DOWN TO THE NITTY-GRITTY

“So then, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and steady”.

1 Cor 15:58 GNB

Christianity is not working out a lot of rules and regulations. It is not fathoming out what Christ meant when he said this or that. It is not an academic exercise although many highly intellectual people become good disciples of Jesus. It is a very practical way of life, and all the theological formulations and ideas have to be worked out in practice. After his flights of profound theological ideas about resurrection, Paul inevitably comes down to earth with some simple, straightforward instructions to the believers in the city of Corinth. Granted that they need to understand the whole issue of death and resurrection, they also need to realize that standing firm in their faith is the most important thing they can do. Their fellow-Corinthians are watching them. “How well will they make it in this new-fangled faith?”

Eugene Peterson described Christian discipleship as “a long obedience in the same direction”. It is easy to get carried away in “bubble and squeak” religion – working up to heights of rapture thinking you are glorifying God whilst all the time you are doing it for your own enjoyment of the excitement. After the artificially worked-up euphoria many people feel that the dull routine of the “long obedience in the same direction” is devoid of excitement, not “the real thing” and empty. Some people use the word “Ichabod” which is Hebrew meaning “the glory has departed”.

Paul says “standing firm is vital”. It was needed more than the emotional “highs” that some cherished – and plenty still do. Discipleship means working steadfastly through the troubles, stresses and strains under Christ that come your way – and saying, “Thanks be to God for the victory” in the end.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, help me to stand firm in my situation.

THANKS BE TO GOD

“Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.

1 Cor 15: 57 NIV

Not many people relish the prospect of death. Even Christian believers don’t like to think of it and some fear its coming. There is the fear of the possibility of pain. We fear the idea of the loneliness and of being cut off from people we love. We can’t imagine being without them. Then we are afraid of the unknown.

Into this normal and natural reticence Paul came with his strong doctrine of resurrection as the promise to Christian believers. A new attitude to death is seen in Stephen the deacon who cried out in his moment of death, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 8:59 NIV). It was a hope-filled attitude and cry. Going through the ordeal of death Stephen experienced it as a victory.

Christians should also see it as in a way crossing the finishing line in a race and joining the ranks of other champions who are cheering one on. But Paul emphasizes that the victory is not an achievement that we get to through our own efforts. It is solely something that Christ has won for us through his death and resurrection. Furthermore, it is an ordeal in which Christ accompanies us, his arm around us, his welcoming smile beckoning us on. Gift of God a Christian’s triumph in death may be, but still we need courage to face it and when we know that it is drawing near we should turn to God and ask for his gift of courage. One of the most helpful things a dying person needs is the quiet presence of loved ones, and the prayers of Christian friends or a pastor.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, enable me to meet my death with courage and faith.

WHERE IS DEATH’S STING?

“Where, O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? ”

1 Cor 15:55 NIV

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a leader of the confessing church in Germany during World War II. As such he refused to swear his personal allegiance to Adolf Hitler, as the Nazi head had demanded that all ministers should. Towards the end of the war Bonhoeffer was arrested and tried and found guilty. Two weeks before the American army liberated the prison at Flossenburg where Bonhoeffer was being held they called for him to come and face the gallows. As he was led out to die he whispered to a friend, “This is the end. For me it is the beginning of life”. It was April 5th 1945. He was 39 years old. Many have regretted that such a brilliant intellect and such a devout disciple of Jesus should die so young. Students of theology and professors still study some of his writings. He had no fear of death. For Bonhoeffer, death had lost its sting.

In this verse Paul was quoting from a line in the prophecy of Hosea. Many of the people to whom Paul wrote would themselves face an early death in the persecutions carried out in the Roman Empire. He wanted them to turn the event, when it came, into a moment of triumph for Jesus Christ, not for the Roman Emperor. Many courageous disciples died in this way, because they refused to do personal homage to the Emperor. But their faith lived on. It grew in the lives of other people until a future Emperor would declare it to be the official faith of the Empire – all because some, including Jesus himself, had seen something bigger and better beyond the grave. Do you?

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to die glorifying you.

DEATH SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory”.

1 Cor 15:54 NIV

We tend to regard death as an inconvenient and embarrassing end to strength, life and achievement. The people of the Bible saw it as an enemy, and as a consequence of, and punishment for, sin. To succumb to death was to be defeated. The saying Paul quotes in this verse is from Isaiah 25:8. Even then, they hoped for a glorious victory of God over this evil component of human existence.

