When we are faced with the death of a loved one, or our own death, we have to reckon with the reliability of what we hope for. Do we have a real hope? Do we have a hope that offers true comfort? The Christian hope is built upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it is very different from any other hope offered by skeptics, or by other religions. It is the hope of LIFE.
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RESURRECTION 2022. 1 CORINTHIANS 15:12-23; 48-58
When I was in seminary, Kari and I met Paul and Becky Hagen, and their kids. I was there for my master’s degree, and Paul was studying for his doctorate. They were about fifteen, or so, years older than us. We became dear friends, and we have remained so for the past twenty-five years. We had the pleasure of watching their children grow up. They watched our children be born and grow. Paul & Becky are godparents for our daughter, Alana. Their family feels like part of our extended family, and we theirs (I also went to college with one of Becky’s younger brothers). Paul and Becky, or their kids, or Becky’s mother or brother, and other family, have often stayed at our house. Their son Tim married Gerte, a woman from Albania. We stayed with Tim and Gerte in Albania in 2013. They had their third child just a few months ago.
This was just after Tim was diagnosed with cancer.
Tim died this past Wednesday, four days before Easter Sunday. His youngest child will never know him. His wife is a widow. His parents have lost a son. His siblings have lost a brother.
As I think about this, I am filled with grief for my friends, Paul & Becky. No parent should have to watch the death of a child. I’m overwhelmed with sorrow for Gerte who has lost the love of her life, and for their three young children, who have been deprived of their father. I am so deeply sad for Tim’s sisters, and his brother. I am so sad myself. I stopped and wept while I was writing this.
Sometimes, I think we are almost unaware of how much the Bible influences our way of looking at the world. In order to better appreciate the wonderful gift that Jesus brought to the world, I want us to think about things – temporarily – from other points of view.
Just for a moment, imagine the death of this fine young man, but consider it as if you had no Christian faith. It seems so tragic that a young man who had a loving wife and three young children who need him, should die. His parents have outlived him. It feels so wrong. If we looked at Tim’s death without the eyes of faith, it would be an unmitigated tragedy. Everyone who loved Tim should be inconsolable. If this life is all there is, then nothing could ever balance out the tragedy of his death for his wife, his kids, his parents. It’s appalling, heart-breaking, and that’s all there is to say.
But wait. If this life is all there is, why should death be appalling to us? If the atheists are right, the universe arose by accident from nothing. It has no meaning, no purpose, which logically means that life has no meaning or purpose. Things simply are what they are. Life is what it is, and death is what it is. Neither death nor life has any significance. In such a universe, death is simply natural – no different, for example, from any other natural thing, like digestion, or breathing, or the color of the sky. If death has no more significance than a burp, why should it upset us? I’ve not heard any atheists address this issue.
One of the arguments made by skeptics is that religion was developed in order to help human beings cope with the tragedy and fear associated with death. But the atheists are not thinking deeply enough. Why, in the first place, should we even think of death as a tragedy? Why should we fear it, if it is as natural and normal as blue sky?
I think the logical answer is this: death is unnatural. When we encounter death, something inside us says, “It should not be this way.” It is as if we have some kind of ancient instinct that knows death is wrong. Deep within us, our hearts tell us that the world was supposed to be a different kind of place than it actually is. I suspect that even most committed atheists cannot actually make themselves feel indifferent about the death of those they love, and about their own death. That’s extremely strange, and very difficult to explain, unless it happens to be true that death was not originally part of what it means to be human.
A lot of people believe that all religions are more or less the same. I’ve already mentioned the religion that is called atheism (and atheism is based upon blind faith, whatever people say). Atheism is very different from Christianity in this matter of death – as I say, it is meaningless, and there is nothing afterwards.
Buddhism is also not remotely like the Christian faith when it comes to death, and the possibilities of life after death. To a Buddhist, life after death is a bad thing. The whole point of Buddhism is to cease to exist altogether. They do believe in reincarnation, but reincarnation is a negative thing for a Buddhist. It means that they failed to end their existence and become nothing, and now they have to try again, possibly adding more suffering to the world as a result. The great hope of Buddhism is not life, but rather absolute nothingness, a complete cessation of being.
Hinduism is also very different from Christianity. Hindus, like Buddhists, believe in reincarnation – they suggest that the average soul is reincarnated about 8.3 million times before reaching nirvana. However, the ultimate goal (nirvana) is to cease to exist as an individual and be absorbed into the all-encompassing oneness that is the Brahman. In other words, in “heaven” you will no longer be a conscious self. For all intents and purposes, this too, as in Buddhism, is the destruction of your soul, the end of your “you-ness.”
Islam believes in a paradise that is somewhat like the Christian one, but it sounds a lot nicer for men than it does for women. Paradise is also divided into classes, with the more pleasant areas being reserved for the men, and for those who were the best Muslims. Even so, no Muslim can know whether or not they will actually go to paradise. It is based entirely on how you lived, and no one knows how much is good enough.
Judaism today is very different from the religion that began with just the Old Testament. It is very diverse, and many Jews either don’t believe in life after death, or simply assume it is some kind of mystery. Some Jews believe in a spiritual heaven and spiritual place of the dead (Sheol) but it would be inaccurate to say that modern Judaism’s view of life after death is similar to that of Christianity.
My point is this: All religions are not the same when it comes to life after death. The Christian view of resurrection after death is unique. To the small extent that Judaism and Islam are similar, it is because they were influenced by Christianity.
