Today is Easter! Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! We think of the resurrection on this day. The resurrection is very important. The resurrection was preached by Paul in all of his sermons. We see in Acts: every time Paul preached a sermon on Christ, he preached about Christ and the resurrection. Without the resurrection, the gospel falls apart. It's not just a resurrection; it's a physical, bodily resurrection! This is crucial: Paul found that it was crucial to his sermons, so that when people heard him, they thought he was preaching two gods: Anastasis and Jesus. Anastasis means resurrection. He was only preaching one God, Jesus, but the resurrection was so important, so prominent, it figured so prominently in his sermons, the people thought he was speaking about two gods.
Resurrection needs to be a bodily resurrection, and very importantly. Why? Because without a bodily resurrection, all religions can be true. Anything goes! If we have just a spiritual resurrection to look forward to, any kind of philosophy or religious afterlife concept could be true. What sets Christianity apart is a bodily resurrection: us being raised and being given a new body wholly different, yet wholly the same, as our previous bodies. People will be able to identify us as who we are, even though our bodies will be different. The bodily resurrection is crucial to the Gospel.
If we look at first Corinthians 15, verse 19, it says, "if we had hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied." If there is no bodily resurrection, then we are essentially hoping for Christ in this life only. When there's only a spiritual resurrection, the next life is not real, it's not substantial, it can be anything. It could be a hallucination; it could be an acid trip; it could be 2001: A Space Odyssey, flying through space with streaks of light; it could be anything. When you have a bodily resurrection, the reality is narrowed down to really only the Christian concept of the afterlife. So we hope in the next world, not in this life, and what helps us hope in the next world is the bodily resurrection.
Christ's bodily resurrection is the first fruits of those who are asleep, and that is what gives us physical hope, because when you say firstfruits what you're saying is that we are all going to follow in the same way. However, once again, because we're self-centered creatures, we stop there. We think to ourselves, "that's awesome! We get good, neat, fun new bodies in the next life. I'm looking forward to that! What's for dinner? Let's go to Dairy Queen for dessert!"
Look at our situation: we have people who believe in a bodily resurrection; we have people who don't believe in ANY of this stuff: atheists, agnostics, other religions; we have people who don't believe; and then we have people--millions of people--who claim to be Christians, who do not believe in a physical resurrection, who only believe in a spiritual resurrection, if they believe in a resurrection at all! These may be the, "everybody's going to heaven, and live like angels, like little ghosts with angel wings on our backs and halos over our heads," kind of Christians. They don't have an accurate concept of the afterlife, and it affects the entire doctrine of their Christianity. It affects everything.
Here in this passage, we have something really important. It says here, "each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, after that those who are Christ's at his coming, then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to the God and father, when he has abolished all rule and all authority and power." There is the first thing: power. The second thing: "for He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet." Verse 26: "the last enemy that will be abolished is death." That's the third thing. So, it's not just that Jesus gets a cool new body and we are going to get cool new bodies. No, the physical resurrection of Jesus is crucial to understanding the gospel, because there are three things that Jesus is going to accomplish with his physical body.
The first thing is he will abolish all rule and all authority and all power. This is essentially the situation we find ourselves in on Earth all throughout history. We have warlords; we have powerful people; we have authorities; we have people always lording it over others; we have wars, because one guy wants to take the other guy's land; we have the big wigs; we have Congress; we have all sorts of caste systems and hierarchies. We have an unequal system of life here on Earth. We do not have . . . equality.
Second, we also have enemies of Christ. We have evil, evil that needs to be eradicated. Jesus is undertaking that as we speak, eradicating evil in his physical resurrection body. The third thing we have is death. Now, what do these three things have in common? These are the things that we as fallen human beings desire with all of our hearts to eradicate in this world. What the Scripture is saying is these are the jobs of Jesus in his resurrection body. These are the things that he is fulfilling at the end times, the end of the world, the judgment day. These three things: inequality, evil, and death will be destroyed. There will be no more of these things.
What do we do? What are the three things that we as fallen human beings, as people who do not believe in a physical resurrection, are trying to accomplish right now? We are trying to do away with death. We are trying to do away with evil. We are trying to do away with inequality. Look at Facebook! You got = signs all over the place. All anybody talks about on the news is how unequal everybody is, and how we need to fix it, and how we are going to put all of our money, all of our resources, all of our faith in the leaders who are going to solve this problem and make everybody equal. What do we see as a result? We see MORE inequality than ever! It seems worse than ever. The inequality that is going on in the world today is rampant. Things seem to be even more unequal, especially now in this modern age, where we have a lot of resources and a lot of money that we can pump into it.
The same with evil: we are trying to eradicate evil. We are banning guns. We are banning everything that could possibly be used for evil. The results? There seems to be more evil running rampant on this earth and at any time in history. Now, it may not be more. It may be equal to the amount of evil running through history, but is definitely not LESS! And then death: all of our science is going into eradicating death. We mask it as temporary things, like, "oh we're trying to get rid of cancer." Of course! What a noble cause; nothing could be more noble than getting rid of cancer. But what we are really trying to get rid of is death itself. We all die. Cancer is just a quicker form of death. It's tragic, but only because it is a faster, more painful version of what we all go through eventually. Shoot, let'd find the quickest, most painful form of death right now. If somebody gets hit by a car outside right after the service: there's a quicker form of death. So maybe we should get rid of cars. You see what is happening? The three things--inequality, evil and death--are constantly being waged war upon by all, because we do not believe in a bodily resurrection. We do not really believe in the kind of afterlife Christianity espouses.
We do not believe in the type of afterlife that is physically real, so what we are trying to do is solve things on our own here. Christianity therefore becomes no different than a social justice program. Social workers unite, and we're going to solve all of this together! This is wrong, because these three enemies--inequality, evil, and death--are to be destroyed by Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ only. Only Jesus Christ can do these things.
So, does that mean we should just do nothing, we just stay home and watch Downton Abbey? No, we, according to James, have two things that we should do. To be truly religious people on this earth, we are to keep ourselves from being stained with the world's brush. That means to keep the culture from affecting us. Keep strong, understand the culture, but don't let it take us over. The other thing is to help widows and orphans in their plight, essentially help the poor, help the needy. These things are important, but the goal is no longer to eradicate the big three enemies. Jesus Christ says the poor will always be with us. We will always have the poor, because it is not our job to get rid of them. In fact, when we try to get rid of them, there end up being more poor in the world as a result. That's Christ's job. What our job is, we as the bride of Christ--because we are essentally Jesus' helpmeets--we are to aid in helping Christ, but we are not to eradicate the stuff ourselves. We are to work on a local level; we are to work in our immediate surroundings; we are to love each other; we are to help each other here, to guard and keep each other. We are going to suffer together--that's another important thing--we are still going to suffer together, but our goal is not to eradicate the things that we have no chance of eradicating.
We will be clinging to Christ. Give over the power, the keys, the authority to Christ, where it properly belongs, and we can then, as ambassadors of Christ, help in his glory, help him do his job, but when we try to take over the job from Jesus, we end up with the watered-down Christianity that is no different from a secular institution, and we end up lost. We end up a shadow of real Christians; we end up still stuck in our sins, trying to be the ones in control, essentially re-grasping what Adam tried to take, to run the whole show, to not obey God, to not be subservient to God, but to try to be masters of our own destinies. And we fail and are lost. Put Jesus first; put his physical, resurrected body first. He is the first fruits of all who have fallen asleep.