Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Different Gospel-- No Gospel at All

Texts:  Jeremiah 2:4-13; Galatians 1:1-10
AS YOU CERTAINLY REMEMBER, in 2008 the president campaigned on a platform of "Hope and Change." But it wasn't just the Democrats who took that approach. My Republican state representative over in Beaver County ran with the motto "Change Is Good." And change isn't attractive only in politics. Young and old, we've all been through times when our lives seems so monotonous, so ordinary, so stifling that we just wanted things to be different. There's something alluring and refreshing about the idea of change, especially when things aren't going so well. Not about any particular change, just "change" in general.

And if we go for a different phone or alter the way we dress or vote in a new politician to represent us, maybe it works out and maybe it doesn't. Sometimes it doesn't make that much difference, and sometimes it seems to makes all the difference in the world. But when it comes to changes involving the Lord our God, it makes a difference not only in this world, it effects our lives for all eternity.

When the Lord God Almighty rescued the children of Israel out of Egypt about 3,500 years ago, they were ready for change. For long years they'd been laboring under the heavy yoke of Pharaoh and his taskmasters. They were groaning for relief and the Lord God of their fathers heard their cry and rescued them. He sent terrible plagues on the Egyptians and brought the Israelites through the Red Sea with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. As it says in our passage from Jeremiah chapter 2,

[The Lord] brought [them] up out of Egypt
and led [them] through the barren wilderness,
through a land of deserts and rifts,
a land of drought and darkness,
a land where no one travels and no one lives.

Ultimately He

brought [them] into a fertile land
to eat its fruit and rich produce.

That was a tremendous change! And definitely a change for the better. Out of slavery He brought them, to a wonderful land rich with produce and abundant with fruit, where they lived in houses they hadn't had to build and drank from cisterns they hadn't had to dig. But that wasn't the best part of the change God made for them. In Egypt, they were just that Hebrew rabble. But now, the children of Israel were the people of God, the dearly-loved possession of the Lord of the universe! They were His covenant nation, endowed with His laws and protected by His faithfulness! What a glorious difference! What a marvellous change!

So you'd think they'd be happy with their new situation and want to live in it forever. But as we know, in the wilderness it wasn't long before the Israelites started complaining that freedom equalled certain death and they'd be better off going back and being slaves again in Egypt. And pretty soon after the Lord brought them into the promised land-- well, let Jeremiah tell it:

Has a nation ever changed its gods?
(Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their Glory
for worthless idols.

God's own chosen people turned their backs on Him, who was their Glory! They exchanged Him for the do-nothing, no-good, ersatz gods of the Canaanites they'd driven out! Yes, human beings have a hankering for change, but who ever heard of something like this, that a nation should change its gods as the Israelites had changed theirs? Go across the sea to Kittim, says the Lord through Jeremiah; that is, go to Cyprus and the Greek peoples there. Do they stop worshipping Zeus (though he is no god at all)? Send to Kedar; that is, to the Syro-Arabian desert where the Bedouin nomads live. Do they forsake their idols (though they're only wood and stone and cast metal)? So how could Israel and Judah forsake the Lord Almighty, God Most High who made heaven and earth and saved them to be His very own?

The clue is in verse 13:

"My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water."

"They have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." There's a saying that goes, "The Jews are like everybody else, except more so." We have no standing to cast stones at our Old Testament predecessors or at their modern-day children. If we'd been in their place, we would've done the same. We would have turned from the good change that God had brought us into and gone after a situation where we were in control. It's our fallen, sinful human nature.

A cistern is a good thing to have in a dry climate. I've wished I had one buried in my backyard this dry summer. Then when it rains I could store up enough water to take care of my garden. But it'd be even better if I had a fresh, flowing spring on my property! Cistern water is okay for the crops, but for drinking and cooking and even for bathing, it's a far-back second place.

The Lord our God is like a spring of living water to His people. We don't control Him; He's simply there for us with His goodness and grace. But we and our spiritual ancestors the Jews wanted gods they could control, that were like cisterns they'd dug and lined themselves.

