1 CORINTHIANS #27. (1 COR 15:12-34)
Sermon from Tom Hilpert on Vimeo.
I want to clear up a little possible confusion about this passage. In our English translations, Paul keeps talking about the resurrection from “the dead.” This makes it sound almost like resurrection from the “world of the dead.” In fact, in Greek, they had a term for that world – they called it Hades. Some people may assume that what Paul is saying is that we aren’t left in “the world of the dead” – Jesus saves us from Hades or hell. This makes the whole thing sound like just a “spiritual” resurrection. We might have the idea that resurrection means we become happy ghosts. But all throughout this passage Paul uses a very specific term for “dead.” The word he uses is pronounced “nekros.” We still use this term in science and medicine – necrosis is the death of living tissue. Necrotic tissue is flesh that has died. So Paul is not talking here about rescue from Hades. He is talking about bringing dead and rotten flesh to life.
We so often misunderstand what the Bible teaches about resurrection. Is there a spiritual resurrection as well? The short answer is, yes, there is also a spiritual resurrection – and if you trust in Jesus, you have already received it. Your spirit will remain alive for eternity. It is already made perfect by Jesus. There is a direction and flow to resurrection – it starts with the spirit, and flows into the soul; ultimately, it is supposed to show up in the way we live our lives.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5;17)
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:20)
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens (Ephesians 2:4-6)
We get all tied up looking for the transformation of the physical. And I think that is why we fail so often to live like Christians. We are starting with the wrong end. God’s plan is ultimately to kill the flesh – to let the whole body become necrotic – so that he can raise it again with a perfection that matches the perfection we already have in spirit. That is the resurrection Paul is talking about here. He has already spoken of the spiritual resurrection earlier. In fact, if you remember, he began the entire letter by talking about how in Christ they were already complete. In Christ, their spirits were already raised in perfection. Their problem has always been that they are not letting that fact dominate their lives. So now Paul ends by speaking about how that perfection will ultimately come to our body as well.
The two resurrections – the spiritual and the physical are connected. Paul’s point here is that the physical resurrection of Jesus proves both of them. If Jesus wasn’t physically raised, then he was just like anyone else. He died, not for our sins, but for his own. He was not vindicated by God. If Jesus wasn’t raised physically then there is no physical resurrection, and there is no spiritual resurrection either.
Paul says two things in this passage that really catch my attention. First, he says this:
If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. (15:19)
And yet, Christian churches and leaders in the United States are increasingly emphasizing this life over and above our eternal future. I understand some of this. Faith is not simply buying a ticket to heaven that we don’t have any use for until we die. Forgiveness of sins starts now. Right now, we are free from condemnation. Right now, we can receive power to live the way were made to, to be fulfilled in our purpose for life. Right now, we have a purpose for this life – to help the Lord in his disciple-making quest. Right now, the power of God is available to us to heal our bodies, our emotions and our relationships. Right now, God answers prayer and works in us and in the world.
But none of it means anything unless there is indeed a resurrection waiting, and an eternal future where both our spirits and our bodies are pure, uncorrupted and indestructible. This life is just the prelude. It is the count-in before the song starts, the ads before the movie, the opening ceremonies before the game. It isn’t the real thing. It is part of it, but it is not the main event.
Brothers and sisters, let us not treat it as the main event. Let us not get distracted. We have all kinds of grace and many blessing from the Lord in this life. But this life is not all there is. And this life is only an infinitesimally small piece of our eternal future. This life is not the point, not the meaning. And if we seek God primarily because we want his blessings in this life, we are to be pitied more than all people.
There is something else Paul says. He writes: “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” The idea is this: “Let’s party hard, because it’s all going to end soon.” Our society, by and large lives by this motto. We look for the short term fix, the short term reward, the short term pleasure. We are used to meals in moments, and fruit out of season. We don’t look beyond the next five minutes.
This “party hard, live in the moment” attitude is a symptom. We live this way, because, by and large, we don’t really believe in resurrection. Christianity has always been more readily accepted by people who live in severe poverty or oppression. That is because they don’t have the option of thinking that life is great, and that everything should be about the here and now. People who are near death, also tend to be more open to the message of Jesus. You may have heard the expression “there are no atheists in foxholes.” I might add “or in cancer wards,” or any number of places where death is very real and possibly imminent. Some folks use that phenomenon to suggest that our faith is mere wishful thinking. I think it is exactly the opposite. When you know death is near, you have to confront the fact that this life always ends. No one gets out alive. There is no room for the wishful thinking that we can just have a good time now and not worry about what comes later. The only wishful thinking is the idea that we can ignore death, that we don’t need a resurrection.
Paul tells the Corinthians, “Come to your senses and stop sinning, for some people are ignorant about God. I say this to your shame.”
We need to come to our senses as well. There is so much more to life than this life. Yes, eternal life starts now. Yes God is at work in us and through us and for us right now. But our purpose will not be fulfilled in this life. We are destined for something so much more glorious and amazing. Your physical life began in the womb of your mother. You really were alive there. The way you grew and developed in the womb was important, and it had a profound impact on who you are today. But the womb was just the beginning. Not much of the entire amazing experience that we call “life” can be found inside a uterus.
Today, we are still in the womb. Yes, we are truly alive. Yes, what we do here and the choices we make will shape our future beyond this life. But the real life is still waiting for us out there. Let’s keep our hopes fixed upon Resurrection.