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Online Text Sermon - Christ our Risen Saviour, 1 Corinthians ch.15 v.20

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleChrist our Risen Saviour
Text1 Corinthians ch.15 v.20
Sermon ID1327

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"But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Corinthians 15, 20).

You will probably know already that this chapter is a chapter which deals with the resurrection. The resurrection is spoken about in many places of the Old and New Testaments but here in 1 Corinthians 15 it is the main subject dealt with. There is nowhere in the Bible where the subject is so fully discussed and revealed as it is here in this chapter. What do we mean by a "resurrection"?

Resurrection means the body in which we live, dying and then being raised again to life - the same body raised again to life. The Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead and His coming back from the dead is absolutely essential for us to believe - that's really what the apostle Paul here is talking about, as we shall see in a moment. But there are of course many, many people who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. That was true in the days of the apostle Paul, just as it is true today. Many people scoff at the whole idea of coming back from the dead.

It's very interesting to know about a man called Frank Morison. Some of the older people here will know of his name when I mention it. He wrote a book, years ago now, with the title Who Moved the Stone? It's an interesting story because Frank Morison was a young man and he didn't really believe that Jesus rose from the dead. However, he was very respectful to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He thought that Christ was a great hero and a wonderful man and, though he didn't believe in the resurrection, he wanted to study about Christ. However, years went by and he had no leisure to do that. In the course of his life, as he got a bit older, the time came when he could study the Gospels and the resurrection of Christ and he intended, as he made his notes and collected his quotations, to write a book proving that Christ never rose from the dead, that it was all a silly legend which was invented by the early church. But the more he studied the Gospels and the New Testament the more he had to change his mind. It's very interesting. His book called Who Moved the Stone? begins with this story. He says, "I am writing the book I never intended to write." He set out, you see, to disprove the resurrection of Christ, but as he studied and studied what God has written in the Bible, and everything to do with it, he was convinced Christ's resurrection is true. He tells us he ended up by writing a book proving and demonstrating that the resurrection is true and has to be true because of the evidence given to us. I commend the book to you. If ever you see it, you buy it and read it - Who Moved the Stone? - Frank Morison is the writer.

Let's look then at this text. Christ's resurrection is our answer to doubters. That's the first thing I want to say. Look at verse 20: "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept" (text). This Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians deals with a whole long list of church mistakes and church errors. Of all the churches in the New Testament, the one at Corinth was the most impure. There were indeed true Christians there but they were full of mistakes of practice and doctrine. I won't take time to go through them in order, but some of them were very serious. There was party spirit - some were for Paul, some were for Christ, some were for Peter and so forth. That was only one of many problems. Another of the problems was that they were corrupt in the way they worshipped God. They abused the charismatic gifts which God gave the church in those early years. They used these gifts of speaking in tongues and so on, in a wrong way, not to the glory of God. Another mistake was that they did not observe the Lord's Supper in a decent and reverential manner and so on. I could give a longer list but these are the things which were wrong with that church. Amongst these errors was this one. There were people in the church at Corinth who did not believe in the resurrection. How do I know? Well, I'll show you.

Look at verse 12 - Paul is writing. "Now," he said, "if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" So there were some who were teaching that there is no such thing as dead people coming back to life in their bodies. They denied this resurrection. They said it's just not true. Paul, now, is telling them that this is a dangerous error. It is a most harmful thing to doubt the resurrection of the body. He gives a long list of reasons why. But this is not the only place where this problem arises. When you come to look at 2 Timothy 2, we meet people there about whom Paul says that they deny the resurrection. He describes the effect of that in the minds of people, especially those who were church people. He says when people deny the resurrection, it's like cancer in the body. Cancer, as you know, is a very serious thing. "Their word," says Paul, "will eat as doth a canker", or a cancer we say today, and you know what happens with a cancer. It strikes you in one part of the body and before long it's spreading all over the body; it destroys and eventually kills the body if it's not properly dealt with and checked. That's what happens, says Paul, when any group of people in the church or elsewhere, when they deny that there is such a thing as a resurrection; the effect of it is that it poisons all the minds of the people. It destroys faith! It destroys Christianity! That of course is what has happened in our country today. This is why people haven't any interest at all, many of them, in Bibles, or churches, or psalm-singing, or sermons. They think we are mad. It's because their minds have been poisoned by error, and falsehood, and lies, and deceitful teachers. So this is something which you and I need to be very careful about.

