Sport is a huge thing in Aussie culture. Not everyone is a sports fan, though. I’m married to Nonie, and she’s about as interested in sport as I am in making macramé wall hangings. I was still playing soccer every weekend when we got married, and I just couldn’t get her to come along to games. But then we had three sons who all played soccer when they were younger, and she didn’t miss a game! Standing on the sidelines, cheering away, she even put her hand up to manage their teams for a couple of seasons: unbelievable! So it turns out that anyone can be a sports fan!
In the NRL, I’m a Bulldogs fan. I sense we are going to have a pretty poor year. We could be in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon, if I’m honest. But most years, it’s good to be a Bulldogs fan. We usually make the finals, and we win a premiership every now and then. There’s lots of banter here between fans of different teams, and that’s a good thing. When the Dogs get up I feel vindicated and I let everyone know about it! But when the Dragons win, for example, it’s painful. No sense of vindication, just misery and a very happy Ray Galea.
In the English Premier League, I’m a Spurs fan. I’m a mad Spurs fan actually! We’ve been pretty average for about 40 years if I’m honest, but the past few years have been fantastic: brand new stadium, one of the best in the world, high quality team, one of the best coaches in world football, nowhere near as much money as Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, or Arsenal, but more heart than all of them! Glorious! When we win games, the sense of vindication is immense. It is such a euphoric feeling. I feel fantastic for days!
The problem is that I have good mates here and elsewhere who love those other teams, and when they beat Spurs, I never hear the end of it, because they are vindicated not me. Scott Lavender is a mad Liverpool fan. We share an office here at church, so I’m quite glad he’s moving to Castle Hill, and I don’t have to hear about how great Liverpool are anymore every day at work. Still, perhaps Arsenal won’t make the top four this season, and that my friends, is glorious vindication!
For most of the past 20 years, the Aussie men’s cricket team have been almost unbeatable. We won just about everything there is to win and all Aussie cricket fans felt vindicated. But now pretty much everyone beats us. So if you’re South African, Indian, English, and possibly even Canadian or Bangladeshi, you feel vindicated, because you can beat us without tampering with the ball. So perhaps we should all be fans of the Australian Women’s Cricket Team, because they almost never lose a game, and have never had any major scandals like ball tampering, and they are the most successful women’s cricket team in history! We’d all feel vindicated all the time if we followed them!
Sport is like that, isn’t it? If your team wins, you feel vindicated. If your team loses, someone else feels vindicated. But there’s always next week, or next season, or the next series. There’s always another chance for vindication. I reckon one of the great things about sport is the emotional roller coaster of glorious highs and heart-breaking lows. Most days it’s good to be a Spurs fan. Most days it’s good to be a Bulldogs fan. But when they lose that glorious vindication is gone.
Being a Christian is quite different, because every day is a good day to be a Christian. But it is especially good today, Easter Sunday. That’s the best day to be a Christian! Why? Vindication. Jesus won. Our sporting teams win some and lose some. Jesus is different. He won the most decisive victory of all time almost 2,000 years ago, and he remains undefeated!
The Jewish religious leaders wanted Jesus dead because he kept claiming to be God in the flesh. The Romans obliged by nailing Jesus to a cross, and he died. He was put in a tomb. A huge stone was rolled across the entrance of the tomb. All seemed lost.
But that was Friday. Sunday’s coming, and what a comeback! On that first Easter Sunday morning, when some of Jesus’ friends went to the tomb to prepare his body for a more decent burial, he just wasn’t there! Gone. Disappeared. An angel was sitting on the stone that had been over the entrance to the tomb, and he gets to say one of the best lines in the whole Bible. He asks Jesus’ friends: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” That is what vindication sounds like!
Pretty much every book in the New Testament talks about Jesus’ resurrection, but 1 Corinthians 15 is the most comprehensive. It’s Paul’s response to a group of people in a church in Corinth who had been saying that there’s no such thing as someone rising from the dead. Have a look at verses 1-8:
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. 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 third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [that’s Peter], 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. (NIV)
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is one of ancient history’s most comprehensively documented and independently corroborated events. So many people saw Jesus after he rose again individuals: small groups of people, and on one occasion, Jesus was seen by a crowd of five hundred people. It’s impossible to fake that sort of thing. When Paul wrote this, most of that crowd of five hundred people were still alive, which means that his readers could have gone and asked the eyewitnesses themselves to check the story out. The resurrection isn’t just a matter of faith, it’s a matter of evidence.
And yet there have always been people who didn’t believe. They know the evidence is there, but they just reject it.
Go back to the day it happened. The Jews had asked the Romans to put a guard in front of Jesus’ tomb, because they thought Jesus’ disciples would come and steal his body, and then claim Jesus was alive again like He said He would be.
