BUT SOMEONE WILL ASK
In speech class in college I was told that one way to capture peoples’ attention at the start is to ask a question. So that’s what I’ll do right now. Actually it’s not MY question at all. It’s the Apostle Paul’s question and he mentions here in these verses from 1 Corinthians - one that he’d been hearing all over the place on his missionary travels. Ready?Here goes“But someone will ask: “How are the dead raised?”
So here’s Paul, preaching Jesus and the Resurrection, the heart of the Gospel, and somebody stands up in the back of the room and cupping his hands, yells, “Yeah, but how are the dead raised?”
“How are the dead raised?” That’s the question we’ll deal with this morning because it is at the heart of the Gospel. Many people don’t understand this. The biblical picture is not of people dying and going to heaven, but dying and being resurrected on the Last Day.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been getting new radiation treatments for my illness, and I spent all last week in the hospital for a new problem that’s come up, which has had the net effect of putting eternity more on my mind than ever before.
In fact, in order to help me, I recently made a list of the people I most respect when it comes to understanding the Bible – people from my past, from my present, from all over the country, and I e-mailed them the following question.
Now, please, I don’t want you to think badly of me, that I’m being disrespectful to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But I asked my friends to think hard and to give me their best response to the following question: “Do you think Jesus breathed while He met with the disciples after the Resurrection?” or, to put it another way, “If someone stuck Him with a pin, would Jesus jump back in surprise?”
The reason I asked this question is because it is really another way of asking “How are the dead raised?” This is an important question for me, because I’ll be having a resurrected body soon and I’d like to know ahead of time what it will be like.
An old and respected elder of the Church was once asked, “What do you think will happen to you when you die?” He answered, “I shall immediately depart into an eternal life of joy and bliss — but come now, let us not talk of such unpleasant subjects!”
That’s the problem isn’t it — how to tackle Paul’s question from scripture today: “But someone will ask, `How are the dead raised?’” Wonderful doctrine, great news, Easter, the heart of the gospel — but no one wants to talk about it. Like Woody Allen says, “You know, Death can really spoil a weekend.” So we hide behind humor sometimes. They say that when Oscar Wilde was on his deathbed he raised himself up on one arm, pointed to the wall, and said, “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.” Well, apparently the wallpaper stayed.
In former president Jimmy Carter’s recent book, “Living Faith,” he writes about the time this “But-someone-will ask” question became very personal:
“Religious faith has always been at the core of my existence. It has been a changing and evolving experience, beginning when I was a child of 3, memorizing Bible verses in SS. When I was 9 years old, I was promoted to the SS class taught by my father, so I had the double influence of the church environment and my own father as my teacher. My faith at first was simple and unequivocal; there was no doubt in my mind about the truth of what I learned in church. Yet even as a child, I was dismayed to find myself becoming skeptical about some aspects of my inherited faith. We learned in church that Jesus had risen from the dead 3 days after his crucifixion, and that all believers would someday enjoy a similar resurrection. As I grew older, I began to wonder whether this could be so. I became quite concerned about it, worried not so much about the prospect of my own death as about the possibility that I might be separated from my mother and father. These two people were the core of my existence, and I couldn’t bear the idea that I wouldn’t be with them forever. By the time I was 12 or 13 years old, my anxiety about this became so intense that at the end of every prayer, until after I was an adult, before ‘Amen’ I added the words ‘And, God, please, help me believe in the resurrection.’”
Sometimes we just avoid the subject altogether. You can turn to the obituary section of the daily paper and find that we “pass away,” “pass on,” “go to our reward,” or are “reunited with loved ones.” We do so“peacefully,” “suddenly” or “after a long illness.” But it takes a powerful magnifying glass ever to find the words, “He died on Tuesday.”
I had a friend who was an insurance agent. He told me that whenever he was selling policies to his clients, they would always say “If I die, how much will I be worth?” Of course, they should have been saying, “When I die.”
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised?”
Someone always asks, because as far as I know, with all the technological advances and increased life expectancy — the mortality rate for humankind still stands at 100%.
Paul is right. Someone will ask.
There really is just one solitary challenger to the Christian doctrine of Resurrection, and it’s called reincarnation. But it comes in several forms.
One is called “The Immortality of The Soul” or “The Invincible Spirit of Humankind” or “Life-force” or the like. It assumes that there is something which is death-proof in us. When you slough off all the earthly trappings of life, what is left over is the spirit or the soul. This is the leftovers when you die. It goes on. All the rest does not. It resembles Christianity’s resurrection doctrine, but it’s a different species altogether.
Socrates died holding on to this belief, and Plato put it in his philosophy, and you hear about these ideas to our very day, even in churches. But that is not what Jesus meant when he said “I am the resurrection and the life — whoever believes in me though they die — yet shall they live.” (John 11:25)
God has more in mind for you than survival as some disembodied spirit, a puff of a life floating through cosmic space, some thin distillate of all that it once meant to be human flesh and blood. No, this is a pale shadow of what Paul talks about in our scripture text he calls Resurrection.
