Bible Reading John 3:14-17
In the Old Testament, when the people were growing impatient with their long journey through the wilderness to the promised land. They began grumbling against God and Moses, about the lack of food and drink and getting tired of manna and wishing they were slaves back in Egypt. In essence, they no longer believed this journey God brought them on was going to lead to anywhere but a horrible death in the desert. Poisonous snakes came among the people and many died. They came to Moses and confessed their sin of impatient disbelief and asked Moses to pray for them. He did, and God instructed Moses to make a snake and put it on a pole – a tangible, visual reminder to trust God for his protection and promises. Moses made a bronze snake put it on a pole so that anyone bitten by a snake could look at it, remember to believe, and be healed. In John, Jesus uses this story to describe how he is lifted up on the cross to save us from our sins if we only look to him and believe.
- In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life. “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; --- by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; (MSG)
Message 1 Corinthians 15:12-20,1-4
The Impact of Christ’s Resurrected Life
If we think poorly about those impatient wilderness wanderers who began losing their belief only to turn back to God in crisis -- we should remember that we ourselves live in a culture whose expectations tolerate nothing less than both instant and perfect. And many even find a joyful delight complaining to the whole world about every small shortcoming they think they find. It is a culture that also tends to live in the current moment -- which is a good thing in some contexts: leave our baggage behind and not being overly anxious about our future -- making the most of each day, for “the present is a gift”.
But in other contexts, we lose a sense of timing: how long it takes to build a life. We lose wisdom from our heritage, forcing us to discover fire and reinvent the wheel again and again. And, when we forget we had or have baggage, we may fail to understand (and have compassion for) the baggage we think we see others carrying. And the future is seen as so far off that it has no impact on our present life. It is one reason that many people are abandoning faith, for they see faith only as an outdated means to an afterlife that they either don’t believe in or see as so far away that it loses its relevance for their current life.
Paul argues that Christ’s resurrection from the past is a necessary fact -- not just for our life after life in our distant (or not so distant) future -- but for our life right here and right now. Our series is about Seeing Jesus in such a way that he impacts our life.
Because there are facts and then there are facts. The hymnal in this church is red. We may prefer another color -- but the fact that it is red doesn’t really impact our life. I’ve been in near heated discussions about whether “The Faith We Sing” songbook is dark blue or black. But even if discussion heighten our emotions and causes intense debate, no matter what the fact of the color is, it still doesn’t really impact our life.
But then there are other facts. The word comes from the Latin “factus” which means “something made”. We put it in words like factory and manufacture, and as a verb it means “to make” or “to cause”. We can pretend to ignore these facts, but these facts won’t care, they will still carry their impact upon us. Gravity, for example is a fact. Pretending gravity doesn’t exist will not then let us float to the moon -- it will continue to have its impact, it will continue to weigh on us. Every morning, my scale tells me exactly how much it weighs on me.
Paul says Christ’s resurrection is the kind of fact that should create something, should cause something to happen within us -- it should deeply impact us. But he is writing to people grew up with religious or philosophical or scientific teachings that excluded the idea of life after life. It was too much for them to alter their world view. Some scholars believe these early Corinthian Christians thought the transformation of their lives through salvation had graced them with instant spiritual perfection. They had already arrived. They were in some sort of glorified angelic state and simply waiting to shed their physical body -- not because the body was evil, but because it was physical and inferior to their spiritual being. To those who denied the resurrection, he wrote --
- 12 It is preached that Christ was raised from death. So why do some of you say that people will not be raised from death? 13 If no one will ever be raised from death, then Christ was not raised from death. 14 And if Christ was not raised, then our preaching is worth nothing. And your faith is worth nothing. 32b If the dead are not raised, then, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." 15 And also, we will be guilty of lying about God. Because we have preached about him by saying that he raised Christ from death. And if people are not raised from death, then God never raised Christ from death. 16 If the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is for nothing; you are still guilty of your sins. 18 And also, those in Christ who have already died are lost. 19 If our hope in Christ is for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone else in the world. (1 Corinthians 15:12-14,32b,15-19 (ICB))
Paul assumes, just for the moment, that their thinking is correct: What is the impact of not believing in the resurrection? If the body is not raised, then Christ was not raised. If Christ was not raised, then wehave no future; for Christ cannot come again. If Christ is not raised, then we have no past, (no heritage of salvation), for Christ was defeated by death, and there is no means of eternal life or salvation from sins. And if that is true, then we have no present -- for Christ is not the bridge to God over the barrier sin had created, and we are still lost in our sins. And if all of this is true, then we are living futilely and foolishly. (He mentions elsewhere in this chapter that they were going through endangerments, and prisons, and shipwrecks, all this for a farce? . . . and we are liars besides. And the bottom line is, if Christ is not alive, there is no hope for any of us, and if there is no hope, we may follow the path of the Corinthians: Sloppy complacency crept into their holiness, worldly influences kept them from true worship and pure love; sins were not confessed, but were justified in the name of Christian grace and freedom. At best, they lived a marginally committed Christian life.
There were probably other factors, but in today’s context, this is the potential, eventual impact of not taking seriously the hope of the resurrection, of not realizing that there is a connection between this life and the next.
