The glory of his kingdom - 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 6th December 2009.

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There are some situations in life when all you need is a good laugh. I’m sure you can think of times when you have been feeling a bit under the weather and a funny joke or a funny comment has parted the clouds and made you smile. That’s all you needed. Sometimes laughter is the best medicine. However, there is perhaps one situation in life when a joke is guaranteed to be put of place. How many of you would like a stand up comedian to lead the funeral of someone you love? Vicky and I are really enjoying some of Michael McIntyre’s standup comedy but I wouldn’t want him leading any funeral services.

We need a different sort of comfort when death rears its ugly head. And this is what we are given in 1 Corinthians 15. It’s a chapter all about the resurrection of Jesus and it’s implications for those who follow him. If we studied the whole chapter I think we would be here for years. We’re not going to so don’t worry. We’re going to restrict ourselves to verses 20 to 28 and it’s my desire is to show you from these verses some of the wonderful implications of the resurrection of Jesus.

We’ll begin at verse 20. This is what the apostle Paul says, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

I’m not much of a farmer. I think I would be rubbish and would be sacked very quickly as a farm labourer. Even I understand this imagery. What are the firstfruits of the harvest? The first of what is to come. After the firstfruits more will be expected at some point in the future.

Do you see what Paul is saying here? Jesus is the first of many. There will be more like him in the future.

Was he the first? What abut those people raised to life in the Old Testament or those Jesus raised to life in the New Testament? They were all different. Take his friend Lazarus for example. He breathed again but after a few more months or years he would die again. Jesus was raised never to die again.

And because he is the firstfruits, he is the first of many.

Who are these people who will be raised like Jesus? Look again at what we’re told in verse 20. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Who are these people that have fallen asleep? He is not talking about lazy people. Not students. This is the way the early Christians spoke about Christians who had died. The great enemy of death was spoken of as falling asleep.

Not soul sleep. There will be conscious existence beyond the grave. Used in two senses. The event of death is not frightening. It’s just as frightening as taking an afternoon nap.

Also, those who sleep are expected to wake up. The same with those who die physically. They will wake up physically. A cemetery means a sleeping place.

Why should the resurrection of Christ affect me in any way? This is the question that Paul answers in verses 21 to 23. He says, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”

As much as we would like to think that we are individuals who have unbounded potential and have the freedom to be who we want to be regardless of anybody else the reality is that we are people affected by others. Our genes come from our parents. Our parents form our character from an early age. The environment we live in also impacts who we are. A little thought and we will realise that we are people affected by others.

Paul would agree with this but in these verses he takes this idea a stage further. Not just parents and our current environment, Paul says there are two people whose impact on others is monumental: Adam and Christ. Adam was the first man and because of him all die. We all carry his death sentence and we all carry his nature. We are born in Adam.

However, Paul says there is another person who can change the futures of those born in Adam. And that is Christ. In Christ all will be made alive.

Notice the difference. We are in Adam by nature. We are in Christ by faith. We are born in Adam. We need to be born-again in Christ.

Linked to him. And so what happened to him will happen to us.

But each in his own turn. Christ is first and we will be later. The later will be when Jesus returns visibly from heaven.

Why the delay? Why do we not enjoy physical resurrection life now? This is the big question Paul answers from verses 24 to 28. Let’s see if we can understand what he says.

Look at verse 24. “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.  25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” [This is a quotation from Psalm 8] Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ.  28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”

Does any of this surprise you? What is all this about the Son handing over the kingdom to God the Father? It is popular to think that Jesus will start reigning when he comes back? Paul appears to say the complete opposite here. That Jesus is reigning now and then will stop when he comes back. What does all this mean? Let me try and explain.

The identity of Jesus. He is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. Through him everything was made. He always had authority.

2000 years ago the eternal Son came to take on the role of the promised Messiah. The Son of Man from Daniel chapter 7. He was given the responsibility to form a kingdom. This is what Jesus did during his life. He was the king and he gathered a people around him to follow him as their ruler and rescuer.

As he prepared to depart, after his resurrection, he commanded his followers to continue what he had started. Continue to extend his rule by spreading the gospel. Tell people about his identity and mission.

This is what will continue until Jesus returns again. Then he will judge all people who have ever lived. He is the one who sits on the throne in Revelation 20.

Then death will be swallowed up in resurrection life. We will be changed in the twinkling of an eye.

It will be Jesus who does this. John 6:40, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

And then Paul says the Son will hand over the kingdom to God the Father.

Or if I can put it like this, the eternal Son was given the chief responsibility to establish a kingdom and get rid of the enemies of the Trinity.

All the members of the Trinity have been involved but the focus for the last 2000 years has been on the eternal Son. He was sent. He died on the cross. He sent his disciples to spread his rule. He rules us by his word. He is the one we say we follow. He will return. He will judge. But at the end the Son will hand over to the Father after the mission is accomplished.

This is not the power handover we see in human kingdoms. Normally an aging Father hands over the kingdom to a young, energetic but inexperienced Son. Here the eternal Son hands over to the eternal Father. The Father becomes the focus. He is the centre of attention.

What about the Son’s future reign? From other places in the Bible it seems that in future there will be a twin focus on the Father and the Son. That’s what the songs in Revelation are about. Revelation 7:10, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Why the delay? This is a time for establishing a kingdom and destroying enemies. He must rule until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

How does this happen? The gospel goes out. We spread the news. This is the day of opportunity. Enemies become friends of the king as they surrender and follow him as their Lord and Saviour.

But there is a future day when the judge will return and enemies will be destroyed in a different way. And then death will be gone forever and we will be given our resurrection bodies to live in a newly restored universe.

Jesus has a special role to establish a kingdom and destroy enemies. When all this is accomplished he will hand over the kingdom to his Father, then joint rule.

What does all this mean for us?

•    There is much nonsense spoken about death without any basis.

Christians can be certain because of the resurrection of Jesus. The process may trouble you but the event should not scare you.

We need to face this. Prepare people for life and prepare people for death.

•    Let’s get our expectations right.

Aircraft today often show you a map of your route. It tells you where you are now and where the end will be.

This helps us keep going.

Don’t give up the race when it is difficult.

Ask the right question, is this still true?

•    Let’s understand the purpose of the delay

This is the time for kingdom spreading.

If you are not a Christian you are in Adam. But by faith you can be found in Christ.

As a Christian, let us be keen to see other enemies of Christ become his friends and followers. Let us believe this is the reality. Let us do all we can to share the news. Christmas is coming. Use this opportunity. Invite people along. And pray that this Christmas we will see, in this very building, enemies of Christ becoming his friends.

Let’s pray.

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