Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

The Last Enemy
Pastor Steve Schell
1 Corinthians 15:1-26
If you read the Bible enough, in time you’ll discover that sooner or later God’s plan is always finally accomplished. Ultimately, He never loses. Because He has given free-will, not only to humans but even to spiritual beings He’s created, His plan has been delayed yet never defeated. It’s only a matter of time before everything will submit to His perfect will. And given the fact that He is a wonderfully good God, that’s the best news in the world. It means we’re headed for an eternity in which all disease, violence, cruelty, lusts, fears, shame and even death itself are gone forever… at least for those who were willing to come to Him in repentance and faith. We also discover in the Bible that those who refuse will indeed live forever but will remain separated from Him by their own rebellious choices.

Death seems so powerful, so inescapable that it’s hard to imagine a time when it will no longer exist, when everything it has seized will be released; and I think that even includes animals, and that’s because death was never a part of God’s original plan. Sooner or later, everything will come back in line with His will; and He didn’t create death, it’s His enemy. He never wanted it; it’s a by-product of giving humans and angels free-will. This means there is a future ahead of us in which death will not be present.

The “first fruit”
This brings us to the resurrection of Jesus. It’s why it matters so much. He is living proof that this deathless future exists. He is the first who not only came back to life, only to die again, but who escaped from death forever: physically as well as spiritually. In the passage we’re studying today Paul tells us that when Jesus escaped death’s grip He took all of us with Him. He literally broke death’s power over all humanity, both the righteous and the unrighteous. Because of Jesus everybody comes back to life.

Choosing Him
But the God who gave us free-will won’t change His mind about that either. Free-will wasn’t a by-product of sin (like death); it was part of the original plan. God created us so we could become His children, not pets or robots. That’s why He gave us the capacity to choose to reject Him. He makes no one His slave, and He will honor the choice we make forever. Those who come to Him will be with Him, forever; those who don’t will still have to be immersed in His undiminished glory because His brilliant presence will fill the entire universe. There will be no place where He is not. It has to be that way, it’s only right, and it’s His will. But some will live in that presence in a place apart, still separated from Him, in the spiritual darkness they chose while on earth.

So choosing Him is the single most important decision any human will make during their lifetime, because once we pass through the curtain that separates this physical world from the spiritual world, that decision cannot be reversed. This is why the Bible warns us so strongly to come to God while we’re still here. It’s why real Christians are so concerned about the spiritual condition of others; it’s why they preach to the poor and long to pray with those who are dying. It’s not about winning a theological debate. It’s about wanting everyone to have an informed opportunity to choose to be with God forever.

Correcting Corinth (1Co 15:1-26)
In this chapter of Corinthians Paul discusses these issues. Apparently there were people in that church who were trying to convince others that there was no such thing as a physical resurrection. They must have claimed that our human spirit goes to a spiritual realm when we die and that we’ll live there in some sort of conscious state, but disembodied. Paul doesn’t say they were directly challenging the resurrection of Jesus (v12), but they certainly must have been saying no one should expect to return to a physical body. To correct this error, Paul argues that the resurrection of Jesus is an historical fact; then he explains what it would mean if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead; and finally he shows them why His resurrection matters to all of us. Let’s let Paul remind us of these truths as well.

Witnesses (1Co 15:1-8)
Paul says the most important elements of the gospel have to do with both the death and the resurrection of Jesus. These two truths are inseparable. Jesus’ death alone is not enough, and he says it’s a fact to which there were many witnesses. And then he lists them:
1) (v4) The Scriptures declare the Messiah will die and rise.
2) (v5) The apostles saw Him alive.
3) (v6) He appeared to a crowd of over 500 people.
4) (v7) He appeared to James, His half-brother.
5) (v8) Paul himself saw Him face-to-face.

We know from the gospels that between His resurrection and Pentecost Jesus appeared on, at least, ten different occasions, and during two of those He ate food and His disciples could touch Him. Paul’s point is that neither he nor these others were liars. A lot of trustworthy people saw Him in His resurrected state and would be glad to testify to the fact. They weren’t speculating He was alive, they saw Him alive.

If Jesus didn’t rise (1Co 15:12-19)
Then Paul addresses the central question: What if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? What difference would it make? To answer this question he simply runs down a checklist and shows us the staggering implications. He says if Jesus was not physically resurrected:
1) (v15) The apostles lied, so nothing they said can be trusted.
2) (v16) Since our resurrection is inseparably connected to Jesus’ resurrection, one can’t happen without the other. If we won’t be, He wasn’t.
3) (v17) And if He wasn’t there is no grace, only works. So all of us are back under the judgments of the Law and stand condemned.
4) (v18) Our loved ones who died trusting Jesus will be cast away from God. The resurrection was proof that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice, so if He wasn’t raised then the sacrifice failed.
5) (v19) And if the sacrifice failed, then believers are fools to waste their lives by suffering needlessly to proclaim Him or denying themselves sensual pleasures (v32).

Because He did rise (1Co 15:20-26)
Now Paul puts away all the nonsense about there not being a resurrection and explains the enormous power that event unleashed. He says:
1) (v20) What happened to Jesus is physical, historical proof that we too will be resurrected.
2) (vs21-22) What Jesus did applies to all humans, just as what Adam did damaged all humans. Jesus didn’t simply escape death alone, He defeated death and broke its power over all creation.
3) (vs24-26) This present evil age is going to end. When Jesus returns
He will set up God’s Kingdom and subdue all God’s enemies, and the last enemy He will destroy is death itself.

The announcement (1Co 15:51-57)
Paul concludes this chapter by pointing to that glorious moment when the announcement will be made that death’s reign has ended. And he says we’ll all be there, clothed in immortal bodies, facing an endless eternity in which there will be no death at all. And then he thanks God for the victory He won over death through our Lord Jesus Christ. Listen: verses 51-57.

Choosing the promise
So this is the promise we celebrate today: death will be defeated; it will lose its hold over all of us. But if we are to live in that eternity with God we must exercise the free-will He has given us and make a choice: we must choose to repent, which means to receive God’s offer and surrender our rebellion, our independence from Him, and our selfishness. It means that from this day forward we are willing to let Him be our God and to guide our lives. And we must also choose to put our full trust in the death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, believing that because of Him we are forgiven, loved and welcomed to be with Him forever. Today God offers each of us a fresh opportunity to say “yes.” Listen to this wonderfully clear promise from Jesus Himself:
“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise Him up on the last day” (Jn 6:40).

1) Picture what it will feel like to know that you will never again face death, disease, violence, cruelty, lusts, fear or shame. Try to describe how different that will be from the way you feel right now.
2) Is there a believer who’s died that you are especially looking forward to seeing again? Aren’t you thankful for eternal life? How will you react when you see him or her again? 

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