John 19, which describes the crucifixion of Christ, is one of the most powerful accounts in the whole Bible, it is a culmination of thousands of years of prophecy, going right back to the Garden of Eden, and the life’s work of one sinless man, who gave up his life as a sacrifice made for all mankind. It was a sacrifice made for you, it was made for me, it was made for all the people who are under the curse of sin throughout the world, but Jesus was the one person who didn’t deserve to die and certainly not such a horrible death. And it is with equal importance and depth that we read of the resurrection of Christ in John 20, and it is our hope that we will share in that resurrection.
Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1Co 15:1-4)
Paul is telling us that there are three things of foremost importance when it comes to the gospel message. Firstly he says that Christ died for our sins, then he tells us that Christ was buried and then third that Christ was resurrected.
Why is resurrection so important to the message of salvation? We know the importance of Christ’s death because it provided the perfect sacrifice for all mankind that wasn’t possible under the Law of Moses, and arguably it was the last and most significant act of obedience to his Father, but the resurrection was a critical part of the plan of God too, for if Christ hadn’t been resurrected then he could not be the Bridegroom that is spoken of in the parable of the ten virgins, he could not be the master of the house who will one day return, nor will he be the nobleman who went into a far country before returning. If Christ hadn’t been resurrected much of the prophecy would remain unfulfilled, and that would make the Bible untrue, so it was important that God raised Jesus as promised. His resurrection also serves as a model for us, an example of the hope that we can look forward to through God’s grace.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1Co 15:20-23)
Christ was the firstfruits of the harvest, he was the first to be resurrected to new life. There will be another harvest or resurrection to follow, but there will be a wait before this happens, which is implied from the idea of the firstfruits, and we are by God’s grace part of that harvest, which contains those who belong to Christ. It’s our hope to follow in the steps of Christ and be resurrected like him.
So what is resurrection, what does it mean for us? For those in Christ resurrection can be equated to eternal life, those who are deemed righteous will be given new life that can never die, and that’s what we largely think of when we think of resurrection, being raised to immortality, with the judgement in-between. But there is another side to it that we don’t particularly think of when we consider resurrection.
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Dan 12:2)
Those sleeping in the dust are those who lie dead in the ground awaiting resurrection. The righteous will awake to eternal life, but there will be those who awake from the resurrection who will not be given eternal life, but will be consigned to history in shame and have no future part in the kingdom of God.
Christ himself reaffirmed this…
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. (Mat 25:31-33)
Jesus goes on to praise the sheep for showing love to all those around, but condemns the goats for not showing the same love, not reflecting the glory of God, not showing the love of Christ to others. He describes the fate of those goats who fall on the left as eternal punishment but eternal life awaits the righteous or the sheep.
So you can see the resurrection in itself doesn’t equate to immortal life, but it is the glorious hope of resurrection to eternal life that we dwell upon when we speak of it.
But why would we want to be immortal? I think the answer to this becomes more apparent as we get older. Life now is stressful, and it can be hard physically and emotionally, it can be frustrating. We have bodies that are not immune to injury, pain, illness or death and it becomes ever more apparent to us as we get older, not only to our own bodies, but to others around us. As a child we are generally in good health and we don’t generally see or hear much of death, as we don’t know that many older people other than our grandparents. At the other end of the age spectrum, we’ve seen it all, the shop where I work is based in an elderly residential area and we sell an unusually high number of Sympathy and Get Well Soon cards, which I think tells you all you need to know.
All these frustrations will go away with immortality, and so the appeal to us is obvious, especially as we get older. The promised of renewed strength is particularly appealing to those who have lost their youth, those who can no longer run can look forward to running again. It’s an idea that I think grows on us over the course of our life time.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isa 40:28-31)
Not having to worry about frailties and weaknesses of the body is certainly a wonderful picture, but what about the forever bit? Wouldn’t it get a bit boring? What are we going to do for eternity?
We’re told that for the first 1,000 years or so we’ll be kings and priests in God’s kingdom, helping to rebuild the earth, but what about after that? What is going to happen for the rest of eternity? What will we do?
The truth is we don’t know exactly, but we know that God will be in everything, it will all be perfect.
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. 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.(1Co 15:27-28)
It is clear that everything and everyone will serve God for eternity, but how do we know that we will be happy serving God forever?
It’s about what we do with our lives now, we have to learn to love God, learn to serve God and to love doing those things so that when it comes to serving and loving God in the kingdom, without all the interruption of evil and opposition to God we currently have now, it will be such a delightful prospect to us. David said, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” And Paul says “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
That’s our aim, to learn to love God, to learn to do everything for his benefit and if we love doing these things then the thought of doing these things perfectly for God, forever, should be such a motivation for us. We’ll be happy to finally do things right, without being plagued by the sinful nature that holds us back, without the frailty of our bodies that we endure. Serving God perfectly should be all the encouragement we need.
Paul was certainly a man who devoted himself to the love of God,
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Php 3:7-14)
Paul counts all that he has lost in his fleshly life as nothing. He was a Pharisee, he was a well respected Jew and had significant influence over those around him, he was also a Roman citizen, and he gave up all these accolades, or badges of honour, to be in Christ, to attain resurrection from the dead by any means possible.
You can see Paul straining against the limitations of the flesh to obtain the resurrection, doing whatever he can to get there, for he knows he’s being held back by his mortality, but once he’s released from that and resurrected to immortality there is nothing to hold him back from serving God perfectly and it will make him so happy. He’s so motivated by the idea of the freedom that immortal life will give him that he doesn’t care what happens to him during his life and strains for what lies ahead of him and forgets what lies behind. He’s like the dog who pulls hard against its lead, to the extent where it almost chokes itself to attain its goal, perhaps going after a cat it has seen, but when the dog is released from its chain it joyfully bounds off after the cat. Paul is like that, straining to overcome his limitations to achieve his goal, but just think how joyful he will be when he is released by the resurrection to freely pursue his goal.
Jesus obviously had the same motivation to serve God, and he was motivated by the same things.
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:2)
It’s going to take a lot to motivate someone to give up their own life, particularly in the fashion that is described to us in John 19, but Jesus saw it as a joy, or at least saw the joy that it would bring to all those who believed in him, and so he endured the shame of the cross to allow others to become perfect after him. Once resurrected, Jesus would no longer have to fight the daily battle against the flesh to serve his Father, not that he failed at any time, but he was of course tempted like us and endured the same struggles that we do. Jesus has paved the way so that we can all share in the resurrection that he had, raised to new life, immortal, without the failings of the natural body.
So as we partake of this bread and wine let us remember the opportunity that we’ve been given by Christ’s sacrifice, the forgiveness of sins, and the hope of being resurrected to immortality like Christ was, so that we can serve and love God perfectly for all eternity. But until that time comes, let us learn to serve and love God to the best of our abilities in this life, striving always to do everything for the glory of God.