Real hope beyond the grave
REAL HOPE BEYOND THE GRAVE(1 COR 15:1-27)
To those who were feeling crushed, fearful, and hopeless - Hope burst forth from the grave on Easter Sunday, a hope which is sufficient to carry us through the storms of Covid-19
The foundation of hope (15:1-11)
The realization of hope (15:12-27)
People cannot live without hope. A person who has lost all hope has died before they’re dead…..
What is hope? Well there are two major elements, the one is confidence or certainty and the other is expectation or anticipation. Those are the two major elements of hope. Certainty and expectation.
For a person to have hope we have to have a degree of certainty in the present and we have to have a degree of anticipation for the future. We have to feel like we are in control, that we got this, and that we are getting somewhere, going somewhere.
Hope is so essential to our existence because there is often nothing in our present experience that we find pleasurable, or satisfying, or meaningful. Our present experience is often unpleasant or painful, or difficult or dangerous or distasteful to us. There’s nothing in the here and now that makes life worth living – so we manufacture hope. We manufacture an idea, a dream, a goal, an aspiration – a picture of some future condition or experience or achievement or circumstance that we believe mitigates our present suffering. To put it another way – future hope makes present suffering more palatable.
So we manufacture this hope all the time. We create plans for pleasant experiences on the weekend which helps us get through the grind of the week. We envision graduation ceremonies which motivate us to put in the hard work of studying. For years we will put up with sleepless nights, long days, endless hours of reading and writing assignments for the hope of graduation, and the well paying job we believe we will enjoy after that….
We manufacture the hope of a happy marriage, or a heritage of children, or a successful business, or better health, or owning a car, or going on vacation, or retiring back in my homeland with my family. The more difficult and uncertain the present – the more desperately we work at manufacturing hope which motivates us to get up in the morning and keep going….
Which is explains the sting of Covid-19. Covid-19 is not just threatening to invade and destroy the cells of our body – its invading and destroying our hope….
We no longer have certainty, we don’t feel in control, we can’t plan, we don’t know what will happen a week from now… We can’t guarantee our health or protect our families, we can’t say with any certainty that we will be able to keep our jobs, or our homes, or our business afloat. In so many ways, the future just looks so bleak….What now? Where do we go from here? What can we lay hold of to give us hope?....A vaccine, a miracle, a financial bailout, a money tree?
First Disciples – lost hope
Well, if you could transport yourself, for a moment, back into the shoes of Jesus disciples. Technically they wore sandles, but it’s a metaphor…. Imagine how dashed their hopes were on Saturday morning when they woke up… Some of them had left lucrative businesses, many had left their homes, lost their reputation, some had lost their family and friends. They had turned their back on the world and all that it has to offer and followed Jesus because they believed He was the promised Messiah. As the hopes of Israel were dashed: their hope of a better life, of a promised land, of a powerful and benevolent king, of peace and prosperity and prominence among the nations. As it became increasingly obvious that all of that was not going to be realized – God began to give His people hope in a promised messiah. God’s Son, God’s king, God’s anointed one would come in the fullness of time and fulfil all of God’s promises, bring all of God’s blessings, establish God’s kingdom, God’s reign and rule on the earth and Israel would bask in the light of His glory. What kept Israel going through the exile and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and exile to a promised land and the loss of freedom and family and property – was the hope of the messiah to come, who would restore all that was lost and more. And the disciples believed they had found that man in Jesus. They believed it so strongly that they had left everything else in order to follow him, to join him, to be part of His inner circle as He began His work of restoring the kingdom….
And now that man was dead….how did they get up on Saturday morning? They were not hoping in a resurrection – only madmen do that. Normal people grieve and mourn and agonize over dashed hopes and dreams undone. And that’s what they were doing on Saturday….
But then Sunday came and hope burst forth from the tomb – a hope more sure than anything the world had ever known, a hope so unshakeable they would literally be tortured and killed before they would let it go.
