God’s Will for a New Creation

April 1 – Easter Sunday

by Pastor Pete Scheele

Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-6, 12 – 26

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Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Grace and Peace to you as you let God’s Will be done in your life, from God, our Father, our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today, as we are celebrate the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul points us to the End of the resurrection story, to the fulfillment of God’s ultimate will and purpose for His new creation: “In Christ all will be made alive, but each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him. Then the End will come…” (1 Cor. 15: 22 – 23)

 Our traditional Easter greeting is “Christ is risen!” (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!), this celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, yet there is more, “Christ died; Christ is risen! Christ will come again!” That’s how the resurrection story ends; that’s my future, and your future; that’s what’s in store for all who believe in Jesus Christ. Christ died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again in all His glory to take you to the new creation!

But we’re not there yet. Oh, Jesus has already won the victory; the sting of sin and the power of the law have been removed. The grave no longer holds terror for those who are baptized into the death of Jesus, and therefore have also been united to the physical resurrection of Jesus. Yet, the final, ultimate victory has not happened, at least not fully. People who belong to Jesus still struggle with sin. People who belong to Jesus still get sick. People who belong to Jesus still die. And if there is one thing the Apostle Paul wants to make perfectly clear to the Church, it is this: as long as even a single human body is still in a grave, Jesus isn’t finished yet in doing God’s Will. Only when every gravestone is obsolete and every Christian corpse stands redeemed and restored, joined again with their redeemed and restored soul—body and soul together, the way God intended it to be—only then will we see God’s ultimate will for His creation accomplished. Only then will the resurrection story of Jesus reach its crowning chapter.  Christ is Risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] And yet there is more Christ died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again!

But we’re not there yet, so while we wait, the Apostle Paul wants to clear up a couple misunderstandings about the resurrection.  The Apostle Paul was writing to the church in the Greek city of Corinth, and in Greek mythology, everyone knows that once you die, only your soul makes the trip across the River Styx into the underworld. No bodies are allowed. It’s likely that the culture in the greater metropolitan Corinth area would have been very skeptical about the idea of a resurrection of our bodies. One famous Greek playwright, for example, wrote: “When the dust hath drained the blood of a man, once he is slain, there is no resurrection.” (Aeschylus, Eumenides, 647-48; ca. 458 B.C.) Dead is dead. Period. End of the story. 

So it’s no wonder that the church in Corinth had drifted a bit from Paul’s original message. The Corinthians combined narrow hope and nagging doubt with the message of Jesus. And the result? It sounds like some Corinthian Christians were suggesting that we should be content with the life we have in the here and now, rather than imagining some mythological life beyond death. Others seem to have looked forward to a happy future for their souls without regard for their rather embarrassingly physical bodies.

The Apostle Paul says, that kind of thinking is just not compatible with faith in Jesus. It isn’t the Gospel anymore; it’s fake news, fake news about our bodies, fake news about our future, fake news about the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection. It might even make sense in the story our own culture tells today, but that kind of thinking does not make sense with the resurrection story of Jesus.

So, the Apostle Paul takes us through a string of IF-THEN statements, almost like a programmer cranking out a code. {IF physical bodies aren’t raised THEN Christ is not raised.} 

{IF Christ is not raised THEN your faith is worthless.}

{IF your faith is worthless THEN you are stuck with your sins, and the dead people you love are just dead.}

{IF you are stuck with your sins, and the dead people you love are just dead THEN this
religion is a lie, we have no hope, and followers of Jesus are pitiful, disillusioned, suckers.}

If you don’t have the actual resurrection of the body, the Apostle Paul says, then you don’t have Jesus. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead! That’s Paul’s basic message in 1 Corinthians 15! That’s the message of Jesus’ Resurrection. Your faith is NOT worthless; you are NOT stuck in your sin; the people you love, even if they are dead, are MORE than corpses; YOU have a strong and powerful HOPE. Because Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) And there’s more, Christ died; Christ is risen; and Christ will come again in His physical body!

In fact, you have a concrete, tangible sign of what’s coming again. You have the resurrected body of Jesus, that’s what the Apostle Paul calls the “firstfruits” of those who have fallen asleep. Firstfruits are the first evidence of more to come. They are like blossoms in spring. The air gets warmer. The sun is out more. One day the first of the flowers are beginning to open, and by the next morning, everywhere you look trees and flowers are in full bloom. It might not look like that right now, but we know what that’s like, don’t we? Where there is one flower in full bloom, surrounded by buds almost ready to pop. That blossom is the first evidence of more to come.

