Christ’s resurrection is very pervasive that it calls for the wholistic transformation of the creation. If we truly believe in the resurrection, then there are serious moral and spiritual implications. However, the question that we need to ask is whether we truly believe in the resurrection? Do our moral and spiritual lives reflect resurrection experience? Or we just make mockery of Christ’s resurrection? These questions resonate with the questions raised in the Corinthian church. Paul in 1 Cor. 15 gives an extensive treatment on resurrection. Keeping this in mind I would like to entitle my sermon as “Christ’s resurrection: A Call for Radical Transformation.”
Last year one of my juniors at UBS suddenly died. In 2012, just before Xmas, one my classmates who has been working as a missionary in Nepal, suddenly died. Early that year, we have all witnessed the gruesome rape of a young woman in a moving bus in Delhi. Everyday our newspapers resonates with news of violence, corruption, discrimination and many more. We for the most of the times witness this chaos in our lives in the form of sickness, financial crisis and many more. It is in these chaotic times, we need to ask how resurrection is important for us. Is there a hope for us in Christ’s resurrection? Or is it a fancied idea of Christians?
Now, let us dig into these questions as we try to understand what is Christ’s resurrection and how does it influence our moral and spiritual lives.
Corinth was a cosmopolitan city. It is situated in Greece. It served as a major center for religious, commercial and cultural advancements. Moreover, the city in general, especially wealth and affluent in the society were attracted to many philosophical ideas.
Paul established church at Corinth. However, the church has very serious problems. There was disunity in the church which led to factionalism; syncretistic tendencies crept into the church, spiritual complacency and immorality. It was in this context Paul writes this letter addressing the above issues. The last part of the letter is about resurrection, with which he brings all His arguments together.
Today’s church is also more or less similar to the Corinthian church. Now let us turn to the first part of the chapter.
III. Christ’s Resurrection: the foundation and condition of our salvation 1 Cor. 15: 3-9
Paul’s intention is not to prove the historicity of resurrection of Jesus Christ but to draw the attention of the Corinthians to the implications of it. However, he argues for the historicity of resurrection by pointing four testimonies—Scripture (vv. 3-4), eyewitnesses (vv. 5-7), special witnesses (vv. 8-10). This particular section predates Gospels and it is traditional confessional formula of the early church. We need to take note of two aspects here.
Firstly, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is foundational to Christian faith. In fact, Gospel itself hinges around the fact of Christ’s resurrection. It is not a fabricated story but it is a historical fact (1 Cor. 15: 3-9).
Secondly, Christ’s resurrection— belief in it is a condition for our salvation (Rom. 10:9). If we don’t believe in resurrection, then sin and death would still be our unconquered enemies (Rom. 6:23). There is no hope for us. Moreover, we, Christians would be liars. On the contrary, Christ’s resurrection did happen and it is God’s seal of salvation for all who believes in His Son Jesus Christ (Acts. 5: 30-31).
IV. No Resurrection and its consequences 1 Cor. 15: 12-19
What would happen if there was no resurrection? Paul responds through a series of rhetorical question. In other words he answers by stating the consequences of resurrection having not had taken place at all.
Firstly, sin and death would still be our conquerors. Secondly, there would be no salvation. Thirdly, apostolic kerygma would be in vain. Fifthly, our faith in Christ would be in vain. Sixthly, there would be no hope for the humanity. Seventhly, our cries for justice would be unheard. To simply put it, humanity would be eternally doomed.
I was once an atheist because of the death of my youngest uncle. However, after few years, as I was pursuing my engineering studies, my eldest uncle became chronically ill. I saw him in the hospital and without my knowledge I started to cry. There was a great turmoil in my heart. I was confused. All my philosophical ideas did not comfort. As I started to cry, I began to ask myself why I am crying. If he dies, then that’s the end of him.
You, see, since I rejected God, I rejected the power of Christ’s resurrection. The result is hopelessness. I felt petrified by this truth. It took me some years to come to the Lord with a renewed commitment. In 2008, as I just joined my theological studies, at UBS, my eldest uncle passed away. But this time, God kept me in the same place where I rejected, to speak on His behalf to my family who are mourning, reminding them the power in Christ’s resurrection. There is a hope beyond the grave. I told them, we must envy them as they enjoy the eternal presence of Christ.
You see, my dear church, Christians do not mourn over the death but we rejoice because of the joy that was given to us by the power of Christ’s resurrection.
