Easter Sermon: If a Man Dies, Will He Live Again? - 1 Cor. 15
I. Is there life after death?
II. If there is life after death, what is it like?
A. First, there was a separation of the body
B. Then there is a resurrection of the body
III. How can we attain eternal Life?
IV. Why do people reject his offer?
A. The first reason people reject the offer of Christ is because of a love for sin.
B. The second reason people reject the offer of Christ is because of personal pride.
Professional golfer Paul Azinger was diagnosed with cancer at age 33. He wrote about that experience: "A genuine feeling of fear came over me - I could die from cancer. But then another reality hit me even harder: I'm going to die eventually anyway, whether from cancer or something else. I am definitely going to die. It's just a question of when. But everything I had accomplished in golf became meaningless to me. All I wanted to do was live" (Links Newsletter, vol. 15, no. 1 1995).
About that same moment he remembered something that Larry Moody (who taught a Bible study on the pro tour) said to him: "Zinger, we are not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We are in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living" (Azinger, Links Newsletter).
When I read that story I thought about that ancient question that Job asked hundreds of years ago: "If a man dies, will he live again?" That is absolutely the most important question that we could ask, because life is our most precious possession. A dying millionaire would give up everything that he had for one more year of life. Some of you put yourselves through strenuous exercise and strict diets hoping to extend your life a few years. Jesus said, "What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own life?" (Mark 8:36, author's paraphrase).
So, if it's really possible to live forever, there is no more relevant issue than this: If a man dies, shall he live again? It's not until we have confidence of living beyond the grave that this life takes on ultimate meaning and enjoyment.
The Bible says, "If we have placed our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone" 1 Cor 15:19 (HCSB). The more you live, the more you realize that life is coming to a dead end. It is futile if there is not hope beyond the grave. Vance Havner once said, "The hope of dying is the only thing that keeps me alive."
In 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul deals with this question in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Listen to how he begins: "Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you" 1 Cor 15:1-2a (HCSB). The word gospel means good news. The good news is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ provides positive answers to the three most important questions about life after death.
I. Is there life after death?
The answer is yes, and Jesus' resurrection proved it. Verses 3-5 contain the essence of the Christian's belief. Old Testament Scripture had predicted that Messiah was going to die. It said that he would be led like a sheep to the slaughter. So Jesus' death was not the accidental death of a martyr. It was the deliberate death of a person who offered His life as a sacrifice.
A woman wrote J. Vernon McGee: "Our preacher said that on Easter, Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think?" McGee replied, "Dear sister, beat your preacher with a leather whip with 39 heavy strokes, nail him to a cross, hang him in the sun for six hours, run a spear through his heart, embalm him, put him in an airless tomb for three days, and see what happens!"
Old Testament Scripture predicted that God would not allow the Holy One to undergo decay. Jesus was laid in a borrowed tomb. If you borrow something you are just going to use it temporarily.
One night during our Easter Pageant, I sat behind a five-year-old boy who was enthralled. When the crucifixion scene took place he got very quiet. But then Jesus came back from the grave and there was a song of celebration. His eyes lit up and he looked at his mother and said, He's alive!" And he began to clap and he hugged her around the neck. It was so powerful to see somebody understand the resurrection for the first time.
On that first Easter morning Jesus Christ strolled out of that tomb very much alive. When the women went to the tomb to anoint His body, they discovered the tomb was empty. The angel said, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, He is risen, just the way He said that He would!" Now Paul said empathically, "We know Jesus is alive, because we have seen Him." Peter saw Him alive. He ate breakfast with Him and had discussions with Him. The twelve disciples saw Him alive. They were in the upper room when suddenly Jesus appeared and said, "See the nail prints in my hands." He appeared to 500 people at once. The apostle James was beheaded for the belief that He was alive.
And Paul, last of all He appeared to him too. Paul might say: "I was not a believer. I was determined to obliterate Christianity from the face of the earth. But Jesus appeared to me on the road to Damascus and knocked me down. I had to admit I was dead wrong. He was alive, and my life did a 180-degree reversal. And so the resurrection verifies that there is life after death."
When I was in grade school we used to have questions and discussions about whether man would ever make it to the moon. But then on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the face of the moon. We don't ask that question any longer, because the demonstration eliminates the discussion. Jesus Christ demonstrated that there is life after death. In verse 12 Paul seems a little perplexed why people even ask the question. "Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, 'There is no resurrection of the dead'?" 1 Cor 15:12 (HCSB).
Jesus doesn't come physically and preach from our pulpit so that you see Him visibly, but there is ample evidence to believe. We have the eyewitness testimony in Scripture, testimony in the people who died for that conviction that He was alive. We have the testimony of millions of people whose lives have been changed by Christ over the centuries. We have the calendar and the church and we have the Holy Spirit convicting us in our hearts today that He is alive. You have the option to examine the evidence and believe it or disbelieve it.
