Easter Part 2
April 26 “Easter Part 2” 1st Corinthians 15
Amidst all that has been going on lately, including dark and rainy weather, I have been further brought low by severe allergies. I have been helping to hand out lunches in our school district, which has been a genuine source of joy, even if somewhat boring at times as we are not as busy at our locations as the main schools providing meals, such as our high school and middle schools. The school I have been at this week is surrounded by towering fir trees, under which we are set up, and I seem to be very allergic to them. No amount of nasal rinsing, showering, or medicine can overcome the congestion. At this point I mostly feel fuzzy headed and unable to think, with darker moods. Hopefully, I can make sense of our chapter from Paul. Wasn’t the sun nice so early in the year? I was beginning to forget that it is only April.
Paul seems to be winding down his letter. Chapters 15 and 16 are like final comments in other letters, where he gives final thoughts, instructions, and greetings. The entire letter is very difficult to follow and understand at times, and these last verses jump around too, but at least are not as “deep” as some other passages, except for one part of this very long chapter, which doesn’t make since even with a clear head.
Paul began the letter with some long passages of theological explanation that he builds his argument upon, along with some comparisons between himself and others, seemingly self-effacing yet at the same time seeking to prove why he is the true Apostle with the true Gospel. Here as we head into the home stretch, he returns to this style of rhetoric. There are some passages that you cannot mistake for anyone other than Paul, and this is one of them. He writes:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep (have died); then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1st Corinthians 15:1-12)
This passage contains what is sometimes referred to as the “Gospel in a Nutshell” for it is a clear and concise statement of what we would now call the Gospel Message. But in Paul’s day, this doesn’t seem to be the case, as he has sought to give authority to his teachings rather than what others have been teaching to the Corinthians. As you may recall, in Galatians Paul tells us that:
I’m amazed that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ to follow another gospel. It’s not really another gospel, but certain people are confusing you and they want to change the gospel of Christ. However, even if we ourselves or a heavenly angel should ever preach anything different from what we preached to you, they should be under a curse…Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that the gospel I preached isn’t human in origin. I didn’t receive it or learn it from a human. It came through a revelation from Jesus Christ. (Gal 1:6-12 CEB)
This Gospel was given directly to Paul by Jesus on the Road to Damascus. No one else can make this claim, even though they may have lived with Jesus, unlike Paul. Paul would fight with other apostles about what to teach and to whom, but for those of us in the Western Church, it is “Paul’s Gospel” handed down over the centuries that we now proclaim. Other traditions within the Christian Church may emphasize other things at times, but this teaching Paul gave to the believers at Corinth is the same teaching we now follow. Even in this strange and troubled time, we are connected in faith to those first believers (the ones who followed Paul’s teachings and passed them down to us, that is). This is the Gospel of which he proclaims in Romans:
I’m not ashamed of the gospel: it is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel, from faithfulness for faith, as it is written, “The righteous person will live by faith.” God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodly behavior and the injustice of human beings who silence the truth with injustice. This is because what is known about God should be plain to them because God made it plain to them. (Rom 1:16-19 CEB)
The Gospel is not just a nice idea or fanciful hope for the future, it is a call to repentance and to changed lives. We don’t just hear the Gospel; we respond and live our lives according to God’s teachings. As Paul so often does, he points out his unworthiness. He never claims that he is perfect or that he is even close, just that he has been forgiven and is now on the right path with a new mission. He once persecuted the church, and still seems to carry the guilt from that. But he is also quick to point out that even with a shameful past, God has used him through his grace to advance the Gospel like no one else. What do you suppose Paul would say now, as the one responsible for bringing God only knows how many people to Christ? But he gets back to practical matters:
Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover, we are even found to be false witnesses of God because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (verses 12-19)
In one of my first churches, on my first Sunday there, one of the members came up to me and told me that there was no resurrection and no Holy Spirit, in a manner hinting that he thought anyone who believed such a thing was an idiot. After five years there, no progress of any kind was made in teaching him the truth of the Gospel. I noticed that he did this with any pastor who happened to walk in the door. I still don’t know exactly why he even goes to church; and he had been attending for decades before I got there. What kind of “faith” compels him to be there? If we do not have faith in the Resurrection, all that we do is futile. If Christ did not rise again, there is no forgiveness of sins, no eternal life. For those of us who believe, this would make life meaningless. Is that shocking to think about? Now think about all of those people out there living without the hope in Christ of a new life. You can easily see the Christian folks where I work, for while others are anxious, we can say: “I am not afraid, I know where I am going.” Amen! Paul continues:
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep (or those who have died). For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all. (verse 20-28)
It’s interesting that Paul gives Adam the blame here, when it is usually Eve that is blamed more. This was probably one of the passages that inspired the concept of “original sin” begun by St. Augustine. Whether that is what Paul means is unclear, this sounds more like a rhetorical device that neatly sums up the history of sin and death. We like Adam may still face death, but in Christ it is no longer the end of things for us, just a new beginning. Not only is He our Lord of Life, he is Lord of everything. Certain people these days laugh at such a thing, but we need to keep trying to reach them with the Good News of eternal life in Christ. The Truth does not change, and it no less powerful when we meet someone who does not believe. Considering what is going on right now, this may even be a time when they will be more receptive. Paul continues:
Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them? Why are we also in danger every hour? I protest, brethren, by the boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. (verses 29-31)
Whoa! Paul goes off the deep end yet again! Baptized for the dead? Where does that come from? Who knows! Does he agree with the practice? Nobody knows, either. Any comment would just be speculation, and I don’t have the brain for that right now. The point seems to be we have hope in the resurrection no matter what others say and do.
If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (verse 32-33)
In other words, if there is no hope, we might as well let lose and do whatever feels good in the moment until the hangover hits. But since we have the Gospel, we are to live by a higher standard and seek to be like Christ according to the teachings and laws of God:
Become sober-minded as you ought and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. (v. 34)
Presumably, Paul means that there are some even in the church who do not know God, and this is to the shame of all in the church, not just the ignorant ones. We are responsible to teach all people the ways of God and will be held responsible on judgement day for our failure to preach and teach the Gospel. Paul continues:
But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (verses 35-50)
Oy! No comment! Let’s move on:
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (verses 51-58)
Can I hear an “Amen!” No, since we are not in church, haha, but still a glorious passage that we are all familiar with. It is still wise to follow guidelines for preventing the spread of the coronavirus, but we shall walk through this dark valley knowing that victory lies ahead. We shall not fear, for we know where we are headed after this life is done.
Perhaps you are thinking: well, Paul preached Christ risen from the dead. What’s the big deal? That’s obvious. That’s the Easter message. We must wonder just what Paul’s opponents were teaching, what else could they have been teaching. And we of course just don’t know for we only get Paul’s side of the story. “Paul’s Gospel” is that Jesus died and rose from the dead. Through God’s great love for us, we are given eternal life and forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. That is “our” Gospel, too. What else can even compare to that message?