Or maybe you have been to an orchard, and there’s always that first ripe apple that seems to win the race: all the other fruit is green tinted with a little pink, but you find that single deep red fruit. And when you take that first crisp bight, the tangy juice runs down your chin. The smell, the feel, the taste, the experience of that first ripe apple tells you what the rest of the harvest is going to be like.

In the Old Testament, firstfruits are part of the prescribed offering to God. To set aside the firstfruits as holy to the Lord acknowledges the God from whom this harvest came. But it is also a statement of trust: hail or lightning or locusts or war could destroy the harvest at any minute. To bring in the firstfruits to God is to express your dependence on God for the rest of the harvest.

The image of firstfruits puts all of those thoughts together and Paul says, Jesus is like that. He is the first evidence of more to come. His bodily resurrection is the first permanent, physical, New Creation resurrection in history, but it is not going to be the last! Jesus is the first installment, the firstfruit of the New Creation: His resurrected body is part of the New Creation even now, ahead of our time.

If you want to know what the New Creation is like, then look at Jesus and His living body that eats and walks and talks and loves and shares with those He loves. The New Creation looks, feels, smells and tastes just like Jesus. He is the firstfruits offering, set aside as holy to God even as we, God’s people, depend on God for the rest of the harvest that is still to come. “In Christ all will be made alive, but each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to him. Then the End …” Christ died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again!

It’s clear what Paul wants us to believe, to believe firmly, without a doubt. It’s also clear that believing firmly, without a doubt, isn’t any easier for us than it was for the Corinthians. Like them, we bring the presuppositions of our own culture, our theater, our philosophy and entertainment with us into the Church. We tend to imagine our souls after death like the life force of Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda after they die, a kind of glowing version of our physical selves.  In fact, in the entertainment world for young and old, we Americans seem to be content with the soul living on without a body (if it’s a family movie), or the souls living on in dead bodies (if it’s a zombie movie). But we don’t imagine something as vulgar as a corpse having much of a future. If the narrow hope typical of our culture has infiltrated the Church, then so has a nagging doubt that this life is all there is, this is it theirs no more. That doubt naturally arises from the skepticism that seems to characterize our age like no other.

But here’s the thing. Paul doesn’t ask skeptics to trust in some abstract, objective truth. God knows we have no unmediated access to the ultimate truth, so the Ultimate Truth enters into our human culture, where he can be seen and heard and touched; where He can be mocked and tortured and crucified; where He can be raised, and handled, and held onto; where you can put your finger in His nail marks and your hand in His side.  Jesus speaks God’s eternal Word in human language, with all the beauty and difficulty that it entails. The foundation of the faith that the Apostle Paul wants you to cling to today is not an abstract principle, but a human body: the human body of Jesus Christ, that once was a corpse, and now is alive forevermore.

So, take your narrow hope and your nagging doubt to Jesus. For He is the first evidence of more to come. His resurrected corpse is the first installment, the firstfruits. Your resurrection life looks, feels, smells, and tastes like Jesus’ life. He is the firstfruits offering, set aside as holy to God even as we, God’s people, depend on God for the rest of the harvest that is still to come. Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) And there’s more Christ died; Christ is risen and Christ will come again!

And there is more to come: “In Christ all will be made alive, but each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him. Then the End will come …” That ultimate End is Jesus, the battlefield champion, placing His resurrected foot on the neck of the final enemy, Death, and declaring total victory forever and ever. That’s the End of the resurrection story. That is God’s ultimate will for His creation.

But we’re not there yet. People who belong to Jesus still struggle with sin. People who belong to Jesus still get sick. People who belong to Jesus still die. And as long as death holds captive even one physical body that belongs to Jesus, Jesus isn’t finished with His victory work yet. Only when every gravestone is obsolete and every Christian corpse stands in the New Creation, only then will we see God’s ultimate will for His creation done. Only then will the resurrection story of Jesus reach its crowning chapter. Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) And there’s more Christ died; Christ is risen and Christ will come again to take you to His heavenly home forever! Amen.