Sunday, January 31, 2016

Because He Lives! I Corinthians 15:27-34

Because He lives!
I Corinthians 15:27-34
Introduction:   A teacher was testing her class’s knowledge of popular proverbs, so she asked, “Cleanliness is next to what?”  One boy answered with real feeling, “Impossible!” We’ve been talking a lot this year about living as “Pilgrims in a fallen world.” Living in a fallen world, godly living, is not easy, but it is not impossible, at least not if we are living our life in submission to the Spirit as God intended. That doesn’t mean we won’t experience pain. This week the “Soldiers of Jesus” motorcycle club participated in the motorcade to the burial of little Noah Chamberlain, the 2 year old boy who wandered off and was lost in the Tennessee woods. Such heartbreak for that family!  How can we have hope, when there is so much suffering in the world? Why do we follow Jesus when Christians suffer too?  Last week we prayed for the Abate family.  Charles, who was a deacon at one of our supporting churches, lost his son to brain cancer only a month after his wife had died of cancer. How do you survive such a devastating one-two punch?  The only way, it seems to me, is to have a hope that is sure, that goes beyond this present evil age, that is assured that we are pilgrims in this fallen world, we are citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20.21). The only way is to know that God has a future for us that is better than we can possibly imagine. Believers can persevere because we trust God’s promise that the suffering of this present age is not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us. And so we mourn, but not as those who have no hope. That truth is at the heart of this chapter. The resurrection means life!
The Context: Paul is answering some false teachers who denied the idea of a future resurrection of believers. He has made it clear that the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus guarantees the future resurrection of believers. This is our fourth venture into this great “resurrection chapter” with Paul. We’ve seen in 15:1-11 the historical basis for our hope, the eyewitnesses to resurrection. And so “Because Jesus lives we have a sure hope for the future and the power to live joyfully today.” In vv.12-20 we saw that “God’s plan for believers ultimately includes victory over death, including a new body, as evidenced in the resurrection of Jesus Himself” (more on that next week!). In 20-26 Paul showed that “The Resurrection of Jesus gives us a firm foundation for our faith and a sure hope for our future, so we have nothing to fear.”  So Paul has been saying that if you deny the resurrection, if you deny this crucial aspect of God’s redemptive plan, you have removed one of the greatest motivations for coming to Christ in faith and for living for Him in hope. What God has done in Christ leaves no doubt that He will bring His plan to completion. In today’s passage Paul urges us to live out the implications of our faith and our hope...
The Maine Idea: Because Jesus is Lord, declared the Son of God in the resurrection, we submit to His Lordship and seek His glory, living as pilgrims in a fallen world. We’ll look at this truth from three perspectives today,
I. The Resurrection proves He is worthy of our worship: He is Lord, Messiah, Son of God, and Savior (27,28).
II. The Resurrection assures us that any suffering we experience in this present age pales in comparison to the joy of knowing Him (29-32)! If Jesus were not who He claimed to be, following Him would not be worth the cost!  And...
III. The Resurrection empowers us to live victoriously, with a sure hope (33-34)!
Let’s look at the passage...
I. The Resurrection proves He is worthy of our worship: He is Lord, Messiah, Son of God, Savior (see Psalm 2; Romans 1:3,4) [vv.27-28].
For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "all things are put in subjection," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.  28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
Think of the One who is being described in these verses! Jesus as the sovereign King over all creation!  I can’t read this passage without thinking of Psalm 2 which may have been in Paul’s mind as he wrote. Read the psalm as the writer describes the spiritual conflict between the kingdom of God and rebellious humanity...
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed [meshiach], saying,  3 "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us."  4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.  5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,  6 "As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill."  7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."  10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.  11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
By the way, this is one of the few, perhaps the only, passage in the Hebrew Scriptures where the titles Messiah, Son of God, and King come together. What is important to know is that what was promised to the King, God’s Son, in this psalm, is realized the life and work of Jesus.  Romans 1:3,4 points to the resurrection as the “declaration” of the divine sonship of Jesus,
“...who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead...” (NASB).
       The point that Paul seems to be making in this context is that the resurrection of Jesus leaves no doubt about who He is: the promised Messiah, the Son of God, the Sovereign King of Kings... Jesus Christ is Lord! Paul told the Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved...” (Acts 16:31). That means recognizing and responding to who He is, God the Son, the Word made flesh, and it also means trusting in His finished work as your only hope of salvation. Do you believe Him? Do you know Him? Have you trusted Him? Because of who He is, because of what He has done, we love Him! Psalm 2 is a call to the leaders of the nations, and by extension all humanity, to recognize who Jesus is, and to submit to His lordship. In my doctoral dissertation I argued that John 3:35,36 is a conscious, intentional, allusion to the New Testament implications of Psalm 2,
35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.  36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
The psalm is a call to submit to Yahweh and his Anointed. How we respond to Jesus is the great dividing point of all humanity. The resurrection gives a historical basis, a motivation to do so. Because Jesus is Lord, declared the Son of God in the resurrection, we submit to His Lordship and seek His glory, living as pilgrims in a fallen world.

II. The Resurrection assures us that any suffering we experience in this present age pales in comparison to the joy of knowing Him (29-32)! If Jesus were not who He claimed to be, following Him would not be worth the cost. Jesus never told his disciples it would be easy. In fact when he first called them he said “If anyone would be my disciple let Him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me!” (Mark 8:34). As he taught them in the upper room he said, “Do not be surprised if the world hates you. It hated me first!” (John 15:18). No wonder Paul says here, if the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die!” There would be no reason to follow Him. That seems to be Paul’s emphasis here,
29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?  30 Why am I in danger every hour?  31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!  32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." 
       Let me say at the outset that verse 29 is one of the most challenging interpretative problems of the New Testament. There is no doubt that Paul knew exactly what he was referring to, and there is no doubt that the Corinthians also immediately understood the reference.  Unfortunately, with the passage of time and the historical and cultural chasm that exists between us and the original situation we just can’t be sure exactly what Paul was referring to. I listened to Allistair Begg’s message on this passage, and he said, “I’ve got no idea what Paul was talking about!” So I checked with John MacArthur’s “Grace to You” site, he has an opinion about just about everything. But with this passage, he said “I’ve got no idea!” Great! Actually there are a lot of ideas, over 200 different suggestions have been suggested in commentaries and journals!  
       In this case we can start with what it cannot mean: that Paul is condoning the idea of someone being “baptized” as a surrogate for someone else, perhaps someone who has already died. There was at least one heretic in the ancient church by the name of Marcion who apparently had that idea. It’s similar to the “surrogate baptism” still practiced by the Mormon church. They have the idea that no one can have eternal life unless they were baptized by a Mormon, or, if a Mormon was baptized in their place.  I remember the story of one lady who was baptized several thousand times for dead relatives, acquaintances, and celebrities. One elder reportedly said, “I believe that this lady, through vicarious baptisms, has saved more people than Jesus himself!” That is obviously a blasphemous statement! We know that Paul couldn’t have such a practice in mind for a few reasons. One, baptism doesn’t save anyone! We are saved by grace through faith. If we die in unbelief, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment.” There are no second chances, and there is no doctrine of salvation apart from faith in the New Testament. So that can’t be it.
       Baptism in the New Testament is almost always associated with believers’ baptism, and that’s the problem here. How would that fit with the phrase, “for the dead (plural)”?  What is Paul talking about? This is my humble suggestion. Paul has been linking in this chapter the idea of the historical resurrection of Jesus and the promise of a future resurrection for believers. Jesus died, He was one of the “dead.”  But then, as the firstfruits of the resurrection harvest, Jesus was resurrected from the dead! Could Paul mean to say here, “If Jesus is just one more dead person, and the dead are not raised so Jesus is not raised, why are people baptized in his name? Why associate with one who is ‘finished’ if He is just one more of the dead? Why be baptized for the dead?” What sets Christianity apart from every other world religion is that we serve a risen Savior! 
       Read 30-32. Why do believers endure hardship and suffering in this life, if the dead are not raised? If the dead are not raised, as he said earlier in the chapter, we are of all men most to be pitied! If there is no resurrection, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” Why would Christians desire to live differently than the world? Dr. Daniel quoted the statement of missionary Jim Elliot a couple of weeks ago: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”  The apostle John said it this way in 1 John 2:15-17,   
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16 For all that is in the world- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions- is not from the Father but is from the world.  17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
The apostle Paul certainly understood the suffering that may come to believers in this fallen world. How long did it take him to experience that after he came to faith? Before he even got out of Damascus, there was a conspiracy to kill him (see Acts 9:19-25; cf. 2 Cor 11:23-29)! Why do believers stand firm, if they are not exempted from suffering? Because Jesus wins, He is Lord, declared the Son of God in the resurrection, so this life is not all there is. We submit to His Lordship and seek His glory, living as pilgrims in a fallen world.

