The Final Stomp

1 Corinthians 15:20-34 Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 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.” s 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. 29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

“There is no treatment and there is no cure.” That’s how an article I read earlier this week described a disease called ALS. You probably know this already, but Lou Gehrig, the great Yankee first baseman, died of it already back in 1941. It’s also the disease that absolutely exploded onto the national scene last year thanks entirely to the most viral fundraising effort this world has ever seen - the “Ice Bucket Challenge.” There are a number of reasons why the Ice Bucket Challenge rocketed to totally unprecedented levels of success. I just want to cite one of them this morning. ALS is one of the most devastating diseases we know of. Here’s what the article I read said about it (It puts shivers in your spine!), “It steadily destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal column, eventually leading to paralysis and death.” And then came that line I read to you that got stuck in my brain, “There is no treatment and there is no cure.”

Ironically, I was reading this on my iPhone while I waiting to see a doctor at urgent care earlier this week. I think that’s why those words got stuck in my head. I read them just after I filled in all those blanks about family history. Check. My mom had cancer. Check. My grandpa died from Parkinson's. Check. My other grandpa died from complications with Alzheimer’s. Check. My grandma died from dementia. Check. My other grandma died from cancer. So, in other words, if cancer doesn’t get me, Parkinson’s will. And if Parkinson’s doesn’t get me, then Alzheimer’s will. And if Alzheimer’s doesn’t get me, then dementia will. After staring that genetic truth in the face I sat there and reflected on the words that were now stuck in my head, “There is no treatment and there is no cure.”

The truth is that we’re born with death already in us. Yeah, we’re healthy sometimes or mostly when we’re young, but even then there’s still some unknowable, future, built-in expiration date. And that’s assuming that we’re able to avoid a sudden or surprising death. There’s even a website called Death Clock that tries to guess your expiration date. Not to be too crass about it, but according to the website if I was a milk jug they’d stamp on me “good until about March of 2055.” You know what’s most upsetting about this? We never had a chance.

That’s what Paul points out here. “Death came through a man.” (v. 21) Or if you want to be a little bit more specific (Paul apparently does.), “In Adam all die.” (v. 22) In other words, we never had a chance. Sometimes I hate Adam for that. I hate it that none of us ever had a shot at lasting life. Not ever. Adam tainted his whole line - his every descendant - with sin and condemnation. You can see it in retirement communities, nursing homes, and doctor’s offices. You can see it at Georgia Children’s Hospital where our youngest and our best are tested, go under the knife, and receive chemotherapy to keep death at bay another hour, another day, and another year.

And not to prod or press too hard about this, but all of this is perfectly personal. I’m probably going to get in trouble for telling you this, but my wife, Melanie, announced to me the other day, “I found my first grey hair,” and I think I quickly and sarcastically replied, “Well, good for you. At least, you’ve got some.” Seriously though, it was an announcement of decay. Of coming demise. Just like those achy bones, that bad back, those clogging arteries, or that patch of cancerous skin is. What I’m trying to show you is that none of what Paul is talking about is cold, dead dogma. It’s not indoctrination or teaching for the sake of teaching. It’s reality. It’s the world as it is.

It’s part of being one of Adam’s kids. It’d be one thing if we stood before and apart from that moment when Adam grabbed that piece of fruit. It’s another altogether to be caught in his historical backdraft - to be one of his descendants - to be one of the many to whom death will inevitably come. Capital punishment for the lot of us. Dead before we ever really lived. That’s the world we live in. It’s what we see. It’s what we experience in various ways. And from what we can tell, it’s the way it’s always going to be. To quote that ALS article again, “There is no treatment and there is no cure.”

That’s how those Corinthians saw it. And they accepted it and wrung life as dry as they could as a result. They were so committed to this idea that they even had a saying that pretty much everybody knew. You can picture their beer mugs held high as they shouted, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (v. 32) And why not? It makes sense in a despairing kind of way. The Corinthians figured that if death is on the menu, you might as well drink up before it gets served. There’s even a whole philosophy build on this idea called Epicureanism. They were, in fact, so committed to this idea that when people came along and said, “There is no resurrection from the dead,” they mumbled right back, “Yeah, we already knew that. Hurry up and grab a glass.”

That’s the world we will live in if we assume that things will always go the way they always have. That’s the reality that we will base our lives on if we make observations about how the world currently functions and then extrapolate that forward. There’s just one huge problem with imagining the world that way. And it’s a massive one. Right in the middle of history, one man rose physically from the dead. Physically. Did I say physically yet? The disciples didn’t buy that at first. They were so committed to the model or paradigm that Adam had set in place that they could not compute that Jesus was physically standing in front of them. They just couldn’t get it. Their model couldn’t account for it. Did you catch that when I read you the history a few minutes ago? Even seeing him, didn’t help them. They assumed he was a ghost. You know what he did about it? He blew up their model. He made stomached some broiled fish. He put it away. He ate it so he could blow up their Adamic model - the paradigm that physical life could never be reachieved.

