Have you ever had to talk to children about the death of a pet? I tried to avoid it, but eventually, the conversation will come up. I remember watching an episode about ‘talking to children about death’ on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood with my younger sister.
In this much loved episode, Mister Rogers discovers a dead goldfish in his aquarium, buries it, and goes on to talk about his loss and feelings ‘when his dog, Mitzi died’. He assured children that memories can help, and that sadness isn’t forever. And then he broke into a tender, compassionate song.
That episode was one of his highest rated shows, and is still loved by many adults, who saw it as children. It gave me the courage to have the conversation on life and death with my kids. Of course, I also shared with them, in simple terms, how much Jesus loves us and that when we give our lives and hearts to him; we have life beyond this life.
That discussion and those memories seem so long ago now, but in a way, it better prepared me for more difficult and deeper conversations on death with adults. The truth is, until you deal with the issue of death on your own, it is hard to really understand how it feels and what it means.
Because death is a part of our existence, we cannot avoid it forever. All humans at some point have to wrestle with some tough questions, like; What is the meaning of life? What happens after death? And, is there really life after death?
The youth have been studying the book of Job. It has many tough challenges and life concerns.
In Job Chapter 14:14, Job asks, “If a man dies, will he live again?” It is a universal question we all ponder.
This question of ‘life after death’, was foremost in the minds of the Corinthians, because, some false teachers were confusing them. In 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, Paul addresses this issue in the most in-depth passage in the entire Bible. In verse 12, Paul explains that some were saying that there was ‘no resurrection of the dead’. And so as he begins his teaching at the beginning of Chapter 15:1-8, he works to clear this up.
He writes, “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received – and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved ‘if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you’. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the 3rd day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
“After that, he appeared to more than 5 hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, – and last of all, he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
As you may recall, Paul came to faith, when Jesus confronted him on the road near Damascus. He didn’t come naturally to faith, – he was confronted and convicted by Jesus! (He calls that being abnormally born into the faith)
When Paul talks about Jesus being ‘resurrected’ from the dead, he refers to him being raised. In fact, it was God who ‘called out to Jesus’ and raised him from the dead. (Acts 2:24) So, Paul is addressing the first of 2 questions. The first is, ‘Is there life after death?”
His answer is yes! Through Jesus, there is life after death. Jesus was raised from the dead and we will be also. But we have to understand this from the perspective of the Corinthians, they had several mixed messages. The early Greeks taught and believed that death was not the end of human existence. They accepted the existence of the soul after death, but they saw ‘this afterlife’, in the underworld, as meaningless. Romans also believed this to be true.
At the same time, many enlightened teachers, like the Sadducees, taught that there was no life after death. The believed it was all myth and ancient fables. 1st century Jewish Scholar and historian Josephus writes that, “The Sadducees, the prominent priestly class who ran the Temple, did not believe in an afterlife, nor in the resurrection of the dead.”(also Acts 23:8) But Paul, who was a Pharisee, did believe in life after death.
The reason he said he believed, was because there was so much proof. ‘Because Jesus lives, you also shall live’. (John 14:19) And he is telling the Corinthians, if you do not believe me, put it to the test. Ask those who saw Jesus, many are still around. Then Paul proclaims in 15:20, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
But the second question remains, ‘What does life after dead look like?” Again, the Greeks played a major role in their confusion. They taught of a separation in the body and soul.
The body was bad, they declared and the soul was good. So, many believed we were like ghosts or dismembered souls floating about. This clearly frightened the Corinthians. So some asked, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?”
For Paul, this is the wrong question, he replies, “How Foolish! What you sow does not come to life – unless it dies. “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as ‘he has determined’, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.”
What Paul is saying is ‘that the body will be transformed into something new, something only understood completely by God himself’. It is a mystery. In the same way, a caterpillar becomes a butterfly or a tadpole becomes a frog.
There will be a metamorphosis into something radically different and beautiful. We will have a resurrected body, a heavenly body; one like Jesus’, that will make us known to others – but be perfect. We will be in a place of ‘No more tears, suffering or pain.’ Our sinful body will be changed — to something new and wonderful.
It is rather ironic that the Sadducees, who did not believe in the after-life tried to confuse Jesus’ teaching. In Matthew 22:23 – on, they try to make Jesus look foolish. They ask, after a woman is married 7 different times, ‘after the resurrection’, whose wife will she be?
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will ‘neither marry nor be given in marriage’; they will be like the angels in heaven.
“But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead – but of the living.”
Now, just one disclaimer, Jesus said that people would not be getting married in heaven, he did not say that those who had been married wouldn’t love one another anymore. Heaven, of course, is a place of perfect love, because God is love.
Instead, Jesus is clearly saying to the Sadducees, if you do not believe in the resurrection, you do not understand the power of God. God is all about life. He is God of the living, and so, you shall live again. (Matt. 22:32)
With God, working through the life of Jesus, there is an amazing sphere of power, triumph and victory. That is why Paul writes in Chapter 15, verses 55-57, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In Acts 1:11, ‘the angels’ spoke to the disciples as they watched Jesus rise to heaven, they said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back ‘in the same way’ you have seen him go into heaven.”
And it was Jesus himself who said in John 14:1-3, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, ‘I will come back and take you to be with me’ – that you also may be where I am.”
Then our new bodies will be ones of splendor; Paul writes in verse 42-44, “So will it be, with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown ‘is perishable’, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, – but it is raised a spiritual body.”
In a Pew Poll taken in 2016, 77% of Americans said they believe that Jesus was the son of God who came to take away our sins. Of those, only 37% said they believe in a bodily resurrection for all believers.
I do not mean to be harsh, but the resurrection is central to our faith, it is the cornerstone. If you do not believe that Jesus was resurrected, – that he will return for us – and that ‘we will also be resurrected in him’, you are not really a Christian.
Jesuit Priest James Martin, author of the book, ‘Jesus: A Pilgrimage’ wrote, “More people have problems with Easter because it requires believing that Jesus rose from the dead, – but believing in the Resurrection is essential. It shows that nothing is impossible with God. In fact, Easter ‘without the Resurrection’ is utterly meaningless. And the Christian faith without Easter – is no faith at all.”
And Watchman Nee who was a church leader and teacher in China, once said, “Our old history ends with the cross; – our new history begins with the resurrection.”
Finally, Pastor and author Don Underwood wrote after the passing of his father in his book ‘The Long View’, “For you, perhaps, Easter was but a joyous occasion when family and friend got together, attended church and celebrated a great religious tradition. But I can assure you that, for others, the power of the celebration ‘is a matter of life and death, of hope and despair’. And so it will be for you – one day in the future.”
Above all else, ‘We Are’ Resurrection People. We are people of love – and we have a God of life. Jesus Christ lives – and so we shall live also. Yes we are weak now, – but we will be raised in power. Believe it and live it!
Your assignment is…to read through 1 Corinthians chapter 15. Really absorb Paul’s words – and then live as people of life, love and light, – renewed through ‘the Glory of Our Risen Savior’.