Christ Is King Over All (November 19, 2017)
Christ Is King Over All
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
On Sunday, November 5th, 2017 I had the privilege of baptizing my newest nephew, Jared Wong. This small action of applying water in connection with God’s Word has huge implications for that tiny infant barely a couple weeks old. You could call it an adoption into God’s family. You could call it the beginning of his new life in Christ. It is an occasion more important than even his birthday! And let me tell you, the whole family and whole congregation rejoiced, praised God, and celebrated!
So what impact did that have on you? Did the ground shake or were you suddenly filled with joy on that Saturday night at around 10:30pm? (Saturday night because of the time change). Did you even know it was going on? Probably not until I told you just now or maybe you saw some pictures on facebook. My point is very rarely, if ever, does the action of one person have an effect on all people of all time and in every place.
That is with one exception. On a Friday afternoon a governor sentenced a man to death. His soldiers took him into the Praetorium, stripped him, put a scarlet robe on him, and mocked him. Then they spit on him, beat him, and eventually took him away to be crucified. Of course I’m talking about Jesus and his crucifixion which was mentioned in the Gospel reading for today (Mt 27:27-31). It might seem strange that this is the reading appointed for this Sunday of the church year: Christ the King Sunday. He certainly appears to be anything but a king in the way that they treated him and the events that unfolded. But if you continue to read, and as the other Bible readings for today show us, this act of self-sacrifice would prove to be the most kingly action of all. A kingly act that has very real implications for all people of all time. Today we see that Christ IS King over all. He conquered sin. He will vanquish our enemies. And he will destroy death.
There was a problem in the Corinthian congregation. It appears that some did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Maybe they believed that Jesus was raised from the dead, and in fact Paul mentions many witnesses to this fact – some of whom are still alive as he writes this letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:3-8)! But that all people, human beings, would be raised from the dead just didn’t make sense. So the apostle Paul reasons with them a little in the verses preceding this section. He says, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (1 Cor 15:13). If it’s impossible for human beings to be raised from the dead, then it would have to be impossible for Jesus to be raised from the dead as well. He goes on, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). If Christ never finished the job, if he only died and did not rise, then you are still in your sins. That’s what you are implying if you think that there is no resurrection from the dead – because if God cannot raise human beings, then how could Christ be raised?
After this reasoning Paul makes his point, it’s the first verse of the section we read today, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). He states it as fact, and indeed there are many witnesses to this fact as he mentioned earlier. What more conclusive word can be spoken than that Christ has been raised from the dead? He doesn’t go into reasoning again, but you understand the implications! Since Christ has been raised from the dead then he has conquered sin, making full atonement for sin on the cross. And since he has been raised, then your faith is something and you are no longer in your sin! Since you are no longer in your sin, then you too will be raised just like Jesus!
Jesus was the firstfruit, the resurrection of all people is the full harvest. Firstfruits had deep meaning for the Israelites, but perhaps the meaning is lost on us today. It was the first part of the harvest that was taken in and presented to God as an offering – a trust that if he provided a good firstfruit then the whole harvest will be good as well! What better firstfruit can you have than Jesus? What better reason to trust? Perhaps you can think of it as the first deposit of your retirement plan. You’ve saved for years and years. You’ve watched that nest egg grow on paper. But when that first deposit is made then it becomes real. Although you haven’t received the full amount of your retirement savings, you trust that it will be distributed in due time. Christ is that first deposit. He conquered sin and proved it by rising from the death. Your sins are no more. You too will be raised!
I think sometimes we have trouble connecting to the death and resurrection of Christ. One, because it is contrary to nature, and two, because it seems to be an isolated occurrence which has no visible consequences for anyone else. Like the baptism of baby Jared, yes it had a huge impact on him and the family and friends who were there, but did it really impact you? Not most of you, except that you will see him in heaven one day. But the death and resurrection of Jesus is completely different. It was not an isolated occurrence. It has eternal consequences for every believer! Though we haven’t experienced it yet, the resurrection is coming. And think about this, you know and have yourself already experienced how the actions of one man can have an effect on all people in all places of all time. The sin of Adam has an effect on you, and very real implications for your life. Really this is no different than the actions of the other man, Jesus. “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” (1 Cor 15:21-22). Because of the good firstfruit, there will be a good harvest!
“Then the end will come” (1 Cor 15:24) the Bible says. Christ has been raised – the firstfruits of all the dead – and when he returns, those who belong to him will also be raised. Then the end will come. What does that mean? What is the end? The end of what? “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Cor 15:24). It will be the end of all the enemies that threaten you or have sought to dominate you. The end of Satan’s power over you. The end of being dominated by your sins. Then end of sin’s threat of death. Then end because Christ your King has vanquished all your enemies. This is the reason Jesus came. John says it in his first letter, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn 3:8). That victory was sealed when he died on the cross and rose from the dead. Yet he waits for a time to completely vanquish your enemies because he is waiting for all those who are his to be saved. Once all his own are safely in his care, he will completely vanquish all your enemies.
This “end” marks the end of your enemies, but it means something completely different for you! It is also a new beginning. The beginning of a life without sin, without tragedy and misery, without death and Satan. It marks the beginning of your eternal joy and the beginning of your perfect life! I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced something like that – the end of one thing and the beginning of another. Maybe the end of your student life and the beginning of your career. Maybe the end of one job and the beginning of a new. Maybe the end of a battle with a draining disease and the beginning of health. Whatever it was, it probably felt great! A fresh start! Something new and exciting. Something you had been waiting for for a long time! But how long did that feeling last? How long until some of the same disappointments or problems arose again? It’s simply a fact of life that we have perhaps just gotten used to. Make the best of every situation because there are always going to be disappointments. And that’s perhaps why it is so difficult to imagine this kind of new beginning. It’s not just a new beginning but it’s also a complete end to every struggle, disappointment, or letdown. The grass is greener on the other side of this new beginning and it will stay green forever because Christ the King has vanquished all your enemies. There is nothing left to disappoint you or hurt you ever again.
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26). Again, it’s hard to believe, hard to fathom. Death has become such a natural and expected part of life. In fact, there are some who say that death IS natural, or a logical counterpart to life. But what does the Bible say? What does God teach us about death? The Bible says that death is unnatural, something which entered as a result of sin. In fact, it says here that death is an enemy! And what an enemy death is. Death is greedy. Death is never satisfied, consuming one after another without end. Yet even death, this enemy that no one has been able to escape has been destroyed by Christ. He destroyed death from within, destroying the power and fear it has over people. And notice the difference. For those who believe that Jesus has destroyed death by his resurrection, death has become something else. In verse 20 it is called “sleep.” That’s what Jesus called it during his ministry (Mt 9:24; Jn 11:13). That’s what the ancient Israelites called it (Gn 47:30; Dt 31:16). And that’s what the apostles called it on numerous occasions. No longer is death the end of life but simply the transition to a new beginning. Christ has already defeated your enemy, death, when he rose from the dead, and he will free you from the sleep of death when he returns to take you home.
So what kind of a king is Christ Jesus? If you were to remove the gospel reading from its context and the rest of the Bible, you might say that he was merely a fraud or a failure. But when Scripture is read as a whole, you can see that what Matthew captures in chapter 27 is the first part of the climax of the story. Christ’s death was his most kingly action because in death he conquered sin, and vanquished our enemies. Then in his resurrection he destroyed the power of death. This is no isolated event in history. It has huge implications for you. If Christ died for your sins, then you are no longer held accountable. If he rose from the dead then it has no power over you. Since he has proven that he is King over all, then you can be certain that he will bring about the end of all your enemies, and bring you into the beginning of a new and perfect life with him.