When I was in college, I took a course or two on North American Indian Anthropology. And I remember my Anthro professor telling us that the gods and totems of the various tribes were expressions of how they wanted to see themselves. A tribe wanted to regard themselves as fierce like the bear or all-seeing like the eagle or cunning like the fox, so the bear-spirit or the eagle-spirit or the fox-spirit were what they worshipped. Yes, there was the idea of a Great Spirit, just like the nations of the ancient Near East acknowledged a God Most High. But for pagan peoples throughout history, that Spirit or God wasn't the One you really worshipped. No, you made your offering to Baal, the storm god, or Ashtoreth, the goddess of sex and fertility. And you could feel proud of yourself, because your nation was strong like Baal and prolific like Ashtoreth. And even when you feared your deities, you could bribe them to do what you wanted by offering the right sacrifices-- like burning one of your own children alive in the ritual fire, then the deity really had to listen. Besides, wasn't it great to worship gods where sleeping with temple prostitutes was part of the liturgy? I mean, talk about a worship experience!

So if you're an Israelite with this going on all around you, your inborn human desire for novelty and change and control could and did lure you away from the Lord. Even though He was the One who really did give you all that was pleasant and good. Even though you were throwing yourself right into the dead metal arms of worthless idols. Even though you were deserting the One who'd saved you and turning to different gods, who were not gods at all.

How could the Lord not judge His people? How could He not take them into exile? They had to learn that He alone was Lord and God, that He was their Life, their Hope, and their Glory. Not for their sake alone, but for the sake of all of us who would one day come to believe in Jesus, the promised Messiah of Israel. God had to change them from idolatry back into His people.

And in the fullness of time, our Lord Christ, the Son of David, the promised Savior, was born into this world. And things were better, in a way. At least Jesus didn't have to combat open idolatry as Jeremiah or Elijah did. No, the anti-God change in Israel was more subtle. The Jewish leaders in Jesus' day didn't worship Baal, but something even more deceptive: They worshipped their own ability to keep the Law of God. They depended on their own capacity to be righteous as God is righteous. Their teaching was that if every Jew could keep all the ordinances of the Law all day for just one day, the kingdom of God would come. But here comes Jesus proclaiming that now that He's here, the kingdom of God has arrived! And preaching and pronouncing and doing miracles as if He Himself is the divine King! That was a change they couldn't accept, and it got Him crucified.

But you know, that was God's plan all along. And far from being a victim, Jesus Christ took His throne on that cross and shed His blood to pay for the sins of you and me. He took the punishment for all our idolatries, for all our disobedience, for all the times we turn our back on the Lord our God. In His rising again we have new and eternal life through Him. This is God's one and only plan for the salvation of mankind. This is the Gospel St. Paul and all the apostles preached throughout the Roman world and beyond. Repent and believe that Jesus perfectly kept the Law for you! Accept the forgiveness that He won for you on the cross! If you're Jewish, turn from your failed attempts to follow all the ordinances and statutes of Moses and depend on Christ alone! If you're a Gentile pagan, turn from your worthless idols and believe in the Son of the one, true, and everliving God! This change is good!

This message was for the Galatians and it's for us today. We, too, were in the slavery of sin until Jesus saved us by His blood. We, too, worshipped worthless idols of our own making. We needed and every day need the change only Christ can give.

But somehow we all keep hankering after the kind of change we can control. Paul is upset and angry with the Galatians because they have "so quickly desert[ed] the one who called them by the grace of Christ and [have turned] to a different gospel-- which is really no gospel at all." This gospel is what we read in verses 3 and 4: It's the good news of "Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father."

Now, who is this one Paul says they've turned from, in verse 6? Some might say it's the Apostle Paul himself. But the following verses contradict that. Paul says that even if he himself should come preaching a gospel other than redemption and forgiveness of sins in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, "let him be eternally condemned!" Or, more bluntly-speaking, may he go straight to hell! No, verse 3 of chapter 3 tells us it was God the Holy Spirit who had called the Galatians into faith in Christ, and He's the One who calls us. It says, "Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?"

Ah. There it is again. Abandoning the Spring of living water and digging out leaky cisterns that can't hold a drop to drink. The different so-called gospel the Galatians were running after is the same one too many Christians go after today. Perverters of the gospel had come to Galatia, preaching that to if you wanted to be really saved you had to keep the food laws, the feast day laws, the handwashing laws-- all the parts of the law of Moses that Jesus Himself had already fulfilled and abolished by His perfect righteous life and death. But the Galatians were ready to set His sacrifice aside to observe all that, just to "make sure."

