The Gospel of Resurrection
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:1–28
I love the gospel! And I love Easter and to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection. So I am excited about today’s message which is a reminder of the Gospel of Resurrection. Why is it both necessary and good to be reminded of important matters? Doctors periodically have to attend courses to be reminded of skills and guidelines. Pilots must go through trainings and checklists. Industries must be reminded of safety and health standards. Workers have to be reminded of their duties. And so on and so forth. Here at Crosstown, every year in August we go through a 3-message series that reminds us of 3 core values of our church: Gospel, Community, and Mission. We are saved by the gospel, into a community, and for mission. We have received the gospel so that we may live it together and so that we may deliver it to others and remind believers of it. It is both good and necessary to ponder the tenets of our faith, the bonds of our fellowship, and the purpose of our journey. It is a way for us to believe, to be discipled in, and to obey what we have been given and what we have been commissioned to do. And the gospel of Jesus Christ is at the very center of it all.
The matters of life, death and resurrection of Jesus are of primary importance to all those who believe the gospel. Such matters of first importance must be rehearsed and are worth repeating. As elders we have the opportunity to ask prospective members: what is the gospel? We get to hear people’s stories and rejoice in how God worked in them to give them life. The gospel is glorious; it is life-giving; it is transformative; it is hope; it is peace. It should be regularly preached to ourselves. It is the good news and the foundation of our salvation. It is the catalyst of our sanctification. It is the assurance of our glorification. It is the object of our faith and it must be believed in its entirety. Yet the gospel is primarily about God: a God who made the world and everything in it; who made us for himself; who sought after us when we ran away; who became man in the Christ, lived a holy life, died an atoning death, was buried, rose again and is now exalted; a God without whom none of us would exist, without whose mercy none us would live, without whose grace none of us would be saved, without whose love none of us would be adopted, without whose power none of us would be sustained, without whose assurance none of us would have hope. God has made us for himself, for his glory, and as John Piper says: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. The catechism says that the chief end of man is to glorify God. The acts of living and proclaiming the gospel are acts of worship to God, whether people believe it or not, for the gospel of God is glorious and worthy to be both lived and proclaimed in and of itself.
One of the pillars of the gospel story is the resurrection of Jesus, just as it is one of the pillars of our story, of our hope. Many people’s narratives seem to end with the moment of salvation, maybe not focusing on – but sometimes forgetting – the promised resurrection and glory, the promised defeat of God’s enemies, the promised kingdom to come. Others think one day, in the by and by, our souls will have some disembodied state of bliss somewhere on the clouds out of this world. Some even deny that the resurrection will happen, or even claim it has already happened (Hymenaeus and Philetus: 2 Tim 2:17-18) and thus we are free to do whatever we want. But we believers gather every Sunday and fellowship together during communion proclaiming the Lord’s bodily death and bodily resurrection until he returns! Because Christ is risen! And we will rise again with him.
The passage before us today has been on my mind regularly this past year, in my prayers and meditations, but also in conversations with people I encounter on their deathbed, whether to give hope to the hopeless, or to encourage a believer in the hope of a faith we share. This passage brings to mind three important matters pertaining to the Gospel: the centrality of the Resurrection (v.1-11); the consequences of no Resurrection (v.12-19) and the consummation of the Resurrection (v.20-28).
The Centrality of the Resurrection to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (vv.1-11)
It is imperative to remember the gospel and to be reminded of the good news we received as the power of God for our salvation and to stand fast in it, proclaiming and defending the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Paul identifies here the essential matters of belief, central to his apostleship and primary in his preaching. For the Messiah to have died means he must have lived, and for him to live he must have been born. Insinuated in Paul’s message here and from his other writings is the truth that Christ was born of the virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit as God incarnate in the flesh: great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16). But this passage is not an apologetic to convince unbelievers of Christ and of his resurrection. It is primarily to remind believers of an essential pillar of our faith, what the Old Testament prophesied and what the New Testament proved. Christ’s work was one of obedience to the Father, an act of propitiation, namely of averting the wrath of God by satisfying if through the offering of himself as a gift – a sacrifice. His work was one of obedience to the Father, an act of expiation and atonement for our sins: the taking away of our guilt by paying the penalty for our sins. Christ died for our sins. Golgotha was the true Day of Atonement. According to the Scriptures, there had to be shedding of blood (Heb 9:22). All Old Testament sacrifices and every Passover pointed to what Isaiah 53 spoke of as the suffering servant, despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrow, acquainted with grief, even bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows; stricken, smitten and afflicted; pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, chastised to bring us peace and wounded for our healing. Like a lamb he was led to the slaughter. Silent, he took the punishment. Obedient, he submitted to the will of the Father to crush him. Dead, he was buried with the wicked. Jesus Christ died for our sins – yours and mine. It was our sin that held him there. It was our transgression that put to death the Lord of life.
