Pastor Eric Schroeder - Easter Festival - Sunday, April 4, 2021

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

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I had a churchgoing man try to convince me once that the idea of the resurrection of Jesus Christ came from the early church. His position (as I understand it) was that Jesus was a good man, a good teacher, a man whose teaching of love and acceptance of all was worth following—and his followers sensed all that, so after he died, they came up with this grand story of resurrection in order to establish his legacy and his legend, so that Jesus and his teaching would live on throughout the ages as this mythological message spread throughout the world.

Is that why we have gathered today? To make sure that Jesus lives on in our hearts? To make our world a better place with a message of love and acceptance for whatever makes people happy? To perpetuate the myth of a man rising from the dead? Certainly not. We are here for hope. And not the kind of hope where we say things like, “I hope the test results are negative” or “I hope the nice weather sticks around” or “I hope we can figure out these family issues…” We’ve had those kinds of hopes before; and we’ve been disappointed far more than we’d like. No, we are here for certain hope. And Jesus does not disappoint us.

1 Corinthians 15 is a chapter that is all about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It seems that there were some questions and doubts within the church at Corinth. Many of these believers were new to the Christian faith, with most of them having been raised in and all of them still being immersed in a pagan culture. They were used to the fantastical stories of the gods and goddesses from their past, but now they were part of this church because all of them believed that Jesus lived on earth. All of them believed that Jesus died. But apparently some of them were having a difficult time accepting the fact that Jesus rose from the dead.

And, I suppose, that’s a reasonable position to take, isn’t it? The longer we live, the more dead people we know. And none of them have come back to life, no matter how badly we might want them to. No matter how rich or kind or powerful or healthful someone might be, we all have bodies with expiration dates on them. We can do our best to hold it off or try to forget about it or deny it altogether, but it doesn’t matter. People die. And St. Paul is more than willing to acknowledge that, even providing the reason why: death came through a man… in Adam all die. 

As the first human being, Adam served as the pattern for all who would come after him. You see, it wasn’t just about Adam; when he sinned, as the hymn reminds us, “all mankind fell in Adam’s fall.” When it comes to us, sin isn’t just something that we do; it’s also the condition into which we are born and the state of the world in which we live—corruption and disappointment and death within us and all around us. That’s the reason that hope is so often so fleeting. Good things come to an end. Good weather doesn’t always stick around. Good food spoils. Good health eventually fades with injury or illness. Good plans fail. Good hopes so often become uncertain.

And what about Jesus? Well, Jesus died, too. But that’s where the pattern deviates. Now, he will get to that in a bit, but first St. Paul spends much of this chapter entertaining the idea of what it would all mean if Christ has not been raised, and it’s a whole lot worse than we might assume at first, lest someone think “I’ll believe everything about Jesus but the Easter part, and it will still be close…” 

The whole thing ends up falling apart. If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

You see, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, he isn’t a good man and a good teacher; he is a liar and a fraud, because everything he said promised was tied to the proof—that he would rise again on the third day. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, he isn’t our Savior; he’s just another young man who died too soon in a tragic misunderstanding. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, you can kiss goodbye any hope of seeing Christian loved ones again, because they are dead and gone. If Jesus didn’t rise, then obviously, he’s still dead, too. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then there isn’t any point of being here this Sunday…or ever.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

How could St. Paul be so sure that Jesus rose from the dead? Well, he was an eyewitness that Jesus was alive—and he wasn’t the only one. At the beginning of the chapter Paul lists off a whole bunch of witnesses that he knew and many he didn’t, including the time when there were over 500 eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ at one time, in one place! This is no made up story.  It’s not a myth, or a legend, or a fable. It’s a fact; it’s the truth! Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. And it wasn’t just for his own life; Jesus is called the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Just as Adam became a pattern for all who would follow, including us, so, too, Jesus Christ established a new pattern for humanity. Just as Jesus lives again, so will we. And so will all those who belong to him.

Who is that? And how is that? How do we belong to Jesus? Had we been left on our own in the pattern of Adam, we would have followed him in rebellion, and guilt, and death, because we give ourselves over into the devil’s dominion every time we sin. But Jesus couldn’t stand to lose us, so he fought off temptation throughout his life, then took on our guilt and accusations in his death. Jesus bore the sin of Adam and all who would follow when he willingly gave himself as a ransom for sinners, so that we could be set free from God’s wrath forever as he suffered and died on the cross. But that’s not enough…Had his tomb remained full, our hearts would forever be empty of hope and peace, because all we could do is wonder if that payment worked. But Romans 4:25 assures us that Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. In other words, Jesus was treated as the guilty one so that we could be declared righteous forever in Jesus’ name. If Good Friday was the payment, Easter is the receipt that everything is paid in full, and it worked!

Do you realize what this means? Someone might argue that the most certain thing in life is death. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ means that life is even more certain than death. Because Jesus died and rose again, the one thing we know for sure is that our King has conquered death and  lives forever. And Paul reminds us here that Jesus isn’t going to stay in heaven for long; instead he plans on coming back.  in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

It's easy for us to get wrapped up in the plans and goals we have for this life. But just think of how the last year has proven to us all that hope for this life can be so fragile and uncertain. Don’t ever forget that a year ago our whole world changed in what seemed like the blink of an eye. We had to come to grips with the fact that it wasn’t about when we were going to church on Easter or if we felt like going to church on Easter; it turned into whether we could go to church on Easter. And the answer turned out to be “no.” Just one example out of so many of how disappointing, frustrating, and uncertain this life can be.

But thank God now and forever that we don’t have to question our eternity, because we don’t have to wonder whether or not Easter really happened. Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. And it means that our sins are paid for and forgiven, our eternity is secure, and our King lives, and he will lead us home, along with all those who belong to him, living or dead. Thanks to Jesus, our hope is certain now and forever. AMEN.