The End (and Beginning) of the World

Today is the second Sunday in the season of Easter.

That’s right, the SEASON of Easter
sometimes called Easter Time or Eastertide.

In the Church’s calendar,
it just won’t do to celebrate Easter for one day.

A man has come out the other side of death
for crying out loud—he is risen.

The church is the community of people throughout history
who are announcing that a first century Jewish peasant,

a rabbi executed as a criminal,
has literally defeated death.

That’s the news of Easter.

That’s the news that has rippled across the world and through history.

Someone has defeated death.

Death is not definitive.
Funerals are not final.

If you even start to believe it for a moment—
what staggering, breathtaking good news.

There are actually 50 days of Easter in the Church’s calendar.

Lent was 40 days of wilderness and struggle
and identifying with the sufferings of Jesus

but suffering can’t outpace resurrection—
Easter is longer than Lent.

Easter is 50 days.

From Easter Sunday
to Pentecost Sunday.

During these 50 days,
we thought we should probably
do a little reflecting on what the resurrection means.

For a lot of Christians,
it seems like the resurrection of Jesus
is one last impressive miracle before he leaves the stage.

As I grew up in church,
that was the impression I had.

What was the resurrection all about?

Well, that’s just the way Jesus ends his story.

One last impressive act.

A bit like the grand finale of a magic show.

Jesus has done all kinds of incredible things
it’s been quite the performance.

This going to make for quite the bestseller.
(We may even need four versions of the same story.)

He’s turned water into wine,
he’s multiplied loaves of bread
he’s walked on water and stopped a thunderstorm,

He’s had sections of audience participation
he’s healed people in the crowd:

stopping fevers in sick people, restoring sight in some blind people,
and even raising a couple of lucky ducks from the dead.

And then his grand finale is a bit like
the ol’ sawing a woman in half trick

But instead of tearing apart a beautiful assistant,
the magician himself—Jesus himself—is torn apart.

He is torn apart
only to rise again
three days later. 

Standing ovation—the crowds go wild—
absolutely amazing stuff, Jesus.

A brilliant ending.

But growing up,
it wasn’t always clear how Jesus’ grand finale
fit together with “really” important things at the end of the service.

Because at end a sermon,
the pastor would invite people
to come down the aisle and make a decision.

Everyone need to make sure we “ask Jesus into our heart”
so that we can all go to heaven when we die.

Making sure that we were going to heaven when we die—
that was the really important thing.

And it wasn’t always exactly clear
how the grand finale of Jesus’ ministry
fit together with the “going to heaven bit.”

Growing up, I had the the distinct impression
that what was truly important—what was most important
was what lay beyond this world—
what comes after this life.

It seemed like getting out of this world safely—

like leaving this world safely
like going to heaven when we die—
was actually the truest, deepest hope of the church.

And how the resurrection of Jesus factors into all this…?

Well, I guess that spectacular ending
just proves Jesus’ credibility

He was right about rising again,
so he’s probably right about how to get to heaven.

The only problem with all of this
is that the earliest Christians—
the disciples, the apostles, the biblical witness
doesn’t tell the story this way.

You can pull a verse from here, a verse from there
to piece something like this together.

But when you actually read more than just a verse or two at a time
the early Christian witness doesn’t sound very much
like the altar calls I heard growing up.

It doesn’t sound like the earliest Christians
were primarily interested in going to heaven when they died.

What they were interested in
what they were absolutely obsessed by
was the resurrection of Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus
AND what it means for the world.

The way the early Christians talk about the resurrection of Jesus
sounds a bit different than the impression I had growing up.

For them,
Easter isn’t like the end of a magic show.

In fact, for them,
Easter isn’t the end of anything.

Easter is beginning of something.

Easter is the beginning
of God reclaiming and remaking and renewing
the entire created order, the entire world.

Easter is the beginning of a new world—
a new world arriving in the middle of the old world.

For the earliest Christians,
there is no disconnect between
their truest, deepest hope and the life of Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus fits hand-in-glove
with what God has planned for the rest of the world.

God did not abandon Jesus,
and God will not abandon this world either.

Today, I want to reflect a little
on what we would usually call “the end of the world”—
on where the world and history are headed.

It’s going to be a lot of Scripture.

But I think it’s really important for us hear first-hand
how the earliest Christians talked about the resurrection of Jesus
and what they understood his resurrection to mean for the world.

So we’re going to be 1 Corinthians 15 this morning.

In case you didn’t know,
1 Corinthians 15 is one of the richest and clearest and most-loaded
passages in the entire Bible about “the end of the world.”

