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Victorious

Date: Apr. 12, 2020

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

1 Corinthians 15:35-58

Key Verse: 1 Corinthians 15:57

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Happy Easter, everyone! In light of our current situation of being under lockdown for at least a few more weeks, you all probably know that our Easter retreat this year was canceled. It was supposed to have been last weekend and we went on lockdown just days after I printed up the handouts and posters for the event. The retreat would have had the title of Victorious. The thought behind it was having the vision of victory, no matter what. God is always victorious because there is never a battle that he does not win. Even when it looks the bleakest for God and his people, God’s love never fails. The plan was to begin the retreat with a quick overview of the topic with a short message on David and Goliath. It is a quintessential story of victory. When all the Israelite army lost all their strength, the boy David defeated the giant Philistine Goliath with just a sling and a stone. David knew that the victory didn’t belong to him, but to God. God was going to be victorious that day, and he was. God can take really bad situations, where it looks hopeless, and use those situations for his victory. Right now, we are living in a time that I doubt many of us could have predicted. There are a lot of unknowns in regard to this disease. No one knows how long this lockdown will last. Will livelihoods return to normal? There are an unprecedented number of people without jobs right now. They are furloughed, but there is no guarantee that they will get their jobs back. Businesses might close. You might actually get sick and never see your family again. Right now, there is no way of stopping it. You might recover if you get it, but you might not. There is no cure or vaccine, not for a while at least. Worst of all, you might not know if you are infected and can pass it on to someone else. You might recover, but you might also infect someone else who could die because of your actions.

It is a dark time, but that is why we need to hear a message on victory now. God’s greatest victory happened during the darkest time of history. Humanity sentenced God to death in the most horrible way. The most innocent man was abandoned by his friends when he needed it the most. He was turned over to people who beat him, mocked him and nailed him to the cross. Jesus, the Son of God, died and it looked like the end. Jesus chose to endure the pain and punishment, all the way to death, but that death was not a defeat; it was a victory. By Jesus dying for us, he opened the way for our salvation. The victory is that Jesus brought us back to God. The victory is that Jesus didn’t stay dead, but he rose again on the first Easter and then ascended into heaven to retake is seat at the right hand of God. Our salvation would never have been possible without Jesus’ death, by his blood that was poured out on the cross. Our salvation guarantees us a resurrection, just like Jesus’. That is where our hope lies.

Our passage today, for this Easter, concerns that resurrection. Humanity is fascinated with the idea of an afterlife. What would it be like after we die? Would there be nothingness or are we just disembodied spirits floating around? In Christianity, there is the concept of a resurrection. Our bodies will come back to life. That’s kind of where we pick up on this passage today. Today’s passage was written by the apostle Paul to the church in the city of Corinth. In Corinth, there were a number of people who thought that after death, there would be no resurrection. You see, after we die, our bodies immediately start to decay, and a number of people didn’t like the idea of going back into decaying bodies. It would look like they were zombies. Who would want to look forward into being like that? Since that didn’t make sense, those people just said that there was no resurrection. But Paul called that thought foolish. Jesus was resurrected. If there were no resurrection, how did he come back to life? He was the first fruits of what is to come. If there was no resurrection, then what are we believing?

It is at this point where we get to our passage. It begins, “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’” (35) Paul is expecting questions that people might ask. If they concede the point that there might be a resurrection, someone might push the question about how the dead are raised and what kind of body will they get. Remember, people knew that the body would rot and who would want a rotting body? Some people even thought that they would be done with the body and be able to ascend to a new level of existence, without a body. What would we need a body for, even? Paul responds, “How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.” (36-37) He calls those types of questions foolish and he uses and example from their lives, seeds. Paul wrote, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” When you plant a seed, the seed has to die so that a plant can live. When you plant a seed, the seed looks nothing like the final plant. Seeds are hard, small and brown, black or white, but the plants that come from them are lush, green and can be huge in comparison. This weekend, my family have been painting clay pots and today we will be planting some seeds. We have daisies and spearmint. These seeds are small, but in a few weeks, they will grow into green plants.