III. The Resurrection empowers us to live victoriously, with a sure hope (33-34).
33 Do not be deceived: "Bad company ruins good morals."  34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. 
      Godliness isn’t easy, but it is not impossible! I like J.B. Philips paraphrase of Romans 12:2, “Don’t let the world force you into it’s mold!” The NLT says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world...” Here Paul warns them, using a popular proverb, “Bad company ruins good morals.” The old KJV said “...evil communications...” The word here, homilia, is clearly the word we get “homily” from in English. The idea is not “company” in the sense of simply being there with another, but there is speech, even teaching, that is somehow involved. I am reminded of Job’s friends, who sat with him for a while, but eventually began to give their explanations of why he was suffering. “Bad company” wants to push us toward their way of thinking, maybe the politically correct or popular thinking. This is the challenge: How can we be “in” the world, but not “of” the world?  We need to be light in the world, how else are we going to “go and make disciples”? We need to be in the world—how else will they hear? But we need to be fed, and protected, and held accountable by other believers. We need to be equipped so that we know whom we have believed, and so that we are ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us.
       V.34 is strong language, “Wake up from you drunken stupor...”!  The picture is someone hung over from night of excess, in a daze, unresponsive to the reality of what is happening around him. It’s the word that the Septuagint used in Genesis 9:24 when Noah woke up from his drunkenness. It’s used in the stern warning of the prophet Joel in Joel 1:5, “Awake you drunkards and weep...!” Not just sleepiness, but grogginess that results from excess, “hung over.” Understand what you are doing, see the truth about the divisions and pride that are dividing the church in Corinth!  Friends, the same enemy that was at work then to blind and divide and discourage, is going about as a roaring lion, seeking his prey today. He would deceive and discourage. He would want you to forget God’s grace and God’s calling. If there is a voice that is telling you to give up, to forget our mission, to forsake the assembling with other believers, it doesn’t come from God.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Because Jesus is Lord, declared the Son of God in the resurrection, we submit to His Lordship and seek His glory, living as pilgrims in a fallen world.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Cleanliness might be next to impossible (especially for little boys) but God has given us what we need to live the Christian life. If we are truly submitting to His lordship, that means obedience is not an option. In fact if we believe Him, if we recognize who He is and trust in what He did for us in His death and resurrection, we’ll find joy in obeying Him! Remember the struggles in the Corinthian church. They were prideful. They were divided. They were living in a perverse society and in many points they were conforming to the world rather than allowing God to transform them by his power. They weren’t living in the power of the first Easter. That was a past event for which they were thankful, but they didn’t allow it to impact their living. Paul said back in chapter three, many of them were guilty of living just like the world. That may be just a little convicting because it sounds to me a lot like the American church in the 21st century. We have so much it’s easy to forget we are pilgrims. We are strangers and aliens in this fallen world. We can get so busy that we forget God chose us, on purpose, for a purpose. That means using our gifts to build each other up. It means not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together—we need each other. And it means carrying out the mission He has entrusted to us, declaring the gospel to those around us who are lost and heading toward hell. There are suffering people all around us. Many have no hope.  When Jesus looked on the multitude He was moved with compassion, because they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” May we have our Father’s eyes, may we see our neighbors as He does. May we love them enough to “give a reason for the hope that is in us.”  Jesus said to his followers, “You will weep... but your sorrow will be turned to joy!” Think about that. AMEN!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Our Resurrection Hope! I Corinthians 15:20-26