Winston Churchill chose to believe. In fact, he arranged his own funeral. There were stately hymns in St. Paul's Cathedral and an impressive liturgy. When they said the benediction, he had arranged for a bugler high in the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral on one side to play "Taps," the universal signal that the day is over. But when that was finished, there was a long pause and then a bugler on the other side played "Reveille," the signal of a new day beginning. It was Churchill's way of communicating that while we say "Good night" here, it's "Good morning" up there!
Jesus Christ said, "I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (John 11:25). When a man steps out of his own grave, he is anything that he says that he is and he can do anything that he says he can do!
II. If there is life after death, what is it like?
In 1 Corinthians 15:20 Paul teaches that Jesus demonstrated it. "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" 1 Cor 15:20 (HCSB). That word "firstfruits" means an example of that which is to come. The Bible says, "Dear friends, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2 HCSB).
In other words, if you want to know what it's like for a Christian to die and live again, look at the experience of Jesus.
A. First, there was a separation of the body
Just before Jesus died He said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Jesus' body died and was buried in a tomb, but His Spirit went to be with the Father. He said to the thief on the cross, "This day you are going to be with me in paradise." So, when we die our spirits go immediately to be with God while our bodies go to the grave. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:8, "yet we are confident and satisfied to be out of the body and at home with the Lord."
So we don't return to re-inhabit a number of other bodies like reincarnation, and we don't go to a place where we are purged of our sin for years. We go directly to be with God when we die.
B. Then there is a resurrection of the body
After three days Jesus came back into the tomb to re-inhabit the same body. The grave clothes were left behind. He showed them the nail scars in His hands and feet.
The Bible teaches there is going to be a resurrection of our bodies, too. In John 5:28, Jesus said, "Now don't be amazed at this, but the time is coming when all that are in the grave will hear His voice and come out" (author's paraphrase). If God has the power to make matter out of energy, if He has the power to make Adam out of the dust of the ground, then He has the power to recreate our decomposed bodies.
When Jesus suggested that He was going to open up the tomb of Lazarus, Martha objected. She said, "Oh no, he's been dead four days. There is already a bad odor. His body is already beginning to decompose." Jesus said, "Martha, you are going to see the glory of God." He rolled the stone away and called out, "Lazarus, come forth!" This man who had been dead for four days came out of the grave! It won't matter if you have been dead four days or four centuries or four millennia.
When Jesus Christ commands it, there will be a resurrection of the body. First Thessalonians 4:16 says, "The Lord will come down from heaven with the spirits of those who have fallen asleep and there will be a loud command and the dead in Christ will rise first" (author's paraphrase). The old-time believers used to insist on being buried in the cemetery facing the East, because they believed that Jesus Christ was going to return in the Eastern sky. When they came up out of the grave they wanted to be facing Jesus. Today, with our carnal minds we want an airtight crypt and a watertight casket.
Now a skeptic may say, "That's too supernatural. That's too fanciful to believe." Let me ask you a question: if you never saw a birth, and I tried to describe it to you, would you believe it? This tiny. unseen sperm from man is combined with this tiny, unseen egg from a woman, and they form a cell, and those cells begin to multiply, and nine months later out comes this baby with hands and arms and eyes and eyelashes and starts screaming. You'd say, "You've got to be kidding me!" That's a miracle we see over and over again, but we take it for granted because it is so common.
In Luke 24:38 and following, Jesus appeared in the upper room with the disciples and they thought He was a ghost.
"Why are you troubled?" He asked them. "And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself! Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." Having said this, He showed them His hands and feet. But while they still could not believe because of [their] joy and were amazed, He asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and He took it and ate in their presence (Luke 24:38-42 HCSB).
Jesus ate after He rose from the dead. In heaven we'll be able to eat. I like eating. That's going to be a fun thing! It will be a perfect life. The Bible talks about sitting down at the marriage supper of the Lamb. You won't have to worry about fat grams, high blood pressure or cholesterol. Jenny Craig will be out of business in heaven!
What I'm getting at, though, is we are not going to spend eternity as disembodied spirits floating around on a cloud strumming a harp. We'll have bodies like Christ's resurrected body. That's good news, because they are going to be immortal bodies. "But someone will say, 'How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have when they come?'" (1 Cor 15:35 HCSB).
How foolish. He said God has demonstrated in plant life what happens. You take a shriveled-up kernel of corn and you put it in the ground. It decomposes, and in two weeks a little green shoot comes up and becomes a corn stalk and then produces a fruitful ear of corn. And you can take a petrified, shriveled-up body and put it in the ground and it decomposes, but one day by the power of God He is to going to sow a perishable body and reap the spiritual body!
In verses 38-41 Paul says you just trust God. He is able to create a body that will perfectly fit into its intended environment. He creates fish with scales so they can survive under water, and He creates birds with feathers so they can fly in the air. He is able to create us with an immortal body that will never perish, spoil, or fade.
He says in verse 52 the dead will be raised imperishable, and these shall be changed. Now, that's good news. If you are 80 and you have arthritis and a hearing aid, you don't want to pick up where you left off. You want a perfect body. If you are too tall or too short or too thin or too bald, that's good news. You are going to have a glorified body.
