Forming Faith Blog

Victory over Death (May 24, 2020)

Red roses on a cross-shaped tombstone. Death will not have the final victory.

Last week, in the famous words of 1 Corinthians 13, we read Paul’s poetic description of godly love. This week, we continue that thought through to death and beyond. As 1 Corinthians 13:8 states: “Love never ends.”

No Resurrection?

Apparently, someone in the Corinthian congregation has been arguing against the general resurrection of the dead. Now, the teaching of the general resurrection isn’t something we talk a lot about in the modern church, at least in my experience. But it is a part of our creeds as it was with many of the Jews in Paul’s time. At the end, God would raise all the dead back to life. One of the unbelievable things to the Pharisees about Jesus’ resurrection is that it was out of order. One person doesn’t get raised from the dead; everyone does. But, likely through Greek influence, some people here did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.

The Proclamation

Paul begins his response by going over the most basic core of the Christian faith:

  1. The Messiah came (it’s implied).
  2. The Messiah died and was buried (like, he was really dead).
  3. The Messiah rose again (there were lots of witnesses).

All of this was in accordance with the Scriptures and had cosmic and salvific significance. But all three points are critical and intertwined. If the Messiah didn’t come, then he clearly couldn’t have died and risen again. If the Messiah didn’t die, then “rising again” doesn’t even make sense. If the Messiah didn’t rise again, then we have a martyr, not a Messiah. Jesus’ cosmic significance to every person in the universe comes from the facts of death and resurrection.

The Critical Point

So, if you didn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus, then you rejected the Christian faith. Paul continues: Jesus’ resurrection proves that resurrection is possible. And Scripture and teachings tell us that all will be raised at the end. If you accepted Jesus’ resurrection, you had to accept your own (and everyone else’s). It is not just the cross that is foolishness to outsiders, but the resurrection. See the Athenians’ reaction to Paul’s message in Acts 17:32.

Completely Different

Paul then goes on to assure them (and us), that this resurrection is not just a do-over, a revival, or resuscitation like Jesus gave Lazarus and others. Resurrection is a game-changer. The physical bodies God will create for us will be recognizably us but will also be unrecognizably different. There will be no death, decay, age, sickness, pain, etc. Death is a one-time thing, but life in God is forever.

Victory Not Just in Death

Our passage ends with a great declaration from Paul:

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:57

The victory he’s talking about is Jesus’ defeat of death. This victory will be enjoyed by us as well. However, this eternal life, as the Gospel of John likes to call it, is not just significant in the moment of death. It starts now. In this victory, we no longer need to fear death. All our fears arise in one way or another from the fear of death. As some have said, a fear of heights is not so much a fear of falling, it’s the landing that’s the problem. If there were no injury, pain, nor death, there would be nothing to fear.

Victory, Safer from Home

Proclaiming Christ’s victory over death is important now as it has always been. However, there are some important things that need to be understood. Victory over death does not mean we seek out death. Even with the greatest faith in Christ’s victory, God still doesn’t want us to run out into traffic, nose-dive into the Grand Canyon, or drink cyanide. Or run around flouting the recommendations of top disease specialists in a pandemic.

Also, our victory over death does not mean we should not grieve over death. Jesus wept over the death of his friend, Lazarus, moments before he raised the man from the dead. Paul even instructs the Thessalonians:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

1 Thessalonians 4:13

Paul doesn’t tell the Thessalonians not to grieve but to grieve with hope in the resurrection.

Hope in the Resurrection

Hope. That’s the point here. Hope, like faith and love, is a powerful force. In fact, hope arises from our faith in God’s love. Hope is a light in the darkness and a burst of color in the dreary landscape of despair.

Free Resource

Death, victory, and resurrection can all be abstract and even scary concepts for us, especially our younger disciples. While not a solution for everything, visual are helpful. In our free activity for the week, participants create a mural (of whatever size available) contrasting God’s bright, beautiful, and victorious love against a dark and somber background. The “Overcoming Death Mural” is from our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd, NL) product. Included are notes on how people can adapt this activity for use at home.

In God’s love,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

New Blog Series

If you haven’t seen it yet, I have started another brief blog series directed specifically for laypeople, The Church at Home. Through this blog series, we are providing our Living the Word: Sharing God’s Story @ Home devotional bulletin inserts for free, along with a brief reflection each week. Please share the weekly link with your congregations.

New Product!

We have now launched our newest product, an intergenerational curriculum that follows the Revised Common Lectionary! You can find more information (and a sample lesson) about Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education (RCL) in a blog post, in the product description, or in a more detailed description.

Don’t forget that our 2020-2021 Narrative Lectionary products are available for order. Fall resources are online for immediate download and Winter will be online within a month. We also have a free planning tool!

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