The great resurrection chapter”. Paul used quite a bit of ink – 58 verses! – writing about Christ’s resurrection and what it means for us. It might be easy for us to wonder why Paul spent so much time writing about the resurrection from the dead. We know that Christ rose; it’s not something that we doubt.
But even if we don’t doubt the validity of Christ’s resurrection, don’t we sometimes doubt what that means for our own lives? Sometimes we find ourselves thinking, “Dead people stay dead. They don’t come back!” Maybe that’s the reason zombie movies are so popular – Either it’s so frightening to think that someone may come back from the dead or we can get a few kicks because it’s a little too far fetched.
It’s hard to argue with facts. Think back over all the news stories that you’ve heard over the last 10 years. Was even one of those headlines “Buried Father comes back to life!”? What if you were to dig through the headlines of the last century? Could you even find one story like that? It’s something that not even the National Inquirer, with all their bogus stories, would dream of making up!
Those were the same thoughts the people of Corinth had. They never doubted Christ’s resurrection, but they still struggled with the idea that they and their dead loved ones would come back to life. And so Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to write about the resurrection of Jesus and what it means to each of us. Paul says that Our Risen Lord Reigns! His words remind us that Christ’s resurrection is fact; therefore our resurrection is assured and the end is only the beginning.
Paul had just wrapped up a section in which he described the awful alternative to Easter. If the resurrection of the dead is not true – then we cannot believe that Christ rose from the dead that Easter morning. Paul plainly says what having a dead Savior means for our faith: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in our sins” (v.17). Without a risen Savior, there would be no need for us to gather each Sunday, there would be no reason for pastor or myself to preach to you, there would be no reason for you to live or confess your faith. In fact, we might as well stop kidding ourselves; if Christ has not been raised, we are living a lie and deceiving ourselves.
Thanks be to God that that is NOT our situation. “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!” (v.20a) Let that sink in for a moment. All those awful alternatives – our faith being a lie, no life after death, being deceived by our own faith – are not realities because Christ’s resurrection is fact! The world and our own logical thinking may tell us one thing – that the dead are dead and will never live again – but the truth above every truth is that at this very moment our Savior stands risen and living! It is a known and confirmed truth that Christ was indeed crucified and buried – and his resurrection is as sure as his death and burial. Paul doesn’t expect us to blindly trust him; he provides us with a bulleted list of witnesses: Peter, the Twelve, more than 500 believers, James, all the apostles, and finally Paul himself. These witnesses assure us of this one glorious truth – that Christ’s resurrection is definitely a fact.
The question before us this morning, then, is this: Do we always live in that joy – knowing that our Savior is indeed risen? Does that unmistakable truth always reflect in our lives? Do we share with others at every opportunity the joy that we have, knowing our Savior lives and that since he lives we also will live? Or do we, instead, have moments where we have thoughts of weakness and doubt? We may forget the truth of the resurrection when faced with the troubles and struggles of this life – troubles such as worrying about our economic future, especially in the current state of Wall Street. Perhaps we let problems in our personal relationships crowd out the joy of the resurrection.
It is sinful human nature to let those doubts haunt our thoughts. And when those doubts arise, we need to be reminded of the resurrection fact. Even Luther himself, at times, struggled with reflecting the glorious truth of the resurrection in his life. It’s a common story, and one you’ve probably heard at least once. The struggles of the Reformation had begun to get to Martin Luther; one day he noticed that Katherina was dressed from head to toe in black, acting as if someone had just died. Curiosity got the better of Luther, and he asked his wife what was wrong. Kate replied, “Jesus is dead!” Luther, shocked at Kate’s response, replied: “Don’t be silly. He’s not dead – he’s risen and reigning!” Kate then reminded Luther, “Why have you been moping around all week as if Jesus had died? From the way you were acting, I thought our Lord had died!”
There are times that we, too, need that reminder. The wicked world around us may be flourishing and it may seem as if we’re stuck in reverse; perhaps the struggles of this life and the temporal worries of getting through each day cause us to forget the fact of our Lord’s resurrection. It is at those moments that we need the reminder that at this very moment we have Savior who has indeed been raised from the dead!
But what good is Christ’s resurrection if it has no meaning for our own lives? Paul assures us that Christ’s resurrection was not just a one-time event. He says that Christ’s resurrection means that our resurrection is assured!
Paul writes: “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” (20b-21). It’s quite an amazing picture, really, what Paul uses. “Firstfruits” referred to the harvest of crops. When the harvest was started, the farmer would take that first bundle and bring it to the temple as an offering to the Lord. It was his offering of thanks, his way of bringing back a portion of what he had been given from his generous Father in heaven. He had full confidence that there would be an enough crops to follow to supply for his family.