“Despite Paul’s confident expectation about Christ’s ultimate vindication and victory, there is no superficial triumphalism in his attitude to death. Not only does he refuse to regard its enmity as truly overcome until the return of Christ, but he acknowledges the bitterness of its sting. The word refers primarily to the sting of bees, serpents and the like. Death is not just a natural and unpleasant phenomenon, but a punishment from God. Death is, therefore, an evil which exists only because of man’s rebellion against God. In that sense it is completely alien, and we can appreciate the crucial importance of rooting the meaning of Christ’s death in the need for sin to be properly dealt with” (D. Prior, The Message of I1 Corinthians, p276).

A Christian’s faith will enable the person to view death as a time to draw near to God and to seek his grace and comfort. Whilst some disciples may find a loved one’s death as an occasion to rejoice, because God does all things well, most will grieve and look to God for strength and hope.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord help me to face my death and others’ in faith and courage .

ALL CHANGE!

“What is mortal must be changed into what is immortal; what will die must be changed into what cannot die. So when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: “Death is destroyed; victory is complete!”

1 Cor 15:53, 54 GNB

We have to be thankful for the massive faith of the apostle Paul as he wrestled through the issue of life and death. He did so by exploring the relevance of the death and resurrection of Jesus to our own life and death. He has left the whole church in his debt for evermore. What was plain was that this ordinary flesh and blood of ours cannot become, of itself, strong, immortal and enduring. The older it gets, the weaker it gets. But the resurrection of Jesus is the key. Jesus, risen from the dead, was changed. We will be too. Our frail mortal bodies will, by an act of grace on God’s part, become immortal, like Jesus. Then we shall know immortal life, like him. It will come to a great climax. “The three vivid phrases used to describe this climax to history each has a particular nuance: ‘in a moment’ signifies the smallest possible amount of time. In the Greek Paul wrote it was atomos, from which comes the English word atom. ‘In the twinkling of an eye’ refers to the length of time it takes to blink. ‘At the last trumpet’ draws attention to the occasions in the Old Testament, in the teaching of Jesus and in contemporary Judaism when the sound of the trumpet signals celebration and triumph. It is this full and final victory over death, that ‘last enemy’, which will then be consummated” (D. Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians, p275,276).

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, wonderful indeed is your final victory.

REVEALING A MYSTERY

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet”.

1 Cor 15:51, 52 NIV

Sometimes we venture into the unknown. Paul was doing that in his thoughts about the resurrection of Jesus and our own after-life. In fact, he was pioneering the way. This is what he means by telling them a mystery – he was unveiling a secret which he believes has been revealed to him by God’s inspiration. He was writing some years after Christ’s ascension, but whilst many of the people who had become Christian believers under his ministry were still alive. However, some had died already and there was concern about their destiny. Paul’s word to describe their state is to say that they “sleep” in Christ. Also, the return of Christ was expected any day – and that meant the end of the world. Paul most likely believed that he would be alive to see that event.

“The word ‘sleep’ seems most naturally to describe a state of unconsciousness: i.e. at death Christians fall asleep in Christ and their next conscious experience is being woken to see Jesus at ‘the general resurrection on the last day’. The moment of death marks a person’s transition from time into eternity. ‘The last day’ marks both the final consummation of ‘things temporal’ and the full unveiling of ‘things eternal’. Paul thus envisages those who have died before Christ’s return being woken by the last trumpet, being united with Christians still alive at that point, and then the whole church being transformed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye as each Christian is given his imperishable, immortal, resurrection-body” (D. Prior, The Message of 1Corinthians, p275).

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, I look forward to that great day!

A LIFE-GIVING SPIRIT

“‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit”.

1 Cor 15:45, 46 NIV

Two questions that have baffled people for all time have been, “Where do we come from?” and “Where do we go to?”. Paul tackled these two knotty questions in his first letter to the Corinthians. They are not just simple factual questions like “How many hours are there in a day?” They are about the meaning of life itself and about what it means to be a human being on planet earth. By knowing just who Jesus Christ was, he was able to provide an answer to life’s unfathomable mysteries.

