The Life of Apprehension
As we get started this morning, I want you to imagine something. I want you to think about a time in life that you were very worried or anxious about something that ended up turning out great. Maybe it was transitioning from elementary school to middle school or from middle school to high school. Maybe it was choosing a major in college. Maybe it was asking someone for a date? Maybe it was the decision of whether or not to switch your career field. Maybe it was choosing whether or not to have surgery. Whatever it is for you, I want you to picture the days and weeks and months leading up to this anxious moment. Let yourself feel those feelings. Those are exhausting and stressful and difficult times aren’t they? Perhaps you’re in the midst of them now?
Ok, now I want you to imagine something a little different. Imagine that before you began to feel any of the stress or anxiety of that situation, some magical being came to you in advance and explained exactly how everything was going to go down and helped you see the positive outcome. That would’ve changed everything wouldn’t it? You wouldn’t have to worry and cry and feel sick to your stomach and lose sleep and have constant headaches. You would’ve been able to move forward confidently and peacefully, knowing that victory was certain. What a different type of life that future knowledge would allow us to have.
As we approach 1 Corinthians 15 Paul does that exact thing for the Corinthian believers. He has finished up talking about spiritual gifts and the whole subject of how they should conduct themselves in public worship and now he is going to answer one final set of questions they had for him before he wraps up his letter. As you will see in our text today, the questions they were asking had to do with resurrection. We can infer that they were asking questions (or debating) things such as:
-Is there a resurrection from the dead when we die?
-Was Jesus actually raised from the dead?
-If we are resurrected, how can our physical bodies last forever?
It’s clear from verse 12 that some of the Corinthian believers did not believe in a resurrection of the dead, so Paul, wanting to keep the gospel message clear and correct any kind of confusion regarding this crucial foundation of our faith, teaches about the resurrection and in doing so gives us great assurance for living out our faith with great confidence.
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,and then to the Twelve.After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
1 Cor. 15:1-11
The Importance of the Resurrection of Christ
In the midst of confronting all of the problems the Corinthian church had and answering their questions, Paul stops everything as he hears about their doubt regarding the resurrection and zeroes in on the gospel. It’s important that we do this at times as well. So often we get focused on the mysteries of Scripture or the what-if scenarios of morality and we forget the basic gospel message that is the foundation of our lives.
Notice what Paul says in verse 1 – “…I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.” For those of us who have given Jesus control of our lives, the gospel is the foundation of our lives. We stand on the truth that our sins have been forgiven by God’s grace through faith in Jesus and Paul reminds the Corinthians in this chapter that if they doubt the resurrection, they are pulling one of the three legs of the gospel out from under themselves.
He explains in verses 3-4 that the gospel rests on the truth that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and he was raised on the third day. Paul teaches about this in Romans 6:3-5 as well.
-Jesus’ death is crucial because Romans 3:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. Wherever there is sin, there must be death. But not desiring to hold our sins against us, God allowed Jesus to die in our place. In Romans 6:3 Paul reminds us that as followers of Christ who were baptized in His name, we were baptized into His death. We share in His death as we die to our old self and put on the new self through faith in Christ.
-Paul also refers to Jesus burial. Jesus’ burial proved that He was truly dead. He was in the grave for three days after He died on the cross. Paul refers to this in Romans 6:4 where he teaches that through baptism we were buried with Him.
-Lastly, Paul reminds the church that Jesus was raised on the third day and that he appeared to Peter, the Twelve, more than 500 brothers, James, and Paul himself. Again, In Romans 6 Paul refers to the resurrection as well in verses 4-5 stating that through our faith and baptism in Christ, “…just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly also be untied with Him in a resurrection like His.”
It’s crucial that we understand (and present to others) these truths of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection because they are the foundation on which we stand in faith. Faith in Christ’s sacrifice is the only way our sin can be paid for and we can receive God’s gracious forgiveness and be reconciled into a relationship with Him. Next Paul explains the rational consequences of not believing in Christ’s resurrection as some at the church in Corinth were doing.
