Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Empty Threat of Death, Part III, I Corinthians 15:20-28

First Sermon

Second Sermon

People of God, this is the Fourth Sunday of Resurrection! We are still immersed in this season of joy and celebration. And we have chosen I Corinthians 15 as the background theme to this feast. Why? Because the resurrection is God’s response to death and Caesar. God does not make false promises. He fulfills His creation purpose: to renew all things and to make the Light the center of His universe. Namely, that Light is Jesus. The Light is so powerful that the darkness of the tomb cannot contain it.

The great Princeton Seminary professor, B.B. Warfield, enjoyed saying to his students: “Gentlemen, I like the supernatural.[1] We are believers in a supernatural God who made an unknown tomb to be the center of a supernatural faith.

Out of this empty tomb God is making something new. We call it the New Creation . This New Creation  was not the invention of man; it was the entrance of God’s kingdom into this world. It was not the Church that created a story to keep their dying faith alive, it was the resurrection of Christ that created and sustained the Church. As F.F. Bruce wrote:

“The early Christians did not believe in the resurrection because they could not find his dead body. They believed because they did find a living Christ.[2]

The tomb is empty because the threats of death are empty. And this is the apostolic goal in this chapter: to re-affirm and to revel in the resurrection of the Messiah.

The Corinthian Church is fragmented and theologically confused, and so Paul takes these 58 verses to turn the Corinthians from confusion to clarity; from foolishness to faith in the Son of God.

He addresses his audience with three central purposes. First, in verses 1-11, he affirmed the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection was a public event, because the gospel is public. And this is going to be the driving force behind the disciples’ heroic and unfailing loyalty to the gospel, even to the point of their deaths. The disciples did not die for a Master who is dead. They died for a living Christ. And this is Paul’s point in verses 1-11.

He then, secondly,  reconciles two ideas in verses 12-34: Belief in Christ’s resurrection and a denial of their own. Paul says that if you believed Christ was raised from the dead, then you cannot deny the inevitability of your own resurrection at the end of history.  Paul says that to deny a future bodily resurrection is to “deny the resurrection of the One who makes all resurrections possible.[3] Further, you are carrying a lie in the name of God; you are implicating God in the greatest conspiracy to have ever been played on humanity. If Christ is still dead, then there is no past forgiveness, no present joy, and no future hope.

Ilus.You may remember C.S. Lewis’ remarkable description of Aslan’s resurrection in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. “After Aslan rises from the dead and shows himself to the girls, he warns them that they must put their fingers in their ears, for (Aslan) feels a roar welling up inside of him. Susan and Lucy do as they are told; then, Lewis describes, “Aslan stood up and when he opened his mouth to roar his face became so terrible that [the girls] did not dare to look at it. And they saw all the trees in front of him bend before the blast of his roaring as grass bends in a meadow before the wind” (Chapter XV). The newly risen Aslan is like a hurricane unleashed, a force that both tears away the death imposed on Narnia by the White Witch and ushers in renewal and redemption. In its wake, Spring returns to Narnia.[4]

The world has been so accustomed to the darkness of death that it takes a roar to wake her up.

So, Paul is building this case for Jesus, as the One who brings light to the darkness, spring in the perpetual winter. He is causing the Corinthians to think biblically; to think historically, and eschatologically. He does not want them to live like an existentialist where only the moment matters, but he wants them to see the future of history and eternity, and then live the present in that reality.

Paul is going to flesh out this future for the people of God. And he begins in verse 20:

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

God has “set into motion the events of the End in such a way that they must of divine necessity be brought to consummation.[5] The resurrection of Jesus is the key to everything. It is both the key to our own resurrection, and also the key to the events that will occur before the End of History.

Paul says that Christ is “the firstruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Christ is the first sheaf[6] of the harvest which guarantees that there will be more to come.[7] Jesus’ resurrection is the “down payment” or “the earnest money” or “the divine handshake” that secures a full harvest at the End. And we are the full harvest.

