1 Corinthians 15:20-28 (Last Sunday in the Church Year/Proper 29—Series A)
“I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
November 22, 2020
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:
20But now Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since through a man came death, also through a man came resurrection of the dead. 22For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in its proper order: Christ the firstfruits, then those who belong to Christ at His coming. 24Then, the end, when He hands over the reign to His God and Father, when He has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25For it is necessary for Him to reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. 26The last enemy that is destroyed is death. 27For He has put all thing under His feet. Now when it says that all things have been subordinated to Him, it is clear that this excepts the one who subordinated all things to Him. 28But when all things are subordinated to Him, then also the Son Himself will be subordinated to the one who subordinated all things to Him, in order that God may be all in all.
Let’s see if you remember the Easter greeting: Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Alleluia!
In the Greek city of Corinth, some were casting doubt on whether there really is a resurrection of the dead. Was Jesus really raised again on the third day? Will those who have died in the faith be resurrected? What happens is there isn’t a resurrection of the dead? The Apostle Paul, by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, addressed these concerns: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:12–18 ESV).
“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.” This is the confession of the Christian faith in the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed. This is what the Scriptures proclaim and what Paul assured the Corinthian Church—Jesus has been raised from the dead and those who belong to Christ will be raised again in the resurrection at the Last Day.
The resurrection of the dead is what we as believers in Jesus long for and look forward to. Often the theme that many believers hold on to is “dying and going to heaven,” as if that is the goal of our most holy faith. It isn’t. The Bible actually has little to say about “dying and going to heaven”—what we call the “interim state of the soul,” what happens in the time between physical death and the Last Day. Scripture mostly speaks about the goal of the Lord’s gift of saving faith—the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. In 1 Corinthians 15, the only reference to “dying and going to heaven” is in Paul’s words about “those who have fallen asleep,” that is, those who have died. The emphasis is on the fact of Christ’s resurrection and the believer’s subsequent resurrection on the Last Day when death will be destroyed.
I don’t believe that is comes as a surprise to you that death is bad. It’s called an “enemy,” the last enemy of God and of His people that the Lord Christ will finally overcome. “For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in its proper order: Christ the firstfruits, then those who belong to Christ at His coming. Then, the end, when He hands over the reign to His God and Father, when He has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For it is necessary for Him to reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that is destroyed is death.”
Death, the consequence of Adam’s sin, indeed, the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23). Death is “a profound disfigurement, a ripping apart of human creaturely existence.” God put humanity into this world and this world is our home. Even though since the time of Adam and Eve, this world has been deeply twisted and messed up by sin, it’s still our home. “Death smashes our relationship with our home—and with one another.” And death is the breaking of our humanity. A dead Christian is at rest, her soul with Christ in Paradise, but she is broken. “Soul” and “body” are supposed to be united in one person. That’s what the good Lord designed. But death undoes that. Death breaks the person apart.
Death, then, is an enemy of God, an enemy of Christ, and an enemy of God’s creation. Death is our enemy. And when a person dies, that event of dying is evidence of sin and testifies to the fact that God’s great story is not yet accomplished. While you are dead, you are not fully the creation that God intended from the beginning. You are dead. Your soul and body are ripped apart. As Christians, “dying and going to heaven,” is not our end. It is good for a believer’s soul to be with the Lord. But it’s not good enough. Please, don’t misunderstand. Even Paul speaks about “departing and being with Christ, which is far better.” Better, yes. Complete? No. You and I and all believers in Jesus will only be complete, fully the creation that God intended, when death is entirely placed under the feet of Christ. But that day is not yet.
Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” That is the day that we are looking forward to. That is the day to which these last Sundays in the Church Year have been pointing us. Two weeks ago we heard in 1 Thessalonians 4, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. . . . For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. . . . Therefore encourage one another with these words.” And last week, in 1 Thessalonians 5, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
It is the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting that encourages us in our life here in this world. This life in the midst of suffering, pain, fear, and death is not our end. Our end isn’t even “dying and going to heaven,” although that is wonderful and a place of rest and blessing. But our goal is to be raised from death itself by the Risen Lord Jesus Christ Himself when He comes again in glory on the Last Day. “But now Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since through a man came death, also through a man came resurrection of the dead. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”
Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, endured the power of death. On the cross, Jesus, bearing our sins, gave up His life into death. His soul was ripped from His body when He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. Jesus sacrificed His perfect, sinless life in exchange for our sinful wage of death. When Jesus died, when he was dead, death had mastery and dominion over Him. But no longer! Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia! Romans 6, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:9–11 ESV).
You are alive to God in the waters of Holy Baptism which applies the blood of Christ to you personally, washing away your sins, declaring you righteous. You are alive to God as a new creation. 1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3 ESV). Because Jesus lives now in full resurrection life, as the beginning of the new creation, He grants you new life. “To be born again, to have new life, to have eternal life is possible only because Jesus is risen from the dead.” Your baptismal union with Christ—united with Him in His death and in His resurrection—is the source of your new life with Him. You have this new life now as you daily die to sin and rise again with the Lord Jesus in Baptism to the new life of faith and holy living. And the life you now live, you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself into death and the grave for you (Gal. 2:20 ESV). And He is risen from the dead and so you also will rise again in the resurrection at the Last Day.
One of our Easter hymns echoes with the refrain, “Jesus is risen and we shall arise: Give God the glory! Alleluia!” (LSB 474). This is the goal of the Christian faith. On the Last Day, at Jesus’ triumphant return, the last enemy death will be destroyed. In Christ, we will be made alive to enter with our Lord into a new heaven and a new earth. There we will live eternally with the Holy, Holy, Holy God, the Maker of heaven and earth, our Redeemer, and our Comforter. It is then that He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and death shall be no more, for the former things will have passed away” (Rev. 21:4 ESV).
“I believe . . . in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” “On the Last Day [Christ] will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true” (SC). As Christians, we long for the resurrection of the body and life eternal in the new heavens and new earth. At that time we will be “perfectly pure and holy people . . . free from sin, death, and all evil, in a new, immortal, and glorified body” (LC II 58). For Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
Jeffrey A. Gibbs, “Christ is Risen, Indeed: Good News for Him, and For Us,” Concordia Journal (Spring 2014), 114.