Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Gospel and Immortality

Sermon notes from last Sunday morning's sunrise service at Riverview Cemetery:

The Gospel and Immortality
I Corinthians 15
JPBC Sunrise Worship, 6:45 am
April 8, 2007

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has placed eternity in the hearts of men.

Men are caught between two realities: (1) the knowledge that we will one day die—our mortality; and (2) a sense that there will be the reality of an existence beyond our death—our immortality.

Men through the ages have expressed a desire to prepare for existence beyond death.

The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt built immense pyramids to hold their mummified bodies and filled their death chambers with furniture, clothing, food, tools, and even slaves to serve them in the life to come.

In 1974 in Xian, China the tomb of the first Chinese Emperor was discovered. Shi-Huang-ti went to that tomb in 210 B. C. after an eleven year reign as Emperor. Over 700 convicts had dug out the massive tomb and it was filled with 7,000 life-sized clay pottery soldiers and horses. Not a single soldier’s face was alike. After his burial, the tomb was covered with earth, trees were planted above ground, and the tomb’s architects were executed. There it lay till 1974! However misguided, this man made some massive preparations for the after-life.

The question we ask in this graveyard this morning is what preparations have been made for your life beyond this life.

The key to understanding God’s plan for our future lives is unlocked in 1 Corinthians 15.
Let’s focus on three key teachings:

I. Paul wants to be clear about the Gospel (vv. 1-8).

Paul declares the gospel in which his hearers stand (v. 1). The evidence that they are saved is that they hold fast the word Paul preached to them (v. 2). This is the good deposit, the faithful tradition, that must be preserved for each generation.

Paul outlines four basic, brute facts, the irreducible minimum that every believer must hold:

1. Christ died for our sins according according to the Scriptures (v. 3).

Christ’s death was substitutionary (in our place) and penal (he bore God’s wrath).
This was week there was a stir in the United Kingdom when a liberal Anglican clergyman, Jeffrey John, announced in a BBC commentary that this traditional view of the cross makes God a "psycho-path"; he called it "repulsive" and "insane." But let God be true and every man a liar. Christ died for us.

2. He was buried (v. 4a).

He did not just appear to die. He really died. He expired. The breathe of life left him.

3. He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (v. 4b).

This is the astounding miracle we celebrate here today. Jesus died, but God raised him. This was not a resucitation—a divine CPR—but a resurrection. It was transformation of a corruptible body to an incorruptible, resurrection body.

4. He appeared (vv. 5-8).

The risen Jesus appeared to Cephas (Peter); to the twelve; to over 500 brethren; to James and the apostles; and to Paul.

II. Paul wants to make clear that the resurrection is central to the Christian faith (vv. 12-19).

It is not an optional doctrine. Some apparently, even then, believed they could have a Christianity without the resurrection. Maybe it was too miraculous, too supernatural, too unbelievable.

Paul’s key point here, however, is not merely to insist on belief in the resurrection of Jesus himself, but also to stress that because Christ has been raised, believers can look forward to sharing in a general resurrection of the dead at the end of the ages.

If the resurrection is not true:

1. Christian preaching and faith is empty (v. 14). It has no content or substance.

2. The apostles are liars (v. 15).

3. Christians have no victory over sin (v. 17). We cannot separate the cross from the empty tomb! On the cross Jesus died for our sin; in the resurrection, we are lifted up into the life of God (see Col 3:1 ff). The resurrection is essential to our sanctification.

4. Christians have no hope after death (v. 18).

5. We live only for this life and are to be pitied (v. 19). This leads to nihilism and despair.

Again, Paul’s key point is to link the resurrection of Jesus with the future resurrection of humanity.

III. Paul wants to make clear that all humanity will experience immortality because of the resurrection (vv. 20-22).

In v. 20 Paul calls Jesus the "first fruits." He is the first bloom—the harbinger of Spring time.

In vv. 20-21 Paul draws a parallel between Adam and Christ. As sin came by one man and by him death, so resurrection comes to all men by one man. If Adam is the zero-patient, the alpha man, through whom the infection of sin spreads to all men, Jesus is the zero-patient, the alpha man, through whom the infection of life spreads to all men.

The resurrection impacts all men—whether they know it or not. Men who do not believe the Bible are infected by sin, whether they know it or not, and they will share in immortality, whether they know it or not.

In John 5:28-29 Jesus said, "for the hour is coming in which all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."

This is the final destiny of all men. Will we take part in the resurrection of life or the resurrection of condemnation?

I asked earlier: "What preparations have been made for you for life beyond this life?"

You will live again—all men will live again. The litmus test for how we spend eternity will be how we have responded to Jesus (Matt 10:32-33; Rev 20:11-15).

The way to prepare for this life is not…

…building a pyramid.
…making a tomb with 7,000 soldiers of clay.
…having children or grandchildren to kindle your memory.
…writing a book men will read a thousand years from now.
…having your name assigned to a building, to a window in a church, or to an athletic field.
…doing funeral pre-planning to make sure you get a good headstone.

It is all about trusting in the risen Christ with all you being and yielding to his will in every crevice and corner of your life.

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