“The Defeat of Death” (1 Corinthians 15:50–58)

by Apr 12, 2020Sermons0 comments

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Hear now the word of the Lord from 1 Corinthians 15:50-58.

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, ESV

This is the word of the Lord given to us in love this morning.

This pandemic, I think, has given all of us a lot of time to think. Everything has been canceled. We’re not supposed to go anywhere or do anything. So, we have a lot of free time, a lot of time to think. As I’ve been processing everything that’s happening, I find myself moving sort of between two opposite emotional extreme reactions. Sometimes as I’m watching the news and seeing the rising infection rate and tragically seeing the rising death count, I can feel a lot of fear, even panic as I’m worried I’m going to get this or someone in my family going to get this or someone at Harvest going to get this and suffer negatively.

Other times I find myself sort of swinging to the opposite direction, not so much outright panic but sort of a kind of a depression or a boredom or a laziness. Just being paralyzed by the overwhelmed nature of everything that’s happening around us and also just by simply being out of the normal rhythms. Panic on one side, paralysis on the other.

Even on Easter Sunday this morning I found it harder to get up this morning knowing that I’d be preaching to a largely empty room. Now these are these are probably the worst circumstances of any Easter in my lifetime and maybe you’re feeling that keenly this morning too. What this means is that this year, perhaps more than any other or perhaps you’ve had a hard Easter along the way, but certainly this year is a time when it is all the more important for us to remember what it is that we are celebrating; to reflect on the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is something we celebrate every week. The whole reason we worship together as a corporate body of Christ on Sunday is because Sunday was the day that Jesus Christ was raised up from the dead, on the first day of the week. But on Easter we have an opportunity to give this special attention a particular focus.

So, this morning as we look at 1 Corinthians 15:50-through 58 we are going to first define what this hope of the resurrection that we have is as the hope that is coming for us in the future. Then also we’re going to talk about the impact that the hope of the resurrection should have on our daily lives today.

Our big idea today is this that the hope of the resurrection is our confidence and our catalyst.

1. Our hope is that we will be changed at the resurrection.
2. To calm our panic the resurrection is our confidence.
3. To overcome our paralysis the resurrection is our catalyst.

Our Hope is That We Will Be Changed at the Resurrection.

So, let’s start with the hope of the resurrection that we have. The hope that because of Jesus’ resurrection in the past, our hope is that in the future we will be changed. Now we are jumping into 1 Corinthians 15.

Now I’ve been preaching on 1 Corinthians for a while now, but we’re skipping ahead to come to the end of 1 Corinthians. Particularly even the end of this great chapter, the longest extended reflection on the nature of the resurrection in the whole Bible in verses 50 through 58 and so let’s give a little bit of context about what Paul has taught leading up to this point in 1 Corinthians chapter 15.

At the beginning of this chapter Paul talked about the basic facts of the resurrection that Christ died for our sins on the third day. In accordance with the scriptures he was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures. Then as proof that the resurrection had in fact took place, Paul tells us about all the eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus Christ, that’s in verses 1 through 11.

In the second section of this chapter in verses 12 through 34, Paul connects Christ’s resurrection in the past with our resurrection in the future. He calls Christ’s resurrection the first fruits, the first part of this great harvest, that God is bringing out of the world. We along with Paul will be raised up with Christ on the last day. Then in the third section in verses 35-49, the last section before we come to the fourth and final section of this passage, Paul teaches that we will gain new resurrection bodies. So that as he writes in verse 49, the verse right before our passage,

49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:49, ESV

The image of the man of dust, that is Adam with all of his shame and sin and fallenness. The man of heaven is the image of Christ, the last Adam.

So, with that in mind Paul has one last aspect to teach us. We’re going to look first at verses 50 through 57, where Paul is teaching us that this last thing that he wants us to know about the resurrection. Then we will be going on to verse 58 where Paul gives us the application, how to apply the impact of the resurrection to our daily lives.

So as we’re looking at verses 50 through 57, there are kind of three elements of this last uh part of teaching that Paul has for us Paul begins first by telling us why the resurrection is necessary look at what he says in verse 50. He says, “I tell you this brothers flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.”

This is the first problem that Paul identifies and it’s a problem that he states by another name in verse 53, that we have a mortal body that must put on immortality. It’s the idea of being flesh and blood. It is not to say that we won’t have flesh and blood bodies after the resurrection, we will, but it’s that the flesh and blood that we have right now is subject to death. Our bodies are mortal. In sort of a general sense our bodies, no matter how young we are or how old we are, all of us are in the process of dying. Our bodies cannot last forever in the state that they are in and we must die. That’s one of the reasons that the resurrection is necessary.

