My Grandma (Nai Nai, as we would call her) was a tough and energetic lady who dearly loved her grandkids. She used to knit sweaters for us (very useful growing up in Canada). In public, she would always enthusiastically run up to people, whether friends at church or complete strangers in the mall, to proudly declare “this is my grandson!” (in Chinese of course, regardless of whether the other party knew any Chinese). She left this world Saturday, Aug 29, 2009 shortly after lunch, at the age of 97.
Now Jesus has robed her in greater splendor than any earthly wool. He will not be ashamed to declare “this is my beloved daughter” before the world. This funeral sermon, based on 1 Corinthians 15:12-28 was delivered in Chinese and English on Friday, Sept 4, 2009 before family and friends.
Hope is word we use in a couple different ways. Sometimes, we say, “hope,” meaning wishful thinking, like, “I hope it will rain tomorrow.” But the Bible means something else. In the Bible, hope is confidence in something we don’t yet see. Now resurrection, eternal life, that sort of thing sounds good, but what is the evidence? It’s not our daily experience to see people rising from the dead. There’s no scientific law for it. The proof is 2000 years ago on Easter day when Jesus Christ rose bodily from the grave.
This is what 1 Corinthians is getting at. Some people were saying that there is no resurrection of the dead. But if there isn’t, then what is the point? Does Christianity solve your problems and give you “Your Best Life Now”™? I don’t think that Christianity “simply works” for the hundreds of thousands who have and still do suffer, are tortured, are murdered because of the name of Christ. And even if it did, what good is that to Grandma now? What good will it be to you when you lie cold in the grave? What good is faith, if it is just a fairy tale? What good is hope if death has the last word? What good is love if it is not forever? What good are all our accomplishments; what good is even forgiveness of sins? Vs 17-19: “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. If only for this life, we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
If we’re honest, there’s a lot of misery in life, and being Christian doesn’t make us any more immune. But in Christ, we have a better hope. Better than respect and status. Better than lots of children. Better than health and wealth. Better than universal health coverage and economic prosperity. Because in vs. 20, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” There’s a lot God is telling us from this verse and the next few. But we need to hear two things from this. First, this world, filled with brokenness and misery and death, is not the way things should be. Second, the resurrection of Jesus means that he will make all things the way they ought to be.
First, things are not the way they should be. The Bible tells us that God made this world good. The world did not start from a cosmic conflict, but it began at peace. The Bible doesn’t find the world’s foundations in cold logic, but in love and joy. God made us in his image. We were not designed to die; we were designed to live forever, to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. But the Bible tells us, (vs 21-22), that in Adam, all die. Sin and rebellion against God changed the way the world works. For once, our gut instinct in this case is more fundamentally correct than the scientific facts. Death of a human being is unnatural. It tells us that something is desperately wrong with the world. Death is not a universal fact. It is a historical intruder and an enemy. And the history of redemption shows that God is pretty good at dealing with his enemies.
And this brings us to the second point: the resurrection of Jesus means that he will make all things the way they ought to be. You see our brokenness isn’t just a “fact of life” but had historical beginnings with a person, Adam. In the same way, God’s solution doesn’t come in some universal law, philosophical law, or even a spiritual law. The solution comes in a person in history – Jesus Christ. Again, vs. 21-22: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” So Adam’s sin changed the world for the worse; Jesus’ death and resurrection shows a much better change. Change you can believe in. Salvation is more than personal fire insurance or a ticket to Disney. Everything will change. In one sense, the change is already here. It is Jesus, risen from the dead, in a body that cannot be touched by death. That’s what it’s going to be; that’s what it means that Jesus is the firstfruits. But in another sense, the world change is not yet. We don’t see it with our eyes.
But through God’s word, the Bible, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we do see Jesus. We see Jesus crucified on the cross for our sins. We see the Lord of Life himself succumbing under the power of death. And in death’s domain, Jesus turns the tables. He smacks death in the mouth, leaving death without a single tooth. He is risen. He is risen!
Death is still an enemy. But in the midst of sorrow, resurrection plants a seed of laughter. Grandma lives right now. She’s away from her body, away from us for the time being. But she’s with Jesus now, more peaceful and happy than ever. And when Jesus comes back to gather all who belong to him, he’s going to stop by this place. He’s going to open this crypt and bring Grandma out. She’s not going to need her glasses or hearing aid; she’s going to see her Savior and hear the voice of the Shepherd perfectly well. She’s not going to need dentures, but will eat at the wedding feast of the Lamb with her full set of teeth. She won’t need to look for pretty clothes to wear because Jesus will clothe her more beautifully and gloriously than ever known.
Death will get a taste of his own bitter medicine and die once and for all. And all sin, brokenness, loneliness, sorrow, fear, pain will be put to an end. It’s because resurrection isn’t just coming back to life to face more of the same. Resurrection is life in the full presence of God and a world where everything is made as it ought to be, forever. And it’ll be a great party. The saints of God from the beginning of time from around the world will be there. I look forward to hanging out with some of my favorites: St. Paul, St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, and, of course, St. Grandma.
As joyful as that will be, the greatest joy will be in seeing one face in particular: the face of the one who died for us and rose again – Jesus Christ, Savior and God, Redeemer and Friend.