Now when this corruptible is clothed with incorruptibility,
and this mortal is clothed with immortality,
then the saying that is written will take place:
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
O Death, where is your victory?
O Death, where is your sting?
(1 Cor 15:54-55 HCSB)
Our bodies will be active bodies. You read in the Gospel of John that Jesus was on the shore and made a campfire. He cooked some fish He had caught, and He walked with the disciples on the shore. Heaven is going to be a place of activities. Jesus said, "In my Father's house there are many rooms." I picture one room of just worship. We can go into that room and just worship the Lord. We can sing "Amazing Grace." We'll hear Jesus teach and listen to Paul. We'll hear some of the best singing groups.
I also picture an instant replay room, where you can go into that room and you can relive any moment in history exactly as it transpired. And there won't be any revisionist history. You'll be able to go back and see exactly what happened. I picture a question-and-answer room where we can go and we can hear the Lord answer some of the tough questions that we had never been able to answer here. I picture also an instructional room where you can learn how to do things you didn't have time to do on the earth - photography or playing the piano or flying a plane or skiing. Heaven is described as a city. A city is a place that is abuzz with activity. "In my Father's house there are many rooms."
And listen, if Jesus fished after He rose from the dead, I'll be able to play golf. I may never get to play at Augusta, but there is a course waiting on me that's even better in heaven where I will break par miraculously!
Our bodies are going to be identifiable bodies. Even though Jesus' body was changed somewhat, He was recognized by the disciples when He wanted to be. And the Bible teaches us that when we are raised from the dead we will retain our personalities and have fellowship with one another. The Bible says we are to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom. If we are going to know those guys whom we've never met, then we are going to be able to identify each other. To me that's one of the warmest tugs of heaven - to be able to be with people we've loved on earth, to be reunited with no threat of disunity or separation again.
My wife and I came home from a two-week mission trip. We arrived at the airport about 10:00 at night. As we walked up the ramp into the terminal, there were about 75 people waiting to welcome us home. They cheered when we got off the plane. Oh, it was so good to be welcomed home!
I think heaven is going to be something like that. Just think about the embraces, the tears of joy, the laughter, the surprises, the tour that awaits. We used to sing a song: "Friends will be there I have loved long ago. and joy like a river around me will flow. Yet just a smile from my Savior I know will through the ages be glory for me." That brings me to one final question.
III. How can we attain eternal life?
If life after death were for sale, how much would you pay for it? If this were a legitimate offer - if you knew life after death is better than this life - you would pay everything for it. My family and I were in an automobile accident in Pennsylvania and my wife was seriously injured. She was in the hospital for two weeks recovering. At first we thought there were some internal injuries. I was in a hospital 400 miles from home, didn't know the personnel in the hospital, and felt really frustrated. Dr. Russell Summay from our church flew up in a medical plane, picked up my wife and me, and flew us back here to a hospital in Louisville where she could get personal attention. I was extremely grateful. I said, "Russ, I want to pay for the plane. How much is it?" He said, "It is a gift, Bob, and believe me: you can't afford it."
You can't afford eternal life. Heaven is the dwelling place of God, a place of perfection, and we have forfeited our right to be there because of our sin. The only purchase price is the blood of a perfect person, and you and I don't qualify. So we can't earn it and we don't deserve it, but the good news is that Jesus Christ stepped in to pay the debt for us. First Corinthians 15:56 says, "Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" So you can't earn it. You have to receive it. You have to believe.
Now, I can only think of two reasons why you would refuse such a fantastic offer.
A. Love for sin
There is a sense in which eternal life doesn't cost you anything, and there is another sense in which it costs you everything. The Bible says that we are to repent of our sins, put our trust in Christ, and confess Him. We are to be baptized into Him saying, "I'm leaving the old world behind and I'm going to a new life with Christ." But you may be so in love with this world that you can't give it up. For you death will be "Taps." It won't be "Reveille."
B. Personal pride
Maybe you have a keen mind, and your greatest asset is your greatest liability. There is plenty of good evidence to verify the resurrection of Jesus, but it can't be proven and you have to accept it like a humble child. For 2,000 years Ephesians 2:8-9 has been true: "For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift - not from works, so that no one can boast" (Eph 2:8-9 HCSB).
Golfer Paul Azinger recovered from chemotherapy and returned to the PGA tour. But that bout with cancer deepened his perspective. He wrote: "I've made a lot of money since I've been on the tour and I've won a lot of tournaments, but that happiness is always temporary. The only way you will ever have true contentment is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I'm not saying that nothing ever bothers me and I don't have problems, but I feel like I've found the answer to the six-foot hole. I know I'll spend eternity with God and I have a promise that as a child of God He'll help me deal with anything. He promises to offer me contentment regardless of what life brings, even cancer" (Azinger, Links Newsletter).
If a man dies, will he live again? Yes. Jesus proved it. Jesus demonstrated it, and Jesus Christ purchased it for you. It's up to you to receive it.