The Resurrection of Jesus Means our Hope is Certain!
I Corinthians 15:20-26
Introduction: This week has been a bit of a roller coaster. We had been reveling these past days in the answer to prayer that Ava and Hanna referred to last week – their class, and many Christians around the world, had been praying for the safe release of Pastor Saeed Abedini from an Iranian prison. Praise the Lord he is free and reunited with his family! Then we got the news of two year old Noah Chamberlain who was missing in TN, his father and grandfather members of the “Soldiers of Christ” motorcycle ministry that our own Herb and Fay Murphy are involved with. For a week prayers went up, and then the heartbreaking news, the little guy was found dead. Only two years old. There is so much suffering in this life, are believers are certainly not exempt! Sometimes our prayers are answered the way we would like, and sometimes it is evident that God has another plan, a different path for us to walk. This week I came across a letter that Pastor Saeed Abedini had written from the Iranian prison where he was being held. It was back in September on the occasion of his daughter’s eighth birthday. She had been praying for his release, and she was apparently feeling discouraged that the answer had not yet come. This is an excerpt from the letter, and listen to the faith and the hope that it expresses as he is teaching his daughter... 
...Now there is a big WHY In your mind you are asking: WHY Jesus isn’t answering your prayers and the prayers of all of the people around the world praying for my release and for me to be home with you and our family.  The answer to the WHY is WHO. WHO is control? LORD JESUS CHRIST is in control.
I desire for you to learn important lessons during these trying times. Lessons that you carry now and for the rest of your life. The answer to the WHY is WHO. The confusion of “WHY has all of this happened?” and “WHY your prayers are not answered yet” is resolved with understanding WHO is in control…LORD JESUS CHRIST, our GOD!
God is in control of the whole world and everything that is happening in it is for His good purpose, for His glory, and will be worked out for our good (Romans 8:28). Jesus allows me to be kept here for His glory. He is doing something inside each of us and also outside in the world. People die and suffer for their Christian faith all over the world and some may wonder why? But you should know the answer of WHY is WHO. It is for Jesus. He is worth the price. And He has a plan to be glorified through our lives.
       Jesus is Lord, and our hope is based on history and anchored in the faith that God will bring His story to pass as He has promised. It could be argued that the over-arching theme of Scripture is that God is good, and the Bible reveals His steadfast commitment to bring His design in Creation to fruition.
       Paul began this chapter of First Corinthians by talking about the historical witness to the resurrection of Jesus (1-11). The Corinthians believed this, it was at the heart of the gospel Paul had preached to them, but they were apparently struggling with the idea of a future resurrection for believers.  Paul makes the point in 15:12-20 that if we deny the resurrection of believers we are denying the resurrection of Jesus, and if Jesus is not raised, then we have no hope, we are still in our sins, we are of all humans the most pitiable.  The passage we’ll look at today, starting in I Corinthians 15:20, says that that “hypothetical” is dead because Jesus is NOT dead, the tomb is empty, He is alive!
       “But in fact Christ has been raised…” Paul wants the Corinthians to see the connection between what they have believed, the resurrection of Jesus, and what they must understand, that Jesus’ resurrection means we too will be raised to life. That also means we can live victoriously today, in this life. The truth in this passage was stated beautifully by Erich Sauer, in his classic book, The Triumph of the Crucified…
The present age is Eastertime! It began with the resurrection of the Redeemer, and will culminate in the resurrection of the redeemed and the restoration of all things. Between is the spiritual resurrection of all who have been called into new life through faith in Christ. So we live between two Easters, and in the power of the first Easter we look toward the last Easter! (Erich Sauer, Triumph of the Crucified.)
The Maine Idea: We have reason for optimism, be encouraged! The Resurrection of Jesus gives us a firm foundation for our faith and a sure hope for our future. Because He lives all fear is gone!
I. Resurrection Faith: Jesus’ victory over death is the foundation of our faith (20,21). The tomb is empty, He is alive! Herman Bavinck’s systematic theology is titled in its English translation, Our Reasonable Faith. Our faith is reasonable, because it is based on the irrefutable historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus!
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead…
        Paul began this paragraph answering the hypothetical questions he asked in the preceding context (15:12-19). IF Christ is not raised, IF the resurrection never happened and tomb wasn’t empty our faith would be useless, we would still be dead in our sins. The false teachers in Corinth who struggled with the idea of the resurrection were not the only ones who had such doubts. One of the most influential 20th century New Testament scholars, Rudolf Bultmann, said, “An historical fact that involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable!” Where does that leave us but in despair, if there is no resurrection! IF!  But, as 15:1-11 shows emphatically, He is alive!  Verse 20 states emphatically,
But now Christ HAS BEEN raised from the dead…”
The ESV translates, “BUT IN FACT Christ has been raised…” That is Paul’s point here, the resurrection is a fact of history (as Ignatius proclaimed in His letter in AD 107, just a few years after the death of the last of the apostles).  The eyewitnesses in the Biblical record, and also those from the end of the apostolic era, people like Ignatius, who spoke to the eyewitnesses of the resurrection, all of this is compelling testimony that would present convincing evidence in a court of law. That is the point that Paul was making in the opening of I Corinthians 15. 
       Read through the first 11 verses and consider the powerful eyewitness testimony toward which he is pointing. Remember the apostles in the days before the resurrection. They were scattered when Jesus was arrested in the Garden. Peter three times denied that he even knew Jesus! And then after the resurrection these same men stood before the crowds and the authorities and preached boldly that He is Lord, and that He had risen from the dead.  When arrested, threatened, and beaten, they said they could not stop preaching what they had seen and knew. They were eyewitnesses! How do you explain that transformation?  The only reasonable explanation is that they spoke what they knew to be true, they had seen the resurrected Jesus!  As Ignatius said, “These are facts of history!”  
      Notice back in I Corinthians 15:6, “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep…” Do you see what Paul is saying? He is saying, “I am a witness, as are the other apostles, but there are also hundreds of others who saw the resurrected Jesus.” As he is writing this letter he says, some have died, but most were still alive. “If you doubt me, if you still need to be convinced, talk to them, ask them if this is true!”  “But now Christ HAS been raised from the dead...”
       Note too that Paul is also pointing out the humanity of Jesus, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead...” (I Cor 15:21).  We need a balanced, biblical understanding of who Jesus is. The Eternal Word, God the Son, did not just appear to be human. He actually took upon himself a human nature. Why? As Adam sinned and as the representative head of the race brought all humanity under the curse, so also Jesus, the last “Adam,” did not sin, he said “NO!” to the tempter and “Yes” to the Father, so that all who trust in Him, all who are “in Christ,” have forgiveness and new life.  We talk about the incarnation during the Christmas season but it is a doctrine that should overwhelm us every day – such grace, such love, for God to become a man, knowing exactly what would happen, what had to happen for the Father’s plan to be fulfilled. And he did it! Hallelujah! And so He has been raised from the dead and became...
       “…the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…” (I Cor 15:20,23). In the Old Testament, the first part of the harvest, called the firstfruits,  was set apart and given as an offering to the Lord.  It was part of the harvest and connected with it in that sense, it guaranteed that the rest of the harvest would follow.  Jesus’ resurrection is connected here with the future resurrection of believers. As certainly as Jesus was raised from the dead, so also the rest of the harvest will follow.  That is talking about us, and every other person through history who has trusted in Him!
