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10.17.21 Sowing Seeds of Glory 1 Corinthians 15.1-11, 58 Sermon Summary

by on October 18, 2021

Most people want their lives to be meaningful, to have some purpose, to contribute to a legacy. The resurrection of the dead, beginning with Jesus Christ, is the guarantee that our lives can be meaningful. 

The most thorough treatment to be found in the Bible on the resurrection of the dead is Paul’s 1 Corinthians 15. Most people and much of the tradition expound a minor point and miss the major point Paul is trying to make.

The minor point is this: Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. The body wasn’t there when the disciples went looking for it. From this follow many conclusions: A miracle had occurred, something that had never happened before. Jesus’ resurrection proves he is the Messiah, the Lord, even God. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, his teaching is true, the Bible is God’s Word, and Christianity is superior to Judaism and all other religions. And most importantly, Jesus’ resurrection proves there is life after death.

“But aren’t these things true? Does not the resurrection of Christ prove all these?” These may be true but they are not the whole truth. They are, as I’ve said, minor points. And they are not Paul’s main point. 

But pause and decide right now: If you cherish these truths which I’ve suggested are minor points, can you set them aside, for just the present moment, and consider whether Paul might be making a bigger point?

Because neither Paul, nor I, nor Jesus for that matter want you to believe “in vain.”

Jesus has appeared to many after his death. This is NOT that surprising. First of all, people had already come back from the dead. Elijah raised the son of the Widow of Zarephath. Likewise, Jesus raised the son of the Widow of Nain. Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, and most famously, Jesus had raised Lazarus. These all appeared to others after they had died. So did Jesus. That’s not what matters to Paul.

Second, many Jews expected the resurrection from the dead, and had for about two centuries before Christ. Whether it was the influence of Greek thinking upon Judaism or because of reflections on injustices, Judaism of Jesus’ day included a belief in the resurrection of the dead to a divine judgment.

Not all Jews did, and apparently not all Corinthians did either. So Paul writes, “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.” (1 Cor. 15.12-14)

Paul the Jew had to reaffirm the Corinthians that there is a resurrection of the dead. His proclamation makes no sense until you understand that Jewish belief. Jesus believed it. Paul believed it. To understand Paul, you have to understand this.

There is a resurrection of the dead, sometime after this life ends, to a judgment by God, of this life we have lived. This is crucial to understanding the importance of Jesus’ resurrection. That Jesus was resurrected was NOT the big deal, and it is NOT the main point of 1 Corinthians 15.

The NEW thing for Paul with regards to Jesus’ resurrection was that Jesus is the first fruits of resurrection. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” (1 Cor. 15:20) In other words, Paul understands Jesus’ resurrection to be the sign that God’s Kingdom has come and the judgment has begun.

To borrow from Mary’s vision: “The powerful will be brought down from their thrones, the lowly will be lifted up. The hungry will be filled, and the rich sent away empty.” (See Luke 1:46ff)

In Zechariah the Priest’s words: “The dawn from on high is breaking upon us, giving light to those who sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.” (see Luke 1:67ff)

In Paul’s words to the churches in Rome: “the righteousness of God has been disclosed, through the faith of Jesus Christ, for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-24)

We’ll come back to why this is so important to Paul in a moment. But first Paul has to deal with the Corinthians who get lost in the weeds of literalism. They ask a question we all ask: “What kind of body do the resurrected have?”

Paul answers with the metaphor of the seeds and the harvest. We plant seeds and then we reap a harvest. After the seed dies, the harvest is born. Obviously they are related, but they not the same. 

Paul appeals to the first Creation story of Genesis 1. There we read of earthly bodies consisting of all creatures. And we read of heavenly bodies to include the sun, moon, and stars. Jesus, Paul reminds us, had an earthly body. But the Resurrected Christ has heavenly body. Jesus, Paul reminds us, had a perishable body. The Resurrected Christ has an imperishable one. Jesus had a mortal body, Paul writes. And the Resurrected Christ has an immortal one.

So Paul concludes: “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed. For the last trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and the living will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Cor 15:50-53)

All this, beginning with the resurrection of Christ, Paul says occurs “according to the scriptures.” Which scriptures? You won’t find references to Jesus’ resurrection in the Old Testament. But Paul tells us which scriptures he has in mind by quoting them at the end of the chapter.

The first is Isaiah 25:7-8. “God will destroy the shroud that is cast over all peoples, he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth.”

The second is a paraphrase of Hosea 13:14 where God says, “I shall redeem my people from Death. O Death, where are your plagues? Where is your destruction?”

And this, finally, brings us to the main point. The resurrection of the dead is expected, and Jesus’ is the first fruits of that resurrection. God’s Kingdom has been revealed. God’s judgment has begun. All creation is being redeemed.

And so, “Therefore, my beloved,” Paul concludes, “be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in this work of the Lord, [this work of redemption] because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, the final verse of the chapter)

“In vain” is variously translated “void” or “empty handed” in other places in the Newer Testament. It means “with nothing in hand.” For this reason Paul writes, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)

Imagine if all that this is about is the afterlife, if our “hope in Christ” is only about going to heaven when we die. Then Paul’s proclamation is in vain, and our faith is in vain. We have faith, but we have nothing in hand. 

But imagine if, with our “hope in Christ,” we participated in the glory of the resurrection, not just by being physical seeds which will inherit the spiritual body, but if we planted seeds of glory that will be harvested at the last trumpet!

Imagine if, with our “hope in Christ,” we participated in God’s Kingdom in this life, if we stood for justice in this life, if we worked for the redemption of the world in this life.

Paul ends his teaching on resurrection, “Therefore, be always excelling in this work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord, your work is not in vain.” We’ll have faith, AND we’ll have something in hand. 

Jesus had faith, and it was not in vain. It was not empty handed. With faith Jesus took into his hands the bread and cup of the sacrament, giving us the grace to continue his ministry of peace and justice, of faith, hope, and love. May our faith not be in vain. But may we live as the fruit of God’s Kingdom. May we live as those who have been resurrected from the dead with Christ.

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