21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

To be created in God’s image means to submit to God’s plan. In the beginning he made man; man fell, and we fell with him. As the old alphabet rhyme[8] goes: “In Adam’s fall we sin all.” Through Adam came death. In Adam, we are all dead in our trespasses and sins, but in Christ, we are all un-dead; that is, we are all made alive. Adam died, but Jesus undid the death of Adam. The resurrection is the undoing of Adam’s fall, and our transfer from one man to another. The resurrection means we go from disciples of Adam to disciples of Jesus. There is an Adam/Christ analogy that Paul is using. What is his point? That the resurrection makes inescapable the resurrection of those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.[9]

What needs to happen before we get our resurrected bodies? Paul does not see the need to show you a big chart with lots of lines and funny pictures, rather he lays the future of the world in only a couple of verses:

24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

I would venture to say that there would be fewer speculations about the end if people simply took Paul at his word. Do you want to know what to expect in the future of this world? “Then comes the end…” What end? The end of history. What happens at the end of history? He, the risen and ascended Jesus delivers or gifts the kingdom to God the Father. The purpose of Jesus’ work after the Resurrection is to give the kingdom to the Father. Remember when Jesus was offered the kingdoms by Satan in the wilderness temptation. Jesus rejected the offer. Why? Because the kingdom is not Satan’s to give, but the Father’s to receive. Who will give the Father this great gift? Not Satan; but Jesus. And what leads to this triumphant gift-giving celebration? How does the Son conquer the kingdom, so that He may give it to the Father? Paul says this happens “after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” When this happens, then the End will come.

N.T. Wright says, “Jesus is invested with the task of bringing the creator’s rescuing new order to the world.[10]  “The Messiah is bringing to completion his work of redemption.[11] This morning I can say with absolute certainty when the end of the world will be: when Jesus destroys every rule and every authority and power and puts all his enemies under his feet.

We don’t need lengthy fictional series, we don’t need radio celebrities, we don’t need the newspaper to tell us when the End will come. Paul says it. When will Christ do all these things? It may not be happening as you expect, but did you expect God Himself to submit to your expectation for how He will bring things to pass? God is conquering. The future is bright. Jesus is still king.

Paul concludes with a brief explanation of this handing over of the kingdom to the Father:

26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Jesus is robbing death of its glory. He is conquering the world with his Lordship. As verse 27 says, “ all things (including death) are being put in subjection under his feet.” Paul makes the point that the Father is not in subjection, but rather the Son is in subjection to the Father. Why is Paul making this point? Paul is teaching the Corinthians that Jesus’ work is for the purpose of honoring the Father. There is a Father/Son relationship occurring for our sake. There is an exchange of gifts: The Father raises the Son from the dead, and the Son in turn gives the kingdom to the Father. There is harmony between Father and Son. The Father gives to the Son; the Son gives to the Father.

This chain of events will culminate in the ultimate destruction of death, and then God will be all in all; then Eden will be made new; then we will be made new; then our bodies will receive the glory promised by the Father.

How Now Shall We Then Live?

We were created with the “purpose of bringing the creator’s order to the world.[12] But that could not be accomplished unless Jesus was raised from the dead. What neither humankind or creation could do for themselves, the resurrected Lord does. Easter is the critical first step in the plan and purpose of God.

And what is the purpose of God: the intrusion of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. For the first-century Jew, kingdom-of-God carried inescapable political meaning.[13] This is not Jesus-in-my-heart-now-I-am-ready-to-go-to-heaven Christianity. This is everything in subjection to the Father. The rulers, kings, politicians, local officials, dads, moms, farmers, technicians, pastors, babies, trees, rocks, rivers, oceans, mountains, and all created things under the rule of God. This is the resurrection hope. If this is the case, we need a 10,000 year strategy. If we do not have a vision for the next fifty years, then why are we so committed to the issues that bind us here at Providence like worship and biblical child-rearing, psalmnody, Christian education, and cultural renewal? What does it mean to join in this agenda of destroying every ruler and authority? It involves our lives and vocations. Is this the vision you have from Monday to Friday? Do you think in these terms when you consider the future?  Begin to do so.

We do not merely ‘live out our days and then have the hope of the resurrection as an addendum; no, the resurrection ought to reform the way we currently live and to reshape our worship into seasons of unbridled rejoicing.[14] Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

In The Name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Fred Zaspel, Warfield on the Christian Life, pg. 19.

[2] FF Bruce, *The Apostle of the Heart Set Free*, p. 93*

[3] Fee, 741.

[5] Fee, 746.

[6] Or “bundle”

[7] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 333.

[9] Fee, 750.

[10] Wright, 334.

[11] Fee, 756.

[12] Wright.

[13] See The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright.

[14] Fee, 760.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Resurrection, Sermons/Easter and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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