I realize that the easiest thing about our faith is to simply talk about God's love and look for his blessing in this life. It encourages us every day as we remember that he is with us and knows everything that is going to happen and has made his plans for us accordingly. All good stuff. But it is equally important for us to remember God's full plan so that we do not fear death. After all, Scriptures tell us:
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:19)
The mature Christian has no fear of death and has no desire to hold on to this life when the time comes to leave it. As a young person it may be hard to grasp the willingness to let go of life here but "falling asleep in Christ" is a reality just as much as life is. This too is a matter of faith, trusting what Jesus has promised. For this reason it is important for every Christian to understand the significance of the resurrection:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)
"Firstfruits" is why Jesus came, to become the first born of many. He trail blazed the way for us because no one else could. He had to go first so that we could follow when the time comes for him to bring us home. It is for this reason Paul refers to believers as "falling asleep in Christ" because upon his return they will be "woken up".
We have a poetic God in the manner in which he does things. We look at how he turned the great persecutor of the Church, Saul of Tarsus, into her greatest champion, Paul the apostle. He also took the destruction that one man brought to the world, Adam, and countered it by the life that another man brought, Jesus:
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. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)
The first man God had created, the first model, brought death to all of creation, but then God sent Jesus to create a second model, one not just born of flesh but also born of the Spirit. The true work of God did not take place in the manger; that was only the entrance point. The real work began with the baptism of the Spirit and was made complete with the resurrection from the dead. We too must walk through this process as we are baptized by the Spirit, made a new creation and must wait for completion with the resurrection of the dead. It is in this resurrection that our transformation is made complete, as our flesh is the last to go through the transformation into new life. We have the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.
The Scriptures remind us of the order:
But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (1 Corinthians 15:23)
This is why we must work so hard to testify about Jesus and the Good News. We don't want anyone to miss out on this transformation. We don't want anyone to be stuck in the old model which leads to death. It is what God had warned Adam about. He told him if he ate from that tree he would die and he did, along with everyone who followed. But those who have received Jesus have been preserved by the Spirit as they sleep in Christ so that when Jesus returns to defeat his final enemy they will rise with him:
Then the end will come, when he 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. For he “has put everything under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:24-27)
It is for this reason we cannot say that the resurrection is not so important. The resurrection is vital to the completion of our transformation. At the present moment we are still tripped up by this weak vessel; weak in sin and disease. It grows old, becomes feeble, becomes like a jail for our spirit. It is with the resurrection that our bodies are transformed and brought into alignment with our new heart and new mind. Come on now, that must be a day that we are all looking forward to, when we receive everything that has been promised to us. For those who have not fallen asleep in Christ when he returns, we are told they will be changed in a blink of an eye. I get ahead of myself but a little further down in this chapter we read:
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. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
Rejoice because Jesus is coming soon. There is nothing to fear. Your sins have been forgiven. You have been baptized in the Spirit. You are serving Jesus faithfully. You stand on that firm ground of faith. All is well and he is coming back to claim what belongs to him. Amen!