Today we don't aspire to keeping all the kosher laws. But we're still tempted to desert the Holy Spirit and change over to the false "gospel" of human effort. For instance, do you believe that Christianity is fundamentally about loving your neighbor as yourself and being good so God will reward you in this life and the next? If so, welcome to the land of leaky cisterns. Welcome to the approval of men instead of the approval of God.

Brothers and sisters, loving your neighbor as yourself is the result of the gospel of Jesus Christ! We love our neighbor because God has first loved us in the death and resurrection of His Son. Through Christ He changes us so we can truly love God and our neighbor. It is not our own effort that produces good fruit for God, but the Spirit working in us. Even our trust in Him is not something we work up on our own; our faith itself is a gift from our Father in heaven.

Jesus does it all! That's why Paul has to remind the Galatians-- and us-- that his apostleship is not from man or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Christ from the dead. Because there are teachers even today who claim Paul got it wrong. That all his preaching of the blood atonement was just a distraction from the "simple, pure gospel of walking in Jesus' footsteps" that the Savior "really preached." I don't know what so-called Savior these people are talking about, but he's not the Jesus Christ who shed His blood on the cross to reconcile you and me to Almighty God.

The idolatrous so-called "gospel" of salvation by our own efforts has been popular since the Garden of Eden. But the good news is, you don't have to be drawn away by it. You don't even have to depend on your own efforts not to be drawn away by it! Believe God in His word: Jesus has paid for all your sins. Trust Him and know that you have the Holy Spirit living in you, to lead you in the paths of righteousness, for His name's sake. And when you stray, as we all do daily, accept the forgiveness He has won for you.

Rest and rejoice in the change the Lord has made in you, and never change from the true and only Gospel of Jesus Christ, who gave himself for your sins to rescue you from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Living in the Salvation of the Lord

Texts: Isaiah 26:1-15; Titus 2:11 - 3:11
TOWARDS THE END OF MY 3rd grade year, my parents split up. My mom moved herself and us kids to our grandparents'. That meant starting at a whole new school for 4th grade, and, let me tell you, things did not go well. My new class liked games I hated and had strange rules about what new kids should and shouldn't do and I didn't figure out which end was up till it was too late. At my old school I was one of the popular kids, I had lots of friends, and I was in on everything. At the new school, most of the time during recess, when I wasn't actually being bullied, I found myself alone on the hill next to the playground, just sitting there thinking. I thought about God and why He was letting all this happen to me. And I decided it was because the year before at my old school I'd helped tease a new girl whose mother had died and who only had her father to raise her. I never teased her about that, no, but I was ready as anybody else to make her feel uncomfortable. Because she was, well, different.

Frankly, I thought God was overdoing it with the punishment. I'd say, "Lord, I wasn't that mean to her!" But I never questioned that I was getting divine retribution for my sins. I was a church-going kid, and I knew I was supposed to be good. And if I wasn't good, God would punish me for it.

Because that's the way it's supposed to work, isn't it? If you're a Christian, you read the Bible to find out what God wants of you, and you do your best to follow His rules? And if you do, He'll reward you with salvation, and if you mess up, He'll punish you for what you've done wrong. And hopefully your good works will outweigh your bad and you'll make it into heaven in the end. Why shouldn't we believe that about Christianity? That's what every religion in the world teaches, why not ours?

But that's not what the Bible teaches about Christianity. Not at all. And our reading from Titus shows us how amazingly different our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ really is, so we can joyfully live in His salvation and never have to be afraid again.

If belonging to Jesus were about our human efforts to be good, the ancient Cretans would have been total failures at it. As you probably know, Crete is a large island in the Mediterranean Sea, about a hundred miles south of mainland Greece. About thirty years after Jesus died and rose again, Paul and Titus made a missionary journey there, and successfully planted churches in many of the Cretan towns. Paul returned to Athens, but as we read in chapter 1, he left Titus on the island that he "might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town." All churches need good leadership, but the Cretan churches needed it especially, because they were going to have to live in opposition to a very difficult, very wicked culture. All sort of sins abounded all around the pagan world, but the Cretans were a special case. Paul writes, "Even one of their own prophets has said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.'" Yikes! Not exactly what you'd call ethnically-sensitive or politically-correct, is it? But many writers of the time bear out the truth of the statement. Cretans were infamous for being habitual liars. I don't mean fish-story liars, but cheat-you-out-of-house-and-home liars. They were known around the Mediterranean for being vengeful and vindictive, men who'd cut your throat if you looked at them cross-eyed-- that is, when they weren't lying about feeding their faces and refusing to work.