On a dark Friday afternoon in Gethsemane, The Son of Man was dead, and as was the custom, his body was buried. For a moment, all seemed lost. The silence was deafening… But on the third, at break of dawn, he was vindicated by God who raised him from the dead. See the words (v.4): he WAS raised. He did not rise but WAS raised, declaring he was righteous. Just as it was the will of the Father to crush him, it was also the will and pleasure of the Father to raise him from the dead, proclaiming that the Righteous One had fulfilled the law’s demands. Scripture speaks of the Holy One not knowing decay and not seeing corruption (Ps. 16:10), of being given a portion with the many and of dividing spoil with the strong (Isaiah 53:12). In essence, all prophesies about the Messiah – the sum of the Old Testament – point to death and suffering, to resurrection and exaltation. The burial confirms the nature of bodily death which produces a corpse, and affirms that the resurrection is that of a corpse into a living body. I am not trying to prove the resurrection of Jesus to unbelievers: I am here to proclaim it to Christians, named after a Messiah who died, who was raised, who now lives as King forever. For I am absolutely convinced by faith, by reason, by conscience, by the Word, by historical proofs, by the grace of God and by the Spirit of God that Christ is risen, that he has been raised, that he lives and that we shall rise to live with him eternally. Christ died and was buried; he was raised and he was seen; he lives and he is believed on (1 Tim. 3:16). All believers – Paul included – take their authority from the resurrected Jesus. Christianity without gospel is lost, and a gospel without resurrection is dead. To preach and proclaim Jesus is to preach and proclaim his resurrection.
The Consequences of No Resurrection (vv.12-19)
What then if Christ had not been raised? What would be the consequences of a dead Messiah? Most genuine historians do not debate the reality of Jesus’s birth, life, death, and burial. But many claim he was never raised. More acutely, many so-called believers seem to deny the resurrection or have a warped view of it. Some, like the Sadducees reject any resurrection altogether: after all, it is absurd that anyone would rise from the dead. Others, like Greek philosophers, believe the soul to be immortal but reject a bodily resurrection: this view is likely to be present in many minds, for even if there is a body in a grave, it doesn’t matter because the soul is in eternal bliss. Some still hold to a Gnostic view, emphasizing knowledge and illumination as the means of salvation, thus denying even sin itself and denying the resurrection of Jesus: if salvation comes by increasing knowledge of the supernatural, there is no need to be saved from sin or from death. On another note, a few like Hymanaeus and Philetus in Ephesus (2 Tim 2:17-18) claim the resurrection already happened in a spiritual sense, so there is no need for bodies to rise, and there is freedom to do what one pleases: bring forth seasons of unhindered hedonism and all kinds of vices. That is the error many fell into, which John warned about in his 1st letter. And on another hand, some think they have already achieved present immortality in their union with Christ, and so resurrection is not needed because, contrary to our human experience, even death itself is unlikely. And here’s one more: some fear the resurrection of Christ because they know his 2nd coming will be for judgment.
Are such views irrelevant to us here in this church? They were not to the Corinthians. And I tell you that in my 6 years of living in the so-called Bible belt I have encountered people who have verbalized one way or another belief in these views. We do not have to go far to encounter or to have to think more relevantly of these matters. For we live among people who have warped views of God, man, earth, heaven, truth, science, Theology, Christology, Soteriology, Pneumatology, Eschatology, Ecclesiology, Anthropology, Biology, Sociology, the whole gospel let alone the Resurrection. Some may not go as far as denying the resurrection of Christ, but how many people think of it as a spiritual resurrection rather than a bodily resurrection? I tell you the truth, if the body of Jesus is found today in a grave, I would be the first to forgo Christianity and to mourn my life. Like the writer of Ecclesiastes says: it would have all been meaningless.
