Recent archeological expeditions have unearthed surprising finds of families buried together in age-old cemeteries, side by side, destroying older ideas about Neanderthals in Europe. Now, we understand they had the same questions about death and the hereafter as we do. No doubt, an ancient human figure from the mountains of Europe held a dying child in his arms, looking up into the heavens, seeing the signs of life, death and rebirth all about him in nature, and asking himself, “What about this child? Will I see him again?”
As a pastor, I have seen that very picture in my ministry many times through the decades. The questions remain the same. Death is a familiar, if not foreboding, force that I have seen enter the lives of my own family members and the families of so many of our people, leaving us with the same questions as the ancients. Not much has changed…or has it?
The apostle Paul picked up on the theme of death and what happens when we die in 1 Corinthians 15. Some had taught, even as in Jesus’ time, that there was no resurrection from the dead. Others had taught—and this is dealt with in another place—that the soul merely sleeps in the grave until Jesus comes again. Paul, in refuting this bad theology, advances a powerful argument: that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only central to the Christian faith, but it is the center point on the salvation plan of God in human history. As such, this event has powerful consequences for eternity and for now.
This leads us to a tremendous truth for our lives this day. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has overcome the dark tomb of our ancient despair with the bright promise of His new hope.
What are the articles of this new hope in Christ’s resurrection?
1. New Hope Is Made Possible by a New World Order
This new world order is now here and underway. It is not a new world order that is based on politics, finance or international relations. It is a new world order that is greater than all those and greater than all the kingdoms that have ever been or ever will be. It is a gospel conspiracy that is taking over the earth through love and grace. It is consuming the earth one person at a time, and as of today, approximately 200,000 people a day are confessing Jesus Christ as Lord.
St. Paul said, “As in Adam all die, in Christ shall all be made alive.” He was saying that all includes all humanity. We are all sons and daughters of Adam. We all die because we are children carrying the virus of sin. Sin produces death, but for all who turn to Jesus Christ through repentance and faith will receive resurrection life. They will be made alive.
Scripture teaches that when we receive Jesus as Lord, we pass from death to life. We are liberated from judgment. At death, we pass immediately into the presence of the Lord by the righteous life and sacrificial death of Jesus. At the second coming of Jesus Christ, our bodies will rise again from the grave, and we will be—body and soul—complete in a new heaven and a new earth.
This means the old enemy, death, has been dealt a great blow and is on its way to terminal defeat. Previously, the psalmist argued that in Sheol no one could praise God. Yet, in the Book of Revelation, we see the saints praising the Lamb, Jesus Christ, gathered at the throne of God! Something has happened, and that something is the resurrection of Jesus. This is why the Bible says, “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints.” This is why St. Paul concluded this magnum opus on the resurrection with his unforgettable line, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55).
This is our first article of faith on the resurrection: We have new hope because there is now a new world order, a world order that promises new life now and eternal life when we die. Because of the resurrection, everything has changed. Yet have you changed? Have you entered this new world order? Are you a citizen of this new kingdom? To be a citizen requires that you are a subject of the King, our Lord Jesus Christ. To be His subjects requires that we relinquish all other allegiances, including allegiance to self. Will you unreservedly give your life to Jesus of Nazareth? Will you confess that you, too (as am I) are a sinner and in need of a Savior and that Jesus is that Savior, sent to live the life you cannot live and who died on the cross to forgive your sins? Will you confess that He rose again from the dead on the third day in accordance with Scripture? Will you now receive Him as the resurrected and living Lord of your life? Will you now follow Him? If you have not been baptized, you must see me after the service. Come and be baptized for remission of your sins and to be numbered with His people.
One final word: New hope is made possible not only by a new world order, but something else:
2. New Hope Is Made Possible by God’s Fulfilled Vision
Verse 28 is one of the most mysterious, but glorious passages in all of the Bible. Paul gives us a glimpse of the glory of a fulfilled vision of God’s plan.
“When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to Him who put all things in subjection under Him, that God may be all in all” (v. 28).
What is this saying? Paul was looking to a day when the full plan of God would be complete. All of Christ’s resurrection work of dying for the people will be finished; His people saved, brought in; the new heavens and new earth are estahblished; and the kingdom fully functional. That which was ordained has come to pass. The Triune God, whose three Persons were deployed on our behalf to save us and this world, to recreate and bring us back to our Creator, is satisfied. In some sense, this is a new Sabbath. God is once again resting. His children are at peace.
What does this mean? It means justice is on its way. It means there is meaning in life. It means there is hope beyond the grave, beyond this life, beyond what we can imagine.
When I was a boy, I remember that a beautiful scene on Easter morning was a processional of an early morning worship service of choir and the minister, with acolytes holding the cross, going out into the cemetery. There, surrounded by gravestones of loved ones, a few of us, shivering from the chilly, early-morning spring air, would sing, “O Victory in Jesus, My Savior, Forever” and recite the Lord’s Prayer. Worshiping the living Christ among the tombs is a powerful way of expressing new hope.
You also can live that way each and every day: singing to Christ among the signs of death and decay in this present age. Because of Christ and His resurrection, everything has changed. Because of Christ and His resurrection, your life can change. You can have a new hope.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.