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:12-19; 29-34
Consequences of Not Believing in the Resurrection
We are not told why any of the believers at Corinth started questioning or doubting the resurrection, but they did. Paul has already mentioned two evidences that Jesus did rise from the dead as he pointed to the Old Testament scriptures in verses 3 and 4 and all of the people Jesus appeared to in verses 5-8 (many of whom were still alive to give first-hand accounts). But now he moves into an argument where he helps them to think through their own viewpoint logically. Beginning in verse 13 Paul explains that if they want to take this view of not believing in any kind of resurrection after death, the results of that line of thinking are:
-Christ has not been raised (v. 13)
-If Christ had not been raised, the preaching of the apostles and their faith was useless (v. 14)
-The apostles are not just wrong, they are liars (v. 15)
-They are still in their sins (v. 17)
-Those who have already died are lost (v. 18)
-If we only have hope for this life, and the resurrection turns out to be a farce, we are to be pitied more than anyone (v. 19)
Paul continues this line of thinking in verses 29-34 explaining more consequences, such as:
-If there is no resurrection from the dead, then their practice of baptism for the dead doesn’t make sense. (vs. 29) [We don’t know why they took part in this practice anyway as it is not taught anywhere in Scripture. Perhaps they brought this idea from their former way of religion, but there is no scriptural background for this practice]
-Paul and the other apostles have lived in danger for no reason. (vss. 30-31)
As we have seen him do before many times, Paul crushes their logic with blow after blow of consequences that they hadn’t thought through. The fact is that Jesus did rise from the grave defeating the powers of sin and death and Paul helps them to see the benefits of this reality in verses 20-28.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.”[a] Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
The Treasures of the Resurrection
After imagining the consequences of life without the resurrection, Paul breaks through with a victorious statement in verse 20 saying, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!” He explains that He is the first fruits of those who have died. What does this mean? For a farmer, the first fruits are the first crops that come up, which serve as a promise and hope that there is more where that came from. The first fruits are the assurance of the rest of the harvest and Paul is saying that Jesus’ resurrection guarantees our resurrection and victory over sin and death as well. Contrary to imagining the consequences of there not being a resurrection, we find treasures in the reality there is a resurrection as Paul explains:
-“Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (vss. 21-22)
-Christ’s resurrection will lead to His reign whereupon He will conquer death. (v. 26)
-Though Jesus’ victorious reign and submission to the Father, God will be glorified. (v. 28)
Jesus’ resurrection leads to our resurrection. Jesus’ victory over sin and death leads to our victory over sin and death. We not only share in Jesus’ death and burial through baptism, we share in His resurrection and victory.
Paul has gone to great lengths to explain why Jesus’ resurrection is so important to our faith. And now, while he is on the topic of resurrection, he goes on to answer some more of their questions about resurrection such as, “How are the dead raised?” and “With what kind of body will we be raised?”
Questions About Our Resurrection Bodies
In order to save time and get through the whole chapter this morning I’m not going to read through the rest of the chapter, but you can follow along as we go through each portion. As Paul answers these questions, he begins in verses 36-41 by comparing our resurrected bodies to that of seeds. First he explains in verse 36 that seeds don’t come to life until they die. Likewise, before we can be resurrected, our fleshly bodies must die. He goes on to explain in verse 37 that when you plant a seed, you don’t plant the body that will be, just a seed – and so it is with our bodies. Our current bodies contain some of the elements of our future bodies, but just a seed of them. When we are made new through our resurrection, our bodies will be very different. Next he uses a different illustration. In verse 39 he moves form the seed illustration to that of different types of flesh. Humans have one type of flesh, animals have another, birds have another, and fish are different still. In verse 40 he moves to a third illustration saying that there are even more types of bodies. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. Just as the son has one type of splendor and the moon and stars have other types of splendor. Paul explains in verse 42 that all of these examples give us a glimpse of how different our resurrected bodies will be from our earthly bodies. Some of the changes we will experience are:
-Our earthly, perishable bodies will become imperishable (v. 42)
-Our earthly bodies will pass away in dishonor, but we will be raised in glory (v. 43)
-Our earthly bodies will die in weakness, but we will be raised in power (v. 43)
-Our earthly bodies die as natural bodies, but we will be raised into spiritual bodies (v. 44)
As we have seen before these earthly versus spiritual realities find their basis in Adam and Jesus. Just as Paul compared and contrasted our earthly bodies to our resurrected bodies he goes on to compare our lives as descendants of Adam to our eternal lives in the lineage of Jesus:
-Adam was a living being, while Jesus was a life-giving spirit
-Adam was natural, Jesus was spiritual
-Adam was from the dust of the earth, Jesus was from heaven.
Paul explains in verse 48-49 that, “As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” As Paul concludes this chapter, he teaches about the future in hope of helping the church at Corinth to live with boldness and focus.
I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:50-58
Paul’s Teaching on the Future
Paul didn’t want them to fear death or continue in a worried state about what their future held. He wanted them to know that when Jesus comes back, everything will happen in a flash. Our bodies will be changed from perishable to imperishable and from mortal to immortal – and when this happens, the end will be near but we have nothing to fear because that is when our Jesus will conquer death forevermore. Paul exclaims in verse 57 – “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
Friends do you realize what this means? It means that we know the final outcome of life and we are on the winning side! It means that in light of the pain and ugliness and hate and sickness and lack of justice and evil and death that we see all around us…it all turns out wonderful in the end! We have been told in advance exactly how everything in the future is going to go down and THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING! We don’t have to watch the news and wonder what the future holds…we know! We don’t have to worry about how and when we will die; we know that death only means freedom!
So how does this change our lives? Well, Paul explains in verse 58 – this knowledge enables us to stand firm. Knowing that we are victorious in the end allows us to stand with strength so that NOTHING can move us.
AND it allows us to “give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because we know that our labor is not in vain.”
When you watch the babies in the nursery, it’s not in vain! When you help with the children and they’re going crazy and you feel like they got nothing out of the lesson, it’s not in vain! When you help with the youth and the main thing they walk about talking about is passing gas, it’s not in vain! When you give sacrificially, when you serve the least of these, when you share the gospel with your neighbors and coworkers, IT IS NOT IN VAIN because in doing so you are accomplishing the will of God which WILL bring the Kingdom of God. The victory has been won, and for the rest of our lives we simply get to become part of the highlight reel. May we live all out for Him!