“Resurrection is …” (1 Corinthians 15:3-10, 20-26, 54-57), Rob Tennant, Sunday, April 24, 2011, Easter Sunday
On April Fool’s Day 1975, in his home on West 7 Mile Road in Detroit, James Milford Biscomb had an aneurism. He died before the ambulance even reached the hospital. I grew up going to that house for Christmas, special events, vacations back to Michigan, after we moved to Virginia. My Grandma Biscomb’s home is a part of me, and Pum is part of me too, but in a less familiar way. I was five when he died, and my brother not yet two. My mom was 8½ pregnant with my sister when she buried her father.
I believe one day, I will again get to spend time with the grandmother I loved so much and knew so well. And, I believe I’ll get to know Pum, the grandfather I don’t even really remember. Why do I believe this? I believe it because I believe Jesus rose from the grave and because He lives, I believe I too will rise.
Paul, an apostle, wrote much of the New Testament, but he did not write a gospel, not in the form of the four gospels, anyway. He wrote letters to specific churches usually to address specific problems in those churches. Though he did not write a narrative as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did, his letters enhance our understanding of the stories in the gospels.
This is especially true when we think of Easter morning. In Matthew, the risen Christ gives the great commission. In Mark, he does not appear; rather, a mysterious young man meets the grieving women at Jesus’ grave and tells them he is alive. In Luke, the resurrected Jesus eats fish, walks to Emmaus with a couple of disciples who are not part of the 12, and then with the 12 (minus Judas) looking on, ascends to Heaven. In John, he tells Thomas to stop doubting and believe, and he reinstates Peter who denied knowing him.
Jesus was quite busy after he was resurrected; but he did more than the Gospels report. Thanks to Paul, we know that Jesus appeared to 500 who were gathered, and also individually to James. James was Jesus’ half brother, the son of Mary and Joseph. He rejected Jesus until the resurrection. After the resurrection, he became one of the primary leaders of the very first church. Paul also reports that Jesus visited several people he calls apostles but are different the 12.
In writing of these post-resurrection accounts of Jesus, Paul declares that he is stating the essence of faith for people who follow Jesus.
“I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2through 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. 3For 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, 4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (v.1-4).
Paul Beasely-Murray, a British Baptist pastor found a most unlikely source of validation for the resurrection as he was researching for his book on the topic. He studies the work of Pinchas Lapide an Orthodox Jew from Germany and a New Testament scholar. Lapide does not accept Jesus as the Messiah or as Son of God. However, looking at the story as a scholar, Lapide sees evidence for a literal, bodily resurrection. Some Christian scholars surrender knowledge to a humanistic worldview and thus spiritualize the resurrection. It could not happen. The laws of reason and science don’t make space for a dead man to come to life in a transformed body. So, a literal resurrection isn’t possible no matter what the Bible says.
Jesus didn’t really rise, they say. He is resurrected when His church lives out the values he modeled. Lapide, who is not a believer, is appalled as such talk. As an expert on the New Testament, he sees the resurrection as the very core of Christianity.
Beasely-Murray and Anglican Priest N.T. Wright are both very much believer and pastors and scholars with expertise in New Testament and first century Judaism. Both assess the story and the evidence and affirm along with Lapide that this is central to our faith: a literal, bodily resurrection that includes an empty tomb and Jesus appearing to his followers in a transformed body. No other scenario makes any sense. Many have tried to explain the story away because it does in deed exceed our grasp of knowledge. Dead is dead. But no explanation makes sense either in assessing the evidence available or in understanding the faith of the first Christians. Only a resurrected Jesus fits the testimony of the witnesses as well as the testimony of our experience.
We are today’s witnesses who testify to the truth. Jesus died for the sins of the world and then rose from the grave. He is alive and all who put their trust in Him will also be resurrected. I heard a sermon from an extremely popular local pastor. He said essentially all he ever preaches is Christ crucified. I understand that he was trying to accent the need people have for Jesus. He was crucified because we sin and our sins separate from God. Christ crucified is everything, but that cannot be all we preach or share or believe. Christ crucified is only half the story and without the rest, it isn’t good news. Today’s sermon and every day’s testimony is Christ crucified, Christ Resurrected. Everything I have read puts resurrection at the heart of our story as Jesus people.
Furthermore, in saying we are today’s witnesses we recognize the present vitality of this story. The risen Christ appeared to his followers 2000 years ago, but resurrection continues to be news as fresh as this morning’s sunrise because each time someone comes to faith in Jesus, that person is filled with resurrection hope. Each time we who are in Christ experience pain of any sort, we are sustained by resurrection hope.
