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Hurry Up and Die!
February 11, 2001
1 Corinthians 15:12-28
by Tony Grant
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to first Corinthians chapter 15 and follow along as I read verses 12-28. Hear what the spirit is saying to the churches.
12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.
28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
The federal government recently attempted to break up a crime wave in upstate New York. The suspected criminal ring was not gigantic; It was geriatric. Most of the people under investigation were in their eighties and nineties. No SWAT Team maneuvers were needed, no raid by local police. The post office handled the bust just fine. Six ominous letters were delivered to people in the area around Plattsburgh, New York. Under the bold title "Medicare Fraud Investigations," the United Government Services warned recipients that they were under scrutiny for cheating the government. The accusation was that each of these criminals might owe the U.S. government tens of thousands of dollars. So who were these suspects? They were hospice patients who had beaten the odds. Their crime was living longer than anyone expected, and continuing to draw Medicare reimbursement of $88 a day.
One suspect was Rosie DesParois, an 87-year-old who had entered hospice with advanced breast and endometrial cancer, and was still alive four years later. Another was Beatrice Bates, admitted at age 89 with a whole host of problems, including the suffering of a heart attack during radiation therapy for cancer. Still, she survived for five more years.
Were these women a threat to society? Hardly, and yet, the taxpayers' money has to be protected, so Medicare is cracking down. Their policy is that the terminally ill who do not die within six months risk losing coverage. So If a person is terminally ill, the message is "Hurry up and Die!" Die or lose coverage.
That is cold! Especially when we consider, as did the apostle Paul, that life itself is nothing but hospice care. The body is terminally ill from the get go. Every human being is born dying.
Chapter 15 is the summit of First Corinthians. In this chapter, the Apostle Paul expresses the most basic of Christian beliefs: the resurrection of Jesus. At the center of the Christian proclamation is that Christ has been raised from the dead (15:12). The question raised in verse 12--How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead--is answered forcefully in verse 20. "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept." However, Paul uses the pedagogical style of his age to build an incontestable argument in the verses in-between.
To Paul, if the Corinthians misunderstand this central tenet of the faith then the discussion of all other issues is not important. For without the resurrection, the faith of the Corinthian Christians and all Christians is useless, and any attempt to live a righteous life is futile. Thus he says in v17, "if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins."
According to Paul, without the resurrection of Jesus all who thought themselves part of the new dispensation of grace, freed from sin and death, remain locked in the prison of the old dispensation. It is the fact of the resurrection that gives meaning and weight to every other issue according to Paul.
Let me illustrate. I had my screensaver on my computer set to scroll headlines. One day about a year ago it came up with the intriguing headline: "Baptists Vote Pro Disney."
Now I had heard the news bites and they all had a very different message: The Southern Baptist Convention had voted to boycott Disney because of what they felt was an open endorsement of the homosexual lifestyle. But here was my screensaver, recently updated with the latest news, reporting that the Baptists had apparently voted pro Disney.
I double clicked on the headline to clear up the discrepancy. Up popped the article. Guess what, the real headline actually read "Baptist Vote Pro Disney Boycott." The screensaver had simply cut off the headline to fit the margin. What a difference! The exact opposite meaning with the addition of one simple word at the end of the headline.
Think of the difference if Jesus' story ends with his crucifixion. That is just leaving off three days of his 33 year life. Not much difference chronologically, but all the difference in the world for us!
Paul reminds us that the Gospel can be boiled down to these facts: "Jesus died according to the Scriptures and was buried" - but that headline is incomplete without the final phrase--"and he arose from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures." What a difference that third day and that third phrase make!
Since Paul is writing to a community that recognizes itself as a Christian community - in fact, many in the Corinthian community see themselves as "super-Christians" - it may seem a bit odd that he needs to stress the resurrection. However, there were in the Corinthian church, as verse 12 shows, those who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. The Greek word for "resurrection" is "anastasis" which means literally "to cause to stand up." Some scholars suggest, that in the early Christian church, there were a variety of opinions concerning the "anastasis nekrwn," the "resurrection of the dead." Therefore, Paul might not have been arguing solely against a strictly materialistic view that dead bodies do not come back to life.
Within Judaism, for example, some Jews believed in a general resurrection of the dead. Paul would agree, saying in v13 "If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen." However, to Paul, it is only the resurrection of Jesus that gives any belief in a general resurrection of the dead any significant meaning. The resurrection of Jesus defeats the power of sin and death and is a sign of inclusion of the Gentiles into the promises given to the Jews. The resurrection of Christ is a sign that all the OT promises are no longer for Jews alone but for all people who are in Christ.
Another idea about resurrection was prevalent in Paul's time. Some Greeks and Romans held the notion of immortal spirit life. This notion was usually mixed with a contempt for things physical. A bodily resurrection to these "believers" would have been unseemly and even beneath God's power; for God was supremely spiritual. Paul does not deny a spiritual incorruptibility which replaces a bodily mortality. Thus he says in v42, that the "anastasis nekrwn," the resurrection of the dead, is sown in corruption and raised in incorruption." Yet again, to Paul this immortality of the soul is an insufficient explanation of the mystery and power of the Gospel. The triumph of the resurrection is a transformation of the body, not an escape from it. There is no spirit/body dualism in Paul's thinking about the resurrection.
There may have even been those who misconstrued Jesus' resurrection in another way. These believers thought that they were already living in the end time of the resurrection, and that there was no longer any point to any kind of morality or ethics. Since it was the end, they thought, it was a time for unconstrained liberty and moral laxity. Paul is clear that there will be a future time when the resurrection will occur for all . thus he says in v51. "Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." But he emphasizes that this change of the resurrection is only for those who are in Christ, and those who are in Christ will always live the way of Christ.
