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Dealing with Death   Leave a comment

“How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.” Admiral James T. Kirk, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan

We’re looking at Paul’s conclusion to his glorious passage on the resurrection. Consider these closing verses to be a climactic song of victory, similar to Brahm’s Requiem and Handel’s Messiah. Actually the music analogy is a strong one, considering there are three movements or sections to this passage.

Celebrate the future transformation of your body 

Now this is what I am sayingbrothers and sisters: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of Godnor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. ListenI will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a momentin the blinking of an eyeat the last trumpetFor the trumpet will soundand the dead will be raised imperishableand we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishableand this mortal body must put on immortality.  (1Corinthians 15:50-53)

Image result for image of transformationWe are fans of Supernatural, so excuse the borrowing from this highly entertaining, if somewhat irreverent, show. Paul explained that a meat suit, a natural human body consisting of flesh and blood as we know it, is unsuitable for heaven. Hence, those believers still alive when Jesus returns at the Rapture will receive their new bodies by transformation rather than by resurrection. You and I can’t go to heaven just as we are today. No matter how healthy, strong, and beautiful we may be, we are unfit for heaven. You can’t have a decaying body in a permanent home. You have undoubtedly seen a restaurant sign in the front window that reads something like this: “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” This means that one’s appearance and attire has to meet certain standards, or he or she is not welcome. That is the way heaven is. Heaven is a place where there is no pain, sorrow, sickness, or death. These perishable bodies that we possess here on earth are not suited for heaven. The death and burial of our earthly bodies is not an unfortunate circumstance; it is a necessity. In order to go to heaven, we must receive “imperishable” or “ageless” bodies. They must be changed into a glorified state so that we can live in God’s presence before His perfection, holiness, and beauty.

The word translated “listen” in verse 51 is given more dramatic treatment in the King James Version. “Behold”  is like pulling a curtain aside to reveal a new truth. The modern vernacular doesn’t do it justice. In the Bible the term “mystery” refers to a truth not revealed until it was disclosed by the apostles.The Old Testament predicted the bodily resurrection and the Second Coming of the Messiah, so Paul was not referring to either of these events. This “mystery” is what is called the Rapture of the Church. The Rapture was newly revealed truth. There will be a generation of Christians who will inherit their glorified bodies without having to “sleep” or die. This is the great hope of the Christian. That all Christians will not die was a new revelation. Whether we as believers die and are resurrected, or whether we are caught up to meet the Lord without dying, we shall all be changed! The last chapter in life for the believer is not the cemetery, the casket, or the grave. No, the last chapter is transformation.

This transformation will not be a gradual process but instantaneous. The word translated “moment” is the Greek word atomos, from which we get our English word “atom.” The Greeks believed the atom was the smallest particle of nature, completely indivisible. The “twinkling of an eye” is at least as fast as a blink. It takes only a fraction of a second. Paul said this change will occur in an indivisible moment of time, as fast as an eye can twinkle, in an atomic second. It will not be an evolutionary process and it will not occur by gradual osmosis.

The reason that the Rapture will take place so quickly is given in 15:52b-53: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable [eternal], and we will be changed.15For this perishable [temporal] must put on the imperishable [eternal], and this mortal[temporal] must put on immortality [eternal].”  I could get into a pre-Tribution versus post-Tribution debate here, but I’m going to skip that for today. Paul described our resurrected bodies as immortal and fit for the eternal state. In light of this reality, Paul called us to live in the present with the future in view. One great way of doing this is to expect Christ’s return in your lifetime, but plan as if it is centuries away. This allows us to be expectant for Christ’s return, yet also accomplish His will for us while we still have time.

Celebrate the future termination of sin

Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortalitythen the saying that is written will happen

Death has been swallowed up in victory.  

Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting? 