And who can disprove a claim of spiritual resurrection without a bodily one? The body is decaying, comes the exclamation. Oh yes but the spirit is living, comes the answer. It’s hard to argue against a spiritual resurrection. At the times of Paul and also today, it is easier for people to agree to a spiritual resurrection of sorts than to believe in a bodily resurrection. It is possible that some even here today may be doubting that you and I will rise again bodily to be with the Lord. We might think of a blissful state for our souls somewhere yonder, but not that this body will inherit a new earth. Yet the assurance we have is that this same body that is sown perishable will be raised imperishable to inhabit the new heavens and the new earth that will be redeemed by its risen Lord Jesus Christ who will remake all things new.
What would then be the consequences of no resurrection? Well not even Christ himself was raised. And if he was not raised then no one will rise again: what hopelessness and futility. We would be preaching a false gospel, and any false gospel is bad news. Our faith loses its object and self-destructs. We would be lying about God and deserving of punishment. For we would still be dead in our sins, and all who died or will die would have died on a false hope, and will be both physically and spiritually dead for all eternity. The sum of it all is that we would stink forever. If Christ was not raised bodily from the dead, he would not have been vindicated, his righteousness would not be counted as our own, and we would still be dead in our sins. Get this: Christ died not only to save us from past sins, but from ongoing sinfulness and to deliver us from bondage to sin and death. So if Christ was not raised, there would be now and forever eternal, continual condemnation for all of us. A loss of our future in Christ is also a loss of the present and of the past. To deny the resurrection of Jesus is to deny the Gospel, and to despair of life. How foolish we would be found if we had placed all our hope in a dead Messiah or one that was only spiritually alive? It would indeed be pitiful. If Christ was not raised bodily, death would not be defeated. What are we even gathered here for today? Let us eat, drink, play and destroy this world for there would be nothing to look forward to beyond living a life of hedonism and unrestrained pleasure, then death. Paul says in v.32: lets us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. All pursuit of holiness and righteousness would be meaningless. What was preached and received, what we were standing in and holding fast to, what we are being reminded of and what we are being saved by would all have been in vain.
The Consummation of the Resurrection (vv.20-28)
But, if Christ has been raised, his resurrection sets in motion our resurrection, and the consummation of God’s saving acts through the ultimate defeat of all his enemies. The resurrection of Jesus Christ activates a chain reaction of events that can only lead to final victory and eternal glory, where every step our walk is punctuated by hope, maintained by assurance, decorated with promises and filled with expectation. Every harvest begins by anticipating one fruit that has come to maturity, that when you taste its sweetness and see its beauty, you realize with much hope and expectation that there will soon be a plentiful abundance to follow. Such is Christ’s resurrection, once you taste and see it, you know that there is a harvest from all peoples of the earth – resurrected believers who will worship their Lord forever and again. No wonder he is the Lord of harvest. That is why the dead in Christ are referred to as having fallen asleep, both here and in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15, because the dead in Christ do not perish. They truly rest in peace on hope of the resurrection. And as the dead in Christ rise bodily to eternal life, death is defeated for it has no more hold on us! Death is swallowed up in the victory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and of his saints.
Death has ruled for thousands of years. The first man received life and was given dominion and authority. But through the sin of this one man, death entered the world and came to all people. But the 2nd Man, whose gospel we received, we preach, we are saved by and in which we stand, whose gospel we are being reminded of and we must hold fast to, this Son of Man brought forth resurrection and gave life to all believers. The Greek word for all (pantes) in this passage means all, which means sin and death came to all; but Paul qualifies the 2nd all as it pertains to Christ, for the all who shall be made alive in v.22 are those who belong to Christ as noted in v.23. Paul is not preaching universalism here, nor are we to preach such a false doctrine. Nor is he talking here about a general resurrection for the final judgment: he is speaking of the victorious resurrection of the children of God to inherit the new heavens and the new earth at the 2nd coming of Christ.
