29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”
33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame. 35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 All flesh is not the same: Human beings have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
–1 Corinthians 15.29-41 (NIV)
In today’s passage, Paul continues to defend the bodily resurrection of Christ (and eventually his followers). As we saw yesterday, without the hope of resurrection, we Christians are most to be pitied because we often have to behave in ways that are counter-intuitive and which go against our natural proclivity toward selfishness. Here Paul talks about his own life and ministry. “Why,” asks Paul, “would I want to undergo suffering, hardship, persecution, and threat of death for some guy who is dead, buried, and gone forever? Just doesn’t make any sense unless you think I am a total moron! No, it makes more sense for me to live a life in which I seek as much pleasure and self-satisfaction as I can since it all comes to an end when I die. And frankly, if Christ has not been raised, you’d be smart to adopt the same lifestyle and philosophy!”
Given that Acts 19 does not not mention Paul being imprisoned in Ephesus or him being exposed to wild beasts, it is not unreasonable to think that Paul here is talking about the vehement opposition he probably encountered there. Regardless if Paul faced literal wild beasts, the point remains the same. If Jesus is not raised from the dead, then we’d best get busy and get everything we can because our days are numbered.
Moreover, as Paul reminds us here, it is shameful for any person who claims to be a Christian to deny Jesus’ resurrection. True enough. Without the resurrection, there would be no Christian faith today because the first followers of Jesus would certainly not have seen him as God’s true Messiah, and sadly there are many churches in the West today that deny the bodily resurrection of Christ. Is it any wonder these churches by and large are shrinking and dying? After all, if you don’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection, you really have very little Good News to tell people. We see this sadly illustrated in a recent blog entry from Ben Witherington:
I had just gotten off the bus in a tiny coal mining village in County Durham England, when I saw the Methodist Chapel steward running down the hill to meet me. It was Easter Sunday and I was scheduled to preach in that little chapel. The steward came up to me, somewhat breathless and said, “I’m ever so sorry but Mr. Witherington I need to ask you a question.” I said “Shoot” and he replied “No nothing so drastic as shooting, just a question.” I said “Go ahead.” He said “You do believe in the resurrection of Jesus don’t you?” I said, “Of course, that’s what I’m here to preach on.” You could see the relief written all over his face. “I’m ever so relieved,” he said, “because the chap we had last year didn’t. He rattled on about spring and the beauty of the flowers returning and that sort of drivel.”
No wonder Paul called it shameful when Christians deny the Resurrection. It’s just plain weird.
Then Paul gets to the heart of his teaching about resurrection. He reminds us that resurrection is more than just spiritual disembodiment or existence after death. No, when the early Christians spoke of resurrection they meant bodily resurrection that would be part and parcel of the New Creation. Paul will get much more specific about this later in chapter 15 and we will look at what he says later this week. Right now, what we should take care in noticing is what Paul says about the body. He reminds us that our bodies are God’s not our own, that it is foolish to wonder how God can resurrect our mortal bodies because God is capable of doing anything God wishes. To show how God will transform out mortal bodies into resurrection ones, Paul uses several analogies about planting and sowing. And while all this requires faith on our part, we must also understand that implicit throughout Paul’s argument is the notion that we don’t have to go totally on faith to believe in bodily resurrection. We have our first and actual example of what our resurrection bodies will look like in Jesus! How exactly Jesus could eat and drink and yet materialize suddenly in a locked room is not explained by the NT writers, nor does it need to be. The point is, that we have a preview of coming attractions in Jesus and that must be sufficient for the moment.
So here we have it. Resurrection gives us hope for an eternal future. It gives us meaning and purpose right now because we realize that God values his creation and creatures, and so must we if we choose to believe and follow Jesus. The hope of resurrection also gives us power to endure opposition that will inevitably come when we choose to follow Jesus. We can endure it because we know our suffering is temporary and have confidence that death will ultimately be swallowed up in life. In other words, resurrection gives us a prize on which to keep our eyes.
Here, then, is a powerful antidote for hopelessness and despair. We are reminded that just as God gave the first followers of Jesus new hope and purpose for living by raising Jesus from the dead, so he can with us too. If you are one who suffers from hopelessness, meaninglessness, or despair, take a chance and turn to the Risen Lord Jesus. Ask him to heal you in his good time and way through the Power and Presence of his Spirit and through the loving support and help from other faithful people. Then work at following Jesus in faithful obedience. You will find, as countless others have, that in losing yourself to the Lord of life you will surely find yourself as well as new life. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!