The sting of death is sinand the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to Godwho gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (1Corinthians 15:54-57)

The resurrection of dead believers and the transformation of living believers signal the death of death. Justice will be served. When Jesus died on Calvary’s cross, I’m sure Satan felt he had finally whipped his mortal enemy. All the opposition he had stirred up from the attempt of King Herod to kill Jesus as an infant, to the hatred of the Sadducees and Pharisees, to the kangaroo court He endured in Jerusalem culminated in Jesus’ execution on the cross. Satan had finally won! Truthfully, through the event of Christ’s crucifixion, Jesus purchased our salvation, redeeming us from sin and the Law. By His resurrection on the third day, He demonstrated His own power over death. He served notice to Satan of his eventual loss. When Jesus resurrects the dead and transforms the living, His victory will be complete. He will turn the tables on death by causing death itself to die.21

A boy and his father were out for a ride when a queen bee flew in the car window. The little boy, who was allergic to bee stings, was petrified. The father quickly reached out, grabbed the bee, squeezed it in his hand, and then released it. The boy grew frantic as it buzzed by him. Once again the father reached out his hand, but this time he pointed to his palm. There stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. “Do you see this?” he asked. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore. I’ve taken the sting for you.” In a similar way, we all suffer under the curse of sin like the little boy from the first sting and the next sting from death would mean our ultimate demise. But we have a Savior that came to our rescue and took the sting for us and we no longer have to fear death. Though death may buzz over us and land on us it can do no harm and one day death itself will die.

“When death stung Jesus Christ, it stung itself to death.” Peter Joshua, Leadership, Vol 7, no 4.

We must always remember that only on this side of the curtain is death our enemy. Just beyond the curtain the monster turns out to be our friend. The label “Death” is still on the bottle, but the contents are “Life Eternal.” Death is our friend because it reminds us that heaven is near. How near? As near as a heartbeat … an auto accident … a stray bullet … a plane crash. If our eyes could see the spirit world, we might find that we are already at its gates. Death is not the end of the road; it is only a bend in the road. The road winds only through the pass through which Christ Himself has gone. This Travel Agent does not expect us to discover the trail for ourselves. Often we say that Christ will meet us on the other side. That is true, of course, but misleading. Let us never forget that He walks with us on this side of the curtain and then guides us through the opening. We will meet Him there, because we have met Him here.

This reality ought to cause us to break out in thanksgiving, as Paul does in 15:57. AThe verb “gives” is in the present tense. Literally, God keeps on giving us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Every morning is Easter morning as we continually lay hold of the resources of Christ. We can go to Him for forgiveness when we fail. We can trust Him to meet our needs. He is available to us as our risen Lord. He is not a long-gone historical figure who died and then was purported to have been raised from the dead. We celebrate a risen, living, victorious Lord! 

Celebrate the future compensation of your work

So thendear brothers and sisters, be firmDo not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lordknowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1Corinthians 15:58)

Paul concluded his discussion of the resurrection with an exhortation to be faithful in the present. The word “therefore” wraps up this entire passage.30 The phrase “my beloved brethren” demonstrates Paul’s love for the Corinthians, despite the deficiencies in their theology and their behavior.This ought to compel us to love one another despite our theological differences. Paul was dealing with Christians that were waffling on their own bodily resurrection. This is a fairly significant doctrine, yet despite their erroneous theology Paul continued to love his people. Even when we are misled in our theology, if we have believed in Christ for salvation we will spend eternity together.

After affirming his readers, Paul launched into one command (“be steadfast, immovable”) with two participles (“abounding” and “knowing”) used as imperatives. This grammar leads to a simple three point conclusion: what we should be, what we should do, and what we should know.

What we should be. Paul commanded us to “be steadfast, immovable.” Like the Corinthians we are prone to be impatient, easily discouraged, and lazy. We let the circumstances of life blow us out of the water. We allow financial setbacks or job problems to depress us. Instead, we should be firmly rooted in what we know to be true about life and death because we have confidence in the resurrection. It gives solid footing. We won’t be swayed by every idea that comes along about this life and the afterlife. We can stand firm. We know who we are, why we’re here on earth, and where we’re headed in the future.

What we should do. Paul urged us to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” The verb “abounding” pictures something flowing over the edges on all sides. No one gets to the Olympics, much less walks away with a medal, who did not give himself or herself fully to their sport. The commitment of those athletes is phenomenal. They give up privileges, educational goals, relationships, sleep, favorite foods, anything, because of the goal that is before them of securing a place on the victor’s stand. So also no one will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” if he does not give himself fully to the work of the Lord.

What we should know. Someone once said, “I’m learning more and more about less and less. Now I know everything about nothing.” Paul urged us to “know[ing] that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” The word “toil” used here means “working to the point of exhaustion.” Have you ever been worn out because of your work for the Lord? I’m afraid many Christians would have to say they have never been. And too many look forward to retirement as an opportunity to do even less, though in reality it’s a fantastic time to do more ministry than ever before. Reasonable rest is important and necessary, but if we err Paul said it should be on the side of doing more work for the Lord, not less.

