This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:12-23
Author: Rev. Henry Numan of Vancouver British Columbia
A note to the reader of this sermon: As author of this sermon I am indebted to many different authors and commentaries, as well as a variety of different books. Andrew Kuyvenhoven’s, Comfort and Joy is a most excellent source and you may wish to consult his materials.
Sincerely, Henry Numan, pastor First Christian Reformed Church of Vancouver
Living and dying: that describes everything about you and me. It describes your entire life, doesn’t it? Our time on earth is simply from birth to life, and no more—every life is followed by a death, and so is yours! Boundaries are clear: you have a beginning and an end. There was a time when we were not here, and the time will come that we will no longer be here. Professor Kelly Clark of Calvin College has remarked that we actually die twice: the first time when we are carried to the grave, the second time when our great-grandchildren no longer know our first name. That’s quite a remarkable story about you, about us, isn’t it?
And so we come with big questions that we all have about living, but especially about dying: what happens when I die? Somehow my body and soul are torn apart and away from each other. When your father or mother, or a loved one died, the doctor said, “he/she is dead”—and you wept. But we say, “he/she lives”—and we are comforted! The doctor was right, he told the truth, but the bible does not lie when it says and teaches that you live when you die.
But we have so many questions: how will all of this be when we die? Who will we know, how do we spend our time, can we travel without our present body? Will we recognize and be recognized? What if we expect someone to be there and cannot find her/him/them? Just what do we really know? The answer is: not much! But one thing we know for sure: Jesus Christ is central, the star!
With that in mind we enter the fascination of the early Corinthian church. These Christians had a belief that was so true and typical of what people believed in those times, in the first century, shortly after Christ’s death and resurrection. It was a Greek philosophy in which they believed that an archetype, or hero or leading type, can have something very special happening to him, but we ordinary people are minor types and the special thing for the hero or archetype is not for us. So these Corinthian Christians could easily believe that Jesus Christ was a very special type, a hero, and that he was raised from death to life, resurrected, but that this was by no means possible for the ordinary Corinthian Christian—it was not for them.
Think of it in our terms here today: maybe you are familiar with a sport hero of today, let’s say, Lance Armstrong, the seven-time winner of the Tour de France. Lance is our archetype, our hero, and what he did we could never do, meaning that all the very best is reserved for him, not for us. In Canada we have a great Canadian hero, Terry Fox, who at very early life fought cancer in his body by attempting to run across the nation, raising funds for finding a cure for cancer—he only made it half way when the cancer took over fully, and he died shortly after but left such a huge legacy. These heroes get the best kind of reward ever, in the same way that only Christ could get the reward of the resurrection—something none other would receive.
Paul says that if this is what you really believe then you are most miserable of all people, your faith is useless, your coming to church to participate in worship, to listen to a sermon, to work on your faith on a daily basis—all of this is a waste of your time and absolutely useless. Then you’re the biggest possible loser ever! Rather he says, believe totally in him and you will live forever, starting already now and gong right through death so that you live even when you die.
In verse 20, Christ is referred to as the “first fruit.” In the Old Testament times the first fruit of the harvest each year was always given to the Lord, indicating that the entire crop or harvest was really God’s, not the farmer’s. So Paul says that if Christ is the first fruit then it follows that the rest of the harvest shares in that too. The same benefit will be there for the total harvest in the same way that it is for the first fruit. In fact that must have sounded to be almost too good to be true to these Corinthians but Paul says, make no mistake about it: if Christ is resurrected then so will his followers be.
This is the very reason why Paul could also say, for example, in Philippians 1:23, “I desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is better by far…” In 2 Corinthians 5:8, he says, “We would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord…” He is so totally sure of the resurrection and all of it simply because of the great work prepared by and done for us by Jesus Christ. He shouts it out in the end of Romans 8, “…nothing whatsoever will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And don’t forget what Jesus himself had said on the cross when he addressed the criminal next to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
So is dying gain? Can we really say that, we who are so afraid of the actual process of dying? Can you yourself say that: dying is gain? And the answer is absolutely yes, to depart and be with Christ refers to a move from the present address to the other one (Kuyvenhoven). Paul makes the point so clear: “In Christ all will be made alive…all those who belong to him” I Cor. 15: 22, 23). Based on this powerful conviction, can you see why Paul ends this great chapter 15 with the unforgettable words he does? Read 1 Corinthians 15:58!