Paul continues, “But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.” (38-39) Each type of seed will produce its own type of plant. If you plant a watermelon seed, you won’t get an apple tree. Each seed will produce its own type of body, as God has chosen. Not everything has the same type of body. As the passage says, people have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. When we look at all the life in this world, we see differences all the time. There are different species, and some are more different than others. There are those with exoskeletons, like insects, isopods and crustaceans. There are those have no skeletons like octopi. And there are those with internal skeletons, like people. Some creatures have fur, others have scales and others have feathers. Some have gills and others have lungs. Likewise, “There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.” (40-41) Looking out across the universe, there are so many wonders to behold. The Hubble telescope has shown us far off nebula and galaxies. We’ve had probes show us a heart on Pluto and methane oceans on Saturn’s moon Titan. There are stars that pulsate and black holes that devour. Each of these things is unique and as God designed. Everything is different but everything has splendor.

All this difference and splendor can carry over into the resurrection. “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (42-44) Like a seed, a dead body is placed in the ground, but what will be resurrected will not be like that body. Instead, it will be nearly the opposite. The bodies we have will die and rot, but the resurrected body will not. The limits of our flesh will be no more, replaced with honor and glory. Our bodies, now, require natural things, like air, food and water to survive, but the resurrected body will require the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that will sustain us forever more.

Paul continues on, “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (44) We have only ever experienced a natural body. It is the one we have right now, but Paul confirms that if there is a natural body, then that means there is a spiritual one also. To explain this, he goes back to the beginning. “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.” (45) Paul reaches back into Genesis to talk about the first man Adam. When God breathed into Adam, he became a living being, but Paul also mentions a last Adam. Instead of just being a living being, this last Adam would become a life-giving spirit. The last Adam would give life. Jesus is the last Adam and with his death on the cross and resurrection, Jesus offers life for all to believe in him.

It is explained in the next few verses, “The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.” (46-49) The first man, Adam, was created from the dust of the earth, while Jesus has his origin in heaven. We are all descended from Adam and we bear his likeness because of it. Even though we are all individuals, we share a lot in common with that first human, Adam. Our appearance and how we are made are all the same because we are all human. We have hands with fingers, walk completely upright, have pretty big heads when compared with our bodies. We have two eyes, two ears, one nose, one heart, two lungs, hair on our heads and relatively little on our bodies. It is easy to tell we are all related. And yet, Jesus is different. He came directly from God, from heaven, and was like no other person to walk this earth. The first Adam, disobeyed God and sin entered into this world. Just like how we are physically similar to that first man, we also share in his weaknesses and short comings. We inherited that sin and disobedience from Adam and made it all our own, but the second Adam Jesus, never sinned. He was tempted, but never gave in to that temptation. Because of Jesus’ actions, we have an opportunity to become like Jesus. We bear the image of Adam, but by believing what Jesus has done, we can bear the image of Jesus.

It is important for us to bear the image of Jesus, if we ever want more than what this life offers. Deep in our souls, people have a desire for eternity and God’s kingdom, but to obtain that, we have to bear the image of Jesus. “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (50) These original bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God. These bodies are weak and perishable. Eventually, they will give out, decay and completely fall apart. We cannot enter into eternity with such a body. We are not to be the undead horde, but the newly living. We cannot live forever with a body that is falling apart. It wears out. It breaks down. It aches and groans. It’s not worth living forever like that.

Instead, we will be changed. “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” (51-53) Paul mentions a mystery. Not everyone will die. When Jesus returns to this earth, there will be people alive that won’t have to die first, but all who believe in Jesus will be changed, whether if they died or not. Those who did not die will just change into their new bodies, but those who died will come back in a new body. It won’t be some gradual change, either. It will happen instantly, like in a flash or the twinkling of an eye, which might just mean in the blink of an eye. In that day, as the trumpet sounds, we will instantly be changed, renewed, restored and made perfect. The perishable will be clothed in the imperishable and death will be dead.

The passage continues, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” (54) Death is something that seems very final. Americans love the thought of when you get knocked down, you get up again. Before Captain America was Captain America, he was a scrawny guy that would get beat up a lot, but he always got back up, but there is no getting back up from death. For all of history, the dead stay dead. Every day, the COVID-19 death toll rises. Worldwide, there are over 109,000 dead and just yesterday, the US had the largest number of deaths with over 20,000 dead, surpassing Italy’s numbers. Sure, there are things that are more deadly, but those people are gone. It saddens us to hear these numbers, because of the loss for the people they left behind. Death colors our life. So much of our motivation in life is related to death and our fear of it. All of our fears and anxieties have their root in a fear of death. The worst thing that can happen to us in this life is death, but when the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, even death will be defeated. There is that saying that there are two things that are certain, death and taxes. But with Jesus, not even death is certain. Death will have been swallowed up in victory.

