Sermon 4.1.18 Easter Sunday

1 Corinthians 15:19-26    Rev. Kenneth Frey
Easter    4/1/18
 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  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 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.
Is Christianity Foolish?
1.  The foolishness of Christian teaching
2.  But Christ did rise
3.  We will rise, too

Last year our church council established a long range planning team that is doing some really nice work.  Several sub-committees have been coming up with some new ways of getting people into God’s Word and marketing our church, school and childcare center.  Recognizing that people get confused by the word, “saint” and also recognizing that denominational labels can be a turn off to people, the committee is recommending that we change the name of our church to “Paul Downtown Ministries:  Church-School-Childcare.”  What do you think?  No.  April Fools!  That would be foolish to change the name of our church after 150 years.  

But some think we are foolish to believe the things we do.   A book was published a few years ago called, The Jesus Papers.  This book says that the crucifixion was a fake, that Jesus never really died and so never rose from a grave.  According to the book, he faked his death, married Mary Magdalene, had a daughter and moved to France.  

To understand what many who call themselves Christians think of Christianity, look at www.religioustolerance.org.  Here is a quote from that site: “Many liberal and some mainline Christian leaders believe that Jesus died during the crucifixion, did not resurrect himself, and was not bodily resurrected by God. At his death, his mind ceased to function and his body started the decomposition process. Returning to life a day and a half later would have been quite impossible.”  

J. Kincaid Smith attended seminary in a mainline Christian denomination.  This is what he wrote about his experience: “It is very difficult for Bible-believing Lutherans to believe when I tell them that none of my seminary professors, my classmates, nor I myself believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . If you had asked me if I believed that Jesus really physically rose from the dead, I would have tried to evade your direct question.” 

Most people think Christianity is foolish.  Look at what Paul wrote here:  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  Most people think it ridiculous that we all are punished because of what one man did.  Martin Luther wrote, “To wise reason and worldly wisdom it seems to be a big, stout lie that the entire human race should die because of the guilt of a single human being.  For it certainly appears exceedingly unfair and absurd on the part of God to . . . judge that because Adam bit into an apple he brought about the death of all human beings who came after him.”  (What Luther Says, #4150)

What about all those other things that Christianity teaches?  A six-day creation?  How foolish!  Jesus is both God and man?  How foolish!  Baptismal regeneration?  That’s just silly.  Hell?  That’s just scare tactics.  No sex outside of marriage?  Nobody believes that anymore.  

We are fools to believe these things – if Jesus didn’t rise from the grave.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  We are fools to believe these things – if Jesus didn’t rise from the grave.  

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.   Jesus came down from his throne in heaven and got down into the battle.  Sin was put on his back, but Jesus shook it off.  God’s wrath came crashing down on Jesus on the cross, but Jesus lived to tell about it.  Death covered his body, but three days later he left it behind as well.  With his death and life, Jesus saved us from the invasion of death that came through Adam.  Jesus defeated death, sin and the devil and his resurrection proves that.

Make no mistake about it.  Jesus really died on the cross.  The Roman soldiers made sure of that when they stuck a spear into Jesus’ side.  Make no mistake about it.  Jesus really did rise from the dead.  The apostles made sure it was really him.  They saw him, walked and talked with him, ate and drank with him, and even touched him.  

And that changes everything.  If Jesus’ body is still covered with Judean sand in a forgotten tomb, then we have no Savior and our sins are still counted against us.  In other words, we are duped, doomed and damned without Easter!  

But Jesus did rise and that means our sins are wiped out and death has been beaten.  But, you say, death is still marching from one conquest to the next.  True, for now.  But death has been defeated; it just hasn’t surrendered yet.  In World War II the Japanese were clearly losing.  By 1944 they were losing every battle on every island.  It was just a matter of time, but they would not surrender.  They were going to keep fighting and force the Allies to invade Japan.  It was almost as if they were determined to kill as many Americans as possible, even in defeat.  The dropping of two atomic bombs was the only thing that finally stopped the war and forced them to surrender.  

In the same way death has been defeated but it has not surrendered.  “Two thousand years after death wreaked havoc on Jesus of Nazareth on the cross, and in spite of his resurrection, it continues its apparently triumphant march showing no signs of weakening.  At times it unleashes its destructive powers slowly . . . at other times it attacks suddenly and unexpectedly.” (Andy Johnson, Word & World, Vol. XVI, No. 4, p. 456)  “Death is an ugly thing.  It makes your body decay.  It makes your skin crawl with worms and stink to high heaven.  There’s nothing pretty about it – no matter how we try to gussy it up in our funerals and all.  It is a vicious, rotten, and consuming enemy of man.  You can’t put a flower on it.  You can’t train it.  All we can do is hate it.” (Joel Pankow at www.sermoncentral.com)  

Death will continue to take victims until Jesus drops the bomb on death.  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.

When Paul said that Jesus would destroy death he means like a 250 pound strong man smashing a computer with a sledge hammer.  He so obliterates it that there is no way it can be put back together.  

Paul called Jesus the firstfruits.  According to the Old Testament, the day after the Passover was the day that they were to bring the firstfruits of their barley harvest.  It was brought to the temple as a promise of the future blessings of God.  The firstfruits assured the people that the harvest was coming.  The day of firstfruits just happened to be the day Jesus rose from the dead.  Jesus is the firstfruits, the promise of our resurrection.  

But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.   Do you belong to him?  That’s not a foolish question, but the wisest question you can ask.  The whole point of being baptized, going to church, hearing God’s Word and receiving the Lord’s Supper is to belong to Jesus.  We don’t do all of this to be better basketball players or business managers.  We do this to stay in Christ.  Because in his resurrection we have the promise that we will rise too.  

Until then, powerful forces are working against us.  Paul called them all dominion, authority and power.  Everything around us is death and suffering.  Loved ones die.  We die.  Everybody dies.  The world seems to be getting worse and worse.  You can’t talk about God at work.  We have shooters and bombers, terrorists and thugs.  Pornography and divorce are ripping families apart.  We see child abuse, immorality, selfishness and hatred. 

But please understand:  These things are the death-throes of death.  Don’t be discouraged by these things.  Don’t let these things rob you of the hope of the resurrection.  In the resurrection of Jesus death has been destroyed.  The victory is ours.    In him we will rise.  No fooling!