In one form or another, this idea also contends for our faith when we say that we live on in our achievements, in the memories of our loved ones. I once served a church with a Senior Pastor who, sadly, held that belief. I asked him once if he believed in the Resurrection. He said “No, when you’re dead you’re dead.” “Well then,” I asked, “What is all this resurrection talk you find on the pages of Scripture?” He replied, “We live on in the beauty that we leave behind.”
“Well, that’s nice,” I thought to myself. “I sure hope I leave behind a legacy of good, but it sure isn’t what Paul and the early church believed. I hardly believe these early Christians would go to their graves believing that Jesus was a nice guy who left behind a lot of good memories, and that’s what Resurrection is.”
There is one other form of reincarnation that contends for our faith. It posits that we return to the earth to once again nourish the world through the growth of some plant or animal. That’s what eternal life is supposed to be in this version of reincarnation. This is the kind of eternal life that Carl Sagan believed in when he died, that he was stardust – that he came from stars and would ultimately go into new stars. As you can easily understand, this is not eternal life at all. We are dead as the proverbial doornail in this version of reincarnation.
Lastly we should mention a final contender for the answer to this question of Paul’s: “How are the dead raised?” We might call it ClassicReincarnation and it’s the one we hear about most these days on TV and in the movies. In its most basic form it says that we live on and on in a cycle of different lives until we reach a place where we are dissolved into the eternal, even as a drop is dissolved in the ocean. In other words, you were once somebody else before you were you. Maybe even a bug, who knows? The New Age Movement has popularized this type of reincarnation.
Well, these contenders, these alternate views of Resurrection may indeed make us out to be eternal in some sense, but unfortunately they also claim that the you that is really you right here and now is destined for eternal oblivion. They may make you out to be “eternal,” but it could hardly be called the eternal life that is described in Scripture.
Some of these ideas may be true in their own curious way, at least to those who believe them. I don't want to take away from that, but they are – listen - they are not true enough to be called the Christian faith. What we’re asking about is you and me, our character and dreams, our failures and our successes — how can they ever live on eternally with God?
These kinds of reincarnations I mentioned hardly merit attention because they do not give an answer to what happens to the human body in eternity. Only Christianity has made the preposterous claim that Jesus, the man, died on a cross and that three days later, he was alive and He walked around in bodily form, encountering people and interacting with them, wearing nail prints in his hands. In the Greek, Resurrection is anastasis, “ana” - again, “stasis” - to stand up. Anastasis: to stand up again.
Back to our sermon text. If you are philosophically-minded you will quickly realize that Paul is using Socratic dialogue here in 1 Corinthians. After raising the question, Paul gives us the correct answer, and it is a three-fold answer. How are the dead raised? First by God, second by resurrection, and last, through Christ.
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised?”
First we are raised to life by God. The Bible is so bold as to say that just as God took a lump of earth and squeezed it into a human being, breathed life into it and called it “very good” — so will God re-form our lives, again give dust breath and say this is “great stuff.” In other words, by the gift of God and God alone, there is life after life.
In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter says of Jesus, that “God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.” And Romans 8:11 says, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised?”
By resurrection. By resurrection. Hard word to say, even harder to understand. Paul realizes this. That's why he calls it a “mystery” in verse 51. But he says he’ll do his best to explain it.
He says that the first thing you have to keep in mind is the transformation, the change, the splendid new and surprising thing that life with God is about. It’s not at all like the existence we know so well now. He says it’s like a seed, ugly, shriveled, brown and dull. (Not unlike our lives most of the time, he hints.) But plant it in the ground and like a miracle, something appears of beauty and grace. A flower blooms from a seed. Life comes out from something just buried in the dust of the earth.
It’s you and me again we’re talking about, people who for better or worse will have said of us someday, “Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” What God has in mind for us is something of a new order, as different as a seed is from its bloom, as different, he says, as the earth is from the stars. “I tell you a mystery,” says Paul, “We shall not all sleep (i.e., die) but we shall all be changed.”
So, let’s be clear here about one thing. When we say the word “resurrection”we are not talking about the mere revival of the life you and I already know. God forbid that 70 or 80 years of aching bones, failing health and moral failings should stretch into an eternity! We are talking about a new and wonderful kind of existence where you will be you, your character, body, mind and emotion all made perfect. In fact, listen… the you will be the real you that God intended from the beginning, had not sin entered the world. There is life after life. Only spell LIFE in all CAPITAL letters.
Did Jesus breathe after his resurrection when he met the disciples? The answer is YES. Jesus became fully human and he will remain fully human for eternity though in a glorified state of existence which means of course no more pain or suffering. He ate fish with the disciples. He asked Thomas to put his hand in the wound in his side. He spoke. He walked. He talked. Yes, He breathed. He was not a freak. And our resurrection bodies will be just like His. I look forward to that day when this broken body of mine will be patterned after that of the Resurrected Christ. And because we will have real, solid resurrected bodies, we will be able to reign with Him on a transformed earth called The New Jerusalem.