And now many of these people had become Christians. Their lives needed to demonstrate the holiness and righteousness of God. What if Paul had written to Titus something like, "Titus, my son, you have many Cretan Jews there in your congregations: you make them elders so they can teach the Gentile believers the Law of Moses. That way they'll know what's right and what's wrong. The Law'll make honest, gentle, and industrious citizens out of them"? Would that have been the way of Christ? What if he'd written, "Titus, tell them that Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself and to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If the Cretans can get that behavior down, they'll be good Christians and God will be pleased with them"? What if?

But Paul didn't write that, because that's not the Gospel. Paul does direct Titus to teach the church members good and godly behavior, according to sound doctrine. But what is that sound doctrine? Here it is, as it's written in Titus 2:11: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." Or, as the Greek says, to all persons. All our good Christian behavior comes after what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. All our striving to please God is how we live in the salvation He has provided for us.

God's grace that brings salvation comes first! Our Isaiah 26 reading shows us that salvation has always been a work of the grace of God. Isaiah writes, "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast [or, him whose mind is stayed on You], because he trusts in you." Even from of old, God's people were called to keep the Law because first of all God had proved Himself to be gracious and trustworthy.

Isaiah looked forward to the time when the gracious salvation of God would be perfectly revealed to all humanity in the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Now Jesus has come and has perfectly kept the Law that we could never fulfill. Now He has died to ward off the wrath of God that we deserved for our sins and risen again to give us new and everlasting life. Now Jesus has put His Spirit in us so that we can say "No!" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and "Yes!" to self-control, uprightness, and godliness.

Could the Cretans do that without Christ saving them first? Could we? Of course not. For as Paul writes in verse 3 of chapter 3, "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another." Paul includes himself and Titus in this guilty verdict, and when we look at ourselves, we have to admit it's true of us, too. We've never physically taken someone's life, but we certainly have dehumanized others, refused to forgive, or wished someone was dead in our hearts. We've all been led astray by what we felt like doing, so we failed in our duty to God and our neighbor. We've been rude and proud; we've gossiped and envied; we've disobeyed our parents, our teachers, the law of the land, and the Law of God itself. Not one of us can claim to be worthy to stand before a holy God, and He's not interested in our stories that what we've done isn't "that bad" or that He should punish somebody else who's so much worse, instead. Even when we try to do good our motives are mixed, our deeds are polluted, and we can never meet the standard He has given us in His holy law. How can we possibly please God? What can people like the Cretans or people like ourselves do to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly in this present age?

Nothing. We can do nothing at all. Left to ourselves, we can expect only judgment. "But," says Paul, "when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy." As the hymn puts it, "'Tis mercy all, immense and free! For O my God, it found out me!" We didn't deserve it, we could never earn it, God would have been perfectly justified in letting us all go to perdition as our sins deserved. But in His mercy "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior." Our triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, poured out His salvation on us so we no longer have to fear the judgment of the law! By His free, unmerited, boundless grace He has justified you and me, declaring us Not Guilty and giving us credit for Christ's righteousness. He did this to make us heirs of His, looking forward in hope to all the riches of eternal life. As it says in chapter 2, verse 13, we now wait for that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He has already redeemed us from the power of wickedness, and now He is in the process of purifying us, making us fit to be His very own, worthy to live with Him forever. Now, through His finished work, Jesus Christ is making us into people who are eager to do what is good.

Not fearful of doing what is bad, but eager to do good! Now through the grace we have from God, we can live in the salvation He gives and do what is godly, righteous, and self-controlled because we are thankful to Him for what He has done for us. Because He's put a new heart in us and we want to, not because the Law has forced us to!

So do we just lie back and let the Spirit work? No, God gives us the means of grace in His Word and Sacraments and we must not neglect them. So Paul tells Titus to be sure to teach these things. Titus, teach the salvation we have in Christ and the new life that flows from it! Titus, teach the sound doctrine of salvation in Christ alone through faith alone! Titus, "encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you." We ministers and elders are charged to encourage those who are doing good, to rebuke those who are doing evil, and to help people to know the difference. Some might read "Do not let anyone despise you" as giving the pastor license to throw his or her weight around. Not at all. This command assumes that the minister first has submitted himself to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and is teaching and guiding according to God's truth. When the faithful pastor is rightly teaching the revealed Word, to despise him or her is to despise God and His mercy.