The gospel story last week hinted at most of this—
but we’re going to dig into the actual meat of it today.

Today we’re going to lay
the Scriptural foundation
for the next five weeks.

We’re going to do some heavy lifting this morning—
we’re going to read a big chunk of Scripture
and make a few comments as we go,
and then we’ll come to the table.

(1 Cor 15.1-2) Now, brothers and sisters, 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.

So he’s about to remind the Corinthians—
he’s about to remind us—
what the gospel is.

(v3) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

Jesus died—that’s really important—

(v4) that he was buried,

He really was dead—

(v4-11) that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters 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.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

So Paul begins by saying,

“I’m going to remind you of the gospel (v2):

Jesus died
and Jesus has been resurrected.

That’s what is central.

That’s what is of most importance (v3).

Upwards of five hundred people have seen him—
“Including me,” says Paul.

We’re not saying that Jesus has gone to heaven.
We’re saying that his tomb is empty.

That his decaying body has been taken up and transformed
and that Jesus now has a new bodily life.

It’s unlike anything the world has ever seen,
but death has been conquered.

Death has been reversed, undone—
Jesus is actually, literally alive again.

(v12) But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead

That’s what we’re proclaiming, Paul is saying…

[then] how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

Resurrection was just as hard to believe
in the first-century as it is now.

But Paul is saying that it’s non-negotiable.

You can’t deny the resurrection because if you do—

(v13) If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

If there’s no such thing as resurrection—if you deny outright such a thing could happen—
then none of what we’re talking about makes any sense.

Your faith is useless.

Our faith is not chiefly about what happens after we die—
about existence after death, about life after death.

Our faith is about death being vetoed,
about death being reversed,
about death being undone.

Our faith is about resurrection—
about the dead being raised.

If that’s just not possible,
then it’s worse than our faith being useless—

(v14-17) More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

Death is always a result of sin—
of turning away from God,
of rebelling against God.

Sin leads to death
to physical death,
to emotional death,
to spiritual death.

That’s what sin gives us—
that’s the wage it pays.

If resurrection is an impossibility—if the dead cannot be raised—
then we’re still trapped where we’ve always been:
in our sins. 

That’s how central the resurrection is:

If there’s no resurrection
there’s no hope.

(v18-20) Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Jesus is just the beginning of what’s coming
the beginning of a harvest, the firstfruits.

(v21-22) 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. 

What happened to Jesus doesn’t just stay with Jesus.

With the kind of language he’s using‚
it’s like Jesus is restarting the human race.

In the same way Adam infected pantes (“all”) with death,
so now Jesus will to infect pantes (“all”) with resurrection.

Incredible news. Staggering news.
Really really really good news.

But what will that look like?

Because we don’t see it yet.

The funeral business is still a booming business.

And now we’re getting into
what we would call “the end of the world”:

(v23) But each in turn:

It goes like this;

(v23-28) Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

So there’s a day coming when Jesus—alive-again-with-body Jesus

will come again and will resurrect those who belong to him.

That hasn’t happened yet,
but it’s coming.

(v24) Then the end will come…

This is the end-game,
the “end of the world.”

(v24-26) …when [Jesus] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

The “end of the world” looks like this:

It looks like Jesus—
who is already king of the universe, who is already reigning
destroying all enemies (v25):

All dominions and authorities and powers.

Destroying anything and everything that opposes
goodness and beauty and truth and life.

And then the last enemy that will be destroyed—
that will be eradicated from the planet—
will be death itself (v26).

Let’s pause right there.

That’s a pretty good vision.

And a world where
death has been eradicated like smallpox.

And a world where
and beauty and truth and justice reign.

That sounds good.
Really good.

It sounds like the last picture we’re given in Scripture—
it sounds like Revelation 21-22.

Not a picture of souls
floating away from earth
to go to heaven.

That’s Plato’s picture,
but not Scripture’s picture.

Scripture ends
with heaven
coming down
to earth.

The Bible ends with
the heavenly city coming down to earth.

It ends with the Lord’s prayer finally being answered—
with God’s kingdom coming on earth
as it is in heaven.

What Paul is describing doesn’t sound like
a hazy, heavenly existence
in the clouds somewhere.

It sounds like an earthly, bodily existence.
It sounds like this world but remade.

It kinda sounds like the end of the world,
but it kinda sounds like the beginning of the world.

If it sounds like that,
then we’re beginning to catch it—
we’re beginning to take the resurrection seriously.

It’s a world remade—a world renewed
a world where (end of v28) God will be all in all.

