1 Corinthians 15:50-58 The Death of Death

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At our last church services in our temporary locations the audio recording of this week’s sermon failed.  Below is a transcript of the sermon preached by our Senior Minister, Craig Roberts.

1 Cor 15:50-58

The Death of Death, St Augustine’s, 26/4/15

 

ANZAC Day and the Christian gospel have a lot in common.  Both make much of events that were, at first glance, a complete routing. Both glory in, make much of, a defeat.

 

There is a stained glass window in our church that depicts the son of Neutral Bay residents, Trooper William Charles Jones.  He served with the 7th Light Horsemen, and was a part of the withdrawal from the Gallipoli peninsula.  He later died in Chanak, another part of Turkey.  Over the 8 months of the Gallipoli campaign, 17,970 Australian casualties, including 8,141 deaths.

By contrast, 164,617 Turks were wounded and 87,000 killed in defending Gallipoli. 10 times our losses.

 

And that bloody defeat is the focal point of our annual ANZAC Day commemorations.  A defeat.  But nonetheless we honour our glorious dead who fell, their faces to the foe and who have left us an example of courage, of endurance, of self-sacrifice.  At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.

 

The universally recognised symbol of Christianity is a cross. The 2 sacramental rituals of Xty – baptism and communion – both focus on the death of Jesus Christ.

 

But here’s the thing – *our symbol is not a crucifix, *it is an empty cross.  For we remember, we glory in, we make much of, not just Jesus’ death but his resurrection.  We hold the cross and the empty tomb tightly together as 2 parts of the 1 piece.

Which is what the apostle Paul has done in his 1st letter to he Corinthians – he started with 4 chapters on the death of Christ and in ch.15 he moves to conclusion writing on the resurrection of Christ. In the final 9 verses that are before us today, Paul answers the 1st of the 2 q’ns he posed back in v.35, ‘How are the dead raised?’   Last week we looked at the 2nd of the questions he posed – ‘with what kind of body will the dead come?’ But today, ‘How are the dead raised?’

 

Here we get part of the answer to ‘what happens when we die?’ Not ‘what’s heaven going to be like?’ But ‘how are the dead raised?’

 

We will be changed

1st, in v.50, Paul says why we need a res’n at all.  He explains why the newness of life that the res’n will bring is necessary at all.  Its because flesh & blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, or to put it another way, the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable.

 

Last week I used the analogy of plugging your home stereo speakers into the Entertainment Centre sound system.

Our bodies as we now know them – perishable, weak, sin-stained bodies are not fit for eternity.

 

If we want to be fit for an eternity of life with God, we need to be, v.51, changed.  Just like you get into the right clothes to go to work, to play sport, to go to the beach.  I remember when I was in 5th class, my parents were overseas, & I was staying with my Godparents & my cub group had a road trip to Palm Beach & we walked up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse.  I didn’t read my info sheet very carefully, ‘coz I had no idea we were going anywhere near a beach.  So I turned up in my jeans & hiking boots.  Turns out its a really easy stroll up to the lighthouse which took about 30 minutes, then we spent the rest of the day at the beach.  And I’m in my jeans & hiking boots.  I needed to get changed, but it was too late.  So I just sat there, excluded, on the outer, sweating like a pig whilst my mates went in for a swim.

We need to be made ready for eternity, just like I needed to be made ready by my Mum and those who trust in Jesus will be changed, made ready by God.

 

And that time is coming.  Its closer now that it was when we woke up.  And Paul tells us in v.52, its going to happen* in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  That means 2 things, its going to be sudden & its going to be awesome.  Its going to happen in a flash, in the blink of an eye, which means that for my friends who have said they’re going to wait to become Xns until they see Jesus coming back, it will be too late. It will be like starting to study on the morning of your HSC exams – it will simply be too late.

 

And Jesus is going to come back at the last trumpet.  When the Bible talks about trumpets, its talking about 1 thing – the absolute victory of God.  Think of the fall of Jericho in Joshua 6.  God gave his people a huge victory over their enemies at the blast of a trumpet.

But before that in salvation history, we encounter a trumpet blast when God appeared to his people at Mt Sinai. There, the trumpet sounded a warning of God’s judgement against sin and the death that it brings. Leviticus 25 also describes a trumpet being sounded on the Day of Atonement (the annual sacrifice for sin) And on the Day of Jubilee, a once in 50 year day of forgiving debts and setting people free.

 

The Death of Death

But here in 1 Cor 15, Paul is looking to the end of time and describing the last trumpet, which declares God overwhelming His own just punishment of death. Death, which has reigned over humanity, is now defeated. Again, the Resurrection of Jesus guarantees this victory. and we know from v.26 that the last enemy to be destroyed is death.   And at the last trumpet – signalling God’s judgment, victory, God’s offer of forgiveness and freedom – death will be destroyed.

