what is hope? what is the Christian hope?

draft of my 2nd sermon in the 2-part series, 2 b preached tmrw. I admit, it’s not my tidiest piece of writing. But I’m still calling it a draft, which might help deflect some criticism. I like critique though.

If only in this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 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.

from Wikipedia

Of course, not many of us here are saying that there’s no resurrection as some in the church in Corinth were. But – do we really believe in the Christian hope that there is resurrection from the dead because Christ is risen from the dead – and do we act accordingly?

Today we’ll look a little at what the resurrection is and what it means.

Let’s start with this glass of water.

A classic question, not very exciting: Is the glass half full, or is it half empty? We won’t fight about it this morning, but someone we might describe as ‘hopeful’ or ‘optimistic’ may want to tell you, enthusiastically, that it is half-full. In fact, it’s often thought of as a positive character trait to be an optimist; it’s better, we’re sometimes told, to imagine life as being bright and beautiful rather than dark or ugly. Positive thinking is great.

But in reality of course, life on planet Earth is sometimes dark and ugly and yet there is also plenty of evidence for light and beauty in the world. It might seem that, given this, you could go either way between being “hopeful” and being “pessimistic”; the choice is quite subjective, a matter of personal taste.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter which option you pick for the glass; half empty, or half-full, they’re strict logical equivalents and any argument based on a supposed difference between them will probably be fallacious.

The Christian hope, by contrast, is not a matter of personal taste; neither is it just an attitude or disposition towards seeing things in a certain way.

Is Christ dead, or is he alive? This question is the determiner.

We could talk for a long time about kind of related things – science and faith; maybe the beginning of the universe, or else Jesus’ claims to divinity or consciousness, or alternatives like the Qur’an and materialism and maybe we could go on to morals and politics and intuition and ‘worldview’, or what would build the best society, but these things are ultimately peripheral or in the background, to one extent or another.

If he is dead, whatever else the case may be, we are wasting our time this morning, (perhaps me in particular in preaching!) – in fact, it seems to me that if Christ is, in the final analysis, simply dead, there is probably no spiritual reality at all and certainly no sure hope that anything transcendent out there would care about us. There is no plan or purpose in the universe besides what we might invent for ourselves. Under such circumstances, to have faith in Christ, to trust him in all things, is utter foolishness.

The Christian hope is based in the historical, tangible, event of the raising of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.

But what is this ‘resurrection’?  It’s not just that Jesus’ body was brought back to life. That’s what happened to Lazarus, to Jairus’ daughter the widow’s son that Elijah brought back

Headings: [transformation of our physical bodies, part of God’s reordering of creation, a future event with a taste in the present]

It’s also not just that the physical body is replaced with a spiritual one, as some have suggested Paul believed based on this passage.

Instead, when we read the collection of New Testament writings together, we see the physical body is transformed and raised; the glorified body is animated by the spirit in a way that our bodies are not.

Okay, but is this plausible, is it probable? I think so; I think that the resurrection is not just a private item of faith, but a claim to be made in public and one that can be assessed and debated by criteria of public reasoning – and it seems St Paul agreed with me. Out of the many things we could consider here, perhaps the most important are that the disciples, including the sceptical James and the persecutor of the church, Paul, clearly believed in the resurrection and changed their views about God dramatically as a result. They changed their life and created a dynamic new community based on being witnesses to something. Not a mere social movement or mystery cult, but a people with a message. This is hard to explain if the resurrection did not happen. Conservative Jews of the time were not particularly disposed towards worshipping and praying to anyone other than God; yet, on the basis of these resurrection experiences, they risked life and limb in proclaiming that Jesus is the name above every other; that this one viewed as a criminal by the Roman Empire has been vindicated by God to a place far above the role of Caesar or any other ruler. Indeed, that he has control over all authority, in verse 24 – and even has power over death. For proclaiming these things, Stephen was stoned to death, James the son of John was killed with the sword, James the brother of Jesus was stoned to death – and various other disciples were killed in various ways, as far as we can tell. But they kept on preaching; they knew that though they may ‘fall asleep’ in Christ, they would not ultimately perish.

This resurrection is part of God’s plan to bring new ordering to creation. And yet the doctrine of the resurrection also affirms the importance of created matter. It is not the case that when we die we are whisked up to heaven as spirits [at least not permanently] – we will in the future be raised from the dead in new, tangible bodies. Contrary to many philosophies, Christianity claims that matter is not intrinsically bad and God uses physical stuff in his reordering of the world. All will be raised, the Bible teaches – but only those who belong to Christ will be raised to eternal life.

As an aside, it is not true that good people go to heaven. Most importantly, it is not good people who God redeems, but bad ones. I was talking to a lady from the Jehovah’s Witnesses a few weeks ago and she was quite surprised at that one. The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach a form of works-righteousness – that, as I understand it, if we are good and work hard as a JW, we will go to heaven. In contrast, the Bible says that God loves and chooses and saves sinners, not for any good in us but for His own glory and purposes – and it is only by Christ’s righteousness that we get anywhere worthwhile.
And also, our final destination is, according to the Bible, I think not exactly heaven, but “the new heavens and the new earth” that God will create – but perhaps that’s a topic for another day.

The resurrection is something that is to happen in the future, but something which we can also experience a part of. The final judgment and resurrection of all the nations of the earth is yet to come, but we can legitimately hope for it – the snowball has well and truly started rolling.

So I’ve looked a little at what the resurrection is, but what does it mean; “so what?!” we may say…

The resurrection was not an accident, it was an act of God, which God intended as demonstration of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. This says a lot about God and the nature of God. It says, for example, that God is personal and immanent, not abstract, distant or uncaring. In Philippians 2 – “8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! 2:9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth –  2:11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” – we see that the resurrection and ascension tell us that Jesus shares in the divine name, that is above every other name. God is not a distant autocrat or dictator, but a caring and just Father who was willing to bear the cost that we could not.

This all means that what happened on the cross was also – most certainly – not an accident. That in fact, what happened on the cross is efficacious; it has power for us. We need not still be “in our sins” because the power which raised Christ from the dead is living and active today, giving new life.
The Christian claim is that we need not be afraid of that which is dark and ugly in the world because of God. In fact, God, in Christ, has experienced the very worst that the world has to offer and has turned things around. Human beings do not need to perish and God wills that none may. God’s righteous anger at sin can find no spot or blame in those who trust in Jesus, for though we were God’s enemies, Christ, the Word of God made flesh, died for us, and was raised to justify us.
As participants in the humanity of Adam, by being born human in this world and acting as humans do, we are by nature subject to death. If we are born again and hence participate in the body of Christ, we have the sure Christian hope of resurrection. Baptism, as such, is a sign of our participation not only in the death of Christ, but also in his resurrection.

So Christ is unique in his relationship as ‘Son’ to the Father, but is not to be unique in being raised from the dead. Christ is the firstfruits – the first taste of the harvest of resurrected men and women that is to come.

The Christian hope is that Christ indeed has been raised from the dead.
As verse 58, the end of chapter 15 says:
So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.


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