Paul applies that same picture to Jesus Christ. Christ was the first of the crop that God would raise; there will be countless others that God will raise as well. What a glorious and comforting truth! You and I are included in those “others” that God will raise. Christ’s resurrection as the firstfruits assures each of us of our own resurrection. Notice that Paul does not say that we have “died” – instead he writes that we have simply “fallen asleep.” We said last week that death for the Christian is simply that – a sleep until we will be awoken on the Last Day. It is only a temporary thing, just as sleeping during the night, or taking an afternoon nap is. We know that our “nap of death” will one day end when we hear our Savior’s voice waking us to life eternal!
Paul underscores how temporary death is by using an illustration from Scripture. Paul reminds each of us that “death came into the world through a man” (v21a). He asks us to recall what we were all taught from a young age – that sin entered the world when Adam and Eve failed to obey God. But notice that he doesn’t stop there – he doesn’t even go on for a few verses about the effects of sin. He illustrates the temporary nature of death by immediately stating that “in Christ all will be made alive” (v21b). In Christ and through Christ we are assured that we too will rise from death. We know that when Christ rose Easter morning he defeated the power death holds over us. Because Christ rose our own resurrection is as good as a done deal. We are promised eternal life with him!
And yet, even though Paul emphasizes the temporary nature of death, it is important to notice that he does not say “sleep came through a man” but rather “death came through a man.” Paul doesn’t have the attitude that so many in the world around us have – to lessen the consequences in order to be non-confrontational. Our politically correct society encourages us to not use words like “sin” “death” and “hell.” But Paul does not shrink away from the seriousness of sin, and neither should we. We know that sin deserves the eternal punishment prepared for those who disobey God – eternal death in the fire of hell.
We are not afraid of sin and death though, because we know that our Savior has faced the consequence of sin for us! That is the pure message, the wonderful message, of the gospel. Because of the gospel, we no longer speak of death or hell. Instead, the gospel assures us that “death” has been replaced by the “resurrection”, “death” becomes “sleep” and “sleep” – “made alive”. The eternal death that was ours from our very beginning has become everlasting life through faith in Jesus. The penalty we deserve because of our sin was paid by Christ on that cross; when he rose he gave us a promise that we could take all the way to Vegas – that our own resurrection is assured!
That glorious news has changed our lives, and now we want to thank our Risen Lord for his amazing gift! How do we rejoice in the news that our Savior’s resurrection means our own? Do we throw a party and let the confetti fall? Perhaps we let our thanks show as Luther did – by carving sacred graffiti into our homes and furniture. Luther’s walls and desk were carved with the Latin phrase: Vivit! Vivit! VIVIT! Which means, He lives, he lives, HE LIVES!
Perhaps an adequate response to the greatest gift possible is one that is in line with Paul’s own imagery. We have an opportunity every Sunday to thank our God for the gift of everlasting life when those gold plates are passed up and down the pews. Into those plates we place our firstfruits – a portion of what God has given us. With our weekly offerings we express our thanks to our gracious God and the confidence that he will provide us with all we need. And starting this week, we have one more opportunity to give above and beyond those weekly offerings – whether its to our Building Fund, NELHS Debt Retirement, or the Jubilee offering. Through these weekly offerings and special offerings we express our gratitude to and confidence in our Risen Savior.
Just as Paul has assured us that our death is not the end, so also he assures us that the end is only the beginning. Christ will come again, and he does come again it is not the end - but the beginning of life eternal in heaven with him!
Life has a whole new look to it since we know that Christ is risen and we too will rise! We know that death does not mean the end – just the end of things as we know them now! We know that Christ rose from the dead, and that we too will rise when he comes again. We say with Martha, “I believe that [we] will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:24)
On that day, when the dead are raised, it will be the end of the world in which we live. It will be the end of life on earth as we know it. And what a blessed day the Last Day will be! As Paul writes, “the end will come”. But this end means more than what it seems, it is the beginning of life eternal in heaven. At the end, Christ will show that he has indeed “destroyed all dominion, authority, and power” and he will “hand over the kingdom to God the Father” (v24).
At Christ’s return the promises of Easter will be made complete! His return in glory will show that the “Salvation and strength and the kingdom of our God and the power of his Christ has come” (Rev. 12:10). There, in the midst of those singing praises to our Risen King, will be you and me – joining in those glorious songs.
Our song will not cease. We will continue to praise our God for all eternity. We will praise him because he raised his Son from the dead. We will praise him because Christ’s resurrection meant our own. The song of celebration that we sing today will never end – not in this life or the life to come!