 

And that’s going to happen and we will be changed.    Transformed.  Instead of being mortal, we will be immortal.  Instead of being perishable, we will be imperishable.  My knees – perfect.  My hearing – perfect.

 

When that happens, death will be defeated.  Death will die.  The last trumpet will announce the death of death.  v.54 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.”

 

That saying is a quote from the OT prophet Isaiah, 25:8, which looks forward to the same day that Paul is talking about here – when Jesus comes back and destroys every power & authority that stands opposed to him.

*

Then Paul quotes some more OT in v.55 “Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?”  The sting of death is gone.  This means 1 thing for us now & 1 thing for us in the future.  Right here, right now, the sting of death is gone.  Death for the Xn is like a bee whose stinger has been taken out.  When a bee stings you, part of its abdomen comes out with the stinger which means its only a matter of time until the bee dies.  It cannot hurt you again.  We might still experience the bee buzzing around us, threatening us, but its stinger is gone & it packs no punch.

 

And that’s what has happened to death.  When Xt died on the cross, death’s stinger was pulled out which means its only a matter of time until death dies.  Sure, we’re still going to experience death, but it need not control us.

 

Lets look at this more closely & u/s how it works.  v.56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  The sting of death is sin, and the OT law reveals the extent of our sin, our rebellion against God.  That means, following our bee example, sin has been somehow plucked out.  And back in v.3 we read that Xt died for our sins.  For death stung Jesus and so it cannot sting us as well.

 

We’re still going to experience death as our loved ones die, but we know that death is not the end.  So for the Xn who dies, its a very sad time for those left behind, but its also a time of rejoicing, because we know that they have, to use Paul’s language,  fallen asleep in Xt and the next thing they know will be waking up in heaven.

 

This biblical view of death is the one that makes the most sense.  Because #1, it says ‘yes, death hurts, death is wrong, death should not happen.’  Which is far better than saying the person has ‘passed on’ or ‘is no longer with us’ or ‘is in [an unspecified] better place.’  That just devalues the life of the person who has died, it cheapens their life, because it tells us to just get over the loss, it wasn’t that bad, we’re all going to die, so just get over it & move on with your life.

 

No, we want to say that death is a destructive enemy who needs to be defeated.  This biblical view of death allows us to u/s why people die, allows us to feel the full weight of our grief, but at the same time retain a rock-solid hope for the future which allows us to move forward with our lives.

 

And following from this is reason #2, This biblical view of death is the one that makes the most sense because it says ‘yes there is hope.  Yes, my friends are 1 day going to be able to hold their 1 hr old daughter in their arms again and she will not be taken from them.’  The biblical view of death allows us to grieve with hope.

 

Turn with me to Rev 21:1,3-4. <read>.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,… 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 

What a description of heaven!  With every power & authority, including death defeated, there will be no more tears, no more crying, no more pain, no more death, because God will put an end to it.  A day is coming when God will say ‘enough’, send Jesus back and this old perishable, corrupted order of things will pass away and every last occasion for tears will be gone.

 

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Xt

God gives us the victory now through Jesus. in v.56 Paul says that it is the law, the OT law, which gives sin its power.  Jesus is the one who fulfilled this law on our behalf.  Its like we were all soldiers in a war, and the enemy, sin and death, took us prisoner.  Now whether you were behind the lines as a cook or a crack front-line soldier doing the killing, its irrelevant, you’re on the other side and that’s all that matters in war.  Sin has taken us hostage, prisoner, and has demanded a ransom.  A ransom payment of death.

 

The Bible says that Jesus gave himself as that ransom, and because Jesus is God, the ransom price that he paid was enough to set everyone free.  Enough to set me free from my sins, enough to set you free from your sins.  If you have asked to be released, if your trust is in Christ, then v.57 is for you Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Xt.

 

You have been what the Bible calls born again.  You have been given a new life.  Not a new life in Adam, that we talked about last week, not a new life under the control of sin.  But a new life in Jesus, the life-giver, a new life where we might experience sin and death, but a life where we know that their power has been plucked out and we need not be under their control.  In Rom 6, it says because Jesus has done this great thing, this thing of the 1st importance in dying for our sins, being buried and rising from the dead, we should walk in newness of life.

 

Stand firm, let nothing move you

And in v.58 Paul gives 3 pointers as to what this new life ought to look like.

Therefore, my dear brothers, 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.

 

When you see a therefore in the Bible, you need to ask, ‘what’s it there for?’  In this verse, Paul is not only summing up what we’ve looked at today, he’s summing up what we’ve looked at since Easter.  And he says;

 

  1. stand firm. Remember way back in v.1, Paul talked about the gospel which he preached to the Corinthians, which they had received and on which they had taken their stand.  Paul has come full circle & is saying in the light of everything I’ve said about the res’n of Jesus and the res’n of all Xns; the gospel which guarantees our resurrection, stand firm in that gospel.  Make sure that you never decide its not worth it.  Sure the victory is ours – God has given it to us thru Jesus – but like athlete who has crossed the finish line in first place, and just needs to wait for the last runners to cross before he receives his victory wreath, we need to keep trusting in Jesus confident that the victory has been won for us.

