1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57
(watch here: https://youtu.be/8JQFvMSLIPQ)
Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit 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 towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘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, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our rather looooong, dense reading again from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds me of the one about a man who bought a scratch-off lottery ticket. Ten minutes after he bought it, he looked at his numbers and saw that he won. He was so happy that he went to his wife, told her that he had won the lottery, and asked her what she wanted to do. The wife joyously responded, “I’m going to take my half and leave you to start a new life traveling around the world! And I’ll find a new husband somewhere along the way!” With a smile on his face, the man said, “Great! I won $9. Here’s your $4.50. Do you want me to call you a taxi to the airport?”
Sometimes you have to be careful what you ask for when presented with the opportunity for a new life! It might not be better than your old life. Some new lives may actually be worse than the old lives. That poor wife may have a better life awaiting her without her husband and an extra $4.50 in her pocket, maybe not, but the joke presumes that she was expecting a far bigger payout than she received. Believing she was suddenly rich emboldened her to leave one life for another life. Not that money can ever really buy true and lasting joy. No, the true and lasting joys of life can only be found in relationships: relationships with ourselves, with friends and loved ones, and with God. Those relationships are what make life worth living. Money can only enhance the joy found in relationships. Of course, the wife understands this all too well. She wasn’t running away to selfishly live just for herself. She hoped for a new husband somewhere down the line. But many people blessed with newfound riches tend to think only of themselves and their own personal happiness.
This week we are celebrating the last week of the Easter season. Next week we’ll keep off the season of Pentecost. What better way to celebrate than to reflect on one of Paul’s meatier reflections on Jesus’ resurrection. Paul tried doing what most of us Christians fail to do: explain the resurrection. Or perhaps more accurately, explain why we should believe in the resurrection. After all, the resurrection is the crux of our faith. Without it, Jesus is just another great prophet or teacher or healer from the past. Even his death on the cross was not unlike countless deaths on crosses. Yes, what distinguished Jesus and solidified him as the Son of God was his resurrection. And Paul painstakingly lays this out in today’s reading and in other letters to his congregations. If we are to believe that Jesus is the third part of the Holy Trinity, then we must also believe in the resurrection. This is because God’s love for us is most clearly revealed to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. God died in order to conquer the powers of sin and death over our lives. God died to reveal that there is new life after death. God died so that we no longer have to fear sin and death. Without fear, we are no longer slaves to sin and death. Fear is what imprisons us. But we don’t have to be afraid of death. We don’t have to live sinful lives. We can choose to live as Jesus lives. We can choose to believe that there is new life after death. We can choose to believe in Jesus.
Which is ultimately the greatest gift God has to offer us–a relationship with him through his Son. Remember, that truest, longest lasting joys of life are found in relationships. And a relationship with Jesus provides true and lasting joy not only in life but also in death too! Jesus walks with us in this life and the next life! What a truly amazing gift from God! To know his peace and contentment all the days of this life and the next life. Unlike the wife’s new life in that opening joke, a new life in Christ is guaranteed to be a good life, a better life. Why? Because the old life truly does disappear when you live a life in Christ. It is a wholly new life, no room for any part of the old life. Welcome Christ into your heart and he will take over your entire heart…your entire mind…your entire body! As Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “so if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (5:17) Everything old has passed away! Everything has become new! Friends, I can’t stress the uniqueness of the new life in Christ. It is truly a complete transformation! Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “you were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (4:22-24) A life in Christ is a life in righteousness and holiness.
Now why is a life in Christ so transformative, so complete? Because it results in eternal life, life that never ends. God wants us to kill our sinful ways each and every day so that we might live longer, more fruitful lives in this world. Daily we leave old lives of poor choices and poor lifestyles to live newer, healthier lives. But a life in Christ ensures an even better life: eternal life! Jesus says in John, “very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (5:24) A new life in Christ is eternal life. Why? Because his life is eternal! The grave could only hold him 3 days. Never again, my friends! He will always live to the end of ages and so shall we who believe in him! Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (6:23)
So as we wrap up this season of Easter, let us rejoice in the greatest gift of Jesus’ resurrection: new and eternal life. He lives so we live! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.