And so, as it says in 3:8, the minister of Christ is to stress what the Lord has done for us and what He has rescued us from. We have trusted in God, and so now with joy we can be careful to devote ourselves to doing what is good. Now we can reap the benefits of a holy and righteous life, which is excellent and profitable for everyone.

This is the reward of our faith. Because Jesus has saved us, we can live in our salvation and please God through the Holy Spirit He has given. But the Lord knows we're often tempted to go back to our old ways. The old Adam and the old Eve in us are like weed seeds in a garden plot wanting to sprout up and choke out the good plantings again and again. It's our responsibility as Christians to keep running to Christ, to keep reading His Word, to keep calling on His Holy Spirit to enable us to say No to what is hateful to God and harmful to our neighbors and ourselves.

And it's the responsibility of the pastor and the elders swiftly to deal with problems that can disrupt the church and make our life in Christ more difficult. In verses 9-11 of chapter 3 Paul calls Titus to go against the Cretan culture of his time. This command is for today's church leaders, too. The world tells us to "celebrate diversity." But not when that diversity means departing from the truth that comes in Jesus Christ. We don't have many people today teaching we should return to keeping the Jewish kosher laws. More frequently our modern heresies say we should integrate Hindu or Muslim or nature-worshipping elements into our church services. Or believe in special revelations from the Holy Spirit that have nothing to do with God's revealed Word. We see it when Christians promote popular authors who allege that Christianity used to involve goddess worship or who invite their readers to doubt the truth of Scripture. When false teachers like that show up in the church, the leadership should warn them once, twice. Who knows, they may be sincerely mistaken and willing to repent. But if they will not listen, Paul says, have nothing to do with them. They have rejected the saving grace they were offered in Jesus Christ. They are warped, sinful, and self-condemned.

But you have received the grace of God that brings salvation. This is His good news to you whether you've been a Christian for sixty years or if the Holy Spirit is working in your heart to save you, today. Enough with fretting over being good so God will reward you with heaven! Believe in Jesus Christ: He has taken the punishment for your sins on the cross. Trust in His goodness: He has been good in your behalf. Receive the riches of His grace that He pours out upon you by His Holy Spirit, and live in the salvation of the Lord. Serve Him in true humility and joy, knowing that it is Christ who is working in you, both to will and to do. For as Isaiah the prophet says, "LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us." All honor, glory, wisdom and strength be to You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever more. Amen.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Our Real Tangible Spiritual Resurrection Bodies

Texts: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 & 35-49; Luke 24:33-49

AS I MENTIONED DURING the Joys and Concerns, I'm being treated for Stage 1C ovarian cancer. So a week or two ago I was sitting on a neighbor's front porch with her and her sister-in-law who was visiting from Denver. My neighbor had told her relative that I was undergoing chemotherapy, and she was very curious about the whole thing. At one point she asked, "Are you afraid to die?" I told her my surgeon says it's very probable I'm cured already, and we're just doing the chemo just in case. Still, if the cancer comes back anyway, I just have to remember how wonderfully much Jesus loves me and what He's done for me. "I believe in the resurrection of the body," I said. "You mean the resurrection of the spirit," said my neighbor. "No," I replied, "the resurrection of the body. Just like Jesus rose again with a real, glorified human body, we'll be like Him and have the same." My neighbor wasn't so sure she liked that idea. Don't our bodies just give us trouble? Who'd want to be stuck with one for all eternity?

Well, it's common for us humans not to be too excited about the idea of the bodily resurrection of the dead. Once after one of my seminary classmates had guest preached on the subject, a man of that church, one of their board members, came up to me and said, "I always enjoy it so much when you Wycliffe people come and preach to us. You always bring such novel doctrine!" "‘Novel'?" I asked him. "How's that?" "Well," he said, "I've always been taught that Jesus' resurrection body was just a spiritual one." "But," I said, "what about when He tells His disciples to feel Him to prove He still has solid flesh and bone?" "Oh," said the man, "Jesus just made it seem like He had a physical body so He wouldn't upset the disciples. He really was only a ghost!"