Before you start thinking this is all so theoretical, let’s apply this to the death of my friend, Tim. If he was Buddhist, what hope would we have, what hope would his wife and kids have? Well, one thing that is certain is that they will never again see him, certainly not to recognize him as the person they have known. The best case scenario is that he has ceased to exist forever. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t bring me much hope or encouragement. It leaves me with nothing useful or kind to say to his family.
An atheist/skeptic/agnostic might say that Tim will live on in the memories of those who loved him. In the first place, that doesn’t help his wife Gerte when she wants Tim to hold her. It doesn’t help his son when he wants to play catch with his dad. Also, let me ask you this: how many of you have memories of your great-grandparents? I remember one of my eight great-grandparents. I have no memories of the other seven, and certainly none of the generation before that. Even my memories of great-grandma are few and fuzzy. So, if Tim lives on in the memories of those who knew him and loved him, seeing as Tim died young, the best case scenario is that he “lives on,” for another seventy years or so. Then his memory will be lost to this world. Not much of an afterlife.
If Tim was Hindu, one might say, “perhaps he will be reincarnated as someone you will meet.” Of course, he will now be younger than his own infant child, so it’s not like his wife will be able to remarry his new, reincarnated self. And obviously, if he is reincarnated, he will appear to everyone, including himself, as an entirely different person. Also, it is unlikely that in this world of billions, his family will happen to run into the reincarnated Tim. Once again, there is no hope that his family will ever again see him or know him as the person they loved. And again, the best-case Hindu scenario for Tim would be that he loses all personhood, and becomes indistinguishable from the all-encompassing oneness that is called the Brahman. (Although, because Tim was not the proper Hindu Caste, he would not be eligible for that “ultimate salvation,” anyway.)
Let’s try the Islamic hope. Well, Tim was not a Muslim, so it would be automatic hell for him. But even if he was a good Muslim, the only way to actually know for sure that you will be in paradise is to die in the cause of Islam – to be martyred. Apart from martyrs, everyone’s salvation is always in doubt, no matter how hard you have tried to be a good Muslim. So, for Tim’s family, there would be no substantial way to offer them hope. And if Tim was a particularly good Muslim, and he did make it to paradise, he may have earned more women for himself, which would not be an encouraging thought for his wife, Gerte.
As far as the Jewish hope – and I say this with a smile on my face, and love in my heart for my Jewish friends – there would more likely be a lively argument about the various possibilities for life after death than any substantial and firm hope for Tim’s family. That’s not to say that Jewish people lack compassion; rather it is that they lack a substantial hope of resurrection.
For most of my life I have had friends from all of these religious traditions. I love those friends, and I respect their freedom to make their own religious choices. In the event of a person’s death, they have great compassion, and many kind words. But all of these traditions are very different from Christianity, different in ways that mean everything when we are confronted with the reality of death.
The Bible says that the resurrection of Jesus proves that he has conquered death on behalf of all who trust him:
20 But as it is, Christ has 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 also comes through a man. 22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22, CSB)
Here we have the clue we started with: death was not part of God’s original plan for humanity. Death came into the human race through Adam. Human beings were not created to die. Death is not the way it is supposed to be. Here we also have this amazing hope: through Christ, though we all must die, resurrection to eternal, joyful life is now possible. Death came through Adam, but resurrection comes through Jesus Christ. Peter writes about this hope:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5, ESV)
The hope of resurrection comes through Jesus Christ alone, through his resurrection. When we belong to Him, His resurrection shows us our future:
1 See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. 2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. (1 John 3:1-2, NLT)
We will be like Jesus. His resurrection is the beginning. Ours is assured through him, because of him, and one day we will be like him. Jesus once spoke to another grieving family:
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. 26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? ” (John 11:25-26, CSB)
And so, Christian salvation is not earned (as in all other religions). It is not based upon the doubtful performance of imperfect human beings. It is based upon the performance of just one Person, who was perfect in every way. The way to receive it is to entrust ourselves, mind, body, soul and strength – to Jesus Christ.
What happened to Tim is a great tragedy. It is important for those who loved him to acknowledge that, and to grieve. But death will come to each one of us eventually. Sooner or later we have to face it, and when we do, the great question is the same as it is for us today: “Where is your hope? Do you have Jesus Christ?”
Having Jesus Christ means putting all of our trust and hope in him. It means that through faith, we trust in him each day. It doesn’t mean we are perfect. It doesn’t mean we never struggle. But we cling to Jesus every day as our only hope. Here is more of the hope that is promised to us in Jesus:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.
Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.
Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” (Rev 21:1-5, HCSB)
This is our future in Jesus Christ. It isn’t today. Today, we live in a world where a young husband and father dies, leaving behind a grief-stricken family. But we have a promise that someday, no more! Someday, no death, no crying or grief. So what about today? There is hope for today also. Listen:
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything? Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.
Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Rom 8:31-39, HCSB)
My hope for Tim – the only reasonable hope for him, and for his family – is in Jesus. Our hope for ourselves is Jesus. Our hope for just getting through the rest of today is Jesus. He is hope for us, right now, and forever. Trust him! Cling to him! These bible verses that I have read are his promises for everyone who trusts him. Look at them as his own words to you.
Meditate on these words about the resurrection:
48 Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. 49 Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.
50 What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.
51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.
54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:48-58, NLT)
He has risen!
He has risen indeed.