Paul gives us now arguments. The Bible is rational: it appeals to people's minds in the first instance. You see at verse 14 he begins to reason the point. He says, "If Christ be not risen then our preaching is vain, and your faith is vain", and he gives a whole list of the consequences. He says if Jesus Christ has not been raised from the dead then Christian faith is worthless. He even goes further than that a little later on. He says if we who are Christians have hope only in this life, we are of all mankind the most to be pitied. What does he mean? Well I'll tell you. He means if our Christian faith is a waste of time then we are worse off than those who are drinking in the pubs and clubs and getting worldly pleasure. Why? What does he mean? Well he means that at least they have some happiness in this world, some sort of pleasure; but Christians have to discipline themselves, they have to say no to themselves - no to drunkenness, no to drugs, and no to sensual pleasures - no to everything that God has forbidden. You'd better be a man of the world and enjoy the sins of this life, if there is no resurrection of the dead.

Christians are of all people most pitiable if there is no resurrection. That's the way he argues. Everything we believe is a waste of time, he says, if there is no resurrection of the dead. Everything is suspended on this supremely important fact: that Jesus our Lord rose from the dead. If we don't believe it then, like a pack of cards, all things that we believe tremble - our faith is in vain; preaching is so much lies. That's what they say in the High Street. You ask these dear men who are there today. People shout, "Be quiet!" "Nonsense!" "Waste of breath!" "Get yourself a good life!" That's what they're shouting at us, and that's what they think, you see, because they don't know of the resurrection of the dead. They don't realise that we must all be raised and all either go to heaven, or else to hell - they don't know that. It all depends upon this resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there's no resurrection, you and I are still in our sins. If there is no resurrection, our Christian friends and our relations who have died have gone to hell: they've perished. If there's no resurrection, there is no hope for any of us. You see, it's what we call 'reductio ad absurdum' (which is a phrase in Latin meaning, literally "reduction to absurdity", a conclusion reduced to the level of absurdity). Paul is showing the absurdity of not believing in the resurrection. All depends upon believing in the resurrection.

My dear friends, I have to ask every one of you: Do you believe that the body of Christ was dead for three days and then came back to life again? Let me ask you another one: Do you believe that the day will come when you and your body will, having been dead perhaps for centuries, for all we know, come back again from the dead? Do you believe that? Are you convinced of it? Are you sure of it? This is absolutely the teaching of the Word of God. The apostle gives then, in verse 20, what is his resounding conclusion, "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept."

Oh, let us rejoice, as believers, in the resurrection of the dead. This world is not our home. We are not to be here for long. It doesn't matter how young you are, or how old you are, life is so uncertain. We all know that we must die, every one of us. We all know that our graves are going to be dug for us. You know what happens in a burial service, in a funeral. You have a little service in the funeral parlour or somewhere, then you go to the graveside, and then all the mourners stand and here is the hole, 6 or 7ft in length. The pall-bearers come and lower the coffin with your body in it into the grave, the minister says a few words and then the gravediggers come and they use shovels to put all the earth back. Then a stone is put with your name on it - here lies whatever the name is, born such a day, died such a day, brother of so-and-so, son of so-and-so - and that's it! In a few days and weeks, you're forgotten; forgotten by everybody after a few years because your parents have gone, and your brothers and sisters have gone, cousins have gone, friends have gone - they've all gone. There's no hope except that one day our blessed Jesus who rose from the dead is going to summon these dead bodies out of the grave again - that's our hope! Oh, be thankful for the Gospel! Be thankful for the Gospel's hope! Our Lord is the resurrection and He is the life of all His people.

Paul goes on, secondly, to say this. He says Christ's resurrection is the proof that believers will rise again. How does he put it like that? Well, like this, in verse 20: "He is become the firstfruits of them that slept." That needs to be explained. In the Old Testament there was a special time of the year when the fruits were ripe - it may be a corn field, or it may be grapes or it may be olives. II don't know much about farming but I suppose that these things happened at various times of the year. God had a special ceremony, which He insisted on all the Israelite people keeping, that when the harvest was ready - that is to say when the barley or the wheat was ready for cutting, or the berries were ready for plucking - before they ate any of these fruits they would have to go, if it was wheat, into the field with a sickle and cut a handful or an armful; they cut a sheaf of it and displayed it before God. They were saying, "Thanks be to God for his goodness to us, remembering us yet another year." They were acknowledging that the food they ate came from God - and of course I hope we all remember that. I hope that when we take our food we pause and thank God. It's a shocking thing just to throw food into our mouth without remembering where it has come from - God in his goodness has provided food. Isn't it amazing? Look at the fields. How can grain grow out of the cold, dark earth? Well it does! How can these bare trees, which are so barren in the winter, produce apples, and oranges, and all these other wonderful things? Well, it's God - His goodness to us. So, when the fruits were ready the Israelites cut a sheaf and this was the firstfruits. Paul is using that as an illustration. Jesus, by rising from the dead, is the firstfruits of them that slept. Who are they? Well he means all Old Testament saints - Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, Isaiah and all the others. They are now asleep in Jesus. He means they are dead, but dead as believers. We don't refer to the unbelievers as being asleep. They are dead in every sense, poor things. They will rise again in the end of the world, but they will only rise again in order to be cast out again, into outer darkness. But God's people who believe in Him - believers in Christ - they are dead in the sense that they are safe in Christ. Their souls are in glory, and their body is in the grave - still united to Christ in death. Therefore when Jesus rose from the dead He was the firstfruits of a tremendous harvest which is going to be brought home - not only of course of the Old Testament saints but of all the saints - Old and New.

