1 Corinthians 15:19-26
All around us, in every corner of our lives, are people who are completely convinced that we have gone off our rockers. Now, some of these people have better reasons than others for believing this, and some of it may have something to do with the way in which we behave, and there’s not a whole lot that we can do about that. Our behavior either points to sanity, or let’s face it, something else.
But sometimes it is belief, not behavior, that points to insanity. Unlike most people in this world, we followers of Jesus Christ tend to believe that Jesus experienced resurrection; that he became alive again after being dead for three days. And this makes us a little bit suspect. Maybe not insane, but suspect nonetheless. Most people in this world, if asked, would gladly tell us that Jesus did not rise from the dead. The resurrection of our Lord lacks complete credibility in the hearts and minds of most of our contemporaries. It is at the outset a concept that is both foolish and laughable. Polite people will tell us that while they respect our belief, they don’t share it. This is especially handy in this world where it is possible to believe just about anything about everything. Truth is no longer a necessary component to belief.
And yet, the resurrection of our Lord is the very reason, the only reason, that the church of Jesus Christ survives today. We exist, because Jesus rose from the dead. There is no doubt in my mind that if not for the presence of the living and risen Lord in our midst, that the church would have fizzled out and folded up long ago; perhaps even as early as the 2nd or 3rd century. And that is long before any of us were born. But we’ve made it this far because the earliest followers of Jesus not only believed that Jesus rose from the dead, but somehow, they also experienced the presence and the power of the risen Lord in their daily lives. And not only that, they also believed that they were part of a movement, driven by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This movement, or mission was emerging and growing in this world, and it was becoming clearer and clearer that as the followers of Jesus multiplied, they believed that they had received power that was sufficient to transform the world. That’s a pretty awesome set of beliefs if we think about it.
So, here comes the hard question. How are we doing today? Where does resurrection fit into our church and into our lives? How is the church doing as a whole? Why do I fear that the church of Jesus Christ has evolved into a divisive political entity that is only popular when it is busy proclaiming the merits of a political entity or proclaiming a kind of self-help gospel, intended only to help us achieve a smooth and rewarding passage through this life, perhaps with lots of money and with lots of good feelings. I fear that we have given no thought or attention to sacrificing ourselves for the cause of the gospel and for the healing of our broken world. Have we forgotten that the one who sacrificed himself for the forgiveness of our sins, also invited those who would become his followers, to take up their own crosses and follow him in death? Was Jesus at all serious when he said that?
I am convinced that the Apostle Paul was rather intuitive. I suspect that he imagined that we would one day prefer the comfort of the pew over the pain and the agony of death on a cross. And so he begins by reminding us that we are already dead. Oh, we may breathe, and we may exhibit other signs of life, but we are as dead as dead can be, and in desperate need of resurrection. And we are dead in great measure because of the sin of our father Adam, but like Adam, we are also dead because we choose to be dead, and because we choose to continue in our life of sin.
Our father Adam failed to comprehend the glory and the majesty and the beauty of all that his Creator had bestowed upon him. Instead, he listened to the destroyer, who somehow convinced him that God had done him evil; that God had cheated him, and that God had kept the truly good life from him. This should all sound very familiar to every one of us here this morning, because the destroyer has not changed its game. We are still tempted, every day, with subtle words of death. God is still, in the words of the destroyer, the great cheater, the great wet blanket and the bringer of much loss and misery. Adam listened and he died. And when he died, he passed the curse of death on to us. Like Adam, we fail to comprehend the vastness of the glory and majesty and the beauty of all that God has bestowed upon us.
And so, because of our affinity for the way of Adam, we need to lay hold of these words from the Apostle Paul: “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” The dying part we get. We understand death. The Apostle reminds us that death is an enemy, but we are also painfully aware that death is also a companion. Death always seems to be at our side, stepping in at horrible and uninvited moments, always turning our lives into turmoil.
And that is why we must heed the words of our Lord when he said to his disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”* When Jesus said those words to his disciples, he wanted them to understand that no one must be bound to the way of Adam permanently. We are born into the way of Adam, we often walk in the way of Adam, but we can be born into the way of Christ, and we can walk in the way of Christ. We can walk in the way of the one who is the way, and the truth, and the life.
Walking in the way of Adam is death, now; death in this moment. Walking in the way of Christ, is life now, resurrection now, even, and especially in this moment. Followers of Jesus do not fear death in the way that those who walk in the way of Adam fear it. Those who walk in the way of Adam fear death because this life is all that there is. If we do not walk in the way of Adam, we have a hope in Christ that goes far beyond the grave. Even though the Apostle Paul states it rather negatively, our passage this morning opens with this hope: “If for in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Our hope, then, in Christ, is both for this life, and for the life to come.
So, if we believe that we are not afraid of death, how then, do we abandon the way of Adam, and adopt the way of our Lord Jesus Christ? Actually, it is quite simple. We live as if we are alive. We live as if we we have already been resurrected from the dead. We do not have to wait for that great and final moment of the end of earthly history to experience the astounding power of resurrection. Resurrection is not some future hope that cannot be understood or apprehended until it occurs. In the Apostle’s letter to the church in Philippi, Paul has this to say to the followers of Jesus: “I want to know Christ and the power of his Resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”**
There are some interpreters of the Scriptures who have accused the Apostle Paul of becoming a bit wishy-washy about resurrection. And I suppose that we might be tempted to agree with them. There just might be an element of wavering when Paul says, “…if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” But this cannot be. In all of his writings, the Apostle Paul is the champion of assured resurrection. The Apostle never wavered, or became wishy-washy in his solid hope of resurrection.
The Apostle has a plan. He intends, somehow, (and we’ll use that word), to fully participate in his Lord’s death, so that he might also, somehow, fully participate in his Lord’s resurrection. And that is an awesome and a very profound goal, because he hopes to accomplish all of this long before he stops breathing. He wants to so fully participate in the way of his Lord, that the effects of the ways of Adam are completely obliterated from his life.
Is that also the goal of our lives? To so fully know the ways of Christ that the ways of Adam within us are rooted out and destroyed?
Sadly, the ways of Adam are deeply etched into our souls. And sometimes, the ways of Adam are so deeply ingrained within us that they have become proper and reasonable ideas and behaviors that the world around us applauds. The way of Adam is to take the ways of sin and destruction and evil, and to make them appear as though they are very good things, and sensible things and worthy things, and proper things.
The way of Christ, on the other hand, is pure foolishness. Instead of vengeance, it is forgiveness, instead of lies, it is truth, instead of hate, it is love and acceptance, instead of self aggrandizement, it is self sacrifice, instead of despair, it is hope, instead of brokenness, it is healing, instead of death, it is life.
And so this morning, let us ponder the sensible, but evil ways of Adam, that still lurk within our souls, and let us put them to death. Let us crucify them. And then, let us consider the foolish ways of our Lord, and let us bring them to life and to action in our souls. Let us live as if Christ is alive in us, because he is alive in us. And let us yearn to know Christ and the power of his resurrection in our daily lives.
* John 14:6
** Philippians 3:1011