Sermon: I Corinthians 15:29-34, Fifth Sunday of Easter

People of God, this is the fifth Sunday of Resurrection. We are journeying in this Easter glory. But the beauty of the Gospels is that after Easter glory there is more glory in the Ascension, and then Pentecost descends upon us like fire, and Reformed people become Pentecostals for a day.

Every part of this journey is important. We cannot overlook one for the sake of the other. The work of Jesus and His bride are one work. The Bride is not working separately from Jesus, rather Jesus comes along and strengthens the bride/church to fulfill her mission. The story of the world is the Husband and the Bride working together to bring glory to the Father by the work of the Spirit.

These events are all a part of the overall plan of God to redeem the world and his people, but particular events like the Resurrection possesses a certain key to unlock the mysteries of God’s work in the world.

Jesus’ resurrection sets into motion the events that will ultimately lead to his giving the Father the kingdom. The Father raises the Son from the dead, and the Son gives the Father the kingdom. Paul says in verses 24-26 of  I Corinthians 15 that Jesus “must destroy every rule and every authority and power and reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” This is our End-of-the-world map. The Apostle does not enter into speculations about the End, because he knows that the plans of God are higher than his own plans, and what we see is not always a picture of what is truly happening. We have a limited view of what is happening in the world. We tend to view the world through our own erroneous lenses when we are called to read the world through the eyes of faith; to believe that Jesus is doing what he said he would do.

The Resurrection gospel is given to us in Paul’s masterpiece. Just as things are going smoothly, just as his argument is striking the heart of the Corinthians, and just as Paul is communicating this message of a past forgiveness, a present joy, and a future hope for us, his people, Paul decides to throw into the picture one of the most bizarre and complicated verses in the entire Bible. This inspired, but strangely placed verse is verse 29: “Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?”

One commentator[1] dealt with all the different theories for four pages, and expecting him to conclude with a solution to the problem, he writes:

“But finally we must admit that we simply do not know.[2]

Who were those people baptized on behalf of/for the sake of/because of the dead? Some have assumed that Paul is referring to a group of people in Corinth who were being baptized on behalf of their dead loved ones who had not been baptized. They were being baptized vicariously. But the reality is there is no biblical or historical precedent for this.[3] Added to this, it does not appear that Paul is rebuking this group of people being baptized because of the dead. So, are the Mormons correct[4] in baptizing people in dedicated temples on behalf of those who have died? I would say this a faulty way of looking at this passage. It is better to read Paul as saying that some are being baptized because of the dead, rather than for the sake or on behalf of the dead. In fact, this verse can be easily translated this way. So, what is Paul saying? Some are being “converted because of the witness of martyrs who had died for their resurrection faith. In other words, Christians suffered and died because of their faith in the resurrection, and that had won over many pagans who joined the Church in baptism because of them. So, Paul is saying, if in fact there is no resurrection from the dead, those baptized (because of) the testimony of the martyrs are wasting their time.[5]

This makes sense of Paul’s baptism theology. Paul is telling the Corinthians that there would be no reason to give your life, which baptism signifies—a handing over of your love to God– if there is no future resurrection.

Remember that Paul is responding to the fragmented Corinthian Church in three parts. In Part 1 he tells them the resurrection is a public event with public consequences for the world, and now in Part 2 he is making the case that Jesus is the king of the world, and that it is fully absurd to think for a minute that there is no future bodily resurrection of his people.  In verses 29-34, he concludes his second response by elaborating on the absurdity of this denial with a “scattergun approach to make sure the listener is still awake.[6]

Illus. I remember several things about attending church in Brazil as a little boy. First, was the unbearable heat in the church building. There was no air conditioner, but little fans scattered throughout the building. And it was not uncommon to notice that the combination of the heat and my father’s 40 minute sermons would provide a few members the perfect environment for a nap. The problem was that my father had no problem interrupting his own sermon to call certain people by name and wake them up. It was such a common practice, that people would wake up, and the sermon would go on as usual.

Not that these two scenarios are identical, but in the first century, people would sit for long periods of time to hear these letters. We even know that Eutychus fell asleep while sitting at the window listening to the apostle Paul in Acts 20 fell and was taken up for the dead. And it was common for the apostle to throw in a few questions or observations in his letter to wake the people up and get their attention. This is what he is doing here. He throws a series of punches bathed in short, but quick phrases.