That hope was rooted in a resurrected saviour who had died to defeat sin and who had risen to conquer death….This is the cornerstone of Christian confidence and the foundation of unwavering faith. This is the hope that will allow us to face whatever this pandemic has to offer and more….without flinching, or faultering, without anxiety or fear.
Let’s look at that hope in 1 Cor 15
1: The foundation of Hope
2: The realization of Hope
Read 1 Cor 15:1-4
1: The foundation of hope (15:1-11)
The foundation of Christian hope is faith in the gospel – repeat.
· 1 – Now I remind you of the gospel I preached to you – this gospel which you personally received, which you personally believed and in which you are standing.
· 2 – By this gospel you are saved – if you continue to hold it fast, if you continue to believe it – lest your believing should prove to be vain, fruitless, empty, useless.
Then he goes on to review the content of the gospel. Which he delivered to them. That word “delivered” in vs 3 talks about faithfully delivering authorized tradition. The gospel is not a message which the disciples or apostles invented. It’s a message which they received from the Lord and passed on faithfully – like a postman delivering registered mail, they didn’t alter it, or embellish on it, or tamper with it in any way.
Christ died, buried, raised on the third day (3-4)
Christ died for our sins. The gospel tells us why Christ had to die. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Because all men sin, all men die. We die physically and we die spiritually. Christ died for our sin, to pay the penalty for our sin, to satisfy the justice of God who is holy and must punish all sin.
· God can’t draw into fellowship with Himself murderers and liars and adulterers and rapists and gossips and slanderers, and thieves and the proud and ungrateful and disobedient to parents.
· God must punish these things and so God must punish us. We are all guilty of one or more of these sins and the wages of sin is death.
· But the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ and only in Him – because He alone lived a perfect life and died in our place. LOOK AT VS 3 FOR OUR SINS!
· All of these things happened according to the Scriptures. Thousands of years before Jesus came, God began to prepare His people for the messiah.
· He gave them the sacrifices to show them that the death of a pure sacrifice is needed to atone for sin.
· He gave them the priests to show them that they needed a mediator to go between them and a holy God.
· He gave them the Temple to show them that they were separated from God’s presence and couldn’t come near.
· And then He gave them His Son – as the sinless sacrifice, the great High Priest – the very presence of God among them and the one who would open the way into God’s presence.
· The blueprints for the gospel are laid out in the Scriptures – and Jesus came and built the reality…
The Foundation of Hope is sure (5-8)
The gospel is the “good news” about what Christ has done for us. Its a message connected to actual historical fact. It’s really the explanation of the significance of the historical fact.
· Without the actual event, what Christ did – we would not have news
· Without the explanation – we would not know why the news is good.
And God has provided ample witnesses to the historical event and the explanation of it. This is what Paul goes on to recount.
READ 1 COR 15:5-8
To understand the significance of what Paul is saying we must understand something about facts
· Scientific facts – prove by forming a hypothesis, performing repeated experiments under controlled conditions and then presenting data as evidence of the validity of your hypothesis.
· Historical facts – by their nature not repeatable. They are history. Historical facts are verified by witnesses. The more witnesses and the more reliable the witnesses – the more certainly you can verify the historical event.
So Paul is here summing the best kind of proof you can get for a historical fact – a great cloud of witnesses.
Appearances on Sunday
Jesus didn’t live with disciples again after resurrection. Appeared at distinct times, to distinct individuals in distinct places. Seems that His appearance began on Sunday and continued each Sunday for 40 days until He ascended.
That’s why Christians began to worship on Sunday rather than the Jewish Sabbath which was a Saturday. Sunday was the day on which they repeatedly witnessed the resurrected Lord and worshipped Him.
· Cephas – Peter, mentioned first because was the pillar, the central figure of the apostles (actually the women were first to see Christ, but they would not have been regarded as reliable witnesses in ancient Greek and Roman culture.