Let me challenge you with this truth: you cannot grow spiritually unless you are serving the Lord and others. It is absolutely impossible. Yeah, you go to church and you read your Bible and you pray. That’s wonderful, but it doesn’t mean you are growing spiritually. Spiritual growth takes place when the Bible changes us and we begin to bless others. The Bible teaches that servanthood makes a man or woman more like Jesus. Additionally, the Bible promises us great eternal reward for serving Christ in this life.

Everybody Dies, but Not Everybody Lives   2 comments

What gives a widow courage as she stands beside a fresh grave? Why would anyone who is disabled be encouraged when they think of life after death? How can we see past the martyrdom of believers in the persecuted church? Where do the thoughts of young couples go when they lose their baby? What is God’s final answer to pain and suffering in this world?

Image result for image of life after deathThe answer is the hope of bodily resurrection. We draw strength from this truth almost every day of our lives, probably more than we realize. It becomes the mental glue that holds our otherwise shattered thoughts together. Impossible though it may be for us to understand the details of how God is going to pull it off, we hang our hopes on the fragile threadlike thought, “Someday, He will make it right, and thank God, all this will change.”

Or as my charismatic friends say “It’s all going to burn.”

Still, for many Christians death is disturbing. If we’re honest we acknowledge that death is scary. Yet, Paul said when we die is when we truly begin to live.

The bodily resurrection is familiar and unique 

15:35 But someone will say“How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come? 15:36 Fool! What you sow will not come to life unless it dies. 15:37 And what you sow is not the body that is to bebut a bare seed 23  – perhaps of wheat or something else.15:38 But God gives it a body just as he plannedand to each of the seeds a body of its own.

Paul argued strongly for the resurrection of the body, but he knew his teaching would spur two questions:

  • how will God resurrect our bodies
  • what does a resurrection body look like?

I think we all wonder how God will resurrect people out of the dirt. I still haven’t figured out how God will put all those molecules back together again. If someone died at sea and sailors buried him, maybe fish ate his body. The atoms and molecules of his body would become part of the fish. If a fisherman caught and ate the fish, its body would become part of the fisherman’s body. If the fisherman died and an undertaker buried him in the ground and someone eventually sowed wheat over his grave, the fisherman’s atoms and molecules would go into the wheat. A third person would eat the wheat and so on. How could the first person’s body ever come together again?4

The quick response to this dilemma is:

God is God

He can easily resurrect the humans He created. He constructed man out of dust in the first place, I’m not worried about him reconstructing us out of dust again. Reintegration is a problem for limited humans, but not for the unlimited God. How will He do it? I don’t know. The resurrection of our bodies does not depend upon us understanding how God will do it. When we grasp the fact that nothing is impossible with God, resurrection becomes simple. Absolutely nothing, including raising the dead, is too difficult for God (Jerermiah 32:17). God created the universe out of nothing, so resurrecting people out of dust is minor-league for Him (Hebrew 11:3).7

Of course, not everyone will accept this Biblical argument. Paul anticipated the objection of someone arguing against the idea of a bodily resurrection. In 15:36, he called such a person a “fool.” The Bible defines a “fool” as someone who fails to take God into account. Such a person excludes God from consideration. Remember, if God is God bodily resurrection is absolutely no problem!

Paul used an analogy from nature to get his point across. Calling the hypothetical scoffer a “fool” for not recognizing a simple fact of nature that can be observed every day. Choose any plant and you can  see the body that grows out of the ground is very different from the “body” that was planted. Compare a pumpkin seed with a pumpkin or an orange seed with an orange tree. Paul was not talking about the appearance of our resurrection bodies in terms of whether we will be recognizable. His point was the body that is planted in death is not the same body that is resurrected. When a seed is buried in the ground, a plant, not another seed, comes out of the seed. The plant does not look like the seed it came from. Likewise, when we are buried in the ground and resurrected, our bodies will not look identical to the ones we have now.

Good. I’m hoping to be taller and skinnier.