We are so thankful to be able to confess the basics of this chapter: Christ shares his resurrection with us; already now we have this promise and reality with us; he is the absolute guarantee of our glorious resurrection in him. Reread this chapter for yourself and see. It’s a guarantee. Says Paul, “…our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20)
So what happens when I die? If I die today or tomorrow then death is actually my gain. Then I am immediately with Christ, I have gone through the ‘door’ of death, which in itself is the process and fact of death. And then I begin to realize that it was a great miracle when I was first born, but the greatest miracle of all is that I actually leave this present body and will be with Christ. You and I leave this life, we don’t need our body anymore, we will be with Christ! That’s what we confess, what our church believes. That’s how you begin to realize that the bible speaks so much of glorifying and praising God in heaven, a comforting picture where everyone plays the harp or sings in a choir (see the book of Revelation).
How does this all hit you? You’ve maybe heard it all before; you know it; you take it for granted; it has become even unreal and abstract to you. Is that where you’re at? Where is your conviction this very day that urges you on and on to follow this amazing Christ at all costs, knowing your great gain in him, making you the kind of person God wants you to be? Does this make the radical difference in your life where you become a compassionate person, helping the poor, understanding the needs of others, kind to others even though your viewpoint of life may be different? Does your belief in this Christ for death and all of life change your lifestyle? Are you known as that kind of person who has a great love for a world and life view that says that all and everything belongs to Christ?
We need this best offer ever very much today. A nation that is so busy and preoccupied with eating and enjoying, with video and TV watching, with game and sports playing, or whatever, is a nation that very much needs to hear this message.
This is the best offer ever made in life and death—the best offer ever! Can you accept this and believe this, and has this touched and changed your life and your entire direction? See his great way interfering with our life today and you will be blessed to live and die, for it is all in Christ. Share this offer and live it daily—what a great promise and what a great God we have! Amen.
OUR WORSHIP SERVICE TODAY
Let Us Praise Our Most Worthy God
Your individual worship preparation time
Words of welcome and announcements
We gather in our Lord’s presence:
Leader: Sing a new song unto the Lord; let your song be sung from mountain high. Yahweh’s people, dance for joy.
People: O come before the Lord, and let the trumpet sound. Sing a new song unto the Lord, singing, “Alleluia.”
Leader: Rise, O Children, from your sleep; your Saviour now has come. He has turned your sorrow to joy, and filled your soul with song.
People: We have seen the glory of the Lord. We know our Saviour lives. Glory to his name, and to the Father and the Spirit praise.
Our opening song: This Is the Day PH 241
You Are Worthy PH 232
We greet each other
We spend a brief time with our children as they leave for Sunday School
We Confess and Are Fully Assured (text: The Worship Sourcebook)
Leader: Triune God, we praise you as the God of love and life. Though Jesus prayed that we would be one, we confess that we fail to live in unity with each other and you.
People: We break communion through hostile words and unkind actions. We long for your Spirit to heal us and to correct us. We long for you to help us experience communion with you and with each other as we gather around your Word.
Our song of confession: And Can It Be PH 267:1
Our assurance from him: (Romans 8:15-17)
Leader: You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption…We are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
People: In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, we are forgiven. Thanks be to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
We sing our assurance: And Can It Be PH 267:4
Today’s offering is gratefully received
Our response in song: We Give You But Your Own PH 296:1,2
The pastoral/congregational prayer
We Celebrate God’s Word
Prayer for illumination
Scripture is read from 1 Corinthians 15: 12 – 23
Message: The Best Offer Ever for Life and for Death!
A brief closing prayer
We Do Not Just Leave, But Leave to Serve
Our song of comfort:How Great Is the Love of the Father PH 231
The Lord gives us his blessing
As we leave we sing: Jesus lives and so do we PH 399