1 Corinthians 15:50-58


This sermon for the 5th Sunday in Lent, was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on March 22nd, 2015.  To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Lent#5.

We Love This Fearful Half-Life.

Something is Not Right!   Maybe you recognize the words of Miss Clavelle in the story of Madeline.   She wakes in the middle of the night with a sense that something in her little girls school is terribly wrong, and she finds that Madeline is ill.

That moment in the story of Madeline touches on something that I think is a universal kind of experience.  Whether you have woken up in the night in fear, or felt a longing in a quiet afternoon (it is  an experience that tends to be brought on by quiet), I think that most of us have had that sense that life is passing away… that what we love and value may be lost.  Sometimes it can come on as a moment of panic, and sometimes as a sad longing, but we all know, with Miss Clavelle, that something is not right.

Life does not turn out the way we plan.  As we age this becomes increasingly clear as every successive stage of life brings changes and losses. You can’t go back to the irresponsibility of childhood, to the energy and strength of youth, though we often try to.  Even the competency and ability of adulthood fades.

Let’s be honest, even though our lives have not turned out to be what we planned, even though life has often been beset with pain and disappointment and frustration, we still long to hold onto what we know– to construct our “best life” the way we want it to be and stay there.

Why Do We Hold On to Half-Life:  Paul says something important and profound about this life we know and love, to the Corinthians:  … brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit incorruption.  Paul describes this life as “corruption.”  The Greek word means, “to destroy,” and carries the idea of something that is corrosive.  This corruption, Paul tells us, is what is wrong.  In this life we destroy and we are destroyed.  Corruption pervades our lives, creeping into our families, our relationships, our work, our government, our churches, our minds and bodies.  Even when we mean to do well, corruption is there.

Our desire to hold onto this half-life, this destructive and corrupt life of ours, makes us like the child who, having found the half-eaten cookie in the parking lot, pulls and resists agains his parent who is trying to take him to the State Fair.  We cling to what we know because we do not know better.

But We Need a Change.

We Will Be Changed:  The next words that Paul writes are some of the most dramatic and exciting words in all of scripture.  Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

This is the great hope of the believer in Jesus Christ–the hope that we will be changed.  We long for this change.  The longer we, who have had our eyes opened by Jesus Christ, live, the more we become aware of our need to be changed.

  • Healed from the ravages of our own folly and sin.
  • Healed from the wounds of being sinned against.
  • Healed from the tendency to bring trouble on ourselves and our inability to make things right in our lives.
  • Healed from the idolatry and covetousness and discontentment of our hearts.
  • Healed from the coldness of our desire for God and the distance we sometimes feel.
  • Healed from the pain of loss and  the pain of being mortal and living in a broken world.

We Need to Be Clothed:   But we need more than to be changed away from the destructive, corrosive effects of sin.  We need to be changed in a positive way.  Paul describes it as being dressed–maybe it makes sense to think of it as an upgrade.  For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality.  We, ourselves will be clothed with the beauty of the character of Christ.  We will become the persons we were created to be–recognizable to those who knew us, on the one hand, yet profoundly changed in every way to be ourselves and yet like Christ.

Why?  What will happen in that day that will so affect us?  We will not only be healed free of the corrupting desires and tendencies of our mortal bodies–but we will also, finally, be in the presence of God.  We were made to live and interact with God.  Our separation from God has left us incomplete in every way (mortal, sinful, socially broken, spiritually dead, psychologically confused).  But we will be clothed with God’s presence.

The Day is Coming:   And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: “Death is swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory?   Where, O death, is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

What Paul describes here is not just about our own personal redemption.  He speaks of these things as part of a larger picture, where death itself is swallowed up, and Jesus Christ celebrates his victory over all of creation.  All things will be made new.

To believe these things and to be a follower of Jesus Christ is to enter into this program of renewal–to be part of what God is bringing about.  We who believe, believe not merely that Jesus Christ exists, but that, by his death and resurrection, he has overcome this corrosive world, and that all of history is now moving towards the day when the victory of Jesus will create a new heavens and earth, a new world order of peace and justice, a new people who know and love and worship God in all that they do.

Look Forward to the Day.

How do we respond to these things by faith?  Paul gives two words of advice as he ends…

First: Be Firm and Unmovable:  What will it mean for us to believe in and wait for the day of the Lord? First, it means that we must develop a firm conviction regarding the day of the Lord…

  • that it is a day we who are in Christ need not fear because we belong to Jesus and our judgement is passed.
  • that it is a day of great joy, the renewal of all things, the healing of the nations, the complete healing of relationships in a way we have never known–a great reunion of joy.
  • that it is a wedding day in which we will, with all believers, be united with God and finally made fully alive.

If we believe these things, then they should challenge our commitment to this half-life.  We should begin to see the insubstantial and shakeable pleasantness of this world.  And yet, this requires  God’s gracious help.  We should not expect become firm and unmovable just because we have information.  Rather, to look forward to the day involves a process of prayer, in which we are learning to trust God, to let go of what often feels like life, but what cannot be held onto, controlled or maintained.

Second: Be Devoted to the Work of the Lord:  There is a reason that Paul ended 1Corinthians with the issue of the resurrection.  Paul wanted the Corinthians to see that their work together to love one another, to worship together, to be unified, to confront evil (the different pastoral issues he wrote about in this letter), was all part of the work of the Lord–part of this great movement of redemption–the same movement that will end with death being swallowed up in Christ’s victory.

Because Your Labor is Not in Vain!  Something is being made right!  Jesus said that we are living salt in this world.  Despite the corruption in this world, our work now is actually connected, in some mysterious way, to how God is making this world better.

Like the plant that grows up and dies and becomes the fertilizer that enriches the soil and helps other plants to grow, so our lives–as we live them out as part of this great movement of Christ’s victory–will enrich this world.  They will be a true testimony of God’s work in this world.  They will bring about redemptive living and situations in this world.