15:39 All flesh is not the same: People have one flesh, animals have another, birdsand fish another. 24 

Paul expanded his argument by describing the unique nature of various “bodies.” How are the earthly sphere and heavenly sphere bridged? All flesh is not the same. There’s man flesh, beast flesh, bird flesh and fish flesh. These four different types of “flesh” also appear in the created order in Genesis but in the reverse of how they appear in here (see Genesis 1:20 – 26. Such a view is derived from Paul’s view of the Old Testament. God designed bodies to fit the environment they live in. Our resurrection bodies will be perfect for the environment of heaven. Earthly bodies equip us to live on earth. We breathe the earth’s oxygen, drink its water, and eat its fruit. However, these earthly bodies aren’t suitable for heaven. To get us ready for the next world they must undergo a change.

15:40 And there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. The glory of the heavenly body is one sort and the earthly another. 15:41 There is one glory of the sunand another glory of the moon and another glory of the starsfor star differs from star inglory.

Earthly bodies will pale in comparison to heavenly bodies. Heavenly bodies will be glorious! There is a huge difference in brightness between a twenty-five watt light bulb and a 1000-watt light bulb. In the resurrection, our “lumens” of brightness will be turned up to the fullest. Our resurrection bodies will literally shine with brightness (Daniel 12:3Matthew 13:43). This passage could mean that there will be differing degrees of brightness in our glorified bodies or perhaps it refers the difference in glory between our natural and resurrection bodies. I opt for an allusion to the former. In light of the emphasis throughout 1 Corinthians on eternal rewards, it seems that Paul alluded to differences in the eternal state. One thing is certain: every resurrection body will be without defect and will literally radiate brightness. Death for the Christian is not gloom but glory.

The bodily resurrection is new and improved 

15:42 It is the same with the resurrection of the deadWhat is sown is perishablewhat is raised is imperishable. 25  15:43 It is sown in dishonorit is raised in gloryit is sown inweaknessit is raised in power; 15:44 it is sown a natural bodyit is raised a spiritualbodyIf there is a natural bodythere is also a spiritual body.

In these verses, Paul contrasted the two living bodies—the present body and the resurrection body. Your present body was created to last only several decades. Your resurrection body will equip you for a much higher level of existence. At the resurrection, our bodies will be transformed from our current “caterpillar” form to our future “butterfly” status. The beauty of a butterfly is far superior to that of a caterpillar, but the butterfly has to go through the transformation process first. Four changes must take place to transform your body from earthly to heavenly.

Change #1: Perishable to Imperishable (15:42). Our present bodies are perishable, and they degenerate as we race toward the grave. Just like Adam we are headed back to dust. In the resurrection, we will be raised imperishable, never to deteriorate or die again. In heaven no one will comment on your age or notice the years are beginning to take their toll. You will look as young a billion years from now as you will a thousand years from now.

Sir Michael Faraday, one of England’s greatest chemists and physicists, reportedly heard a student scoff at the idea of the resurrection. Faraday threw a silver goblet into a jar of acid, which completely dissolved it. He then added other chemicals that caused the silver to settle to the bottom of the jar. The chemists then took the silver to a silversmith, who made it into a goblet more beautiful than the first. Then Faraday held up a goblet and told the student, “If I, an ordinary scientist, can dissolve and remake a silver goblet, why is it hard to believe that God can raise the body from the dead?”

God will transform your perishable body into one that is indestructible. Once you receive it, dying will be impossible. You will live in it throughout eternity. Truly, it can be said, although our body is perishing our spirit can be flourishing. When we die we have truly begun to live.

Change #2: Dishonor to Glory (15:43a). All of us come to a point in life when we look in the mirror and say, “Mirror, mirror on the wall—you’ve got to be kidding!” There is a sense in which our bodies are “dishonorable.” But God promises that we will be raised in glory. When a body is transported to a funeral home, it is always covered by a sheet to shield gaping eyes from the dishonor of looking upon the corpse. Every dead body is a reminder of our dishonor, a reminder that we are but frail.

Change #3: Weakness to Power (15:43b). Have you ever noticed everyone wants to live long, but no one wants to grow old? It is true. Our bodies wear out, slow down, decay, sag, groan, and even begin to smell bad. We brag about our strength but a tiny microbe can kill us. Sooner or later, we grow old and our bodies begin to break down. Eventually, they stop working altogether. No amount of Vitamin C or Siberian Ginseng can change that fact. At best, we can only slow down the aging process; we cannot delay it forever.