Let me remind you that, in his lifetime, our blessed and holy Saviour Jesus Christ raised three people from the dead, and He did this to prove His power over death. He did it on one occasion when a young girl of about twelve had suddenly died. Do you remember the story? This little girl was dead and they sent a message to Jesus and He came - as He always comes when you want Him, He's always there. If you want Jesus you'll get Him, and if you don't get Him it's because you don't want Him - it's as simple as that. So they sent a message to Jesus and He came. The people were making great lamentation - wailing and mourning sounds, as the Jews did - tremendous fuss and noise about the death of this little girl. Jesus said, "Why do you make all this fuss and ado? She's not dead, she's sleeping." They laughed Him to scorn, knowing she was dead. Jesus put them all out of the room, except for the father, mother and three of his disciples - Peter, James and John. He spoke to the little dead girl, and He said in his own language, "Talitha cumi", "little girl, get up!" and she sat up. He said, "Here you are," and returned her to her parents. He has power over death. They were astonished - but it was true.

On the second occasion there was a young man who was actually on his way to the graveyard to be buried, which is the next stage, isn't it? He wasn't in his own home like the girl but on his way to the grave. His body - his corpse - was on the bier: that thing that the pall-bearers carry as they are taking it along from the house to the graveside. The body was there and his mother was walking along beside it when Jesus came along, touched the bier and stopped them. "Stop," He says. "Stop where you are, don't move." Then He spoke to the young man and said to him, "I say to you, Arise!" The young man, again, sat up. Jesus did that to prove He has power over death.

You probably know best of all what happened in the case of Lazarus. Lazarus, now, was not in his own house like the first one; not on the way to the grave like the second; but in the grave. He had been dead for some four days and his body was beginning to smell, as one of his sisters said. Jesus came to the graveside and He said, "Lazarus! Come forth!" - and someone has cleverly said that if He hadn't added the name 'Lazarus' they would all have come forth because Christ has power to call all the dead, everywhere, out of their graves - just as easy as you can flick your fingers. He has all power over death and over all things - and Lazarus came forth.

Let me give you some reasons why the Lord's people must rise again from the dead. For one thing, it's because we are already united to Christ: He and we are one. Why did we become sinners in the first place? The answer is, because we were born in union with Adam. That's what made us sinners. Before we opened our mouth or our eyes, or moved a hand or a foot, the reason why we were sinners is because we are in union, at first, with Adam. With a Christian, all that has changed. We're not in union with Adam any more. We are in union with the second Adam, with the last Adam, with Jesus Christ the Son of God. So, you see, when the end of the world comes, because He rose we must rise. He is the firstfruits in that He is the first one to enter into the glory after death, but all the whole harvest must come later. The firstfruits is the guarantee of the whole harvest. Am I speaking to somebody who is afraid because they know their days are few? Am I speaking to somebody who is afraid of death? There's a sense in which we are all afraid of death. It is an enemy - the last enemy - but oh my dearly beloved friend, if you're a Christian then there is nothing to fear. Your union with Christ guarantees the resurrection to glory.

Let me give you another reason. Christ has redeemed not only the soul but also the body. In other words He's paid the price not only for our soul to be saved but for our body also to be saved. When Christ died and paid the price to God's justice for our sins, He paid the full price. He didn't pay the price simply for our soul, which is of course the more precious part of us, but He paid the price also for the body - both for the letter and for the envelope in which the letter is placed. The body is the casket of the soul. The soul is that most precious thing of all which we have, and our Lord paid the price for that - thank God he did. But He also paid the price for the casket, which is the body in which the soul in this world lives. Because He paid the price for it, He will have it. He will have every particle of you, every atom of your body belongs to Him - He paid for it - He will have it. He will raise it in glory at last! Every believer will rise in glory.

Let me give you another reason. It is this. It's because Christ will have you, body and soul, with Him at last in heaven. A wonderful transformation must occur to your body to get your body to heaven. Our bodies, as they now are, are suited for this world; but our bodies, as they now are, are not at all suited for heaven - flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God in glory. So a great change has to occur in our body. Paul talks about it in the latter part of this chapter. He says when we are carried to the graveside and our body is put in the ground, it is like a seed, it is sown in corruption. If you've ever seen a dead body, you know at once that it's not a very pretty thing. Death is not a pretty thing - it's one of the stupidities of our age, we try to make death seem pretty. In America they put lipstick on the lady, and dress her up in her finery and sit her up on a chair or in her own coffin - they try to make death seem a sweet thing. It isn't a sweet thing! Death is judgement! Death is an ugly thing and we must be realistic about it. When we have funeral services nowadays they're not occasions of sadness and mourning; we talk about celebrating death! My friends, we don't celebrate death! We sorrow for death! Death is an enemy of man! Our services of mourning should be occasions of deep seriousness, both in church and at the graveside - seriousness. Death is the enemy of man. Death has come in because of sin. The wages of sin is death! Death was never meant to be a pretty thing. God can make pretty things, but death was never meant to be a pretty thing, it's meant to be a very ugly, awful thing, as a judgement on us for our sins.