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised?”
Through Christ. Through Christ. In spite of what critics say about Christianity being an escape, the Christian faith has always been ruthlessly honest about death. It does not sentimentalize our mortality. It does not evade. It owns up by saying out front that the central Figure of its faith died, YES DIED. Jesus died in the particularly cruel and senseless way that human beings are wont to suffer. There’s no escape from death even for the Savior. But even more it tells us that God has done something stupendous with this, the greatest of all human enemies.
Through Christ he has broken death — just once, but that's all it took. Just once is enough to break death's universal grip, just once is enough to make the story that gives us strength to look beyond our own deaths, language to speak when words are taken from us, the glimmer of victory when we meet that greatest and last of all human enemies.
Some will say that “Life is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing” — an honest if not hopeful analysis from the human perspective. Others will say “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” — a more optimistic attitude but hardly more helpful. But the Christian says, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead — the first fruits of them that have fallen asleep. (1 Cor. 12:20)”
One of the most common misunderstandings of Christianity is that it is primarily concerned with giving people a recipe for how to be good, or in the words of Dorothy Sayers “How to be kind to granny and the cat.” But this misses it all. As Ernest Bloch, the German philosopher so clearly put it: “It was not the morality of the Sermon on the Mount which enabled Christianity to conquer Roman Paganism, but the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead.”
Think about it this way. 1.) You may believe that Jesus was a good man and great teacher, perhaps the greatest of all. But in a world which did not understand or accept Him he was crushed at an early age in a cruel and meaningless death. Happens all the time.
Or 2.) You may believe that God did not will that this Teacher, this Man who lived for others to be lost and so affirms the triumph of such a life by literally raising Him from the dead.
Make your choice. Choose your story. Man called Jesus dies tragically — or — Christ the Son of God is raised from the dead.
Now please understand that I am not asking you here merely to choose between two possible stories about a man called Jesus in the Ancient Near East. I am in fact asking you to choose the story by which you will live —anddie.
One says that as Jesus was food for worms and fodder for death’s mill — so shall you be also. The other says that as Jesus was raised from the dead as the sign that God’s life for us is greater than death — so shall you be also.
So shall you be also.
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised?”
By God, and by resurrection — and through Christ. Paul sums it up though by saying, “I tell you a mystery.” Indeed it is, but thank goodness it is God’s mystery we live by, we die by it and we will live again by it.
I have made my choice. Jesus is the Son of God raised from the dead. I am trying to live my life in light of that, living the resurrected life. The day is fast approaching when I will be clothed with immortality.
Do we have hope in Christ only for this life? Then people should pity us more than anyone else. But Christ really has been raised from the dead. He is the first of all those who will rise. Death came because of what a man did. Rising from the dead also comes because of what another man did. Because of Adam, all people die. Because of Christ, all who believe will be made alive.
I like the way C.S. Lewis finished up his Chronicles of Narnia series. I’ve already written most of my Memorial Service. On the overleaf will be words from C.S. Lewis’ Chronical Of Narnia that I think will summarize the Christian understanding of the Resurrection. It is a paragraph from the very last chapter in the last book called The Last Battle, and it says:
The things that began to happen after that, were so great and beautiful, that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories. And we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page. Now at last they were beginning Chapter 1 of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Or as Paul tells it:
O Death where is thy sting? O Grave where is thy Victory?
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
I want to close this sermon by asking you to think about what I’ve just said. I am a dying man speaking to dying people. We all must face the fact that eternity awaits us. I do believe that I have some perspectives on Christian decision-making that others may not have. I’ve thought deep and hard on all this and I’ve come to some conclusions that I believe are incontrovertible – that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners of which I am chief. Jesus has promised me eternal life and a resurrected body, but I have had to make a choice on that matter. And I wonder… have you? This is not a choice you can put off. The time will come, even as it has come for me. I urge you, again, as a dying man to dying people, to choose Christ. I am only too willing to gently discuss this with you more. This is a topic of eternal significance. I will be here at the front of the church if you have questions.
Pastor Joe went to his heavenly reward On September 20, 2007. He can’t meet with you at the front of the church or via email as he had intended, but there are others who can talk with you about a decision to choose to walk with Jesus Christ. Just click on the link for the churches that Pastor Joe recommended, contact them and the Pastor will speak with you about the decision of a life-time. Join with those friends and many family members, who were lead to a decision to live for Jesus because of Pastor Joe’s choice in that missionary’s garden in W. Pakistan 40 years ago. And at the end of your life, Pastor Joe will be waiting at heaven’s gate to welcome you and congratulate you on your choice to follow Jesus. Don’t forget to tell him if you enjoyed his last sermon!