That’s the model that God so badly wants us to trust. God wants us to know that Adam lost his ability to determine our future. He wants us to see that Adam is no longer the spiritual sheriff in town. We’ve got a new one now. The man who all alone lived a perfect life and then physically rose right in the middle of history. Just like Adam before him, this man, Jesus, will determine the trajectory of everyone who follows him. Here’s how Paul puts it, “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.” (v. 21-22) You have to know this because this is the very essence of the gospel. Before and without your help, Christ saved you. Before you knew him, cared about him, submitted to him, or followed him, he set in place your blessed future. The world doesn’t belong anymore to the man who introduced sin and death, who set death into our genetic structure and put an unknown expiration date into our bodies. The world belongs to the man who reintroduced perfection and life, who will set into our bodies the guarantee of a DNA that doesn’t break down anymore and a spiritual, bodily building block that carries only eternity.

That’s how it works now. If death can come to everyone through one man (And it did!), then it also makes perfect, solid, theological sense that also through one man, Christ, all will be made alive. That’s not only clear thinking. It’s also divine thinking. It’s how God set up his world to work. There’s just one problem with this from our perspective. Where is this resurrection? Why do I still need to work with funeral directors? Why do I still need to go to urgent care? If this is how the world now supposedly works, then how come the world doesn’t work that way yet? You know what God’s answer is? It’s a timing issue. That’s all it is. It’s just a timing issue. It actually was for Jesus too. He was resurrected after three days. It was just a timing issue. It is for us too. That doesn’t make this any less real or reliable. It just means it hasn’t happened.

Yet. Our Jesus is like God’s perfect laser-guided-missile trained and ready for the moment when death will be eternally ended. Listen to the language Paul uses, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (v. 26) Don’t you just love, love, love the language that Paul uses there? Don’t you see how it purposefully and intentionally it communicates to us God’s feelings about this issue? It changes the whole ball game for us. With this language, we can understand that God’s not sitting up there twiddling his metaphorical thumbs and yawning to himself, “I guess I’ll get to it when I get to it.” With this language we can understand he’s not off having some magnificent, massive party up there while we’re stuck down here still dying. His interests perfectly align with ours. He considers death an enemy. Do you see what that means? He is hostile toward it. He’s out to get it. He wants it dead, done, and gone.

Even more than we do. You want to know why? We sort of get death. It’s all we’ve known. We’ve been tainted by it. We live around it and with it everyday. We don’t even know how much life we’re missing, but he does. Perfectly. He is Life incarnate. Do you remember what happened when Life incarnate saw everybody weeping about his dead friend, Lazarus? Something incredible and important happened. Jesus reacted to death. John uses a really powerful and unique word to describe Jesus’ emotional state. He was furious. He was angry. He was indignant. Death was something hostile, hateful, and abhorrent to him. Death shook him to his emotional core. Death is Christ’s enemy even more perfectly and completely than it is ours.

And it still is. He won’t be happy until it’s destroyed. He will stop at nothing less than death’s total annihilation. He’s not going to try to work out some kind of deal with death. He’s not going to negotiate some kind of treaty. He’s going to go right into death’s pit of its power. He’s going to go down into its command center and when he gets there he’s going to drop the nuclear weapon called eternal life and literally blow death to kingdom come. Seriously, he’s going to blow it all the way to kingdom come. That’s what Paul immediately goes on so say, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” (v. 24)

So let’s get real. Let’s stop extrapolating out from Adam to determine our future. Let’s stop assuming that the Adamic model, the Adamic paradigm, is the one that’s still in force. You know what the truth is? Death is done. Christ has set the new model of resurrection in place. Death just doesn’t know it yet. It sort of reminds me a guy named Hiroo Onoda. He was sent to an island in the Philippines to fight during World War II. And he did just that. He fought and hid. He fought and hid. He followed his orders of fighting guerrilla warfare until 1974. He refused to believe that the war was over - that Japan had surrendered in 1945 - until his commanding officer told him almost 30 years later. Oops. He fought according to the old world order even though there was a new world order in place. He fought on even though there was nothing more to fight.

That’s what death’s up to these days. It fights. It claws. It inflicts its losses in a war that’s no longer being fought. Because it’s ignorant. It doesn’t yet know. It doesn’t yet realize that Christ has already won and that there’s a new sheriff in charge. The sheriff who will end death - the last enemy. And then God’s kingdom will perfectly come. In the meantime, here’s my advice. Don’t bother listening to death’s saber rattling. That’s all it is. It’s just saber rattling. It’s just a big stick. It’s got no real power. It’s got no real backing. It will shout and roar as if it does. It will threaten and it will yell, “There is no treatment and there is no cure for me.” It will send grey hairs and aches to your bones, but I’m telling you its all just saber rattling. It’s just a big stick.

The truth is that ALS is on its last legs and Parkinson’s doesn’t have a prayer. Because one man rose in the middle of history. He rose physically and gloriously and powerfully. He is the new sheriff in town. He is the new world order. He is the new model, the new paradigm, the new way everything works, the ultimate treatment, and the final cure. The Lord is risen! More on this next week. Amen.

Subscribe to Sermons - Peace Lutheran (Aiken, South Carolina) by Email