May 24th, 2020

Can the Dead Rise?

SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – MAY 24TH, 2020.
Text: I Corinthians 15:12-28
Title: “Can the Dead Rise?”
We turn to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians for our morning message. In this text Paul attacks his opponents’ position that denied the possibility of the resurrection of the dead. He was aware of the biblical development of the idea of resurrection. In the Old Testament the theme arises first out the prophets of justification – Hosea, Ezekiel, and Isaiah. They each spoke of a national resurrection. Now the life of the individual Hebrew was subordinate to the life of the nation, hence it was a small step to go from the resurrection of the nation to the resurrection of the individual. As Isaiah 26:19 records: “Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise.” In the New Testament, Martha in speaking to Jesus about her dead brother, Lazarus, says: “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection in the last day.” So, for the ancient Near Eastern Hebrew, the concept of the resurrection of the dead was widespread and a general Jewish belief. The philosophy of the Greeks was another matter. For the Greeks, the body was undesirable, a hinderance. Here Paul is speaking to the Corinthians, the majority of which are Greek. For them, the resurrection of the body was a foreign concept. The people Paul was speaking to were relatively recent converts to Christianity, and he is using the letter to draw them back to the foundation of the Christian faith – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What does the resurrection prove? We will take as our guide the Scriptures. According to the 4th Gospel, Jesus said to his enemies, “Now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth.” Jesus came with the true idea of God and of goodness. His enemies arranged his death because they did not want their own false views destroyed. If they had succeeded in absolutely and finally obliterating him, then falsehood would have triumphed. So, the resurrection proves that truth is stronger than falsehood. The resurrection is the final guarantee of the indestructibility of the truth. And the truth that is above all truths – the Gospel – while often painful in its revelation of our lies, it is a vessel of grace received.
The resurrection proves that good is stronger than evil. Again, to quote the 4th Gospel, Jesus says to his enemies: “You are of your father, the devil.” Strong language, indeed! The forces of evil led to the crucifixion of Jesus and if there had been no resurrection, these forces would have been triumphant. The historian J. A. Froude once said, “One lesson, and only one, history may be said to repeat with distinctiveness, that the world is built somehow on moral foundations, that in the long run it is well with the good, and in the long run it is ill with the wicked.” But if the resurrection had not taken place, that very principle would have been imperiled, and we could never again be certain that goodness is stronger than evil.
The resurrection proves that love is stronger than hatred. Jesus was the love of God incarnate. Yet, the attitude of those who brought about his crucifixion was an almost pure hatred. It was so bitter that in the end it could ascribe the loveliness and graciousness of his life to the power of the devil. If there had been no resurrection, it would have meant that the hatred of a fallen humanity would have in the end conquered the love of God. The resurrection is the triumph of love over all that hatred could do.
If Jesus had died never to rise again, it would have proved that death could take the loveliest and best life that ever lived and finally break it. Nature itself is a persistent thing, is it not? Even after the worst of disasters – wildfires, volcanos, tornadoes, and hurricanes – after a time, the green shoots of new life come back again. Yes, life is stronger than death. That is what the resurrection says to us. Paul insisted that if the resurrection of Jesus was not a fact, then the whole Christian message was based upon a lie and that many 1000’s had died trusting in a delusion. And that without the resurrection the greatest values in life have no guarantee.
This Sunday marks the end of the Church season of Eastertide. I will close with a poem I came across so years ago. I do not know the author, but it captures this season most well.
I heard two soldiers talking,
As they came down the hill,
The somber hill of Calvary,
Bleak, and black, and still.
And one said, ‘The night is late,
These thieves take long to die.’
And one said, ‘I am sore afraid,
And yet I know not why.’

I heard two women weeping
As down the hill they come,
And one was like a broken rose,
And one was like a flame.
One said, ‘Men shall rue this deed
Their hands have done.’
And one said only through her tears,
‘My son! My son! My son!’

I heard two angels singing,
Ere yet the dawn – was bright,
And they were clad in shining robes,
Robes and crowns of light.
And one sang, ‘Death is vanquished,’
And one in golden voice
Sang, ‘Love hath conquered, conquered all,
O heaven and earth rejoice!’