The moment of Christ’s resurrection was “a point of no return. He became ‘a life-giving spirit’, raised from the dead, he revealed his true origin as ‘the man from heaven’ – truly and fully man, not condemned to lie in the dust, but destined to resume his place at the right hand of God the Father. All those who belong to him will bear his image, both in the sense of being made like him and in the sense of sharing his resurrection-body. Indeed it is probable that Paul’s description of Jesus in these verses provides us with the only intelligible category for appreciating the nature of his resurrection-appearances prior to his ascension. He was recognizable as the crucified One, i.e. there was continuity with his past existence; but he was released into a quality of life unshackled by mortality and the finiteness of time and space, i.e. there was discontinuity. So the resurrected Jesus, indwelt by the Spirit of God, was able to give life in a new dimension to all who trusted him” (D. Prior, The Message of I Corinthians, p273).

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, dwell in me and live your resurrection life.

FROM WEAKNESS TO STRENGTH

“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable; it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness , it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body”.

1 Cor 15:42, 43, 44 NIV

“The glorious future to which Paul has previously referred, virtually beggars all understanding, let alone description. Faced with such an immense hope, mortal men can resort only to very basic questions, ‘With what kind of body do people get resurrected?’ Paul answers this very understandable question in the ensuing verses: through them all runs one fundamental principle: ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’. These physical bodies of ours simply are incapable of coping with the glory of God. If we are going to be resurrected in Christ, we need also to be transformed into his likeness. Only Christ-like people will be suitable for such a quality of life. Yet, however radical and total such a transformation must inevitably be, due to the vulnerability of our present bodies, there is nevertheless a clear continuity between Christians now and Christians then: ‘we shall be raised’, not destroyed and reincarnated in a different existence altogether. This continuity guarantees the fulfilment of such natural desires as being able to recognize and enjoy those whom we have known here in this life, when we have come to share in the life of the world to come” (D. Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians, p271, 272).

It is a glorious prospect – our weakness and frailty replaced by God’s gift of strength, our decay by God’s imperishable endurance, our ugliness by God’s beauty and glory. Hallelujah!

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, thank you for the promise and the prospect.

SOWING AND GROWING

“When you sow a seed in the ground, it does not sprout to life unless it dies. And what you sow is a bare seed, perhaps a grain of wheat or some other grain, not the full-bodied plant that will later grow up. God provides that seed with the body he wishes; he gives each seed its own proper body”.

1 Cor 15:36, 37, 38 GNB

When Paul wrote to the churches he had founded to answer their “sticky questions” he was formulating Christian thought and reasoning as he went along. It is always easier to get the “God -thought” on something over to learners if you can think of a human parallel, or something that is similar from nature. To explain the resurrection body Paul went to the farm. You have a seed of wheat. That is the wheat in one kind of body. When you plant it in the ground, however, it disintegrates as a seed. Then out of the dead seed there grows up a plant of wheat – it is a totally different plant – huge, green, full of vitality and growth and that eventually grows the ears of corn – another new body. But potato seeds do not grow into wheat plants and vice versa. Paul finds a parallel here to the resurrection body. You plant a dead human body, but out of it God gives it a brand new resurrection body. The resurrection body is God’s gift. The seed idea is probably as near to the analogy as one could hope to get, clumsy as it may sound to us.

From this early attempt to work out a full doctrine of the resurrection body we have been able to develop a distinctly Christian view of the future life. We thank God for Paul’s efforts.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, thank you for the hope of a new body in Christ.

WHAT KIND OF BODY?

“Someone will ask, ‘How can the dead be raised to life? What kind of body will they have?”

1 Cor 15:35 GNB

The question of life after death has baffled people all along. Paul is anxious to scotch any suggestion of the immortal soul being released from the physical body as the Greek philosophers had taught. With the resurrection of Jesus having taken place so recently, and the apostle’s preaching having centred so determinedly on Christ’s resurrection, this is where Paul anchors his answer to their question. The resurrection body of believers will be similar to that of Jesus. He was the same person, but looked different. Mary failed to recognize him on Easter Day in the Garden. But he was not mistaken for Pontius Pilate or any other known person. He was himself. Furthermore he could communicate by speech with all the disciples, and they with him. But he was not bound by the limitations of space and time as he had been before his crucifixion. He popped up here, there, and everywhere. He was now in a different form of body that was appropriate to the resurrection life he was inaugurating. Also it was a glorified body, made new and reconstituted by a miracle of God. It could not be compared with anything else. But it was not the old body. Lazarus came back in a revivified body. Lazarus would get old and die. Not the risen Jesus. He had passed into a new order. And when in his infinite wisdom he chooses to bring in that great afterlife we will be in a mode of being in which we will know and communicate with God. Until then we trust ourselves and others to God .

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, thank you for the hope of future life in Christ.