If you are like me, you probably have one part of your body (or maybe several parts) that you would like to change. Maybe it’s your weight, your height, your hair, or something about your face. To make it worse, our culture bombards us daily with images of beautiful, well-built people. In heaven, there will be no fad diets, Weight Watchers, aerobics, exercise bikes, personal trainers, physical therapists, stair masters, weight rooms, saunas, jogging tracks, low-fat foods, diet drinks, or plastic surgeons. God will give every one of His children a glorious, unique, perfect new body at the resurrection that will never fail or disappoint them.

Our resurrection bodies will be extremely powerful. We will never grow weary or weak. Can you imagine not having to sleep throughout all eternity? Since there will be no need to nap, we will never again have to toss and turn on lumpy mattresses. Wives will not have to listen to their husband snoring anymore. No more insomnia, sleeping pills, or alarm clocks, either. Our way of life will be radically different than our lifestyles here on earth.

Change #4: Natural to Spiritual. When Paul stated that our resurrection bodies will be spiritual, he does not mean like Casper the friendly ghost. He referred to the type of body we will have. When the disciples saw Jesus after He was resurrected, they thought they had seen a ghost. Jesus assured them, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). Jesus did not become a spirit, but was raised with a spiritual body. In heaven we will not be “spirits,” but we will have spiritual bodies. After Jesus died and rose from the dead, He didn’t have two bodies, one natural and another spiritual. He had one body—a natural body that had been transformed into a spiritual body. Jesus showed His disciples the marks of the nails in His hands and feet and the wounds in His side that proved it was the same body. That body had undergone a radical change. Similarly, when you are resurrected your body also will be changed and perfected.

15:45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living person; 26  the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 15:46 Howeverthe spiritual did not come firstbut the naturaland then the spiritual. 15:47 The first man is from the earthmade of dustthe second man is fromheaven. 15:48 Like the one made of dustso too are those made of dustand like the one from heavenso too those who are heavenly. 15:49 And just as we have borne the image of the man of dustlet us also bear 27  the image of the man of heaven.

Paul compared Adam and Jesus, arguing that there is a difference between earthy and spiritual bodies. The first Adam was merely “a living human being.” By emphatic contrast, the last Adam is not merely “living,” but “life-giving.” Christ gives life through His resurrection. The heavenly is greater than the earthy. But in order to experience the heavenly body, one must first live in the earthy body.

I knew this pastor mentioned in this story. A woman was diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. As she was getting her affairs in order, she contacted her pastor and asked him to come to her house to discuss some of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at her funeral service, what Scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. She requested to be buried with her favorite Bible. As the pastor prepared to leave, the woman suddenly remembered something else. “There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly. “What’s that?” said the pastor. “This is important,” the woman said. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”

The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. The woman explained. “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.’ It was my favorite part of the meal because I knew something better was coming like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. So, when people see me in that casket with a fork in my hand and they ask, ‘What’s with the fork?’ I want you to tell them, ‘The best is yet to come!’”

This elderly woman got it right! The best is yet to come for when we die we have truly begun to live.

What If There Was No Heaven?   1 comment

What if there was no heaven? John Lennon asked us to imagine it and he didn’t think it would be hard to do. He thought it would bring peace on earth.

“Imagine there’s no heaven/It’s easy if you try/No hell below us/Above us only sky.”

Image result for image of heavenHave you ever allowed yourself to think about that question. I think about it every time I hear Lennon’s song. What if everything I believe is a fairy tale, or worse yet, a malicious lie? What if Lennon was right? Of course, if there really is no heaven and the resurrection is a shame, life itself is an exercise in existential futility.

Which was Paul’s whole point in 1 Corinthians 15:12-34. If the bodily resurrection is only an empty dream and this life is all there is, Christians are to be pitied. We’re living in the world where you only go round once in life, so you’d better grab all the gusto you can, but we don’t because we believe a lie. Without the resurrection, our world is compassed about by “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  Fortunately, since Christ was raised from the dead, and His kingdom culminates in the defeat of death, we don’t actually live in existential futility.

Christ’s resurrection provides hope

Paul claimed that if we have no future, we have no forgiveness of our sins in the past, and we have no advantage over unbelievers in the present.

15:12 Now if Christ is being preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? (1Corinthians 15:12)

Paul used so much ink on the topic of the resurrection because some Corinthians argued that there was no future physical resurrection. They denied that believers will experience resurrection. Paul argued since Christ has been raised, resurrection obviously is possible, but more, it is an essential part of our faith. However, before Paul could drive home this point, he conceded the possibility that Christ has not risen.