The Romans weren’t taking any chances. Jerusalem had a long history of rebellious attitudes toward Rome, plus it was the Passover festival. So Jerusalem was full of people from all over the place. It was pretty tense. So they weren’t about to send only a few soldiers to guard the tomb. A regular number for this sort of thing was four soldiers, but with all that was going on, they’d have sent heaps more. Most historians reckon about forty. Fair enough. The problem was that on that first Easter Sunday morning, the guards were all still there, but Jesus wasn’t.
So they came up with a plan. Near the end of Matthew 28, we read that the Jewish religious leaders gave the Roman soldiers a heap of money and told them to tell Pilate that the disciples had snuck in during the night, while all forty or so guards were asleep all at the same time mind you, crept through the sleeping soldiers without waking any of them up, silently rolled the huge stone away from the tomb, stole Jesus’ body, and silently carried him back through the sleeping soldiers. So these would be the same disciples who fled in fear when Jesus was arrested, and the same disciples who hid in an upper room and locked the doors on Easter Sunday for fear of the Jews. We’re meant to believe this fearful bunch of sissies suddenly had the courage of an SAS commando unit and took on forty armed guards and stole the most heavily guarded body of the most famous person to have ever been executed in Jerusalem. I don’t think so. It’s rubbish that takes more faith to believe than to believe Jesus rose from the dead! And yet some people still believe it today!
That isn’t what happened, of course. Jesus really did walk out of that tomb a couple of thousand years ago and is still very much alive today.
But you have to ask the question, “What if he didn’t? What if the resurrection never happened? Have a look at verses 12-18:
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 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. 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. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. (NIV)
If there’s no resurrection, preaching is useless, Christian faith is useless, we tell lies about God, Christians are stuck with their sins, there’s no forgiveness, and the Christians who have died aren’t in heaven but they’re lost forever. The bottom line is in verse 19, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than anyone” (NIV).
That’s pretty bleak, isn’t it? Hypothetically, if there’s no resurrection, if Jesus is still dead, then Christians are deluded nutters.
The resurrection is the one event on which Christianity stands and falls. If there’s no resurrection there’s no Christianity. Paul knows it, so from here to the end of the chapter he cracks into the reality of the resurrection and what it means for all of us. You could spend weeks preaching through it, but we’re going to take ten minutes! Have a look at verses 20-22:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 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. (NIV)
Let’s pick up just two things out of that. First, Jesus’ resurrection is different to others who were raised in the New Testament. His resurrection body changes everything. Second, there are only two options for us: we are either dead in Adam, or alive in Christ.
About our first point—that Jesus’ resurrection body changes everything—in the New Testament, we read about four people who were raised from the dead. Three were raised by Jesus: Lazarus in John 11; the widow’s son in Luke 7; and a young girl in Mark 5. Then in Acts 20, a young man named Eutychus was raised by God, through Paul after he fell out of a window while Paul preached for about five hours—which is reasonable. We’d probably all fall out the window as well! Each of these people were most certainly dead: Lazarus, for example had been in a tomb for four days! But here’s the thing: they were raised in the same earthly body they died in, which means that they all had to go through death again later. Just imagine how disappointing that would have been for each of them.
So how is Jesus’ resurrection body different? Well, while those four people still had the same physical limitations after they were raised, Jesus did not. When Neo got shot and killed in ‘The Matrix’, then came back to life and could stop bullets just by raising his hand and could walk through walls and all that, the Cohen brothers weren’t working with an original thought. They just nicked it straight out of the Bible actually. They nicked most of ‘the Matrix’ out of the Bible!
After Jesus was raised everything was different! Locked doors were no obstacle for the risen Lord Jesus. He appeared in one place, disappeared then turned up somewhere else. Jesus was raised with a resurrection body and that changes everything. That is what Paul is talking about when he says “first fruits”. Jesus was the first one to be raised with a new resurrection body. It was still recognizably him, but he was different. He explains this a bit more down in verses 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 dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (NIV)
When we are raised from the dead, we will still have our own body, we will all recognize and know each other in heaven, but we won’t have the same limitations as we do now. It will be a resurrection body. This body that is getting weaker with age will be changed, from perishable to imperishable, from dishonourable to glorious, from weak to powerful, from natural to spiritual, just like Jesus’ body was changed. He is the “first fruits”, the prototype, if you like, and we will be like him after this body dies. I will be raised with a resurrection body, a body that’s fit for heaven. But in the meantime, I’m stuck with this.
You know, nothing in this world works the way it was meant to in the beginning. After sin came into God’s good creation, everything went downhill. That means that in this life, some of us are going to suffer physically pretty badly. It might come early in life, or it might come later in life, but plenty of us are going to go through some pretty terrible physical suffering. If we live long enough, this body we have, even if it’s young and strong now, will deteriorate at some point. We’ll get old. Things will stop working the way they’re meant to. This body will let us down. And all of us will one day be at our own funeral.