In verse 50 Paul goes on to say more. It’s not just that mortality is an issue, but he says this, “nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” Now by this word perishable Paul means something very similar to what we mean when we talk about groceries as being perishables
We know that there are some foods that are non-perishables. Now by that we don’t mean that they have an infinite eternal shelf life. All food, no matter what it’s made of, eventually degrades and erodes and corrupts and rots and becomes inedible for our consumption.

Then there’s this other category of food that is perishable. So we understand by this that if we don’t get it into the refrigerator or into the freezer, because of the way that it’s made, that particular food very quickly inside of it there are going to be all of these chemical reactions and biological reactions. What this is going to do is it’s going to bring about rotting and corruption.

Well our bodies don’t have an infinite shelf life in the format that they are, but Paul says it’s more than just a general sense that we’re headed toward death and our bodies are sort of breaking down. There is this active corrupting influence, this force in us that is actually actively bringing about our deaths.

The specific issue that Paul is pointing to is the issue of sin. Look at verse 56 Paul says, “the sting of death is sin.” The reason death has its power, the reason death has a sting that we still feel is because of sin. Sin is this active corrupting influence that is making us not only mortal, but perishable well.

Then Paul goes on in verse 56 to say, “and the power of sin is the law.” What does this mean? Well Paul doesn’t say here that the law is somehow sinful. No, the law is good and righteous and holy, but Paul is saying that the law of God, while it has the power to reveal the problem in our lives it does not have the power to heal that problem of mortality and the problem of corruption.

If you’re reading the Harvest Bible reading plan are right now, we are smack in the middle of Leviticus, which probably isn’t your favorite book of the Bible. This week you’ve been reading it and maybe wondering what on earth is this doing in the Bible? Why should we be reading this, what practical significance do these cleansings and purification rituals of the old covenant have for me today?

Well understand what Leviticus is getting at is the same thing that Paul is talking about here, that in us living in a fallen world and being subject to the corruption of sin in our lives, we have a major problem. It comes out in the form of bodily death. It comes out in the form of all kinds of uncleanness physically, but especially spiritually. The law, the Old Covenant ceremonial law, could identify these problems but it had no mechanism for healing them. So they offered provisional solutions, sacrifices to offer ritual cleansings to make rites of purification to go through.

What the Old Covenant could not heal, Jesus Christ has done in the resurrection. All of those pointed forward to the great cleansing, the great change that we will experience in the resurrection as Christ does what the law never could.

Well how does Christ bring about resurrection power to heal us? That’s the second thing that Paul tells us how the resurrection heals us. He does this in verses 51 through 55. Let’s start reading there again Paul writes,

51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:51-55, ESV

What Christ’s resurrection has done is to reverse our mortality, both for the dying and for the dead. The resurrection will reverse our mortality and it will remove our corruption. Our perishability will no longer be subject to death, we will be immortal, and we will no longer be subject to the perishable corruption of sin. We will be imperishable; we will live forever in full abundant resurrection life. Not merely extending our shelf life in a broken world but causing us to live forever in a renewed world without the corruption of sin.

When that happens death and sin will be swallowed up forever in the victory that Jesus Christ has accomplished by his life, death, and resurrection.

So the third thing Paul reminds us is in verse 57 is the source of this victory, “but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Every Lord’s Day when we remember the resurrection of Jesus, and particularly on Easter, we’re really remembering two things.

We’re remembering the resurrection of Jesus himself, that it was his vindication and his victory. When Jesus was cursed under the wrath of God for sin, Jesus became sin for us. Then when he was resurrected the world was made aware of the fact that he was innocent in all of this, he himself knew no sin, he was vindicated.

When he arose, he rose victorious. The resurrection proved that Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God for our sin, but he also rose in victory over sin, death, and the devil forever. Now we are victors. We are victors not because of any victory that we could win for ourselves, we’re still under the bondage of sin and death. We are victors because Christ was victorious for us on our behalf through his resurrection.

As he is the first fruits and so our hope. Not a hopeful kind of a thing, but our confidence is that one day we will be raised up with him. This is the gospel; this is what Jesus Christ came to do. He came to live the perfect life that God required of us, but that we failed to accomplish because of the corruption of sin inside of us. He came to die, not because he was subject to mortality, but in order to take the curse and the sting of sin and death. He came to rise from the dead in victory and in vindication. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

This is the hope we have, but if the resurrection of Jesus is true and it is the gift that God offers to us, well then how do we live today? How should we conduct our daily lives? What difference does the resurrection make for me today?