But if there is no resurrection of the deadthen not even Christ has been raised. (1Corinthians 15:13)

Paul disclosed seven disastrous consequences if there is no resurrection from the dead.

And if Christ has not been raisedthen our preaching is futile and your faith is empty. Alsowe are found to be false witnesses about Godbecause we have testified against God that he raised Christ from the dead, when in reality he did not raise him, if indeed the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raisedthen not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is uselessyou are still in your sins. Furthermorethose who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. For if only in this life we have hope in Christwe should be pitied more than anyone. (1Corinthians 15:14-19)

First, if there is no resurrection Christ has not been raised from the dead. For the sake of debate, Paul granted there was no resurrection of the dead. Logically, no one has or ever will rise from the dead, which means that not even Christ has been raised, because He was a human being like you and me.

The erroneous Corinthians were not denying the resurrection of Christ per se, only the future resurrection of believers, but you really can’t have it both ways. You can’t believe in the resurrection of Christ and deny the eventual resurrection of believers, for resurrection is a single package. Thus, Paul introduced Doubt #1.

Second, if there is no resurrection our preaching is stupid (15:14).

There are some highly distinguished religious professors who do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“As a child, I took it for granted that Easter meant that Jesus literally rose from the dead. I now see Easter very differently. For me, it is irrelevant whether or not the tomb was empty. Whether Easter involves something remarkable happening to the physical body of Jesus is irrelevant.” Marcus J. Borg and N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1998), 129-131.

Dr. Borg won many awards when he was a professor of religion at University of Oregon. Despite his education and giftedness, Dr. Borg was wrong. The gospel Paul preached at Corinth proclaimed Christ’s literal resurrection (15:3-5). Paul reminded the Corinthians that they had received this gospel, stood on this gospel, and were being saved by this gospel (15:1-2). Thus, as far as Paul was concerned, if there is no resurrection there is nothing worth preaching! This remains true today. Eloquence, persuasion, humor, and passion make for wonderful sermons, but if the speech does not contain the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it cannot accurately be labeled “preaching”. Every thing stands or falls on the truth of the assertion that God raised Christ from the dead.

Third, if there is no resurrection our faith is worthless (15:14, 17). Regardless of how vibrant the outworking of faith, the core of Christian belief and life is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Christ did not rise from the dead faith has no foundation; it is empty and useless. The gospel is not good news but a hoax that has no real power to change lives or to do anything else except to deceive.

Fourth, if there is no resurrection we are false witnesses of God (15:15). Those who proclaim that Christ rose from the dead speak in God’s name what they know to be untrue. Christianity is not a system of philosophy or a moral code, but the declaration of what God has done in Christ. If the dead are not raised then the whole gospel is a sham and those who preach it are liars.

Fifth, if there is no resurrection we are still in our sins (15:17). In Romans 4:25, Paul asserted Jesus was raised “for our justification.” In other words, if Jesus failed to rise from the dead we are still dead in our sins.

Sixth, if there is no resurrection those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (15:18). If Christ has not been raised, then those who “fall asleep in Christ” are no different from unbelievers, who are consigned to ruin (1:18). Who wants to think of their relatives and loved ones who have trusted in Christ rotting with nowhere to go?

Seventh, if there is no resurrection we are to be pitied more than all human beings (15:19). I’m sure you’ve probably heard some people say even if Christianity is not true, the Christian faith is still the best way to live. “Even if it turned out Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead and there was no such place as heaven, I would still have no regrets about living the Christian life.” You might have said that yourself at some point. Yet, the apostle Paul absolutely disagreed with that position. He wrote in 15:19, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” If Christ has not risen, Christians are the most miserable people in the world.

When drug companies develop a new product, they run tests with two groups of people. They give one group the new tablets, and they give the other group an identical-looking product that is a dummy. They do this to verify the efficacy to their new drug. The mind is powerful, and some people feel better just having taken a tablet, although the tablet has no substance that could change the body. It’s all in their minds. If Christ has not risen, Christians are like people who have swallowed the placebo. They are confessing some change that has no substantial basis. Like the dummy drug, such faith would not do anything except within the individual minds of these people. In medical research, the placebo group is still dying of cancer. In the faith realm, Christians are still headed to the worm farm and nowhere else.