This is the hope of the church:
the resurrected king
bringing resurrection
to the world.

Paul keeps writing—read it sometime.

We don’t have time to read all of it,
but it’s thick, mysterious, beautiful, brilliant stuff.

Today I want to take us to
where Paul takes us.

He keeps talking about the resurrection
what’s will it be like?
how do we make sense of it?

But then notice how does Paul end his discussion of “the end of the world.”

He works his way into a climax that sounds like this:

(15.51-58) Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“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. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

He doesn’t finish talking about “the end of the world” by saying:

“Just hang in there a little while longer—
one day you’ll go to heaven and THEN real life will begin.”


He ends by saying:

Do not be discouraged.
Stay the course. You do not labor in vain.”

Whatever you’re doing “in the Lord”—
everything you do under the reign of the king—
it matters.

Your lives

Sometimes discussions about dying and going to heaven
can sound like a giant reset button.

Like dying and going to heaven
knocks all the pieces off the board
and resets the game.

Like it erases all the hard drives
and resets the computer.

Anyone know what I’m talking about?

Heaven becomes this mysterious reality where everything that came before it—
except that decision to accept Jesus at that altar call—
doesn’t really matter.

Heaven becomes a giant reset button—
something that actually dampens and discourages life today.

Our lives become something
that we’ve got to slog through
until we get to “the real thing.”

[slide #1]
When the gospel becomes
primarily about life after death
it eventually makes us question
the importance of life before death.

When the good news becomes
centrally about some other place one day,
a subtle idea begins to creep in.

A quiet, disastrous, discouraging idea.

That nothing really matters.

That this world, our everyday lives,
our relationships, our choices, our work—
they don’t really matter.

That heaven really amounts to
God’s hitting a giant reset button
where God reconsiders the entire created order.

Maybe what I made really isn’t that good.
Maybe this time I’ll try clouds instead of dirt.”

If this idea begins to take root in our hearts,
it can be really damaging.

But—really—that makes zero sense.

Of this world or our lives or God’s purposes.

And the resurrection rebukes it.

The resurrection rebukes the giant reset button.
The resurrection rebukes the idea that God is reconsidering creation.

[slide #2]
If it doesn’t sound like Jesus’ resurrection
then it’s not the earth’s future.

Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t reset Jesus’ life.

Doesn’t brush aside his relationships
or his experiences or his hobbies and habits.

Jesus is still Jesus.

He still knows his friends.
He still knows his way around—how to get from Galilee to Jerusalem.

He still likes to hang out on beaches.
He still likes grilling out fish.

The resurrection doesn’t brush any of that aside.
The resurrection doesn’t even brush aside Jesus’s suffering.

Jesus’ suffering isn’t erased—
this isn’t a reset.

Even Jesus’ suffering is transformed—
it’s suddenly seen as part of something bigger
and is made meaningful and beautiful.

[slide #3]
We could say it this way:
The resurrection shows that God is not reconsidering creation.
The resurrection shows that God is reclaiming creation.

To be certain,
Paul is certainly describing a future where things are different.

[slide #4]
At the end of the world,
some things will be different.

There’s no denying that—and it’s really good news.

And I think we tend to focus on those different things:
our bodies being transformed,
being eradicated,
being gone, etc.

But I think this is where Paul takes us:

[slide #5]
At the end of the world,
some things will be the same.

Your works matters.
Your life matters.

Today—this life—right now—
this is the real thing.

It’s broken, it’s busted,
it’s got a limp right now,
but it’s really is the real thing.

You do not labor in vain;

the resurrection is not a reset.

The resurrection doesn’t reset this world.
The resurrection reclaims this world.

And the resurrection means
that some things will last—
they will last forever.

[slide #6]
Because the end of this world
is also a new beginning for this world.

The world is going to be different.

But the world is also going to be the same.

Some things are going to last forever.

They’ll be reclaimed.
They’ll be remade.
They’ll be transformed.

And we are invited
to live the things
that will last
right now.

What does that look like?

In a word—it looks like love.

We’ll talk about that next week.
But as a teaser, I think we’re on safe ground to say:

Listening to that friend, and helping that stranger,
and forgiving that person, and teaching that lesson,
and learning that language, and playing that game,
changing that diaper, and working that soil,
and tending that garden, and breathing that mountain air,
and preparing that meal and savoring its flavors—

it all matters.

Even that suffering you are experiencing,
none of it will be wasted.

The resurrection doesn’t reset the world.
The resurrection reclaims this world.

Your life—right now—it matters.
We do not labor in vain.