Paul is saying that if the denial of the resurrection is sustained in the Corinthian Church then baptism, the labors the apostles, the Christian ethic would be affected.[7]

So, Paul lays down a few markers to remind his audience of various things that would follow if the views of the doubters became widespread.[8]

Not only would our baptisms be in vain, not only would martyrdom be in vain, but why are we risking our lives? Look at verse 30:

“Why are we in danger every hour?” And in verse 31: “I die daily.” Paul is saying that on “a daily basis I face the reality of death.[9] Paul understood this suffering routine. He says in verse 32: “What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus?” We know that Paul’s time in Ephesus was no paradise. He was opposed in his ministry, at times he believed he would die from the deadly peril. He catalogues in 2 Corinthians a “litany of hardships and sufferings.[10] One wonders: “What would a journal entry in Paul’s diary in Ephesus look like?” He refers to those who opposed him as “beasts.” Those who oppose the gospel proclamation are like the vicious lion that wanted to tear Samson apart in Judges. Paul used all his strength to fight them off.

Further, “If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” If Christ is not raised then the Spirit does not dwell in me, and I am a mere human. The implication is that through the resurrection we are more human because we are indwelt by the Spirit of God. Unless they were completely drunk when hearing this letter it would have been impossible for the Corinthians not to catch Paul’s point. In other words, continue to live as you are if this is not true.

“Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.[11]

Stop deceiving yourselves or allowing others to mislead you. Paul tosses this line, which was common in Greek comedy, and other places. But Paul is actually making a particular attack on the Corinthians, and that is that bad company, which can either mean “companionship or conversation[12] corrupt good morals or good behavior. Let me re-phrase this in a very Pauline way: “Evil conversations such as those that deny the resurrection of the dead can only have a corrupting effect on your good character.[13] So, dissociate yourselves from these false teachers. This is not just your friendly neighbor who has a 1st grade understanding of the Bible, these are skilled teachers who are deceiving God’s people in Corinth, and Paul says, they are going to corrupt everything.

“Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.”

Sober up! You are delusional by denying the resurrection and behaving as if there is no future of the kingdom of God.[14] “To continue in this manner is to undo everything I have done,” Paul is saying.

Do you see the pastoral heart of the apostle Paul? Do you see his earnest desire to awaken a sleeping people from their theological slumber?

Paul goes so far as to say that to deny a future resurrection is to have no knowledge of God. You are unaware of the effects of the resurrection for the entire world. This is shameful! Paul is not only a pastor, but also a father-figure. He is embarrassed by their lack of knowledge, and their consequential unethical behavior.

How Now Shall We Then Live?

This is serious business. If they are not awake by the end of this section, then Paul will try in his final response in verse 35-58 to finish the job. But this should at the very least shake them up a bit.

This is the function of a sermon: to instruct you in good doctrine, to exhort you to faithful living, and to call you back to assume your responsibilities each week. Paul is doing just that.

As sheep of the flock, do not let a sermon go by without engaging it mentally and ethically. Be attentive to the sermon. Engage me after the sermon. Interact with these ideas. I know some of you use the sermon as dinner conversation on Sunday. This is the language of the church. Paul says do not let bad conversations corrupt good behavior, well, use good conversation to shape biblical behavior.

One of my greatest joys in pastoring is visiting your homes, and getting a glimpse of how worship and the community life is affecting you and your children. In one of my visits, one of the moms here at Providence told me that during a thunderstorm in the middle of the night, her child woke up afraid of all the noise, and in order to calm herself began singing Psalm 22 (one of our favorites at Providence): “Be not far off, O God, for grief and fear is near.”

This is the response of the people of God: to connect our circumstances to the conversation of the resurrection; to hope and believe that God is doing all things for our good and shaping us as a people to love Him and one another, and to create an environment where the resurrection is not only believed, but also lived out.

 

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] Gordon Fee.

[2] Fee, 767.

[3] Fee says that there is no record of this even in the centuries following the early church.

[5] Point brought to my attention by Daniel Hoffman who found this in Ciampa/Rosner’s explanation in the Pillar commentary.

[6] N.T Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pg. 338

[7] See Wright.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Gordon Fee, 769.

[10] Fee, 769

[11] Perhaps from Menander’s Comedy.

[12] Fee, 773

[13] 773.

[14] Fee, 774.

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About Uri Brito

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

One Response to Sermon: I Corinthians 15:29-34, Fifth Sunday of Easter

  1. Pingback: the creation of “reality” « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

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