Christ’s resurrection guarantees victory

According to Paul, Christ’s resurrection makes the resurrection of believers both necessary and inevitable. Those “in Christ” must arise since Christ arose. Christ’s resurrection set in motion the defeat of all God’s enemies, including death. His resurrection demands our resurrection since otherwise death would remain undefeated.

But now Christ has been raised from the deadthe firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1Corinthians 15:20)

“But now” are two of the sweetest words in the Bible, for they are often followed by words of comfort and hope. “But now” Christ has been raised from the dead as the “first fruits” of those believers who have died. The imagery of “first fruits” links with the Feast of First Fruits in the Old Testament. At the beginning of the grain harvest, the Israelites brought the first sheaf harvested and dedicated it to the Lord. This offering assured the Israelites that the rest of the harvest would follow. Christ is the “first fruits” of the resurrection—the first person to be raised from the dead permanently. His resurrection assures us that someday there will be a complete harvest.

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. For just as in Adam all dieso also in Christ all will be made alive. (1Corinthians 15:21-22)

Adam’s sin brought death (see Romans 5:12-21) and Jesus Christ’s resurrection offers life to those who believe. The word “all” is used twelve times in 15:22-28. Consequently, some argue that all people will eventually be saved. This is typically called “universalism.” However, the “all” that will be made alive with Christ refers only to those who have fallen asleep in Christ. Paul was only speaking about the Christian dead, not about a general resurrection.

The imagery of “first fruits” implies that Christ’s resurrection sets in motion a series of events that will culminate at His coming.

But each in his own order: Christthe firstfruitsthen when Christ comesthose who belong to him. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Fatherwhen he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power. (1Corinthians 15:23-24)

Every Christian is going to receive a brand-new body, but every one must wait his or her turn! The key word here is “order.” The word translated “order” (tagma) is a military term that refers to rank or order. Paul was describing a military parade passing by, with each corps falling into position at the proper time. Throughout history, different Christians fall into their place in the parade at their appointed times.

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be eliminated is death. For he has put everything in subjection under his feet. But when it says “everything” has been put in subjectionit is clear that this does not include the one who put everything in subjection to him. And when all things are subjected to himthen the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to himso that God may be all in all. (1Corinthians 15:25-28)

Paul quoted Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8:6 to support his arguments about the Messiah’s reign. The point Paul made is that God empowers Christ to accomplish His purposes. Christ is equal to the Father but chooses of His own accord to submit to His Father so that He might receive glory.

Christ’s resurrection gives purpose

Otherwisewhat will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at allthen why are they baptized for them? Why too are we in danger every hour? Every day I am in danger of death! This is as sure as my boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord.  If from a human point of view I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what did it benefit me? If the dead are not raisedlet us eat and drinkfor tomorrow we die.  (1Corinthians 15:29-32)

I don’t know about you, but verse 29 has got to be the most confusing verse in the entire New Testament. Paul’s words here are so difficult that scholars have devised around 40 proposed interpretations. I decided not to bore people with an analysis of the various interpretations, but just touch lightly on a couple of the more controversial theories. Mormons, for example, have baptized millions upon millions of dead people by proxy in Mormon temples so that they might be saved, including Christians, pagans, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and even avowed atheists.

As a result of this belief, the Mormon Church has amassed the greatest collection of genealogical data anywhere in the world, with billions of names in millions of family trees traced back as far as they can find even scant records. Hundreds of full-time employees do the research, which is recorded on over a billion pages of documents, all stored in a multi-million dollar underground vault system in a canyon near Salt Lake City. Now the information is available on the internet. After researchers come up with new names, hundreds of volunteers go through baptismal rites, hour after hour, day after day, in some fifty Mormon temples. They don’t hold services in those temples, you know; they are only for secret temple rites, including proxy baptisms. Many of your ancestors have been baptized in absentia in a Mormon temple, without either their consent or yours or mine.

All of this activity is based upon this one verse of Scripture which when you examine it, proves to be a very shaky foundation for such a practice, which flied directly in the face of Scriptures that clearly teaches that after death comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27), not a second chance if someone happens to be baptized for you. Therefore, I believe this verse deserves careful re-examination.