V. Resurrection: the greatest hope 1 Cor. 15: 20-28
On the contrary to the earlier consequences, resurrection of Christ did happen. It has inaugurated a new era. This is the greatest hope for us.
Paul uses a metaphor ‘first fruits’ for Christ. Christ is the ‘first fruit’ of all those who would be raised. Here this metaphor, evidently is taken from the Old Testament (Lev. 23:10). It is mandatory for the Israelites to offer first fruits of their harvest to the priest. Likewise, Christ has offered Himself to death on the Cross and but was raised as the ‘first fruit’ of all those who would be raised. This means the harvest of the believers would follow. Christ’s resurrection is the prerequisite for the resurrection of the believers. In a way we all live between two Easters— Christ’s and the believer’s.
Paul uses Adam/Christ typology to further illustrate his point. Just as in Adam, we all inherited sin and the consequence of it i.e., death, we all inherited life through Jesus Christ. In other words, Christ came into this world to make dead people to live.
Finally, Paul drives his point home, by pointing out to the finality of restoration by Jesus Christ at the end (vv. 24-28). Christ will restore everything in the way God originally created this creation. The enemies of God will be finally conquered and destroyed by Christ himself.
It gives such a hope for us that in Christ’s resurrection, we find such solace and confidence that all our tears will be counted for and justice will be delivered.
VI. Resurrection: A Radical Transformation 1 Cor. 15: 35-49
There is a Greek philosophical idea behind this argumentative question raised by Corinthians. For Greeks, matter is evil and soul is divine. There are two ramifications to this. Firstly, body is evil and soul needs liberation. Secondly, because there is no intrinsic value to the body, it can be used for immoral purposes as soul will be uninfluenced by the body. For them death is a beautiful thing and it is a liberator. This materialistic view discards human personhood. Likewise other religions express the idea about ‘escape’ of the soul from the body which they call ‘moksha’ or ‘nirvana.’ There is a dichotomy between body and soul. Therefore, death for them is an aide for liberation.
Paul uses three illustrations to respond to this question. Firstly, just as the body of a seed and a plant that grows are different, so also it will be with our resurrected bodies. Secondly, just as the bodies of human beings, animals and heavenly bodies are different, so it will be with our resurrected bodies.
Paul then, uses some series of contrasts—perishable/imperishable, dishonour/glory, weakness/power, natural/ supernatural. Paul categories them under two realms—flesh & blood that which is corruptible and Spirit which is life, an element of resurrection.
In other words, our earthly bodies will be totally transformed. This is not just a physical transformation, or escape from the body. But this is a wholistic transformation of Body, soul and spirit. The totality of man is restored. Not just man but the nature itself will be transformed.
In fact, spiritual transformation has already begun. We are already in eternal life. Mortal transformation will take place at the Christ’s Parousia. This is the reason why Christ’s resurrection has moral implications. In Gal. 5: 24-25, Paul connects our belongingness to Christ with His ‘dying-raising’ from the dead. If we belong to Christ, then we must put to death this worldly desire and passions and then raise to live a new life of resurrection that Christ has granted to us only to consummated at His second coming.
Let me close my sermon with a true story. This is a true story of a young pastor. He loved God so immensely. His hope was very strong. He reflected that light and glory of God in everything he did and said. He contracted cancer. He and his wife were told that he had only months to live. But they have not shown any sign of pain or anxiety. In his last Sunday sermon he said, “Our Lord suffered and died for our sins. Why should I not share in his sufferings? After this he sang this beautiful song which made everyone to cry. Hear these words that he sang:
Must Jesus bear the Cross alone,
And all the world go free,
No, there is a Cross for everyone,
And there’s a Cross for me
How happy are the saints above,
Who once went sorr’wing here,
But now they taste unmingled love,
And joy without fear
The consecrated Cross I bear
Till death shall set me free,
And then go home my crown to wear,
For there is a crown for me.
Here is a man of God who was not shaken by death but boldly faces as he knows the power of Christ’s resurrection. Death is not beautiful but it is ugly. But Christ has defeated death in its own arena.
Christ’s resurrection is the foundation and the condition of our salvation, without which we are doomed. It is our greatest hope— that one day God would wipe our every tear. It calls for radical transformation—both moral and mortal transformations.
Let us introspect into our own lives. If we claim to be Christians, are we living under the influence of resurrection or are we living under the rejection of it. How are our spiritual and moral lives? Let me close with these words that Paul echoed in the Corinthian church:
“Where O death, is your victory? Where O death is your sting?”
Indeed Christ has defeated death and removed its sting by His blood!