1 Corinthians 15:1-20
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning, Paul switches gears on us, at least a little. For the last several weeks, he’s been addressing one of many questions the Corinthians had been asking him. The main issue we overheard Paul addressing was the question of spiritual gifts. The problem was that the Corinthians wanted to know about the gifts, but they needed to hear about the Spirit. Every baptized believer has been given the primary gift of the Holy Spirit, who works in us and creates saving faith in us. The other gifts the Spirit gives are secondary; they’re still important and good and real things we should be working with, but if we lose focus on what comes first, we lose it all.
Focusing on the Spirit means that we take a look outside ourselves and seeing the bigger picture. Baptized into Christ, you and I are the body of Christ. With our different gifts, we work together like parts of a body, not competing, but helping, serving, and supporting one another for the good of those around us.
Because far more important that these gifts is to love one another, love as God reveals it to us in His Son, Jesus. If you want to know what true love looks like, don’t turn on the TV, don’t go to the latest rally, don’t just assume you know what it is. Rather, open your Bibles and take a look at your Savior, crucified for you, risen for you, ascended for you. It’s a self-giving, self-sacrificing, self- denying love that we are called to show one another.
That’s why Paul says that speaking in tongues can be a big problem. Yeah, speaking other languages is good and right when the person you’re talking to understands you. But when they don’t speak the same language, you’re only building yourself up, glorifying yourself, loving yourself. Instead, as with whatever gift you have, seek to build up the Church. Serve one another. Love one another.
But today, Paul shifts., at least a little. The Corinthians had been having so many problems, their focus had so radically shifted away from the Gospel, Paul decided it would be good to remind them of what it was all about. It’s all about Jesus: His death and, more importantly, His resurrection.
“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” It doesn’t get much more clear than that. Everything rests on Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It’s the beating heart of the Gospel proclamation.
We can talk all day about Jesus’ death on the cross, but unless something follows it, then what happened to Jesus is the exact same thing that happens to each and every human being who has ever lived. He died. Big whoop. If that’s all there is, then what in the world are we here for? We’d be gathering around a guy who may have even been punished for the sins of the world, but he certainly wasn’t strong enough to bear the weight of them. No, that punishment was too great and it killed him dead.
If all we have is Jesus’ death, then we have nothing. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then your sins still count against you. If Christ has not been raised, then all those who died believing in Him are simply dead, lost forever. If Christ has not been raised, then all this is in vain. We’re wasting our time gathering together week after week. If Christ has not been raised, then nothing else matters.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. This is the Gospel. “that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, and that he appeared” to many. All this is what the Old Testament said was going to happen. Christ’s life, death, and resurrected all happened because God keeps His word. Jesus completely, physically, bodily rose from the dead.
This miracle flew in the face of the Corinthians as much as it does to us today. In their day, they couldn’t wrap their minds around a dead body coming to life, so they denied it ever happened. Corpses don’t come back so life, so this one didn’t either. But Paul’s bold proclamation pointed them to the truth of the matter. Christ has been raised. It’s been the Church’s message from the beginning, before it was even the Church.
In our day, we can’t wrap our minds around a dead body coming back to life. We’ve got whole fictional worlds around this idea: creepy halloween worlds where the dead are raised but aren’t quite right. Our world brings up zombies so that we can easily shoot the idea down. It’s just flat out ridiculous. We all know that.
So, we reason, perhaps Christ wasn’t raised physically, but only spiritually. Large swaths of people who call themselves Christian hold to this very teaching today. Perhaps Jesus’ body didn’t rise, but he rose in our hearts and lives on in our minds. Maybe Jesus’ corpse still lies in the ground somewhere, but his spirit lives on.
This is not a truly Christian teaching. I don’t say this lightly, to hold that Christ has not actually risen from the dead is to hold to a demonic teaching. When you deny the core reality of our faith to make it something easier to hold on to, you also lose any substance to grasp or any reason for holding it in the first place. If you lose the resurrection, you lose Christianity altogether, and that’s just what the devil wants.
In 1960, a Lutheran church out in Massachusetts held a religious arts festival. Almost a hundred people entered the competition, but one poem stuck out among all the other entries. It’s entitled “Seven Stanzas at Easter” and was written by a young man named John Updike, who would go on to make quite a name for himself in the literary world. While the rest of his writings can be a little suspect, this piece highlights the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. It gets a little heady at times, but it’s worth reflecting on.
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” He died for you. He was buried for you. He rose for you. He appeared for you. His resurrection changes who we are today and paves the way for our own resurrection yet to come. That’s what we’ll be exploring next week. But for now, reflect on the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection, the flesh and blood of our Lord truly coming back to life, better than ever. It flies in the face of our modern notions of reason and science, but I would put my trust in God over reason and science any day. Christ has been raised from the dead, and that makes all the difference. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell