Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 24:20 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I wonder what kind of letters Paul would write to churches in the United States, if he were alive today. We have several of his letters in the New Testament, written to various churches, addressing various issues and challenges, including this letter to the churches in Corinth. And the issues in Corinth don’t seem too foreign to our issues today: Paul addresses marriage and sexuality, a party spirit that results in divisions and bad judgments, issues around the Lord’s Supper. It doesn’t appear that things have changed too much!
And here Paul addresses another issue in Corinth. Apparently, some people in Corinth were denying the resurrection of the dead. It doesn’t seem that they were denying the resurrection of Jesus, since Paul says that their denial of the resurrection of all people actually means the denial of Jesus’ resurrection. We don’t know the details of what they were saying or believing, but it is enough to know that Paul uses that issue to proclaim the truth about the resurrection.
Maybe we would think that this is one of the issues that we are not dealing with. We don’t deny the resurrection; we confess it every single Lord’s Day. But in the first part of the chapter Paul says that he preached this good news of the resurrection as the first and primary thing, the most important thing, the central piece of the Christian faith. He says, I handed over to you in first place, of first importance, what was also handed over to me: that Christ died according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures. Then He appeared to Peter, to the other apostles, to 500 people at one time, and to Paul himself on the road to Damascus.
The resurrection is not only one thing on a list of things we say we believe. It is the foundation for all of it, for everything. If that’s true, then we should consider our own faith and hope and life. Consider the hymns in our hymnal. We have something like 600+ hymns in our hymnal. How many of them explicitly confess the resurrection of the body? I’ve looked, and I counted maybe a handful. A handful out of 600. The others don’t deny the resurrection, certainly. But is it central to our hymns? Is the resurrection central to our preaching? Does it undergird everything we say and everything we hear? Do we hear about it more than just at Easter, when of course you have to talk about the resurrection in some form?
More than our hymns, and more than our preaching—more than just on Sunday morning—is the resurrection central to our life and to our hope? Paul says that if there is no resurrection of those who belong to Jesus, then Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead either, and the apostles have been false witnesses to God Himself, since they preached that God raised Jesus from the dead. And if Jesus isn’t raised from the dead, then, Paul says, his entire preaching is empty, and our faith is empty. Paul obviously talks about more than the resurrection, but without the resurrection, all of that is empty. The resurrection is the content of the preaching, and the content of the faith. No resurrection, no Gospel; no Gospel, no preaching; no preaching, no faith. Even more, if there is no resurrection, then Jesus hasn’t been raised, and if Jesus hasn’t been raised, you are still in your sins. Without the resurrection, everything is exactly the same as it was before. We, who are dust, return to dust, and that’s it. And we have no comfort or hope for those whom we love who have died in the faith. They’re simply dead, and rotted in the ground, and that’s it.
No resurrection, no Gospel, no preaching, no faith, no salvation, no comfort. There is no Christianity at all if there is no resurrection. And you can’t even have the resurrection of Jesus apart from the resurrection of all those who believe Him. There is an inseparable connection between Jesus’ resurrection and our resurrection, and that connection goes both ways.
And what about for our lives between Sundays? Does the resurrection have anything to do with that? If we are Christians, it does. If we are Christians, the resurrection is the basis not only for eternal life, but for daily life here and now. Paul says that if we hope in Christ only for this life, we are to be pitied above all people; in other words, our hope and faith have to go beyond this world subject to sin and death. But we hope in Christ even now, in the midst of this sin and death. We are with Jesus, the eternal Son of God who took on a human body, died in that body, was raised in that body, and was glorified in that body. You can’t have Jesus without His body, or else it’s not actually Jesus. And what did Jesus do in His body? He cared for other people in their bodies. Because of the resurrection, Jesus heals and raises the dead and casts out demons. Because of the resurrection, we care for people in their bodies. Because of the resurrection, we care about what happens to and within God’s creation.
And what we do in and with our bodies matters, because these bodies are going to be raised from the dead. We are not disembodied selves stuck in these bad and horrible bodies. Our hope is not that we will get free of these bodies, as if our bodies, created by God, were the problem. Jesus did not appear to save our souls and get us free of this world and these bodies. To die and go to heaven is not good enough. That’s only a half-hope. Our hope is the redemption of our bodies; not to be free of our bodies, but to have bodies that are free of sin and death and decay. Bodies free of sickness. Bodies free of the burden of sin and death. Bodies made to be like Jesus’ own glorious body. If that’s not our hope, then there is no such thing as Christianity. It cannot be overemphasized or overstated: the resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of everything, which means that the resurrection of bodies like Jesus’ is at the heart of everything. Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection, of those who have fallen asleep, because Jesus is going to wake up all the dead and the rest of the harvest of those who have been buried in the ground is going to be completed.
It is no solution to what has gone wrong in us or in the world to die and go to heaven, although our souls being with Jesus is better than being here subject to sin and death. But that is not enough. We need creation set free from sin and death and the devil, from war and bloodshed and violence and oppression. And we need bodies set free from sin and death, from sickness and grief and pain and corruption. And so it will be, and we have that life even now. What we receive when we eat this bread and wine blessed with Jesus’ own words is the resurrection life of Jesus in His body and blood. He gives us that life now, in our lives, and He, by His life, will bring us to the fullness of that life. Because, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/11/22