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” (55-56) Sin is disobedience from God and it has an unlikely ally in the law. God’s law shows us what is right but condemns us when we are wrong. Even the smallest infraction is deserving death. That is the sting of death. We all deserve death for our sins, and as history shows, death was always victorious. That was, until Jesus came. Jesus died on the cross, but he was no sinner. Because of that, death could not keep its hold on him. Jesus died, but he did not stay dead and that opened door for us to follow him. When we are clothed with the imperishable, death will not have any hold on us either. We may die, but because of Jesus, death cannot hold us forever either.

“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (57) Jesus give us victory over death through the blood of Jesus. It is something that we should be thankful for. It is something that we need to have certainty of. God gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. We are constantly living in a time of uncertainty, but we have the certainty of victory because of God. Remember, God never fails; he always wins. Goliath was a battle hardened, nine-foot man. His laugh sent shivers down the spines of grown men, but God used a boy to defeat him. Jesus wasn’t just killed, but he was killed in one of the most horrendous ways possible. He was mocked and beaten before carrying the instrument of his death on his back. His flesh was pierced with nails and he was raised up for all to see. He struggled to breathe as the masses hurled insults at him. All of his teachings and healings appeared to be for naught, as he hung on that cross beaten and bloodied. It looked like Jesus had lost, but he hadn’t. Jesus could have come down any time he wanted, but then he wouldn’t have victory. Jesus endured so that we could have victory. His death is not defeat, but victory. Because, through his death, death would lose its teeth. It could bite us, but it would be no more than a puppy chewing on our fingers. Death is conquered because of Jesus. That is certain.

If death is conquered, just think of what that means for our lives!  We live with fear and anxiety, but we don’t have to. The worst thing that can happen to us is death, but death is a puppy chewing on our fingers. Death is not a ferocious beast that will devour us. Jesus made sure of that. If that is all that death is, then we don’t have to fear it. If we die, we will just be united with God. Paul had that thought in life. Near the end of his life, he knew he was going to die, but he wasn’t sure when. However, it didn’t matter. If he lived, he would serve God, but if he would die, he would see God. It was a win-win situation for him. We should have a similar viewpoint in our lives. We get to work of God and bring people to him. That is an awesome thing that gives our lives lots of meaning, but if we die, then we just go to God. We receive perfection. Death is but a sleep.

We have to be certain of the victory that Jesus brings. When we hold on to that, it changes our lives. Our perspectives and values change. Things that we once thought of as impossible are just small potatoes. Things that we thought were meaningful are just meaningless. They are garbage compared to what truly matters. School studies, graduation, finding a job, and having kids can all feel overwhelming at times. Depending on what stage of life you are at, you probably have something that feels overwhelming, but Jesus brings victory. That victory isn’t necessarily over the situations we find ourselves in. Jesus was in a horrible situation, but God didn’t rescue him from the cross. As we heard last week, Jesus was praying in Gethsemane for the cup to be taken from him. God didn’t do that, but Jesus was strengthened, knowing about the victory to come. In the same way, we have victory over ourselves, our sin, our fear, so that we can endure and grow.

At the trumpet, we will be changed, but before then, our spirits must be ready. A sin-stained spirit doesn’t fit very well into an imperishable body. In our time on this world, our spirits are purified and made more Christlike so they can be ready for eternity and receive that new immortal body. It is a process that we undergo in this world by serving God. Our passage concludes, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” We should be firm in our belief of victory. We should not let that belief waver. By serving God, we learn his heart. By sharing what Jesus has done, we have the same compassion that Jesus has by dying on the cross. It causes us to grow and be better people. We should not serve half-heartedly, but with everything we have. Just like the victory is certain, what we do for God is not in vain. We might not see the result of our work, right now. But that work are seeds being planted and growing within others.

One day, there will be no more waiting. One day, there will be no more need for a hospital room. One day, there will be a day without death. There will be no more pain, no more tears, no more sorrow. All heartbreak will be gone, and life will be evermore. We are victorious. Our God never fails. The battle belongs to the Lord. It is a certainty. He takes what the enemy meant for evil and turns it for good. Let’s see that victory and live our lives in glory with victory!

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