I Tell You a Mystery

1 Corinthians 15:50-58
April 1, 2018
Abraham Hong

 

The greatest sermon that I have ever heard in my life happened on May 18, 2006. It happened at a funeral. A funeral for a dear friend from seminary.

I do not remember exactly what the preacher said that day. But I do remember all the tears. I remember the mighty declaration of the gospel of Christ. I remember how God loved us that day.

And I remember being encouraged by something of first importance: resurrection.

At the end of his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul reminded the church that believers will be resurrected from the dead. It was a much needed reminder. People were abandoning the truth and the promise of resurrection. They lost hope in the face of death. They had no sense of victory. The sting of death was too much for them. And they came to the conclusion that their lives in Christ were in vain.

This was all very real back then. And it is still very real today. I faced these things at my friend’s funeral. And I believe that many brothers and sisters in Christ face them as well.

But behold! I tell you a mystery. God promises us that we will have resurrection life at the end. He promises us that we shall all be changed. He promises us that a last trumpet will sound. He promises us that death will be swallowed up in victory.

And we know that the end of all of this will soon come true… because we know that the beginning of all of this has already come true. We will resurrect from the dead… because Christ has already resurrected from the dead.

Think about a roll of kimbap. Every piece should taste the same. And the reason why is simple. Every piece comes from the same roll. Every piece has the same meat, the same strip of yellow danmunji, the same strands of spinach, and of course, the same batch of rice and the same sheet of seaweed. No chef or grandmother would in their right mind make kimbap piece by piece. That would be an absurd way to cook.

Brothers and sisters, We are united with Christ. We belong to his roll. He is the first piece to go. And we are all the other pieces that will soon go too. This is a very long roll. Just as his spinach is our spinach, his death is our death. Just as his danmunji is our danmunji, his resurrection is our resurrection. We are not individual pieces that have to be made separately with our own spinach or danmunji. That would be an absurd way to be saved.

We are united with Christ. And Christ is our firstfruit. So when we celebrate his resurrection, we are not celebrating an event that is separate from our resurrection. For his resurrection and our resurrection are of one and the same harvest. And you need to know that the harvest has already begun. Praise the Lord!

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not sleep, but we shall be changed.

The word “sleep” refers to our earthly death before the return of Christ. Our earthly death will not be forever. We will wake up. And when we do, we will be transformed. You will still be you. But you will be a completely different you - an imperishable you. In the spirit of Philippians 3:21, Jesus will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. We shall not sleep. We shall be changed. Praise the Lord!

Behold! I tell you a mystery. Our resurrection will happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

The words “twinkling of an eye” brings to mind something instant. And the trumpet brings to mind a sovereign signal and divine decree. In other words, our resurrection will be swift and sure. It will happen in the twinkling of an eye. It will happen at the last trumpet. Praise the Lord!

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We will be raised imperishable and we will put on immortality.

There will be no more death. There will only be life. When we put on immortality, it will be like new clothing that can never fade or wear out. This will happen. This must happen. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. Praise the Lord!

Behold! I tell you a mystery. Death will be swallowed up in victory.

One day, death will no longer have victory. It will not leave us in defeat. And one day, death will no longer have sting. It will not leave us in everlasting pain. For God will drown and destroy and decimate death when Christ returns in his consummated victory. And soon and very soon, we will be able to declare in the spirit of the prophecies of Isaiah 25:8 and in Hosea 13:14, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Praise the Lord!

Brothers and sisters, I am only able to tell you this mystery because of Jesus.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But Jesus dealt with sin. And Jesus fulfilled the law. He died for our sin. And he rose again for our righteousness. Therefore, thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, I ask you to be unafraid of death.

We will still cry at funerals. But we have comfort from the Lord. Our only comfort in life and in death is that we are our not our own, but we belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ (Heidelberg Catechism, Q1). Do not be afraid of death. It is no longer a penalty for sin. It is now a door to resurrection life.

Brothers and sisters, I ask you not to die as the world dies.

The Scottish pastor and theologian Thomas Boston once wrote these words: “As the believer’s life is different from the unbeliever’s life, so also the believer’s death is different from the unbeliever’s death. For the unbeliever, death is a loss - the greatest loss; but for the believer, death is the greatest gain.” The Apostle Paul once wrote these words: “For to me to live in Christ, and to die is gain.”

Brothers and sisters, I ask you to be steadfast in the Lord and abound in good works as you suffer in this old and fading world.

It is easy to think that life is vanity. If there was no resurrection, then you would be right. But there will be resurrection. Therefore, everything you do for the Lord will be worth it. May you know that the end of your labor will not be met with vanity. It will be met with victory.

And lastly, brothers and sisters, I simply ask you to look forward to the return of Christ.

Imagine the day that you see the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. Imagine seeing him, and all the saints of old, with your very own imperishable eyes. When that day comes, there will be no more funerals. When that day comes, other days - days like May 18, 2006 - will be swallowed up in victory. And when that day comes, you will probably not remember this sermon at all.

But that will be quite alright. I won’t remember it either.

Because when that day comes, we will be enjoying that which is of first importance: resurrection.

End


Summary of Sermon

Believers will be resurrected from the dead. This was a much needed reminder for the Corinthian church. And it is still a much needed reminder for us today.

God promises us that we will have resurrection life at the end. And we know for sure that we will resurrect from the dead because Christ has already resurrected from the dead. We are united with Christ. Christ is our firstfruit. His resurrection and our resurrection are of one and the same harvest. And the harvest has already begun.

Behold: We shall not sleep, but we shall be changed. Our earthly death will not be forever. Jesus will wake us up and transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body.

Behold: Our resurrection will happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. Our resurrection will be swift and sure.

Behold: We will be raised imperishable and we will put on immortality. There will be no more death. There will only be life everlasting.

Behold: Death will be swallowed up in victory. God will drown and destroy and decimate death when Christ returns in his consummated victory. Then we will be able to say, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

This wonderful mystery is only possible because of Jesus. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But Jesus dealt with sin. And Jesus fulfilled the law. He died for our sin. And he rose again for our righteousness. Therefore, thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Let us therefore not be afraid of death. Let us not die as the world dies. Let us remain steadfast and know that everything we do for the Lord will be worth it. And let us look forward to the return of Christ.

Questions for Discussion & Sharing

Consider the most meaningful funeral you have ever attended or been a part of. What difficulties can we as believers face as we bury the dead?

As we wait for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, how does the reality of resurrection change the way that we think and live and serve - and even die - on this old and fading earth?