· 12 – name which refers to the group which Jesus picked out from amongst the many disciples who followed Him and whom He commissioned to be His witnesses, His representatives and who performed a central function in founding the church
· 500 – not sure when this was. May have been the occasion of the great commission in Matt 28. From the time of His first resurrection appearance He kept instructing his disciples to go ahead to Galilee and meet him there.
o One time – must have been a large gathering. You don’t get mass delusions. You may have an individual see a delusional vision, but not 500 people all at once.
o Most alive – furthermore, most of these witnesses are still alive, can go and check the facts up for yourself.
· James – Probably referring to the Lord’s half brother. Know that Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in him up to a few months before crucifixion (Jn 7:5). Yet we know that immediately after His assension James was with the rest of the disciples in the upper room in Acts 1. So something happened in the 40 days between the crucifixion and the ascension which convinced James, Jesus own brother, that He was in fact the Christ. This must have been the appearance of the resurrected Christ to him
· Then to all the apostles. Jesus appeared again to each of the apostles
· Last of all – Christ did not continue to appear physically and personally to people. Last of all was His personal appearance and commission to Paul on Damascus road. The final witness to the resurrected Christ.
Certainty of historical data
This is an incredible resume of witnesses especially when you take into account that they did not have any personal expectation that Christ would rise, they were as shocked as any of us would be.
Listen to some of the comments made by scholars of history – men who know how to weigh up and judge the validity of historical evidence.
Professor Thomas Arnold – author of the 3 volume “history of Rome” “I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them , and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair enquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”
Textual critic, Brooke Wescott said “Taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historical incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ.”
Paul goes on to explain why he considers himself least amongst the Apostles and how he came to hear and believe the gospel
Read 1 Cor 15:9-11
He closes in vs 11 with this significant summary.
“Whether I or they – this we preached.”
Doesn’t matter the human messenger – the message is the same – this is what we preached and this is what you believed. This is the unchanging gospel which is your life and confidence and salvation.
Paul’s testimony really says – that to come to believe this gospel is to be totally and eternally transformed by it.
MUST MEDITATE UPON AND BELEIVE
If we really believe this message we will never be the same and never live the same way.
The reality of the resurrection is what transformed 12 fearful disciples into bold witnesses who gave their lives proclaiming the gospel. It’s what transformed Paul from one who persecuted the church to one who was persecuted for the church.
DO YOU BELIEVE IT?.... HAVE YOU SEEN IT TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE?
That’s the firm foundation of Christian hope. Now we want to go on to look at its reality, its realization. What is the result of having such a hope?
2: THE REALIZATION OF HOPE
There was some false teaching going around Corinth that said there is no resurrection – when we die, we are dead, that’s it. And it was unsettling many of the believers in Corinth so Paul goes on to address this false teaching and to speak of true Christian hope.
Read 1 Cor 15:1-23
We will be raised (12-23)
That historical fact of Christ’s resurrection proves that we too will be raised.
· 13 – if there’s no resurrection then Christ could have been raised
· 14 – If Christ was not raised then we have no gospel, no good news. Our preaching is empty and so is your faith.
· Christianity is not merely a philosophy, or an ethical system, or a good way of living. It’s not made up of profound sayings which we can meditate upon and become better people.
· Christ made lofty, exclusive claims. “I am the way, the truth and the life – no-one comes to the father but through me.” NO-one comes to the Father butthrough me. I am the only way.
· Vs 15 Those claims were either true, Christ was either speaking the truth – or He was a liar and and imposter and so were those who preached Him.
· The ultimate litmus test for Christ’s claims are the evidence of an indestructible life.
· Vs 17 He is either a resurrected saviour, or He is no saviour at all. He has either paid for sin and conquered death, or He has won no victory at all. Christ didn’t come to show us the way – He came to be the way, to open the way, to make a way through faith in Him. If he is not raised – then your faith in Him is useless.
· 13-17 Paul says is negatively – if the dead are not raised, then not even Christ was raised and the gospel is a lie and you are still dead in yours sins and your faith is futile
· 20-23 He says it positively – Christ has been raised. This historical reality is beyond doubt, therefore we too will be raised in Him.
· 21-22 As Adam has brought death into the world and all who are in Adam die – so Christ has brought life into the world and those who are in Christ through faith – will be made alive.