       “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead…”  It doesn’t take the most astute observer to recognize that all is not right in the world. We pick up the newspaper and immediately we read about the chaos and suffering in so many places and so many lives. Just looking at our prayer list reminds us that hurting people are all around us—and believers in Jesus are by no means exempt from that. It all started with Adam and Eve. Paul said in Romans, “By one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and death spread to all men because all have sinned…”  It didn’t start that way. God created the universe and called it “good.” Humans were uniquely made in the image of God, the pinnacle of God’s good creation. Adam sinned, and the consequences of his fall have been passed down through the ages to every human.  This is part of the reason it was necessary for Jesus to come in human flesh. Eternal God took upon himself a human nature so that he could be our substitute. Tested and tempted, yet without sin, He bore our sins in His body on the Cross.  But Jesus did not stay dead, the tomb could not hold him, he rose again!  The resurrection of the Redeemer, the firstfruits of the resurrection harvest, is the basis of our hope as we live in that victory now, and look ahead to the resurrection of the REDEEMED… The Resurrection of Jesus gives us a firm foundation for our faith and a sure hope for our future. Because He lives all fear is gone! We have a “Resurrection Faith,” which leads to our...
II. Resurrection Hope:  In the power of the first Easter we go to meet the last Easter! That is our hope, and it is expressed here in two phases. First,
The Resurrection of the Redeemed (22,23). In Christ we will be made alive!
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 
      - For as in Adam all die Adam sinned as the representative head of the human race, and all of his progeny after him by birth and by choice are sinners. That includes us. There is none righteous, no not one. There are none that seek after God. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom 3:10,23). Listen to Paul as he describes the human condition apart from Christ in his letter to the Ephesians...
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-  3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2:1-3).
That is the doctrine of “total depravity.” It doesn’t mean that we are as bad as we can possibly be. It does mean that every part of our being is affected by sin, our heart, our motives, our mind, all of it is fallen. Consequently there is none who does good, no not one. There are none who seek after God. That is a problem, a problem that we could not solve on our own. In Adam all die. The wages of sin is death.  That reminds us why our mission is so urgent. Every person in our sphere of influence, every one that we will  talk to or pass on the street this week, is either saved, or in darkness. We are called to bring the Light!
       Popular “theology” would say, I am ok, you are ok. We all worship the same god, we just call him by different names. People are basically good. Biblically, apart from faith in Jesus, the only way to the Father, the only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, apart from Him every human is lost, condemned, and headed toward hell. That is the human condition. We would have no hope. “BUT GOD...” He did not leave us in our hopeless state. He made a Way where there was no way.
       The consequences of living in a fallen world are all around us. I’ve shared before the story of my Hebrew professor, Al Groves, who died of melanoma that metastasized to his brain. He blogged over his last months, sharing the lessons God was teaching him and his family on the journey. His wife, Libby, wrote a book about the experience called “Grief Undone: A Journey with God and Cancer.” This month in Tabletalk she wrote this,
God hates death even more than we do. That’s part of the reason Jesus came. The wonderful news for us is that Jesus broke death’s power by dying and rising from the dead. He did it not only for Himself but also for all who are united to Him...” (Heb 2:14-15).
     Adam brought death to every human being; Jesus brings life, and the resurrection of life, to all who are His, all who believe.  That is good news.  It means we are included in his story if we know Him.  The present age is Eastertime! It began with the resurrection of the Redeemer, and will culminate in the resurrection of the redeemed and the restoration of all things... So we live between two Easters, and in the power of the first Easter we look toward the last Easter!
Secondly, our hope looks for the Restoration of all Things (24-26). The Gaither song says, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, because He lives all fear is gone…”
24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every 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.
       God’s creation was all good in the beginning – human rebellion brought sin and death. Finally the day will come when sin will be no more, and the rule of God will restore Creation to what it was designed it to be, to the glory of God.  When you read about the Garden of Eden before the Fall, and then turn to the end of the Book of Revelation, you can’t miss the idea that God will bring his design for creation to pass. That is the “big story,” or as we’ve been calling it, the Maine idea of the Bible. And it is good news!
       There is a sense in which the kingdom is already present, and yet we await the day when God’s rule will be established over all – a day when God himself will wipe away our tears – and there will be no more sin, no more sorrow – no more death!  We live, now, in anticipation of the fulfillment of that promise. Dallas Willard said,
Those who have apprenticed themselves to Jesus learn an undying life with a future as good and as large as God himself. The experiences we have of this life as his co-conspirators now fill us with anticipation of a future so full of beauty and goodness we can hardly imagine… (The Divine Conspiracy, p.375).
Yes, “The suffering of this present age is not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us... That day is still future, but it is not in doubt! As surely as the tomb is empty our hope is sure in Jesus.  “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God…” (Gal 2:20).  He’s alive! So in the power of the first Easter, His resurrection, we go to meet the last Easter, the sure promise of our resurrection.
What is God saying to me in this passage?  We have a “resurrection faith” based on the historical truth that Jesus died and rose again. We have a resurrection Hope because His victory over death means our victory is certain. The Resurrection of Jesus gives us a firm foundation for our faith and a sure hope for our future. Because He lives all fear is gone!
What would God have me to do in this passage? Have you personally responded to the truth that Jesus is alive?  The truth that He conquered death in His resurrection leaves no doubt that he is who he claimed to be, and it assures us that He can do what He promised to do.  Paul invites us in Romans 10:9,10 to respond, “Confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved.” There are no questions, no doubts, no “ifs” in that statement. That is God’s promise to you!
       Perhaps you have believed and received the gift of salvation, and yet the truth is that you are so overwhelmed by the trials in your life or in the lives of those around you that you feel hope-less.  It is true that as we read in Romans 8:22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” But the gospel means Hope!  Our resurrection faith points through the darkness and pain, through the veil of tears, to the end of this story, to our sure hope: Because He lives, we will live also! That is not wishful thinking; it is a promise, from God himself.
       This week an acquaintance of ours, he attended a small group we led in a church we stayed at when we were on furlough from our mission, went to be with the Lord after a year long battle with brain cancer.  Some of you had been praying for Charlie. He left behind his wife and five children. One of his adult daughters wrote this,
There are so many questions I have that I will never know the answer to this side of Heaven. However, there are things that I KNOW without doubt that bring me comfort and peace:
When I was a girl, and life did not treat me kindly; was harsh, unfair, disappointing, heartbreaking and painful... I would find my Daddy. I would sit in his lap and press into his embrace. There I felt his warmth, his familiar scent, the protection and security of his strong arms and his deep deep love for me. As he shared my heartbreak, be gave me his strength.
In the same way, as children of the Most High God.... in this season of intense grief and heartache and so many "whys"...I press into my Savior, knowing that there I find unconditional love, safety, security and compassion. He has suffered more for me than I will ever experience. As believers, we suffer. That is a guarantee. I look at everyone in scripture....and I see their suffering. Should I expect to be any different? Be angry, be heartbroken, be confused, be sad, feel however you feel.....but press in to the embrace of God. Gather strength and comfort from the only ONE who can do all things... 