Theory – When new believers in Corinth were baptized, they credited their salvation to the gospel message they had heard or received from one or two of the apostles whom were now dead. They did this because they wanted these deceased apostles to receive greater reward in eternity for the work they had done. This seems to be the best view for four primary reasons. First, this interpretation is based upon a literal understanding of the terms “baptism,” “for,” and “the dead.” Baptism refers to a literal act for new believers; the word “for” means “for the benefit of;” and the phrase “the dead” is identified with physically dead people (see 15:6). Second, the Corinthians liked to associate themselves with the ministry of certain apostles (1:12-13; 3:4). This would explain why some of them were baptized “on behalf of” some deceased apostles. Third, some of the Corinthians did not believe in a resurrection (15:15-16). In refuting this, Paul referred to their practice of baptizing for the dead. Their practice contradicted their beliefs. Lastly, Paul had previously mentioned eternal rewards (3:13-15), the Corinthian desire to bring honor to the apostles (1:13-17), and how the Corinthians themselves would be part of Paul’s apostolic reward when he stood before Christ (3:10; 4:14-15). This reward can only be received in the resurrection, and if the Corinthians wanted the dead apostles to receive the reward they were ascribing to them by baptizing new believers for these apostles, resurrection was necessary.

Paul nowhere denounced the practice of baptizing for the dead, which is one reason I think the Corinthians were claiming “I am being baptized as a ministry from Apostle X.” I think Paul would have scoffed at the idea that a proxy baptism on behalf of someone already dead had any effect at all. We know from other Pauline writings that he view baptism as a symbol of joining Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. He didn’t see any saving grace in baptism. It was merely a first step of obedience in the Christian life … which means it would be silly to do it after someone was dead.

Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus One case of Paul’s dying daily was fighting with “beasts” at Ephesus (15:32). It is nearly certain that the “beasts” are not wild animals. As a Roman citizen, Paul would not have fought with wild animals. Furthermore, he would have likely mentioned these beasts in all of his lists about his own personal suffering. It’s likely Paul wrote about the many who opposed him in Ephesus. It would make no sense for Paul to face his opponents head-on and endanger his life if there were no resurrection.

“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

This is a quote from God’s people who are suffering in the midst of an Assyrian siege (Isaiah 22:13). They figured they had nothing to lose since they were going to be destroyed. If there is no resurrection then we might as well live for the present, in unadulterated hedonism.

So, of what use is the resurrection. Paul explained the reason he served God was because of his personal assurance of the resurrection of his body. Paul went through incredible suffering and pain in the course of his ministry. He was tortured, ship-wrecked, temporarily blinded, stoned — If there were no resurrection of the dead, he would be foolish risking his life for nothing. Paul’s boast in the Corinthians referred to the fruit of his apostolic labor and suffering (9:1-2). Paul felt deeply attached to this church. Note the expression of Paul’s basic satisfaction with his Corinthian converts despite the many things for which he had to rebuke them.

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Sober up as you should, and stop sinning! For some have no knowledge of God – I say this to your shame! (1Corinthians 5:33-24)

Paul commanded the Corinthians to stop being deceived. He then quoted a well-known cliché. “Bad company corrupts good morals.” God’s people are susceptible to deception, especially from friends and fellow church members. It is dangerous to keep company with fellow Christians who are not characterized by consistent Christian living. Hanging around with people who claim to know Christ, but who are themselves far from the Lord can be more dangerous than spending time with non-Christians. We are inclined to be vulnerable to inconsistent thought and actions, to let down our guard, if the Christians around us are materialistic, sensual, loose talking, freethinking, irreverent persons. Remember, water flows downhill. Birds of a feather flock together. If we lay down with dogs, then we will get up with fleas. It is inevitable that evil companions warp good morals. This is why we should care about who our children “hang out” with. Similarly, you need to be careful about who influences you.

Paul commanded the church to be sober-minded and to stop sinning. Some of the Corinthians had been duped into believing that this life is all there is—you only go around once. Paul says such people have no knowledge of God. They are agnosia (“ignorant”) of God. We get our English word “agnostic” from this Greek word. Paul was saying, “Some Christians can live like functional agnostics.” Beware of such people! The crying shame of the church today is the glaring difference between what we believe and how we behave. There is little correlation between doctrine and deeds or creed and conduct with some Christians. High talk and no walk is a problem. We quote the Bible by the mile and live it by the inch.

What you believe about the resurrection controls how you live your life, how you spend your money and use your time—how you invest yourself. People who think wrongly invariably behave wrongly. Yet, you and I must remember, we will one day stand before the Lord to answer for our lives. We should live accordingly.

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