Death - Ruth's Example
There's a time to give birth and there's a time to die.
- Ecclesiastes 3:2
And I would add there's a time to mourn. There are recent deaths that are affecting many of us this morning. So I think that's where the sermon or the lesson should be focused today.
Please take out your Bible and open it to First Corinthians 15, and let's allow the Lord, through His Holy Spirit, through His divine word to comfort us at this time.
The thing that unites the world is life and death. That's what Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes. Everybody is born, everybody dies. And in between birth and death everybody has a different experience, some marry and some don't, some get rich and some stay poor, but the common experience that the Bible tells us is that everybody is born and everybody dies. That's the common experience.
The common experience of the Christian is: everybody is born, everybody dies, but everybody has a hope of resurrection. That's the common hope of Christians. The commonality that we share here- we're all different, we all have different experiences, we all have different situations, good or bad, but the thing that brings us all here on this cold, damp Sunday morning is that we all hope that we will be resurrected from the dead.
Paul writes in First Corinthians 15 about this subject, and we're just going to read it. I'll make a few comments and the lesson will be yours. He says,
1Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, which also you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11Whether then it was I or they, so we preach, and so you believed.
- I Corinthians 15:1-11
The thing that draws us together is that we believe. Ruth believed. She believed with all her heart.
There are some who doubt. And hopefully the ones who doubt are outside of this building.
I was watching a movie the other night, Contact with Jodie Foster, about contacting aliens. Maybe some of you saw it. It was interesting. Here was a scientist, and the only way she would believe in anything is if she had empirical evidence. And with all her heart she had faith that if she just kept looking out there she'd make contact with aliens. And in the movie, of course, she does. Throughout the whole movie there was another guy who was a theologian, trying to convince her that God existed, and until the very end, she did not believe. Here's a woman who believed in aliens- that they're out there, but she couldn't be convinced in an almighty and loving God that created all of those billions of stars.
Some people just won't believe, and that's nothing new. Don't let them get you down. Don't let them beat you up psychologically and philosophically. Some people just won't believe. And Paul talks about this in verse 12, it's nothing new. He says,
Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection from the dead?
- I Corinthians 15:12
I mean, they were only living a few years from the fact. They still had eyewitnesses going around saying, "Look, I saw it with my own eyes. I was there." They lived during a time when people were going around doing miracles in order to demonstrate the power of God, and still they didn't believe. A testimony to the hardness of men's souls, then and now.
13But if there's no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17and if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
- I Corinthians 15:13-19
It's an all or nothing game. You either buy it all or leave it all. If you believe, then resurrection of your body is part of the package. You can't leave that out of it. You can't say, "I can take the God thing and I can take the 'be good' thing. I can take that. But I just can't take that resurrection thing. I just can't get my mind around it." That won't work. That's what they were trying to do here. And Paul is saying to them, "If it is impossible for the body to be raised, if God can't do that, He didn't resurrect Jesus either. And if He didn't resurrect Jesus, you people are a bunch of fools for even sitting in those pews this morning. You should have stayed home."
From the beginning, people had trouble with this business of resurrection, it's nothing new. He goes on in verse 20 to 28 and says,
20But now Christ has been raised from the dead. The first fruits of those who are asleep. 21For since by man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, 24then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, "All things are put in subjection," it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.
- I Corinthians 15: 20-28
There are a lot of things there I could talk about, it's a complex passage. But basically I want to say one thing about that: Death is the natural order that follows from sin. He's trying to comfort these people. He's saying, "There is a God and God is good and God is wonderful." But people are dropping like flies. How can that be? If God can't prevent them from dying, how is He going to resurrect them from the dead?
And Paul is saying, "No, you don't understand. Death is a natural consequence of sin. It is the result of being sinful. It is the result of living in a fallen world- you die." But he reminds them that resurrection is the natural result of believing. Just as it is natural that death follows sin. He says, resurrection follows belief. If you believe in death, then you must believe in resurrection because one is the natural order that leads to the other. Don't be fooled, he says, verse 29.
29Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them? 30Why are we also in danger every hour? 31I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. 33Do not be deceived: "Bad company corrupts good morals." 34Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
- I Corinthians 15:29-34
He says, "Don't let those who believe only in death, fool you into believing that that's the only thing." In this world, people sell their souls because they think that there's nothing left after death. What's the old gag? If I knew I would have lived this long, I would've taken better care of myself. I've heard some of our brethren tell me that, when we get together- the 40 and 50 year olds, they say, "If I knew that I would have lived this long, I would've taken better care of myself." Well, you know what? There's going to be a lot of people who are going to say, "If I would've known we would have resurrected from the dead, I would not have made such a fool of myself."
Don't be fooled. Don't let the world fool you into believing that death is the only thing; that this little scratchy life here on earth is the only thing; that the glitter and the glow of the few years that we have running around on this earth is the only thing. What kind of God would we have if all of this was created just to give us a few measly years on this earth, to ride around in cars and to have a few meals and then die? And that would be it. What a waste! Of course the atheists are after all they can get, because that's all they're going to get. Don't be fooled.
In verses 35 to 49 he says, "There is a resurrection. There is a new body."
35But someone will say, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?" 36You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; 37and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38But God gives a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. 39All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. 40There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. 41There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 42So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45So also it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living soul." The last Adam became a life giving spirit. 46However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
- I Corinthians 15:35-49
What he's saying is, "Have you never seen a seed being planted; a little tiny seed in the palm of your hand? It may be brown and wrinkled, and then you take that little seed and you put it in the ground and from that little seed will grow a plant that has fruit on it. And that plant and that fruit doesn't look anything like the seed." He says, "Well, in the same way, your body is like that little brown seed. And when God will plant it into the ground in death, it will be transformed into a lovely spiritual plant called a heavenly body." That's the mechanics of resurrection. People say, "We're going to do this in Heaven, we're going to do that. It's going to be boring in Heaven." Yeah, it'll be boring if you're looking for cars and movies.
The thing that we're called on to be in heaven is to be at the right hand of God, to have authority over the spiritual world that we have not even seen yet; that we've been called to reign with God over a dimension that we have not even experienced yet, only a little bit. And this we'll throw all away for just a moment?
Don't be fooled, brethren. First comes the little seed. That's your body, that's your aches and your pains and your marriage and your giving birth and your work and your sweat and your suffering. That's the little seed. And that little seed will be planted into the ground. And it'll be in the ground because of cancer, tuberculosis, or whatever, but once it goes into the ground, your true life will then finally begin.
Do you think Ruth wants to come back? I don't think so. In verse 50 he says, "Only Christians understand this."
Now, I say this brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
- I Corinthians 15:50
In other words, people out there don't get it. They don't understand it. They can't wrap their minds around it because they don't approach it from faith. Again, with the key that opens the door to all the mysteries, that is that Jesus Christ is the son of God. They don't want to get it. Some will never get it.
And Paul says, "Don't worry about that. Don't base your faith, how strong it's going to be, on how they get it. They're never going to get it." He says,
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
- I Corinthians 15:51
You know what that means? Not all of us will die. Some of us will be alive when Jesus comes. Some will die, some will be alive when He comes, that's true. But he says, "Don't worry, whether you're dead or alive when Christ comes, all of you will be changed. And you all will have a glorified body." And you'll need a glorified body to withstand the sheer joy of being in God's presence. You couldn't stand being in God's presence in the fleshly sinful bodies that we all inhabit now. We would disintegrate in a heartbeat.
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
- I Corinthians 15:52
Not, we might be changed, maybe we'll be changed. We will be changed.
53For this perishable must put on imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory. 55O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin of the law; 57but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
- I Corinthians 15:53-58
Hers was not a wasted life. Make sure that yours is not a wasted life. I want to be able to say the same thing about you, if God gives me a long enough life to preach your funerals, that I'm going to say about her. Make sure, make absolutely sure that no one and nothing gets in the way of the reward that God is preparing for each and every one of you through Jesus Christ Our Lord.
If you need to be right with God, if you need to be baptized this morning in order to guarantee that resurrection, if you need to place membership, if you need the prayers of the church, we encourage you to come forward. Now as we stand and as we sing our song of invitation.