Sunday, May 25, 2014

Death is not Normal

1 Corinthians 15:29–34 (NKJV)
29 Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? 30 And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? 31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” 33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.

Prior to becoming a pastor I used to daydream about preaching a sermon on the text in John, “Jesus wept.” I found myself frustrated by the way in which death is often trivialized in our current discourse; by the way in which even well-meaning Christian people speak of death as though it is a normal and natural part of human existence. And so I wanted to preach on that text, “Jesus wept.” There in the face of death, the death of his close friend Lazarus, Jesus wept. Tears that were a protest against death; a protest against the notion that death is natural. Jesus wept.

And we all sense this, particularly we who know our Bibles and who know that Jesus has risen from the dead. We know that death is unnatural; we know that death is an enemy. Jesus wept. And it is this knowledge of the abnormality of death which Paul highlights in our text today.

How can some of you say, Paul has been insisting, that there is no resurrection of the dead? How can you say that death has the final word? How can you say that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead has not transformed all of human history? Jesus is the firstfruits of those who sleep! Because Jesus has risen from the dead, we too shall rise from the dead.

Now Paul appeals to the absurdity of their claim, their claim that death will basically continue on indefinitely. If death is normal, if death is not something that God intended from the very beginning to eliminate when the Seed of the Woman crushed the head of the Seed of the Serpent, then why did God command our fathers be baptized, to be washed with water, whenever they touched a dead body? Further, why do we Christians keep putting ourselves in harm’s way? Subjecting ourselves to ridicule, to criticism, to persecution, to death? Why endure all this pain and agony? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.

But Jesus wept. Jesus wept because death is not natural; it is an invader; it is not a normal thing; it is a foe. But glory be to God, it is a defeated foe. There shall be a resurrection of the dead. Jesus has risen – so we too shall rise. We shall stand before our Creator and give an account of what we have done in the body.

Therefore, we must beware how we conduct ourselves during the time of our stay on earth. We must pursue righteousness and holiness; we must beware departing from the simple Gospel of the death and resurrection of Christ; we must beware embracing ideas that undermine our hope in the resurrection.

So what of you? Are you prepared to stand before your Maker? Have you sought His forgiveness through Christ and endeavored to conduct yourself in righteousness? It is the reminder that we must all appear before our Creator that is issued to us every Lord’s Day. Today we enter into God’s presence – and so we must kneel before God and confess that only in Jesus are we worthy to enter into His presence. So let us kneel and seek His forgiveness in Christ.