But ah, here's the wonderful thing! Our body is sown in corruption but raised in incorruption; sown in weakness, raised in power; sown in shame and dishonour, raised in glory; sown a natural body - with five fingers on each hand, five toes on each foot, a digestive system, organs of the body, hearts that beat, stomachs and things for food - when it comes out of the grave it will be transformed into something we do not yet understand, perfectly suited to live with God in heaven for ever, and ever, and ever! A glorious body, shining like the sun in the kingdom of our Father. That's the promise! So my dear friend, to be in Christ is to have that hope. "We shall all be changed," says the apostle Paul. Friends, do you believe that? Is that your creed? Are you holding on to these great truths as we face uncertainty, ill health, death itself? How quickly death can come.

Let me tell you a little story. As I set off from home this evening at 6 o'clock, I turned the corner of the road to enter one of the main roads to bring me here. A car came behind me at great speed with blinding light and just for a second I couldn't see anything. What I didn't see at that moment was that there was a drunken man on the pavement just to my left, staggering from side to side. I just caught enough of a glimpse of him to see that he very nearly fell into the path of the car - I would certainly have killed him because I didn't see him. He was absolutely invisible, with the blinding light, and staggering most unusually across the pavement. Mercifully, in the kindness of God, he recovered his balance and staggered to the wall on the other side. How quickly our life can be over! Oh, my friends, be prepared for that day. There is no preparation for young or old, but only one - Jesus Christ the Saviour of the soul and of the body; the only hope we have, and a blessed and a sure hope to all who trust in Him.

Let me then, very briefly, say: This teaching is not merely of great theoretical importance but it is of great practical importance. That's why the apostle Paul ends on that practical note. Listen to his words: "Therefore," he says, "my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." What does he mean? Well, he means this: Dear Christian, go on with the work God has given you to do, whatever it is, be steadfast in it, don't be blown about from side to side - be unmoveable like the Rock of Gibraltar. Keep on with the good things you are doing. Do you have children to bring up for Christ? Go on bringing them up for Him. Do you have a husband or a wife to care for, to cherish and love? Go on doing your duty. Do you have an office, as an elder or a deacon? Then do it to the best of your ability. Do you have some task to do for Christ, in writing, or preaching, or speaking, or witnessing? Go on doing it, let nothing deter you, be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.

But we say, "Paul, why? People aren't listening to us. People don't care what we're doing." "Nevertheless," says Paul, "go on because your labour is not in vain in the Lord." God will either reward you now in this life, when you see those children of yours shining Christians in their generation; or when you see that happy wife or husband going steadfastly on their way, doing the work to which they're called; all those Sabbath School children blossoming into young Christian men and women; or, whatever the task you're doing is - witnessing, preaching, speaking, giving leaflets - go on with it, says the apostle Paul, because your labour is not in vain in the Lord. Either you will see the fruit of it in this life, or you will see the fruit of it in the life to come when God rewards you and says to you, "Well done, good and faithful servant." We're not called upon to be successful - success is something God gives. You can't give us that. We can't convert anyone. If a congregation should ever be so stupid as to look for a minister who can convert people, then they had better go out of this world because there aren't men in this world who can convert anybody - it's all the work of the Holy Spirit. Men can preach the truth - that's what they can do - but they can't convert a single soul to Christ. That's asking what we cannot do. But our labour, says Paul, is not in vain in the Lord. Either you will have the fruit of it in this life, or in the life to come, or more likely both! You will see good through the labours of your hands, now, in this world; and you will see God coming to crown you in the glory with exceeding great joy. He will say to you, "Well done, come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Our bodies, sown in weakness in the grave, will be raised in power, beauty, glory and perfection, to be with the Lord.

It's a lovely story about Frank Morison. He wrote, or he intended to write, that book Who Moved the Stone, so as to debunk the whole idea of resurrection of the dead. "Nonsense!" he thought, "Stupidity!" "Nobody ever saw anyone rise from the dead!" "All a lie!" he said. So he began to study it. And the book he wrote was not the book he set out to write. And when he writes his book he tells us, "I have come to believe the Gospels are telling the truth." Jesus Christ rose again, in glory, from the dead, and blessed are all they who put their trust in Him.

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