The doctrine of the bodily resurrection from the dead is a basic teaching of our Christian faith, but obviously many people have trouble accepting it. Even evangelical Christians can't always get their hearts around it: How many times at a funeral have you heard someone say their departed loved one is now an angel in heaven? But angels have nothing to do with resurrection. As it says in the book of Hebrews, angels are ministering spirits and Christ's promise of new life from the dead is not for them.

But it is for us, and I hope to show you how our bodily resurrection in Jesus Christ is not only true, but also is our hope and comfort and the very assurance of the everlasting love of God.

It all flows from Jesus and what He's done for us. Jesus' disciples weren't expecting Him to rise from the dead. Time and again He'd told them He'd be arrested and put to death and then rise on the third day, but their minds were kept from understanding it. So on the evening of that first Easter Sunday, when Jesus stood among them in the upper room, they were startled and frightened. Luke tells us they'd thought they were seeing a ghost! This was even after the two disciples who'd encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus had come back to Jerusalem and reported what had happened! Now, the disciples were good Jews. They expected there to be some sort of bodily resurrection way off in the future, at the end of the age. But the idea that someone they knew and loved could be standing live and in the flesh before them after being so very dead three days before was simply unthinkable.

Nevertheless, it was true! "Why are you troubled," Jesus said to them, "and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."

Jesus was solid, and real! No way was He just a ghost or a spirit! No way was He fooling the disciples into thinking He had a resurrection body when He did not! And as they were still standing there in unbelief and amazement, Jesus asked them for some broiled fish and ate it in their presence!

Why did He go to such lengths to prove that He was truly, really, bodily risen? Why does it matter that Jesus' resurrection was truly a rising again, in the same body He died in, and not a mere apparition?

Because, as He told the disciples, this victory over death was what the whole of the Scriptures, all of God's grand and glorious plan, had all been leading up to! "This is what is written," Jesus reminded them (in verse 45), "The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations." Without the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, there is no forgiveness of sins! Without Jesus truly risen from the dead, death still would have its hold over Him. Without Jesus' rising again in the same body that went to the cross, death would still have its hold over us! If Christ is not truly risen, our sins are not atoned for, His life was in vain, and we are still under the wrath of God and headed straight to hell.

But as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." Jesus is the prototype, the forerunner of all who sleep in death. His bodily resurrection proves that His sacrifice on the cross was sufficient, fully-acceptable to God to atone for our sins. Had Jesus not actually risen, everyone would have known that He had died for His own errors and crimes. But He was and is the Sinless One who had life-in-Himself, as it says in the Gospel according to St. John. He rose in all the triumph of that life and He gives it to all who believe in Him. Some people will tell you that the Christian message is about being nice to other people. Brothers and sisters, every religious system in the world has taught we should be nice to other people, they just differ in which people we're supposed to be nice to! No, the basic message of Christianity, the main point of the Gospel, is that Jesus Christ is died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was raised bodily on the third day, and that through faith in Him we have forgiveness of sins and life forever. Not just some of your sins, but all of them! Peace with God and glorious joy with Him, now and always!

You may be saying, "I certainly believe that!" But some of the members of the 1st century Corinthian church were rejecting the bodily resurrection outright. Most of them were originally Gentiles, and they'd grown up with the Greek notion that the body and its flesh was at best just a vehicle, a donkey, you might say, for the mind and the spirit. At worst the body was full of corruption and evil, and no better way to see that was in a rotting corpse. Why would anyone want to come back in that? Don't we all want to get free?

This is where we see the providence and wisdom of God in choosing the Jews as His Messianic people. The Hebrew understanding was that each person was a unity of body, mind, and spirit, and to be a full, living human you had to have all three, and this is what God affirms in raising His Son from the dead. You get so-called theologians who claim that Jesus was "risen" in the disciples' hearts and imaginations and that was enough. No, that is not enough, not if Jesus was truly to defeat death, His enemy and ours. Any so-called rising of the God-Man that left His flesh to decay would have been no victory over death at all. Paul wants us to understand that in Christ there is life and victory beyond the grave, life and victory for the whole man and the whole woman. We have hope in Christ for this life and for the next.