Regardless of the precise opposition, and perhaps we cannot know what the opposition to the resurrection was in the Corinthian Church at this point in time, Paul felt the need to reassert what is arguably the earliest credal statement of the church: According to the scriptures, Christ died for our sins and was buried, He rose on Easter Morning. He appeared to Cephas and the Twelve, some 500 others, to James and all the apostles and last of all to Paul (15:3-8).
A point to keep in mind here is that the resurrection is not about our actions and our power. It is about Gods power acting through us. Barbara Brown Taylor writing in Christianity Today says: "The power of God is now and has always been the power to raise us from the dead. Period. It is not about us. It is about God." ["Easter Sunday," Christianity Today, April 3, 2000, 72.] Because God was in Christs resurrection, God will be in our resurrection. This is what paul is talking about. That is fundamental.
Jesus' resurrection is an historic and not a symbolic event. Furthermore, Jesus' death was not an event that happened only to Jesus himself. Rather, Jesus' resurrection is described as a first fruit of the larger resurrection harvest that will come later to all. V20 "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept." Thus, believers will also experience a resurrection like Jesus. Now it is not fully revealed to us what this resurrection experience will be like. We do not know what the incorruptible spiritual body will be like. But we know all that we need to know in that we know that is where we want to be when the time comes. That has always been the Christian hope.
Thus, the resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of our resurrection and if Jesus is not resurrected, then not only are we not resurrected, but the entire proclamation of Christianity is null and void. The essence of Christianity is not a morality or an ethic but a statement about the nature and purpose of God and the power of Jesus Christ over sin and death. If no resurrection occurred, then the old connection between sin, judgment and death remain. If there is no resurrection, then Gentiles are not included in the promise. If there is no resurrection, for all their sophistication the Corinthians are in no better position than they were before Christ. If there is no resurrection, then Paul's proclamation is not only a chimera but in fact those who hold to the belief anyway are actually embracing an historical event of a grisly death - not celebrating a life - and there is no hope. The foolishness and pitifulness of such a proposition is self-evident to Paul.
However, in verse 20, Paul reasserts his claim with no hesitation: "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died." This is good news indeed for any age, and offers a power of living that lifts the believer above any of the ordinary anxieties and worries of life.
Thus, Paul's message is intended to be hopeful: When we die, we get outta here, and that is good! Death is a good thing. We are moving on to our eternal home.The government says, "Hurry up and die," but God says, "Hurry up and live."
Hope is one's answer to the question of whether you live or die. It's like Tim Robbins' character says in The Shawshank Redemption. Thrown into the cooler for two weeks after raising the issue of a new trial, he says: "I guess it comes down to this: Get busy dying, or get busy living."
When we are holding the resurrection trump card, we can get busy living. We are free to live hopefully. But too often we don't. We spend our lives grasping for all we can get as though this world is all there is. We succumb to the cultural narcissism so pervasive these days. We buy into the notion that "It's all about me." Or, we come down with the disease to please, trying to be all things to all people. We pamper the body but starve the soul. Ten years ago, if you walked into a y mall looking for candles, body lotions and aromatherapy aids, you might find one store. Today, you find half a dozen.
Medicare asks: "You are supposed to die, so why don't you?" Paul's question is: "You are supposed to live, so why don't you?" For some, it is enough to live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse behind, but not for most of us. We need to return to a biblical theology of death. While Medicare is concerned about the end of life, Paul's focus is on eternal life. And that changes everything. If we have the hope that physical death is but a portal to another level of existence, our earthly lives should be radically transformed.
To assure us of this hope, Paul hammers it home: "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised," he explains; "and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain" (vv. 13-14). The architecture of biblical hope rests on the bedrock of the resurrection of Christ.
Paul has another reason to stress the Resurrection. Without the Resurrection, there is no accountability. If there is not eternal life, then there is no judgment day and no morality. As the bumper sticker says, "Life's a beach and then we die." If there is no resurrection, there is no ultimate set of values that divides behavior into virtues and vices. There is no such thing as good or bad behavior.
Without a resurrection, if it feels good, you do it. If you can live la vida loca, do it. If you have a chance to "eat, drink and be merry," go for it. Because when death comes, that's it. You log off. Screen fades to black. Game over.
But Paul calls us to Resurrection faith, not Resurrection fraud. Contrary to conventional wisdom - both then and now - Paul insists that the Resurrection is a reality, it is the reality that makes all the difference in the world.
With Resurrection faith, we know that our actions have consequences and that what we do has eternal significance. We are accountable to God. We are capable of actions that delight God and advance Gods agenda. Of course we do not always do that. Sometimes we anger God by acting against his purposes. The resurrection though is still good news for us, for the resurrection is about forgiveness. This Jesus who was raised on the third day is the same Jesus in whom as Ephesians 1:7 says, "we have redemption ... the forgiveness of sins" (NIV). Because of the resurrection, we can be both forgiven and forgiving people. In other words, we can begin to act like resurrection people - people living with hospice hope. Hospice has become our term for the approaching end of the line. Hospice means that all our wonderful medical technology has reached the end of what it can do. Hospice prepares us to look that oldest and ugliest enemy of humankind in the face, and that enemy is death. Christianity is hospice hope because it says that death is not the end and death is not the enemy. Death is only the next step up to a better life and a better day. Amen.
Source: Lagnado, Lucette. "Hospice patients beat the odds." The Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2000, 1f.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 02/23/01