But the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on that first Easter Sunday tells us that our suffering and on our last day, our own death will not be the end of our story. For those of us who have faith in Jesus, this body will be raised and all the imperfections. All the things that went wrong, all the pain, the cancer, the dementia, the heart disease, the tumours, all the suffering, all of that will be long-forgotten and not even a distant memory, just dismissed and replaced with a glorious, vindicated, resurrection body, one that cannot get sick, cannot suffer, cannot deteriorate, and cannot die. That’s the first thing we learn from the resurrection.
The second point is that Paul says there are two options for us, in verse 22, that we are either in Adam or in Christ. So what does he mean by that?
Well, he says in verse 21 that since death entered the world through one man, Adam, so also resurrection from the dead enters the world through another man, Jesus. What he means is that when Adam sinned right back near the start, one of the consequences of his sin was that death entered God’s good creation. Now, it is vital that we understand that we were not created to die. God made us to live with him forever. Sin brought death, and death is an unwelcome guest. Think of any funeral you have been to, even a funeral where death seemed a relief, because the person had been in immense pain, or even a funeral for a solid Christian you knew was now home with the Lord. Do you think for even a second, that the people gathered are happy that death has come knocking on the door of someone they loved? Emphatically, no way! As much as we all know we will die, we grieve and mourn, because deep down we know that death is not natural. It is not what God intended.
But see, the resurrection of Jesus tells us that God has intervened and destroyed the power of death. Certainly, these physical bodies will die, but the resurrection says, “That is not the end!” This body is sown perishable. That means it’s put in the ground, like a seed dies in the ground, so that new life can come. That’s what will happen to every single one of us unless Jesus returns within the next hundred years. We will be put in the ground dead, but will rise again totally imperishable, and more alive than we have ever been!
And here’s where we have a choice. Paul says in verse 22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (NIV). This might sound confusing, but it’s really quite simple: everyone who has ever been born is a descendant of Adam. If you trace anyone’s family tree back far enough, you will get to one man: Adam. A Christian is someone who has been born once in the normal way, but then at some point later down the track has been “born again”, not in some weird hippie re-birthing ceremony at Stone Henge, but a spiritual birth. Jesus talks about it in John 3. He says that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. It just means beginning again, starting over, pressing the re-set button, a fresh start at life with Jesus at the centre. The thing is, we can’t do this by ourselves.
We’re like those kids in that cave in Thailand a year or so ago. They absolutely could not save themselves. A team of people from outside the cave had to figure out a way to get in there and rescue those boys, and they had to go to extraordinary lengths to do it, risking their lives in the process, and tragically, one of them died, but all the boys were rescued in the end.
We can solve a lot of problems and invent all sorts of things. We can land people on the moon supposedly, we can fly from one side of the world to the other in only a few hours, I can chat to my mate in Vietnam on my mobile phone, and press a button on it and we can see each other. He can do it while he’s riding his scooter in seven lanes of crazy traffic in Saigon for goodness sake! But we can't fix the problem of sin, we can't beat death, we can’t get home to God by ourselves. We need to be rescued, and the only way we can be rescued is if we are in Christ. In Adam, all die. In Jesus all are raised again. Jesus is our only hope of rescue.
Paul says this is the choice that faces all people because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. You can choose to remain in Adam in your natural state, separated from God, or you can press the re-set button, and start again with Jesus, and get home to God where you belong.
Jesus’ resurrection changes everything the way you live and the way you die. Someone once asked John Wesley why his church was growing so rapidly in the mid 1700s. He replied, “Look at the way our people die.” The Christians in Wesley’s church simply didn’t fear death. They knew that to live is Christ, but to die is gain. The way they faced their own death showed their friends they knew there was something indescribably wonderful waiting for them after they went through death. That made their friends look more closely at Jesus, and many thousands turned to Jesus and became Christians.
The resurrection of Jesus tells us why Christians who are persecuted for their faith steadfastly refuse to deny Christ. A few years back, twelve Christian pastors in Sudan were kidnapped by Muslim soldiers, and put in a cell. They were told that they would only be given food or water if they converted to Islam. One by one, as the days and weeks went by, they all died. Not one of them denied Christ. Why? They knew Jesus conquered death and so would they. There was something better waiting for them, so they didn’t lose hope.
This is the power of the resurrection. It changes everything. Nothing can undo the resurrection of Jesus, and that means that nothing we go through can undo our own resurrection. Just as Jesus rose, so too will we, the ultimate vindication. The choice is ours. As in Adam all die, but in Christ all will be made alive.