    Because Jesus rose from the grave and his resurrection is the surety of our own resurrection to imperishability, to immortality, we stand firm against the temptation to sin.  Against the siren call of filthy lucre, of pornography, of shady deals. We stand firm against false teaching, against doctrine that downplays the authority of Scripture, that detracts or lessens Christ’s victory on the cross.  We stand firm against any all tide of opinion that says morality is entirely subjective and God has nothing to say about the way we live.  We stand firm.

  2. Let nothing move you. Don’t be sucked in to believing that anything outside the gospel is of more value & is more deserving of your affections. Don’t let Satan push you off your mark.  Its like in netball.  You catch the ball, and your opponents would love to see you take another step with the ball, which means you get penalised & they get the ball.  You don’t let them move you, and that’s only in a game that goes for less than an hour.  How much more important is it that we let nothing move us when the stakes are so high.
    Lieutenant Frank Bethune was a quiet unassuming clergyman from Tasmania.  On 13 March 1918 he was tasked to call for volunteers from his Section to defend an exposed position against the counter-attacking Germans who were threatening to win the Western Front.

Bethune wrote in his diary

I asked for volunteers to take a step forward. The only result was that the whole Section with soldierly precision, advanced with one step forward.

 

Bethune issued the following Special Orders to his men, all of whom had volunteered to follow him to their isolated position:

  1. This position will be held, and the section will remain here until relieved.
  2. The enemy cannot be allowed to interfere with this programme.
  3. If the section cannot remain here alive, it will remain here dead, but in any case it will remain here.
  4. Should any man, through shell shock or other cause, attempt to surrender, he will remain here dead.
  5. Should all guns be blown out, the section will use Mills grenades, and other novelties.
  6. Finally, the position, as stated, will be held.

 

For 18 days, under intense German artillery barrages, they stood firm. Nothing moved them.

 

Stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord.  If there’s 1 thing that’s going to last, its gospel work.  Gospel work, introducing people to Jesus so that he can be their saviour as well as yours.  Put your time into gospel work. Put your money into gospel work, whether you’re on a pension or whether you’re at the peak of your earnings potential or somewhere in between.  Put your prayers into gospel work.  Put yourself into gospel work.

What is this gospel work?
Its your regular time of Bible reading and prayer – investing in your own personal relationship with the Lord

Its discharging your responsibilities in your family if you have one

If you have a job, its doing your job in a manner that reflects the character of, brings glory to, your saviour

Its playing your part in your church, looking for ways to build up your brothers and sisters in Christ and looking for opportunities to commend your saviour to others.

It might mean forgoing a day/week, or more, of paid employment or leisure time, so you can get trained to do, or get on and do, Christian ministry.

Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord.

 

That’s a big call.  Paul knows it, and he reminds us why its worth it. because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.  History is His-story.  God’s story.  If there is no res’n, then our faith, our preaching; all in vain.  But because there is a res’n, the Xn’s life & work is full of hope & full of purpose.  We know where we’re going.  We know who has the victory.  If you knew ahead of time who was going to win a horse race, you’d make sure that you had everything you owned backing that horse, because you knew that your payout was guaranteed.

 

The res’n of Jesus g/-s that the ultimate victory belongs to God.  He’s already got the end-game worked out.  Jesus’ res’n assures us that he’s coming back for his own and we want to be ready.

 

If you continue with the gospel, you know that your labours will not be in vain.  But if you do not hold firmly to the gospel of Jesus Christ, if you are sucked in to backing another horse, like your career, or getting more money, or even marriage, or a nice house 2.2 kids & a dog, or just being completely comfortable, or whatever, if you do that, then you will have believed in vain.

 

It was completely out of my hands but we finish our sermon series in 1 Cor today, the last day we meet in our temporary facilities.  Since Easter we’ve been thinking about the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of heaven that is ours precisely because Jesus is risen from the grave.

 

There are a number of people who have joined our church since we left Shellcove Rd in June 2014, and they’ve never been inside our church, let alone see our new facilities.  Each of them has independently told me:

We’ve heard our church is amazing.  We know this because people we trust have told us, and we can’t wait to go home.

 

They don’t know all the details.  They haven’t seen how our new foyer ties the whole site together, they haven’t seen our magnificent church with its stained glass, and ornate timber and dressed sandstone, and new first-class meeting areas with a commercial kitchen.  They don’t know all the details. But they know its going to be great because people they trust have told them, and they can’t wait to go home.

 

We don’t know all the details of heaven. We don’t know what our resurrected, imperishable, immortal spiritual bodies are going to be like. We don’t know how this world will be transformed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. We don’t know all the details, but someone we trust has told us its going to be perfect so we can’t wait to go home.

Between now and then, we stand firm on Jesus Christ, giving ourselves fully to his work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

 

 

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