And so faithful Christian preaching is not useless and we are not lying about God and what He has done. Your faith in Christ means something! It has a purpose, and its purpose is to unite you with your Lord who truly came back from the grave in a glorious, renewed body. Its goes to assure you that you and every Christian loved one you have lost will truly stand glorified and solid in their renewed flesh and bone, praising and serving God in the new heaven and the new earth. Even though at the brink of the grave, we mourn, but we are not to be pitied, for our hope is good for more than this life: it extends to all eternity.

Nevertheless, some hold to the conviction that this life is all there is. They were the type in Corinth who were questioning, "How are the dead raised. With what kind of body will they come?"

You can see by Paul's reaction that they weren't earnestly seeking knowledge, because his first word in verse 36 is not "How foolish!" but rather, "Fool!" Which is what you called someone only when you were sure they were a double-dyed, deliberately-blind moral trifler. Open your eyes, he says! The very course of nature shows us that it's perfectly possible for the final, mature form of a body to be different and more complex than its initial form. We see that, don't we? Think of the tomato seeds you may've planted in your garden this spring. Didn't look anything like the luscious tomatoes I hope you're eating now, did they? Not only is that tomato plant different from the seed you planted, but you don't get that plant and that fruit unless you bury that seed in the dirt and allow it to break down. In short, to die. Every day in every garden, in every farmer's field new life comes from death; isn't God, who is the ultimate Gardener, able to bring new life from our mortal bodies?

And then, there are all sorts of types of bodies in this world: human, animal, fish, bird, and on and on. We don't say, "Well, humans can't breathe in water, so I don't believe in a creature that can." No, we know that fish exist. Their makeup is different, and so they can do things humans cannot. In the same way, our resurrection bodies will be able to do things our mortal bodies cannot. The Bible does not go into a lot of detail, but from the example of Jesus, we can see that we will have power over nature so that we can enjoy it when we want to-- as in Jesus eating the broiled fish-- but we won't be hampered or hindered by it: Think of Him being able simply to appear in the upper room despite the locked door.

And for those who think the resurrection body will just be these same weak ones resuscitated, St. Paul reminds us that different bodies have different kinds of splendor. Our bodies now do have a certain kind of splendor, but it will be nothing compared to what we shall be like when we are raised from the death and are made like our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. For what was sown, or buried, is perishable. Obviously-- for the person died. But the renewed flesh Jesus gives can never die again. Dead flesh is something dishonorable, to be gotten out of sight as soon as possible. But our renewed flesh will be clothed in honor when we're raised at the last day, for we will share in the glory that is Christ's. The body that dies is weak and powerless; it is raised in the power of the everliving God. It is buried a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

But many people read this word "spiritual" and say "See! Our bodies in heaven won't be physical! We'll be like the angels, who are all spirits!" But that's making the wrong contrast. The comparison isn't between "physical" and "spiritual" as regards the composition of our resurrection bodies; no, it's between "natural" and "spiritual," referring to how each kind of body is made alive. Look at it this way: our bodies here on earth have a lot in common with those of other animals. All animals-- humans, dogs, cats, cows, whatever, have a soul or what our ancestors called "the breath of life." As Paul quotes Genesis 2:7, "the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." That's the natural way of things. And when that soul or or anima departs, the creature is no longer alive. But the resurrection body will be different. For before it was quickened by the soul, but then it will be made alive by the Spirit of God and can never die.

How can this be? Compare Adam and Christ, who is called the last or ultimate Adam. Our ancestor Adam was made of dust, and to dust he returned. Our Saviour Jesus Christ also shared our dust, but His life was from above, from heaven, and so the grave could not hold Him. Jesus is the Man from heaven who puts His Spirit in us to make us alive and to cause our weak and mortal bodies to be raised up glorious and immortal like His own.

Our flesh and blood as it now is cannot inherit the kingdom of God. But the same power that raised Jesus from the dead will raise our mortal bodies as well and make them like His own. This is a truth that all the religious systems and philosophies of this world could never conceive. It took Jesus the Son of God to reveal it to us, and He is the one who made it possible.

So give glory to God and rejoice in the resurrection victory He gives! It is your hope and your shield and the perfection of all God's plans for you. Already Jesus has put His Holy Spirit in you, as a down payment to prove that you will live eternally with Him. Not as a ghost, not as a spirit, not even as an angel in heaven, but as something much better: As a splendid, bodily, spiritual human being, who with all His saints will glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!