Jesus is the “first fruits.” God did not resurrect him for the sake of showing how powerful he is. God wasn’t trying to impress anyone. The resurrection has real and immediate implications for anyone who calls Jesus Lord and follows him as a disciple. Paul writes “as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (v.22). Because he rose, we will rise.
As I worked on this, and read page after page of theological reflection on resurrection and commentary on 1st Corinthians, my mind began to run. I wanted to experience the reality I was studying. I wanted to die so I could know first-hand what resurrection is like.
It reminds of my days as an infantryman. Our platoon would do maneuvers in the woods against another platoon. We shot at each other with blanks and threw smoke grenades, not real ones. And we did those drills over and over and over. At some point, I wanted to put real bullets in the gun, go find an enemy who would shoot real bullets at me, and see how I would do. Reflecting back, the thought seems absurd because I’m talking about war, where people die. But, after the grueling rehearsals intended to develop combat skill, I wanted to be tested. Looking back with a more sober perspective, I am glad I never was.
But, looking back to this past week and all the reading on resurrection, a part of me wants it right now. I want to die so I can see what it is we’re talking about. Whereas my desire for combat solely for the reason of testing my soldier-skills was foolhardy, a disciple’s desire for resurrection makes perfect sense to Paul. He writes in Philippians, “22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1).
Because Jesus was resurrected, we will be. We will be in bodies that cannot die. I want that. But not yet. The reality of resurrection gives us something to say in the world today. Paul made that point in 1 Corinthians 15 and in his comments in Philippians. He continues, to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.” The story of salvation begun 2000 years ago in the death and resurrection of Jesus expands each time someone, for the first time, trusts in Him and is saved.
Resurrection is the center of our faith.
Resurrection is a story that continues to be told.
Finally, resurrection is eternal victory. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” Paul says (15:26). Resurrection assumes that death cuts a person off from God. No fate could be more terrible. God is life; God is beauty; God is peace. Without God, one plunges into violent, painful chaos. Imagine being consumed by a dark, oppressive, hideous nothingness. That’s the last great enemy, death. That’s where sin leads.
Christ followers, are pulled out of that nightmare by the loving hand of God who raised Jesus. Yes, our bodies die, but then our bodies rise. More accurately, God resurrects us. We are not souls floating some afterlife bliss, freed from the confines of physical bodies. The bodies we have right now are resurrected and transformed.
What if someone is eaten by a shark? What if someone throws his body on an exploding grenade? What if someone is consumed by flames? Paul would say to this macabre thinking, “Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (v.35). Apart from Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein novel, we cannot take a dead body and restore life to it. It is equally impossible if the body is shredded or in tact and perfect, except for being dead. Only God can do that, and, says Paul, God can do it regardless of the shape of the dead body.
We will we recognize one another? I think, yes, because it will be me, resurrected. Our bodies will be transformed so that we will not feel physical pain and will not die. One resurrected cannot die. How old will we be in the resurrection? What will my relationship with my grandfather be? With my son? Will I still be bald? The answer to every question is we will be transformed. We will be, as Paul says, imperishable, and death’s day will be over.
From the final verses of 1st Corinthians 15,
51Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52in 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. 53For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54When 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.” 55“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The resurrection is what changes everything in the life of one who follows him. A couple of years ago, the 17-year-old son of singer Steven Curtis Chapman was driving home. The young man did not see his 6-year-old sister, playing. She darted into his car’s path as he came up the driveway. He hit and killed his sister.
What do you do?
After the tears and pain and horror, this family, Christ followers, entered a season of healing. How could they heal? Healing came because Jesus rose from the grave. The sting of death is a little girl’s life, cut short. But, the young man lives today and tours with father performing Gospel-based music because he knows he will see his sister again and he lives with the hope of resurrection. It doesn’t eliminate the pain. But Jesus provides a hope that outshines the darkness of loss. Steven Curtis Chapman put out a CD of songs filled with the ripping emotions he went through in the experience. His loss and sorrow are memorialized on that CD. But, grief, though present, is not the defining emotion. The CD is entitled Beauty will Rise. Why? Because Jesus is alive.
We have our sorrows – either we’ve already lived through them, or we’re in the middle of pain right now, or dark days will come in the future. Paul knew that. But no enemy of death, sin, loss, or grief that stand our path can match up with the hope we have. Because He lives, we can face today and tomorrow. The resurrection of Jesus is our hope, our testimony, and the power that keeps us going and puts music in our song.
There is joy-filled unending love in the eternal life we have because he rose.AME