Well in verse 58 Paul gives us the application of this whole chapter of 1 Corinthians chapter 15. In verse 58 Paul concludes this lengthy chapter about the resurrection with two exhortations and they’re actually remarkable he says in verse 58,

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, ESV

So, the first exhortation, be steadfast and immovable, and those are linked. What Paul is saying here is essentially, don’t move be movable. Then he gives us the second round of exhortations he says, “always abounding into the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Now here in this second set of exhortations, he says do move, go get out there, abound in the work of the Lord. Don’t move and do move, and if you look at these together, they’re kind of striking to put together in the same sentence, they’re paradoxical.

To Calm Our Panic the Resurrection is Our Confidence

So, we need to look at them and see what Paul is saying here. So, this brings us to our second point of this sermon. That’s the application here, to calm our panic the resurrection is our confidence. We live in a chaotic world and the resurrection gives us confidence.

Now when Paul tells us to be steadfast and immovable, he’s telling us not to move in one particular respect, namely, not to move away nor to drift away from the gospel itself. This is really clear because Paul actually uses these same two words in only one other place and it’s Colossians 1:23. Paul is very specific that he’s telling us not to move from the gospel in Colossians 1:23 Paul writes,

23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Colossians 1:23, ESV

“If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast”, there’s that first word. Then the ESV translates the next word as, “not shifting” but the word there is “not moving” or “immovable”. It’s the same word that we have here in 1 Corinthians 15:58.

Remember 1 Corinthians 15 actually began with Paul’s clearest statement of what the gospel is. Flip back to 1 Corinthians 15 and look in in the first few verses in chapter 15:1 Paul writes,

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
1 Corinthians 15:1-8, ESV

Paul is saying this is the gospel. There are stark facts of history that Christ died, Christ was buried, and Christ was raised. These are bare historical facts, but they have a significance that Christ didn’t just die, he died for our sins and he did so in accordance with the scriptures. The Christ wasn’t just raised, but he was raised in accordance with the scriptures. While we must not move from gospel, we must move because of the gospel.

To Overcome Our Paralysis the Resurrection is Our Catalyst

The third aspect of the gospel is to overcome our paralysis, the gospel is our catalyst. Now the word catalyst may or may not be a word that that you are familiar with. I wasn’t familiar because I didn’t pay all that much attention in chemistry. It’s a chemistry word that it means something that sparks a reaction or a change.

Our ministry partner Intervarsity at Creighton University calls their large group gathering Catalyst for this reason. They’re bringing together a large group of students into community and in this community, we’re preaching God’s word to them. Andrew and I have had the privilege of preaching the word to college students both in person and then this week over a Zoom call. The goal is to get a catalyst. The catalyst, the particular thing that changes us, what sparks a reaction, what sparks a change, is the resurrection. The gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the catalyst.

Now this world has all kinds of promises about what is right. The truth is your body is weak, your body is corrupted by sin. Corruption is at work and you could never rise high enough. You could never separate yourself far enough from your sin. You could never cast off the mortal perishable death that lives in you.

Rather, the gospel is the announcement that God has done what you could not, he’s provided a solution to your mortality and your perishability. Namely God sent his only Son for you. He sent him to die in your place. The one who knew no sin became sin for you, bearing God’s wrath on your behalf all the way to death. He bore the curse for your corruption and on the third day Jesus Christ rose from the dead so that we can announce today and all days the death is swallowed up by Jesus for eternity.

How we spend this time right now will make an impact into eternity. Right now, everyone is lonely but there are some people who are deeply lonely. Everyone has been impacted financially in some way, but there are people who’ve been deeply impacted. Everyone has gained stress, but some people are deeply stressed.

This is an opportunity to abound in the work of the Lord when people most need it. Here are a couple of ideas that some people have used to use new ways of communication. They’re texting Bible verses back and forth to one another each day. Some people are checking in more often by the phone or perhaps by video conferencing. Our disciple groups are meeting via video conferencing. Some people are sending video messages by something Snapchat or something called Marco Polo. By the way if you’re on Marco Polo please send me a video message, I would love to see you. People are trying to remain connected, knowing that this life is important, and we need to support one another right now. We need to engage with one another, we need to pray with one another.

Let us pray now.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that you love us. We pray that in this time you would help us not to panic, but that you would give us hope anew through the resurrection of your Son. Father we pray that you would do all of this for the glory of your Son and the good of your people. It’s in His name we pray. Amen.

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