· Vs 23 who will be raised – Christ first and then those who are Christ’s…at His coming
IS OUR HOPE FUTURE?
Note Paul’s point in vs 19 – if in Christ we have hope for this life only, we of all people are to be pitied.
Vs 19 speaks directly to Covid-19
If Christianity only offers hope, comfort, peace, help in this life and that’s it – when we die, we die – then we, of all people are to be pitied. A Christianity which doesn’t offer hope beyond the grave is pitiful.
· If all that we are looking forward to, longing for, living for – are things this side of the grave, then we are to be pitied. That’s not hope, that’s hopelessness.
Yet that describes so much of our modern Christianity.
That’s what Covid-19is really revealing – where our hope lies. For many of us, our hope has been in this life, in our careers, in our bank accounts, in our families and our reputations, and our health and our retirement fund…. We’ve got distracted from the gospel and have been living for weekends and family holidays, building earthly kingdoms.
As the tide of Covid-19 is rising, we’re starting to realize that we’ve been building sand castles on the beach and its about to all be washed away…
VS 19 – If we have hoped in Christ in this life only – we are of all men most to be pitied!
Maybe it’s a good thing that it all gets washed away…because then we can lift our eyes off the beach sand and see the sun rise.
Let’s look to the Son – that’s what Paul does in the next few verses – He gives them a focal point for their hope. The foundation of Hope is the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection – the focal point of hope, the realization of Hope is His soon return….
We must anchor our faith in the past work of Christ and fix our eyes on the future work of Christ.
Everything must be in subjection to God (23-27)
Here we see that the gospel is not all about us. Salvation doesn’t terminate on us, there is a bigger picture.
· God created all things good and in the beginning everything was in subjection to Him.
· God gave man dominion over the earth, to rule on His behalf, so when man sinned, all of creation was effected. Now, God is not manifestly the ruler of the universe.
· Sin, corruption and death are all evidences that God’s good world is no longer functioning as He intended.
· Christ’s duty as the God-man is not only to provide salvation for man, but to bring all of creation back into subjection to God. To put all of God’s enemies under His feet, to nullify sin and death and to bring all of creation back into a right relationship with God.
· The final stage of this is when death itself is banished from creation and there is no more sin and death.
· Christ’s mission won’t be accomplished until death is gone forever and all of God’s creation is manifestly under His rule again – that is what it means to deliver the kingdom back to God.
We have to see that our salvation is part of something much bigger. Something of cosmic proportions and eternal significance. We can’t reduce Christ’s work to making me feel better about myself and my life. Christ didn’t just come to serve me and He didn’t come to fulfill small plans.
Jesus wasn’t saved from death for me, I was saved from death for Him, to be part of His kingdom work.
Again, we have to ask ourselves, “Is that what we are longing for and looking forward to? Every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Is that the pursuit of our life even now, the thing that we are sacrificing for, striving for?
That’s what Paul goes on to draw out in vs 30-32 – READ
Listen, he says – what do you think I am suffering and striving and labouring and being beaten up for? If it’s for this life only – better we eat and drink for tomorrow we die.
· The alternative to sacrificing now for eternity, is live for now, enjoy the moment, make the most of this life because its all we have – eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we deny. That is the philosophy of the world. That is the mindset of those whose longing and desires don’t extend beyond the grave.
But Christian hope fits us for suffering. Christian hope anchors us for any and every storm.
Everyone who has this hope, as Heb 12 tells us, throws off every weight and sin and runs with perseverance the race that is set before us – fixing our eyes on Jesus, who is the author and perfector of our faith and for the joy set before Him – endured the cross, despising its shame and is now seated at the right hand of God.
As the disciples were grieving and agonizing over shattered dreams, all hope gone, all certainty uprooted, hopeless, confused, weighed down and panic stricken….Sunday came and hope burst forth from the tomb – a hope more sure than anything the world had ever known. This is the hope that will allow us to face whatever this pandemic has to offer and more….without flinching, faultering or fearing. Covid-19, bring it on – we serve a risen saviour.