But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. 1 Corinthians 15:12-20(NLT)
In our series on Heaven we have noted that there are a lot of ideas about where it is located, what it’s like and how to get there. This morning we will look at the role of resurrection in God’s Heavenly plan.
Why is the resurrection so important? Why not just take us to Heaven like God did with Enoch, or send a whirling chariot for us to let us ride to glory like Elijah?
The resurrection is so important because without it, death is so final. In fact, resurrection was God’s plan way back before the Garden of Eden. Scripture says that Jesus is…
…the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made. Revelation 13:8b(NLT)
Every major confession and catechism of faith holds the bodily resurrection of those who trust in Christ, just as Jesus was resurrected by the power of God. The empty tomb of Jesus displayed the exodus from death’s hold, which was in response to God’s promise to restore the creation which sin corrupted.
Neo-Christianity denies this bodily-resurrection in favor of some surreal, ethereal “spiritual” resurrection. This is close to the Eastern concepts of reincarnation or matter being reassumed in the universe after death.
Some spurious forms of so-called Christian neo-orthodoxy, such as Plato’s metaphysical theory that all matter is relative, and only the spirit is of any value. But all that flies in the face of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
· In John 21 the resurrected Jesus ate with the disciples (ghosts don’t eat)
· In John 20:27 the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples and, to Thomas in particular he held out hands and said:
“Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
Randy Alcorn wrote:
The nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet are the strongest possible affirmation that the same earthly body that was crucified is now the same heavenly body that was raised. “It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have. (Luke 24:39)[i]
The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of redemption – both for mankind and for the earth. Indeed, without Christ’s resurrection and what it means – an eternal future for fully restored human beings dwelling on a fully restored Earth – there is no Christianity.[ii]
And so, with that as a background, what does the resurrection of the body mean for us today. Is there any instruction we can get from this theology about how to live our lives today?
I would like for you to consider with me several scenarios:
· A little girl is setting-up the most perfect tea party for her favorite dolls, imagining that she is the lady-in-waiting to the throne of England.
· A ten year old boy is hitting stones over the fence in his back yard; he is pretending each swing is at a critical point of a World Series game.
· A teenager has a death-grip on his X-Box360 control – his military game “Call of Duty” requires him to kill 82,000 soldiers if he’s going to live through the day. He is making admirable progress; he aspires to someday be the governor of California.
Most likely we can all see these imaginary events and smile. After all, a “play event” that a child sees as monumental, adults see as “cute”. The little ones need to play at being “big people”. Soon enough they’ll get to the “real world” and have to deal with the bigger, more profound issues.
Of course adults have big issues. Today even a ten minute segment of the news can send you running to the medicine cabinet for some valium or Prozac:
· Depression – it’s a good name for the state of the economy; the issue and its effect are the same word. Economic depression makes us depressed.
· War and terrorism occupies our minds and prayer lists.
· The environment – global warming and disappearing energy sources.
· Racism, justice, peace, poverty, disease…….and on into the night!
Most of our culture’s problem issues have a solution, or can be addressed. But what do you do with death? This is the real public enemy #1! We have on planet earth at any one moment at least thirty gazillion people working on trying to beat or cheat death. Count the ways:
Exercise and diet – I know you watch those shows; you’ve ordered at least something to get healthier! But getting healthier doesn’t change death; perhaps only cheats it out of a few years.
I did one of those life-expectancy calculators online. They ask you a bunch of questions about your diet, age, family history, eating habits (ugh) and the like. After you answer all 75 questions you press “calculate” and the machine laughs at you, but produces a number that is your expected longevity.
Mine was age 84.
That seemed pretty good, but it started the left side of my brain crunching the numbers. I’ll be 70 in a few weeks. That means if that survey thing is right, 831/3 percent of my life is over, gone….history! If the number is right I’ve got five times as much time behind me as ahead of me! Stupid survey!
Once you shake off the depression of that realization you begin to believe the mortality statistic – that for every one person who is alive, there is one person who is going to die. The mortality rate is 100%; everybody dies. And it’s quicker than any of us thought.
The apostle James, brother of Jesus put it this way:
How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. James 4:14(NLT)
We try all sorts of things to ward off death, don’t we?
· Surgery – We have transplants available for most body parts these days. And if the doctors can’t get a part from another person, they’ll invent a plastic one, or a pig will just have to give up another part for you!
· Barring the kind of surgery that actually means something to your physical health, there’s always plastic surgery to fool ourselves and other people into thinking we’re doing better in the race with death!
· Cryogenics –Some reports say that Walt Disney and baseball legend Ted Williams
A teacher was testing the children in Sunday school class to see if they understood the concept of getting to heaven.
He asked them, “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into heaven?” “NO!” the children answered.
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into heaven?” Again, the answer was, “NO!”
Now the teacher was smiling. Hey, they’re getting it, he thought! “Well, then, if I was kind to animals, gave candy to all the children and loved my wife, would that get me into heaven?” he asked. Again, they all answered, “NO!”
He was just bursting with pride. “Well,” he continued, “then how can I get into heaven?” A 5-year-old boy shouted out, “YOU GOTTA BE DEAD.”
In light of that fact, Paul, in our text says: If all you’re looking at is the tea party for dolls, or hitting imaginary home runs over your back fence, or how much better you’re going to look after the face lift, your focus is on 70-80 years, give or take…and you are to be most pitied for being so short-sighted; eternity is a much bigger issue!
And so here’s a much bigger question:
Paul told us how God has planned for it to work out. In the most documented of his miracles, Jesus conquered death by resurrecting from the tomb after three days. Then he invited us to join Him in eternal life…where death has no place.
The story of the Gospel (in a very small nutshell) is that God made a perfect world and our sin messed it – and us – up, big-time! That divided us from God because he will not tolerate sin. Jesus came and died so we can know God again…and the purpose of God doing that is so we can have that relationship with the Father, our Creator!
Does your life have an eternal purpose? Does your life make sense, have meaning? Or do you mostly feel like you’re wandering? Is it 80 years of tea parties and hitting home-run stones over the back fence? Shouldn’t there be more? Isn’t your heart telling you that there IS more, and that you’re missing it?
Many people say they’re not afraid of death – but that’s just not wise; death should be feared, because death means separation for eternity from the God who created you. Death isn’t just when you stop breathing, and you therefore don’t have the struggles and worries anymore. Your soul and your consciousness are never going to die. And even your body is going to be resurrected.
The Bible talks of two resurrections. One is a resurrection to life; the other, resurrection to eternal death – separation from God.
Jesus came to buy you out of that. He died for your sins, gave his life on the cross in your place, so that you can have an eternal life, not eternal death!
There is only one intelligent way to not be afraid of death, and that is to have eternal life.
And it’s possible because Jesus said so:
My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10:27 - 28(NRSV)
And when you are being held in the palm of God’s hand of eternal life, you will be able to talk to death like sixteenth century poet and theologian John Donne did in a poem.He imagined death standing right in front of him, so proud and cocky, and John told him:
DEATH be not proud for thou art not so,
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
To give your life to Christ is to celebrate the death of your death!
When you are in the Master’s hand, then you can look at death and truly not be afraid, because the hand of death can never touch you; you will never be separated from the One who loves you just as much now as He did on day one of creation.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
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