Impact of resurrection
But now Paul turns it around to the reality, the fact they needed to embrace and let it impact them to the core. He writes,
- But Christ has truly been raised from death—the first one and proof that those who are asleep in death will also be raised. (1 Corinthians 15:20 (ICB))
Slightly modernized words of Martin Luther will get us started on the impact of this fact of resurrection: Christ died for you. He submitted and took sin, death, and hell upon himself. But nothing could subdue him for he was too strong. He rose from the dead completely victorious and became the ruler of everything. He did this in order that you might be free from sin and subdue its power over you… You can’t do it by your own power. If you could, Christ would not have needed to come down from heaven. But you can’t, so Christ did it for you.” And because he did, we can know what forgiveness is. We can be free from guilt, free from shame, free from sin and death, we can live now and forever.
Resurrection offers a future hope
Because Christ successfully did this, we have a future hope. Biblical hope is not wishful thinking, it is certain expectation that can change our attitude even now while we await his victorious return.
Ray Bakke wrote about a Glasgow professor named MacDonald who was a prisoner of war. The German prison camp had only a high wire fence that separated the American prisoners from the British prisoners. McDonald was put in with the Americans. A Scottish chaplain was placed with the Brits.
Unknown to the Germans, the Americans had devised a little homemade radio and were able to get news from the outside. Every day, MacDonald would meet with the Chaplain at the fence and he would share a news headline or two. They spoke in ancient Gaelic so the Germans could not understand. One day, the little radio reported that Germany had surrendered, and the war was over. MacDonald told his chaplain friend who disappeared into the barracks where there was a roar of celebration.
Life in that camp was transformed. Men walked around singing and shouting, waving at the guard, even laughing at the dogs. When the German guards finally heard the news three nights later, they fled into the dark leaving the gates unlocked. The next morning, the Brits and Americans walked out as free men. Yet their spirits been set free three days earlier.
While Christ's kingdom is not yet fully fulfilled on earth, while we still battle the fences and guards and dogs, (the setbacks of life); we already know the ultimate outcome of our life’s struggles. Our spirits have already been set free to eternal life.
Resurrection offers a present hope
It inspires creative action now to make a better world…
Knowing that we have that ultimate victory, we don’t just change our attitude, we look for opportunities to make the most of life now, for participation in eternal life does not begin when we die but as we live each day doing as Christ would do. Our future is not just in our future, and it is not just our future, it is everyone’s future, and that future is not just in heaven, it is also here on earth, so we actively work to create the best world for we can. An example from history. (Since life isn’t instant, we have to go back so we can get to the end of the story…)
On the French Alps in 1913, careless deforestation destroyed the environment on some mountains around Provence, France. Unimpeded by foliage, the winds blew furiously, drying the springs and brooks. Previously prosperous villages became ghost towns. While mountain climbing, Jean Giono met a shepherd, Elzeard Bouffier, who invited him to spend the night.
After dinner, Giono watched the shepherd meticulously sort through a pile of acorns, discarding those that were cracked or undersized. When the shepherd had counted out 100 perfect acorns, he stopped for the night and went to bed. Giono learned that the 55-year-old shepherd had been planting trees on the wild hillsides for over three years. He had planted 100,000 trees, 20,000 of which had sprouted, of those, he expected half to be eaten by rodents or die to the elements. Fast Forward.
After WW I, Giono returned to the mountainside and discovered incredible rehabilitation. There was a veritable young forest, accompanied by a chain reaction of nature -- Water flowed in the once empty brooks. The ecology sheltered by a leafy roof bonded to the earth by a mat of spreading root, became hospitable for willows, rushes, meadows, gardens, and flowers. Fast Forward.
Giono returned again after WW II. Twenty miles from the war front, the shepherd had continued his work, ignoring the war of 1939 just as he had ignored it in 1914. Reformation of the land continued. Regions were beginning to grow with health.
He wrote that on the sight of the ruins he had seen in 1913 now stood flourishing farms. The budding forest was now conserving the rains and snow so that the old, dried up stream beds were flowing again. Little by little villages were being rebuilt. People from the plains began to re-settle the area, bringing youth, motion, and the spirit of adventure."
Those who hope in the next life are like spiritual re-foresters in this life, digging holes in barren land, planting seeds of life. Through these seeds, dry spiritual wastelands are transformed into harvestable fields as life-giving water is given to parched and barren souls.
(See 1 Corinthians 15:58a,34,58b,57): Paul urged the Corinthians, and us, to change our world view and put our attitudes and lives into action now -- to not move from the gospel we have heard -- to realize that it is sin that is the sting of death -- not just our physical death at the end of our physical life, but of our spiritual life even now. Therefore, we need to come to our senses and give up sin and always give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because we know that our work in the Lord -- building up people and relationships, and supporting things that will do that -- is not in vain -- because God raised Christ from the dead and freely offers us victory through trust in him.
Closing Prayer Our Father, we know that Christ died, rose, and will come again to bring us to you. We ask for a sense of peace that passes all understanding, a persistent spirit that fills our hearts and minds with confidence to live with renewed energy, chasing after your activity in your world; knowing that because Christ overcame death, the ultimate enemy of life, then by trust in him and he living in our hearts, then we can certainly overcome all the lesser challenges of our lives, for you are greater you in us than is any power in the world. Empower us to consistently follow in your steps, your way of living, until we experience that victory that only Christ can give. Amen.
Closing Music # 370 Victory in Jesus
Closing Blessing Now as you go, be comforted, strengthened, and inspired to live out the victory of the Christian life that God has placed before you -- for the glory of kingdom. Amen.