We struggle, but we are not defeated. We mourn, but not as those who have no hope. We are discouraged, but we don’t despair. Why? As Pastor Abedini said in his letter to his daughter, the answer to “why?” is “who?” Jesus Christ is Lord. As Charlie’s daughter reminds us, press into Abba’s embrace. Paul reflected that hope when he wrote, “The suffering of this present age is not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.”  Remember, the present age began with the resurrection of the Redeemer, and it will end in the resurrection of the redeemed… in the power of the first Easter, we go to meet the last Easter.  Listen: if you have trusted in Jesus, the same power that raised Him from the dead is at work in you!  “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you…” (Romans 8:11).   That is your sure hope if you know Him!  Think about that! Christ is risen!  AMEN. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Why is the Resurrection so Important? I Corinthians 15:12-20

Why is the Resurrection so Important?
I Corinthians 15:12-20
Introduction: This is the time of year that we make “resolutions” for the New Year, I heard a statistic this week that the number 1 resolution is to “lose weight,”  and about 40% of all resolutions have something to do with health or getting into better shape. All that is good. Taking care of our body is an aspect of being a good steward. And if we are as healthy as we can be, we can more effectively use our gifts for the building up of others and for carrying out the mission of the church.  That is, as long as our health doesn’t become an obsession or our body an idol that distracts us from what is most important: loving God and spreading His fame, bringing Him glory! We do need to know that no matter how hard we work, no matter how careful we are, these bodies will fail. Sickness, accidents, suffering, and death are all part of life in this fallen world. The good news is that God has a plan and, one day, a transformed “resurrection body” will be a part of it!
       This is the longest chapter in I Corinthians, and the longest chapter in the Bible on the doctrine of the resurrection. Why is the resurrection so important?  In the opening verses of this great chapter, as Paul “outlined” the historical framework of the gospel, he said “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and He was raised again the third day according to the Scriptures…” The resurrection according to promise was set right alongside the cross. When He told the Romans about the expression of the faith that saves, he said, “Confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead...”  Okay, you might think, granted the resurrection of Jesus is important, but the resurrection of believers? Why is Paul making a big deal about that? Isn’t it enough for me to believe in Heaven? Isn’t it enough to believe that though our body may die, the end for the believer is to be “absent from the body and present with the Lord”? 
       Paul here will make the point that it is not only important, it is essential. If you deny the resurrection of believers, you are also denying the “firstfruit” event, the resurrection of Jesus! Just after this passage Paul said, “...For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ...” (I Cor 15:22,23). In other words, Paul is saying what Adam did in His rebellion left us without hope, but God in His mercy sent the Son, to make a way for humans to experience reconciliation, and the shalom for which we were created. Paul was preaching the resurrection of Jesus before his countrymen in Jerusalem, and he tied that message to the Hope of a future resurrection for believers: "...It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial..." (Acts 23:6b).   
       What is your hope? All too often “hope” is pessimistically defined as the little boy did when he said: “Hope is wishing for something you know ain’t gonna happen.” That’s not hope, it’s either denial or wishful thinking! The headlines in the newspapers, the lead sound bites on the broadcast news, a “shaky” economy, uncertainty in the financial markets, the relativism that pervades our educational system and society, terrorism, attacks on civilians and, as we saw again this week in Philadelphia, attacks on police: it’s easy for people to look at what we face in the world today and to feel hopeless in the face of it all.
     The Bible presents “hope” as anticipating something expectantly, a confidence about the future, even in the most trying moments of life.  Sceptics might say that we are basing our hope on stories, not on facts. That was Paul’s point in the first 11 verses of this chapter.  God calls us to believe, but he has revealed himself in history. He has given us a basis for our faith. Their can be no doubt that the resurrection of Jesus was a real time and space event, a “fact of history,” as Ignatius said in his letter in AD 107. The truth of His resurrection is what gives true hope for the future, and our ultimate resurrection from the dead!    Because of the resurrection really happened, because Christ lives, we can have hope, a confidence of forgiveness and reconciliation, an assurance of abundant life in Him, and a sure hope that we will be raised with Him.  
Context: Paul began I Corinthians 15 presenting evidence of the resurrection of Christ. The evidence is irrefutable, you cannot get around it. This passage (I Cor 15:12-20) goes on to present the hypothetical consequence of some false teachers that were troubling the Corinthians. They were denying the future resurrection of believers in Jesus.  Paul counters that our future hope is linked inseparably to the resurrection of Christ.  To deny one, is to deny the other. Verses 19-20 supply the necessary context to read the entire paragraph:
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.  20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
That supplies the essential context for reading the argument that Paul presents here: Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! 
The Maine Idea: God’s plan for believers ultimately includes victory over death, including a new body, as evidenced in the resurrection of Jesus Himself!
I. THE FACTS: We have hope because of the irrefutable fact of the resurrection of Christ (15:12-14; cf. 15:1-11). The FACT of the resurrection of Jesus cannot be separated from the PROMISE of a future resurrection of believers. To deny one, is to deny the other.
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
            15:12 introduces the issue that is really at the heart of this passage. Some in the Corinthian church were apparently denying the hope of a future resurrection of believers. He established in vv.1-11 the historical basis of the gospel that they had believed, by which they were saved, the historical fact of the death and resurrection of Jesus. He summarized that in 15:11b, “ we preached, and so you believed.” He now gets to the heart of the matter, “If that is what is preached, if that is the message that you believed, how can you possibly say there is no [future] resurrection of the body?” In verse 13 Paul underscores the inseparability of the two ideas, he makes it clear that you can’t have one without the other. 
       What was the problem?  Remember the context in which the Corinthians lived: First century Greece. The seat of philosophy in the ancient world. And popular Greek thinking was that the material world, including our bodies, was irreparably flawed. The “spiritual” was intrinsically better. So if the body dies, good riddance! You’re better off without it! Free at last! Paul is saying no, you’ve got it wrong.  God created the material world. He formed Adam’s body with his own hands from the dust of the earth. He took from Adam’s side and formed the woman. And he said it was good. The problem isn’t the material realm, the problem is sin! That is where he started this chapter: “...Christ died for our sins...” In Christ God was dealing with our sin problem.
       NB. verse 14, if Christ is not raised, our message is empty, there is nothing left, our faith vain.  Paul is saying in the context that because of the fact of the resurrection our faith is well-founded. Or we could say, because of the resurrection of Christ we know His word is true, we know we can trust Him about the future. It’s good to have people that we can count on. But people will let us down. I just read something from an acquaintance in NJ who just lost his wife after a two year sickness. His adult son was also diagnosed with a brain tumor about year ago and doesn’t have much time left.  He wrote a beautiful statement expressing his grief, and his faith, and also gave a gentle rebuke. He said that in two years not one of his “friends” ever called to see how he was doing or sat down to have a cup of coffee with him. He was left to go through his pain alone. He said,
“...if an opportunity arises where you know someone,especially a friend, that has a very sick spouse or child; call them ask them how they are doing invite them for lunch or a cup of coffee. It will be good for you and very good for the one hurting. Swallow your pride, bury your discomfort never say ‘that's not me, I can't do that’ and just do it.
            We want someone to be there when we need them.  We need to determine to be there for each other, to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The good news is, God is faithful. He is absolutely trustworthy, He is with us always. If we have put our trust in Jesus Christ, we are no longer in our sins. The death of Jesus proves his love for us, and the resurrection proves his power over every enemy of life. And so there is someone you can count on, someone who is absolutely trustworthy, who will never let you down. Jesus is alive and we can trust Him. "The life I live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).  Living by faith. Trusting God’s word. God’s plan for believers includes victory over death, including a new body, as evidenced in the resurrection of Jesus Himself! That “hope” is based on facts...
II. THE TRUTH: Doctrinal Truth, all the teaching of the apostles, is based on the resurrection plan of God, without that sure foundation, there would be no truth (15:15,16). If the disciples were not being truthful about the resurrection of Jesus, their message is not trustworthy!
15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.  16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.
       The teaching of the apostles was at stake. If the dead are not raised, Christ was not raised. And if Christ was not raised they are guilty of preaching falsehood instead of truth. Paul’s point in the context is clear: because Christ has been raised (15:1-11,20) the apostles preaching is true (v.20!). They are not false witnesses about God. They are true, faithful witnesses. They preached a message that transformed their own lives and for which they were ready to die!
            Many people believe and teach today that there is no absolute truth—something that is true all the time and everywhere whether people know it or like it. It is a rare to hear anyone say, unequivocally, that premarital sex is wrong—wrong for everybody, not just those who think it's wrong. Homosexuality is wrong—wrong for everybody and not just those who think it's wrong.  
            Without the conviction that there are absolutes that can be shared and made the basis for society, the only end will be anarchy where everyone does what is right in his own eyes. Pilate asked Jesus “what is truth?” The reader of the Gospel already knew the answer, because He said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). And then he rose from the dead to vindicate his claim. Jesus has a right to tell us what is absolutely true because in the resurrection God proved him to be absolutely true. As Ignatius said in his letter in 107 A.D., “These are facts of history…” God’s plan for believers includes victory over death, including a new body, as evidenced in the resurrection of Jesus Himself!
III. THE VALUE: God’s resurrection plan, initiated in the resurrection of Jesus, and ultimately to be completed in the resurrection of the elect, only has worth if it is true (15:17)!  Only if Christ has been raised is our faith of any value, only if He is alive are we forgiven for our sins!
“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
             This is the most basic need and longing of our hearts because if God holds our sins against us—and we all have sinned!—then there is no hope of anything else from God. The foundation for every other blessing from God is that God won't hold our sins against us because of Jesus. Everything hangs on forgiveness. The Gospel is the story of God doing for us what we could not do for ourselves, making a way for sinful humans to be reconciled to God. In the cross and resurrection Jesus was “undoing” the insurmountable barrier that Adam had erected between humans and God.  Think of the miracles that Jesus did during His earthly ministry. He healed the sick, fed the multitude, calmed the stormy sea, He even raised the dead.  All of those miracles were just a “glimpse” of what is in store for those who know Him. There will be a day when there is no more sickness or pain. When there is no more hunger as we feast at his banquet table. And no more death, as the last enemy is destroyed. His resurrection is the “firstfruits” of the harvest!
            How is the resurrection connected to our forgiveness? Isn't it the death of Jesus that takes away our sin, because he bore our sins and took our judgment (I Cor 15:3)? Yes. But the connection with the resurrection is very important. Romans 4:25 puts it like this. "He was handed over [to death] for our transgressions, and he was raised for our justification." This means that by his death he paid the penalty for our sins and purchased our forgiveness. And since the achievement of the cross was so complete and the work of our justification so decisive, God raised Jesus from the dead to validate our forgiveness and to vindicate his Son's righteousness. Adam’s sin brought death to all. Christ’s perfect obedience brings life to all who believe.
            Every human needs forgiveness. And even before we experience that forgiveness through faith in Christ, there are moments when we know that something is desperately wrong, something is missing, there is a longing that nothing seems to fill. Since Adam and Eve tried to hide from God and cover their sin, we know our need. The problem is that most fallen humans are in denial, they have no interest in coming to God on His terms. If we’ve trusted Christ, because He rose from the dead, we are no longer in our sins.  And God’s plan for believers includes victory over death, including a new body, as evidenced in the resurrection of Jesus Himself!

