There’s an old hymn that goes something like this:
“This world is not my home,
I’m just a-passing through;
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue
The Savior beckons me
From heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home
in this world anymore.”
It’s beautiful. It’s eloquent.
And it’s completely wrong.
If you grew up in traditional church culture, then it might be quite difficult to come to understand that Heaven is not your true home. You and I were made for earth. Christianity has traditionally emphasized that when Christ’s followers die, they join him in heaven, much like Jesus telling the thief crucified next to him that “today you will be with me in paradise.” But the Bible tells us that at the end of all human history, there is a “new heaven and a new earth,” and God’s holy city descends “like a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1-2). Our truest, lasting destiny is therefore God’s restored earth.
So when Paul writes to the people of Corinth, he emphasizes that the resurrection of Jesus has profound implications for life here and now. See, the people of Corinth might have been willing to accept the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, but the idea that they, too, would be raised from the dead seemed altogether absurd. But Paul says, no; you need to really think through what this means for you—for us—and how resurrection hope saturates every arid place in our lives.
FAITH IN CHRIST (15:12-19)
First, Paul emphasizes that the faith cannot be untangled from the message of the resurrection. If Christ has been raised, then it follows that we, too, will also experience this event:
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
If Christian faith is based on preference, emotion, or social benefit, then we might be tempted to conceal our faith in the presence of others, or reserve our faith for Sunday mornings or major holidays. But if our faith is anchored in the historical reality of the resurrection, then it means we live for a deeper story—a true story—a story that overturns the lesser stories of pleasure and power that dominate our social landscapes and news cycles.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE (15:20-28)
Second, Paul emphasizes that this event points us toward a greater future:
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every 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 “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
Jesus reverses the curse of Adam, the curse of death that dangles above our heads like a sword waiting to fall. The Christian hope, as we’ve mentioned, is bodily resurrection. Paul therefore seeks to cultivate a sense of anticipation, a waiting sense of wonder, at this future event.
Why would this matter? Because in an era when believers experienced social shame for following Jesus, it was good to cling to the hope of a greater and brighter future ahead of them. The same is true for us. In our own land of death, our eyes ache for a more enchanting vision of what lies ahead.
LOVE FOR THE WORLD (15:29-34)
Finally, Paul suggests that this faith and hope manifests itself in love for the world:
29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
Faith. Hope. Love. These three virtues awaken in the presence of the risen Savior.
The historian Jaroslav Pelikan once said that if “the resurrection never happened, then nothing else matters. And if the resurrection is true, then nothing else matters.” If there is nothing to hope for, if there is no future beyond the grave, then this life is all we have. But if there is a future to look toward, then this life takes on renewed significance.
This is what it means to be “positively worldly.” The resurrection challenges us to love the world, or—more accurately—to love the world as it is beginning to be. Our hope is not merely to escape the world, but to be resurrected within it, to see the borders of Eden expand to fill all of creation with restored goodness and beauty.
The seasons provide something of an audiovisual display of this hope-filled promise (perhaps that’s even why Paul will—in tomorrow’s passage—appeal to the image of a seed and a plant). In Spring we see Winter pull back her icy curtain to reveal the abundance of wildflowers that decorate a world of green. Winter isn’t about death, you see, but dormancy. The opening of each flower reminds us that Paradise hasn’t been lost forever. And some day,–someday so achingly soon—we, too, will experience this resurrecting power in our every cell and every limb. Until then we find faith, find hope, find love in the reality of the empty tomb, and the anticipation of the Savior’s return. In the same breath as we sing Christos Anesti, we also say, Maranatha—Christ has risen; come quickly, Lord Jesus.