Speaking of judgment, for the time being, there is still evil and death in this world. Yet Christ has been given all dominion and authority. He is now reigning in his kingdom that is already here, and at the same time it is not yet fully consummated. All believers are united to Christ, in his death, in his suffering and in his resurrection. And Christ must reign until the resurrection of all believers is declared at his 2nd coming when his glory will be revealed for all to see, his kingdom will destroy death, and his will shall reign supreme over believers and unbelievers, in every place and in every way. The first Adam brought sin, death, and destruction. The second Adam brought righteousness, life, and victory. He died as a judged man; he was raised as the judge of men. For when he returns, he will bring the justice we and the whole cosmos are yearning for; a good justice; a perfect justice, one that will judge the wicked and destroy all the enemies of God. Paul says in Acts 17:31 that [God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead! Our risen Lord is the judge of righteousness. He will destroy every rule, authority, and power of his rebellious enemies for he shares his glory with no other, and he rules the world with righteousness. God’s enemies are the ones who are threatened by a risen Messiah, not us. For this is the God whom we serve and worship, who is with us and for us, who is stronger than anything against us, who has adopted us into his family, who has given us his Spirit as assurance and seal of our inheritance, who is calling all peoples to worship him, who has shared with us the gospel to both proclaim it to others and to hold fast to it so that we may share in Christ and in his kingdom (Heb 3:14).
The resurrection of the slain Lord of life has indeed irreversibly set in motion events that cannot be thwarted, but they can only be brought to full fruition, namely the resurrection of believers to eternal life and the defeat of death forever. Christ’s resurrection demands our resurrection; otherwise, death is never defeated and God cannot be “all in all.” (Gordon Fee; The First Epistle to the Corinthians; NICNT; p747) But God will be all in all, and he shall reign forever and ever; so it is good for us to celebrate the resurrection of Christ: Easter every day!
Brothers and sisters: I cannot hide my excitement as I study this great passage. The central crux of our faith is the sacrificial death of Jesus and his glorious bodily resurrection. History – past, present and future – has been forever changed because Christ was raised from the dead. We no longer live in fear of judgment. We do not work in hope of salvation. We do not separate from the ailments and realities of the world in search of enlightenment. We do not practice religious observances to appease a deity. Yet we labor – not in vain – knowing that out faith and our work are standing fast in the gospel which we received, which gave us right theology that leads us not to triumphalism but to righteous behavior. We are citizens of the kingdom of God: we do not seek an earthly kingdom for it is God’s good pleasure to make all things new and then to give us the heavens and the earth as our inheritance.
I want us to meditate on the resurrection of Jesus and what it means for our future. I want us to celebrate it and rejoice in it. I want us to believe that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. I want us to lament well and deeply all the results and consequences of sin, death and destruction brought forth by the first Adam, that plague our lives day after day. I want us to weep when a believer dies. Let it not be only a celebration of life but also a real mourning of death. Yet I want us to do so not in vain, and not in despair, but in the hope and full assurance that Christ is risen, that he reigns, that he has all power and authority, that he will defeat all his enemies – death included, that he will graciously give us all things, that we will reign with him, that your body and my body O believer will be raised imperishable and be given glory and power as we bear the image of the man of heaven and are transformed into his likeness.
Christ’s resurrection does not only bring judgment, but also healing to this world! The body that is plagued by blindness, brokenness, cancer, celiac disease, congenital disease, COVID, dementia, diabetes, fatigue, Friedrich’s ataxia, Guillain-Barré, hypertension, injury, insomnia, kidney disease, lactose intolerance, pains, pulmonary fibrosis, weakness and many, many ailments – this body will in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, be changed, putting on immortality as we see all things subjected to Christ who in turn will subject all things to the Father. Philippians 3:21 says [he] will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. If we suffer with him, we will be glorified with him (Romans 8:17). Our present suffering will be turned to glory in the resurrection, because resurrection means bodily life after death in a renewed world that is remade by God for his kingdom, for his church, and for his glory (cf. N.T. Wright. Surprised by Hope. Ch. 3. pp36,41). He brings radical judgment; he also brings radical healing!
This is the gospel which we are being reminded of today, in which we stand, by which we are being saved into glorious resurrection with the Lord of life. Because Christ has been raised from the dead, he is worthy of our proclaiming him and of our suffering for him for we will be raised and glorified with him, and we shall be like him and see him as he is. Resurrection occupied the lives and minds of believers for decades after Christ was raised. Let it occupy our lives and minds again today. Our worship every Lord’s Day is the foretaste of our final resurrection, because nothing and no one can take away from us the living hope that is Jesus Christ, in whose power and in whose life we stand sealed for a glorious resurrection that will soon be revealed to us.
O Church of Christ invincible, incorruptible, imperishable: hope in Jesus for Christ is risen!
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