IV. THE HOPE: We have hope because in Him we have abundant life now and forever (15:18-20). Without the truth of the resurrection, we would be hopeless. But we, by His grace, have eternal life forever, and abundant life here and now!
18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

            The hypothetical dilemma, if the dead are not raised, those who have “fallen asleep,” i.e., those who died in faith, would have perished if there is no resurrection! Paul is saying that the opposite is true: Those Who Have Fallen Asleep Are Alive.  And so Paul says in verse 18 that because Christ is raised those who have fallen asleep in him—those who have died in faith—have not perished. They are alive and they will live forever! They live because Christ lives. Now absent from the body and present with Him. One day, this mortal will put on immortality!

       Verse 19, if Christ was not raised, if His resurrection never happened, we are “of all men most to be pitied.” BUT Christ is raised! And one day we will be as well, so we have life with meaning!  Our preaching is not in vain—it is life and blessing.  Because He lives the message of the Apostles is Good News, the life changing GOSPEL!  Centuries before Jesus Christ, the Greek philosopher Socrates lay dying. He was asked by his friends, “Shall we live again?” His answer, “I hope so, but no one can know.” That is not hope. Because Jesus conquered death we can know, we have a sure hope.
            If Christ is not raised, then living for him, following his will is a great delusion. We should be pitied, its only wishful thinking.  But since he has been raised and is alive and reigns as king forever, all of our obedience, all of our love, is not just “not-to-be-pitied,” but is the most blessed position we could be in. There is suffering in this world. "This slight momentary affliction is working for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison..." (2 Cor 4:17).
             And there is in every one of us the longing that our lives count for something, that they have significance and usefulness, that we don't come to the end of our days and say, it was all in vain, empty, pointless, useless, insignificant—pitiable. We want our life to matter. We want to have life with meaning.  Paul knew this. That's why he ends this whole chapter on the resurrection (v. 58) with the words:
"Therefore [because the resurrection is true and the resurrection means victory!] 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."
     Not in vain! That's the longing of our lives. Christ is risen and everything done in his name—by his strength and for his glory—is not in vain. Life has meaning!
What is God saying to me in this passage? God’s plan for believers includes victory over death, including a new body, as evidenced in the resurrection of Jesus Himself!  Think about Erich Sauer’s words again, “The present age is Easter time.  It begins with the resurrection of the Redeemer, and will end with the resurrection of the Redeemed.  In between lies the spiritual resurrection of those called into new life in Christ. And so it is in the power of the first Easter, that we go to meet the last Easter.”  Hope!

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Have you “resolved” to take better care of your body in 2016? That is a good thing. It is good stewardship.  We don’t want our health to become an impediment to our mission! But one day our bodies will fail. There is hope however!  Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Because of Him, the day is coming when death will be no more. In the power of the first Easter we go to meet the last Easter.  Our hope is not simply an immaterial “spiritual” existence for eternity. But a New Heaven and a New Earth, with a resurrection body, transformed, without the effects of sin. A return to Eden as God designed it to be!  That is good news! That is news worth sharing!    AMEN.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Pastor's Report Preview January 2016

