1 Corinthians 15:20-23 “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 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.”
Death came through a man. In Adam all die. From Adam we have all been infected with a sinful nature. Not one of us escapes the death it brings. Even the best still die. In the last fifty years, perhaps no one has been more recognized for her selflessness than Mother Theresa. But where is she now? She is dead.
Teenagers may think they are indestructible. Death does not seem very real to them. But school shootings have clearly demonstrated that even teenagers are not bullet proof. The COVID 19 virus may threaten the elderly and those whose health is compromised more than others. But people of all ages have lost their lives in the pandemic.
Sometimes even babies die, confirming that, if “the wages of sin is death,” then it must be the sinful core we all inherited from Adam that comes under God’s judgment. Death doesn’t always wait for some visible breaking of God’s commandments. In Adam, all die.
That’s not a pleasant thing to think about, but Paul wants us to consider the implications seriously. I am half way through my fifties. In Psalm 90 Moses says that man’s days are 70 years, or 80 if he has the strength. Average life expectancies in our time reveal things haven’t changed much since 1400 B.C. That means that my life is approaching the three quarters mark. Every funeral I attend, every trip to the doctor, reminds me that I need more than a dead hero showing me how to behave better. I need a Savior from sin and death!
I need the Savior and King Paul is describing here. “The resurrection of the dead comes also through a man…in Christ all will be made alive.” Our greatest need has never been for someone to come and make our world a nicer place in which to stay. We need someone to save us from it. Jesus’ resurrection is proof that he has done just that!
When Jesus died on the cross, he faced the wrath of God for our sins that justly belonged to us. His body absorbed all the punishment we deserved. That made death something of a hollow shell. It still may hurt. It still may frighten us to go through it. But the terror of God’s punishment, and the power of death to hold us, has been taken away.
Paul describes it this way in Romans 4. “He was delivered over to death for our sins…” Because we had sins, Jesus had to die for us. “…and was raised to life for our justification.” Because Jesus had earned a not guilty verdict from God for each one of us, death no longer serves as punishment, and God raised him to life.
Consider the implications for our future. Paul paints us a picture using the the Old Testament firstfruits offerings: “…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.” We aren’t an agricultural people anymore. When we bring our offerings to the Lord, they tend to be in the form of paper notes backed by the government. In Old Testament times, God required his people to bring him the very first part of the harvest. The grain or fruit was taken to the temple and offered to the Lord for his use. These “firstfruits” weren’t the whole harvest. The name indicates that there was much more to come.
In the Lord’s harvest of bodies and souls brought back from the dead, Jesus is the firstfruits. Our King lives! But Jesus isn’t the whole harvest. Again, the name indicates that there are great fields of those who will rise and be gathered to God when Jesus comes again in glory.
You, dear believing child of God, are a part of that harvest. So are the people you loved who have fallen asleep in faith. As surely as you have stood at their graves, they are going to come out of those graves on the last day when Jesus calls them. In Christ, all will be made alive!