Pastor’s Report – January 2016
       As we begin a new calendar year we have the opportunity to look back on the past year, evaluate where we are in terms of our mission and vision, and then refocus our priorities as we look ahead.  Our succinct mission statement says we are here “To know God, and to make Him known.”  We envision “A community of Christ followers, rooted in the Word, treasuring God as supremely valuable, proclaiming the riches of His grace to the world.”  The focus is on treasuring God, and faithfully embracing the mission and message He has entrusted to us. We are convinced that we are here, each one of us, by God’s sovereign design. He has brought us together from various backgrounds and with different experiences, to carry out our mission and implement our vision, as we discover our place in God’s story. God has placed each of us here on purpose for a purpose. And He will give each of us work until our life is over, and life until our work is done. Do you agree with that? It is an exciting idea to consider that each of us has been chosen by God to be a part of His team!   Part of God’s plan for each of us is to be a witness in the “sphere of influence” where He was placed us. Is there someone you can be praying for who needs to know Jesus?
       A key aspect of my calling as I see it is to “...equip the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).  An important part of that is the Sunday morning preaching time. This year we’ve been focused in the Sunday morning series on lessons from the first letter to the Corinthians (the series should conclude in February!).  Many of the issues that the church struggled with then also face us today in one way or another. Paul’s words are as relevant today as they were 2000 years ago.  Counselling has continued to be a privilege for me as I help individuals and couples deal with some of the struggles of living in a fallen world. Working with our volunteer team in the Sunday night youth ministry has been good as well, and we were blessed this year to have two of the teens take the step of publically professing their faith in baptism. Thanks to Karen Lawless for her faithful coordinating of this ministry in recent years, and also to Jamie House and the Fowlies for their participation! This kind of “intergenerational ministry” helps the teens to get a broader picture of the church family, and ultimately we pray, will help them to get integrated into the body.
       The Advent season included some special services including a Children’s program and a Christmas Eve service. On New Years Eve we once again read aloud through the Book of Revelation, and sang some worship music as well. What a great way to end one year and begin another! Could 2016 be the year of His return? God knows, for our part, may we be faithful!
       Our small group continues to meet on Thursday nights and this time is a high point of the week for Mary Ann and me.  We would love to see more groups form as this is an excellent setting for the kind of encouragement and accountability that we all need. If you are not a part of a group and would like to be, please talk to me about it.  If there is not a group that fits your needs, perhaps another can be started!
       Our elder board suffered with the sudden resignation of Mark Kamen who is dealing with some serious health issues. Please be in prayer for Mark and for the elders who are tasked with the shepherding responsibility of the church.  We need to prayerfully seek God’s direction for qualified candidates to fill the gap when the time is right.  For the last couple of months we have replaced one of our two monthly elder meetings with a “combined leadership meeting” of elders, deacons, and deaconesses. The elders still meet once a month to discuss shepherding issues and the ministry and direction of the church.
       We don’t know what changes, challenges, and opportunities we will face us in 2016. But God is faithful, and He will build His church. May we look ahead with excitement and joyfully embrace the opportunities He sets before us!
Your co-workers in Christ,

Steve and Mary Ann Nash

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Firm Foundation for Hope! I Corinthians 15:1-11

A Firm Foundation for Hope!
I Corinthians 15:1-11
Intro: It’s January 3rd, have you come up with a list of New Year’s resolutions? It’s January 3rd, have you already broken some? “Resolutions” express our “hope” for the future, that somehow this year, things will be better, we’ll be better and do better.  But even more than our short term “hope,” everyone wants something to hope for in the more distant future, something so great that is coming in the future that it can help you through the tough times today.  Some people are hopeless and despair. Some embrace positive thinking, for many of them however, it is simply wishful thinking, a vague “hope” it will all work out in the end.  The only hope that matters is one that is based on truth.   In the sermons of the apostles in the book of Acts, there is one historical truth that is repeatedly mentioned, which, by its very emphasis lies at the heart of the Christian message: the resurrection of JESUS CHRIST.  That is a foundation on which our hope can stand!  John MacArthur wrote:
Just as the heart pumps life giving blood to every part of the body, so the truth of the resurrection gives life to every other area of Gospel truth.  The resurrection is the pivot on which all of Christianity turns and without which none of the other truths would much matter.  Without the resurrection Christianity would be so much wishful thinking, taking its place alongside all other human philosophy and religious speculation.”   
The Apostle Paul affirms the necessity of the resurrection in I Cor 15:13-17,
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain... 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” 
Along with a lot of practical problems in Christian living, the Corinthians apparently had a serious doctrinal problem in terms of the future resurrection of believers.  The fact that Paul starts this great chapter affirming the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus may imply that some were beginning either to question the importance of His physical resurrection or even if it really happened at all.
Context: Chapter 15 of I Corinthians is the most fully developed chapter in the Bible on the theme of the resurrection.  The empty tomb is the basis for our hope as Christians.  It explicitly links the resurrection of Jesus, with the future resurrection of believers. It also defines our life as believers: Eric Sauer said:
“The present age is Eastertime.  It begins with the resurrection of the Redeemer, and will end with the resurrection of the redeemed.  Between lies the spiritual resurrection of those called into life through faith in Christ.  So we live between two Easters, and in the power of the first Easter, we go to meet the last Easter.”
The Maine Idea: Because Jesus lives we have a sure hope for the future and the power to live joyfully today. We’ll look at this truth from three perspectives:
     1. A REAL hope that is able to change lives (1-2).
     2. A REVEALED hope based on Scripture (3-4).
     3.  An HISTORICAL hope confirmed by eyewitnesses (5-11).
I. A REAL hope that is able to change lives (15:1-2)
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.”
       The first line of evidence that Paul presents is not stated explicitly but clearly implied.  The Gospel saves people when they believe the message.  The very fact that the Corinthian believers (and all believers for that matter) had received the Gospel, believed in Jesus, is strong evidence of the power of the gospel, which is the power of the resurrection of Christ (Ephesians 1:19,20): “…and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead…”
         Paul preached the Gospel among them, they received it, stood in it and were saved by it (15:1-2).  Notice that he calls them “brethren”,  he recognizes them as fellow Christians.  “I declare to you…” he is reminding them of the message they had heard and believed: the death of Jesus for our sins, his burial and resurrection. 
            1. The message impacted them in the past: “which you received…” There was a specific moment in their history when they heard the Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus and they believed it.  Whether or not you can remember and identify the precise moment, that is true for every believer.
            2. “…in which you stand…”  It was not simply something that happened in the past, but they continued to stand in the truth. Its not that Christians simply were saved, they are saved, they have eternal life as both a promise and a present possession.
            3. “In which you are saved if…” (or, “ which you are being saved if...”). The context of I Cor 15 definitely points also toward the future, and completion of the promise of salvation in the resurrection of believers.
       Notice the qualifier: “…if you hold fast to the Word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” This is not a denial of the eternal security of true believers.  It is a warning however that simply saying you believe is not necessarily the same as truly trusting Jesus as your savior and Lord.     
       There are a tremendous number of conflicting ideas that people “believe” to be true – just believing doesn’t make it true. Paul is showing the Corinthians the evidence for the truth of the Gospel, including the historical fact of the resurrection – most people deny the implications of the evidence.  An unwillingness to believe the facts, doesn’t change the facts! Truth is still true. And because Jesus lives we who believe have a sure hope for the future and the power to live joyfully today.  I. We have a REAL hope that is able to change lives, and...

II. A REVEALED Hope based on Scripture (15:3-4) 
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...
        The Old Testament Scriptures repeatedly predicted the coming of the Messiah, a deliverer, king, and Savior.  In our advent series we talked a little about what the messianic expectation looked like by the time of Jesus’ birth. For the most part, current interpretation had missed the idea that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die.  A key aspect of the apostles’ preaching was to point the church back toward that scriptural truth.
           Paul says, “I delivered to you that which I also received…” He brought authoritative teaching, not something that he just made up. He wasn’t asking them to simply take his word for anything. He delivered to them what God had revealed!  It’s God’s Word that matters, will we take Him at His Word?  Our vision statement talks about, “A community of Christ followers, rooted in the Word, treasuring God as supremely valuable, proclaiming the riches of His grace to the world...”  That’s my prayer, that as the Bible is preached we will be “rooted,” we’ll have a strong foundation, we’ll treasure Him more because we know Him better, and we’ll share the message of His grace with those around us!
“...Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures…”
            Paul is emphasizing “fulfillment,” so he uses the title “Christ,” or “Messiah.”—the “Anointed One” predicted as the deliverer of Israel by the Old Testament writers. Andrew said in John 1:41, "We have found the Messiah" (which translated means Christ).” 1:45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." By pointing to the idea of “fulfillment” here in I Corinthians 15, Paul is making it clear that there was no “chance” in the way the story of Jesus unfolded, he was not a victim of circumstances, rather, everything happened exactly as God had planned. In fact, the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies are one more confirmation that Jesus is the promised One.
            “…died for our sins…” This is the heart of the Gospel message: the sacrificial substitutionary death of Jesus.  John the Baptist anticipated this truth when he saw Jesus in John 1, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Isaiah the prophet had predicted the coming of a suffering servant when he said: “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  Have you personalized that? Do you realize, your sins were nailed the Cross? It all happened  “according to the Scriptures”—as it had been predicted and planned by God himself.
        “…and was raised the third day, according to the Scriptures…” A second proof of the truth of the Gospel was that the resurrection of Christ happened in precise fulfillment of the Scriptures.  What had been foretold with respect to the Messiah was fulfilled in the experience of Jesus. 
            1. The disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:25-27, cf.44-46).  This is a key aspect of the New Testament apologetic that we need to be sure we understand. How could it be that Jesus was the messiah, if the religious leaders did not recognize Him and the people did not receive Him?  The inspired writers make it clear, it had to happen that way, it was written, it was God’s plan from ages past, in fact the fulfilled prophecies about his rejection confirm his identity as messiah.
25 And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"  27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself...
44 ...Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."  45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,  46 and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead...
            2. Peter argues from Psalm 16 on the day of Pentecost: The Messiah (Christ) must be raised, JESUS was raised, therefore Jesus is the Christ (read Acts 2:25-31)!
            3. But for now look at Paul’s summary in his testimony to Agrippa, Acts 26:22-23.
22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass:  23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles."
God said it would happen according to His plan. And it did. Because Jesus lives we have a sure hope for the future and the power to live joyfully today. 

III. An HISTORICAL Hope Confirmed by Witnesses (15:5-11).
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.  9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.  11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Scoffers to this point might argue that this is circumstantial evidence.  Paul next calls on his third line of evidence: eyewitness testimony!  When someone actually saw something happen and they could testify to its veracity, that carries some weight! Eyewitness testimony is powerful!  Consider the how Ignatius of Antioch argued to the historicity of the life of Jesus, and specifically the eyewitnesses to the resurrection when, in AD 107, perhaps ten or 12 years after the death of the last of the Apostles, he wrote a letter while he was being carried to Rome as a prisoner, expecting to be thrown to the lions…
 “If you come across someone who says that Jesus Christ never lived, or that he is just an idea, or a concept, or a myth- shut your ears to him.  Jesus Christ was born to a human family, a descendant of David.  His mother was Mary.  He was persecuted and crucified under Pontius Pilate, a fact testified to us by some who are now in heaven, and some who are still alive on earth.  How can this be a phantom, or an illusion, or a myth?  These are facts of history!
            It is also a fact that he rose from the dead (or rather, that his Father raised him up).  And that is the most important fact of all, because His promise is that the father will also raise us up, if we believe in Him. So if Christ is not alive neither shall we be.  There is nothing left for us to hope for if he is just an idea of a fantasy. 
      In any case, if he only appeared to rise from the dead—why should I be in chains for this “myth”?  Why should I die to support an illusion?  I am prepared to die for him, the true and real Son of God.  But no one is prepared to die for a shadow.”
 He heard from eyewitnesses and knew in his heart that their testimony was true, Jesus had conquered death! Eyewitness testimony is compelling.
        The early witnesses first of all (vv. 5-7).  Not an exhaustive list, since the women who arrived first at the tomb are not even mentioned!  But he does list several important, “weighty” witnesses...
       He was seen first by “Cephas,” the Hebrew name of Peter.  Remember that this is he who had denied Jesus three times! He is the first witness to whom Paul appeals.  The restoration and subsequent ministry of Peter is a great testimony to God’s GRACE!  The resurrection changed everything. After the resurrection Peter became a fearless proclaimer of the Gospel.
       Then by the twelve, i.e. the group of disciples that traveled most closely with Jesus during His ministry… after that He was seen by over 500 brethren at once!  Paul makes the point that the majority of these witnesses were still alive as he wrote – if anyone had doubts they could go and speak to them personally and hear their stories!
          Then in vv. 8-10, he mentions a special witness, “then last of all he was seen by me, as one born out of due time…” Humanly speaking, the transformation of Paul is inexplicable – and so it stands as a powerful testimony to the truth of the resurrection. The zealous persecutor of the church became a fearless proclaimer of Messiah Jesus!
         The common message: Every true apostle and prophet, every faithful pastor and teacher preached the same message: Peter, James, Paul, the 500 witnesses – they testified to the same message: Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.
What is God saying to me in this passage?  Do you believe that message? It’s not wishful thinking or self-reliance.  Because Jesus defeated death we know He is who He claimed to be. Because He lives we have a sure hope for the future and the power to live joyfully today.  The truth of the Gospel hangs on the fact, the historical truth of the resurrection of Jesus.  The facts: Jesus proved that he is the messiah by dying for our sins, according to the scriptures and being buried, and the raising from the dead the third day.  The evidence is clear, the question is, how will we respond?

What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  As we start out a new year, does it occur to you that this could be the year that Jesus returns? The One who conquered death and returned to heaven and sat down at the Father’s right hand, will come again. Could it be 2016? Perhaps! Whether in 2016, or 500 years from now, our mission is still urgent for this generation. We have been entrusted with a mission: lift up the name of Jesus in all the earth, proclaim the message of His grace to those who will hear. Our purpose is to know God and make Him known. Our vision is to be “A community of Christ followers, rooted in the Word, treasuring God as supremely valuable, and proclaiming the riches of His grace to the world. Is that your vision as well? Will you recommit to doing your part in 2016?  It starts, for every one of us, with our personal walk with God. That means making time to be in the Word devotionally, praying, alone, and when possible with other believers. It means coming to meetings like this expectantly, ready to worship.  The elders are in agreement that small groups provide a great context for discipleship to happen, to learn and grow in community, to hold each other accountable.  And we are all called to be His witnesses. That  means prioritizing this year our “oikos,” the 8-15 people that we regularly interact with and influence. Is it reasonable, that on average, every one could reach one this year? With God all things are possible! Think about that.  Amen.