Flesh and Spirit III: Easter Sermon

The first two posts in this series were on the topics of Creation and Original Sin.

[This post gives the text of a sermon preached on Easter Sunday 2014, New Life Church of the Nazarene, Cupertino.  I tried to keep it short because it was being translated into Chinese.  I began with the following Scripture reading from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, 15:1-33]:

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, 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.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.  No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.  Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

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.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits 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.  But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to 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.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ.  When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?  If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?  And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour?  I die every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord.  If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained?  If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” [Isaiah 22:15]

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” [This quotation is from "Thais", a Greek play by Menander, now lost except for fragments.]

Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

Rejoice! Christ is risen!

I want to speak today about the Resurrection of Christ's body, and what it means for our own physical bodies.

After he suffered and died on the Cross, and his body was laid in the tomb, God raised Jesus up from the dead, and he appeared to his disciples.  He was not a ghost; he had a real, physical body which could be seen and touched, and he could be recognized as being the same person (although sometimes it took his disciples a little while to realize who it was).  But there were also some important differences: he was given glory and power and immortality, and he was able to appear and disappear at will, and to ascend up into Heaven to be with the Father.

Now why is this important for you?  The reason is that the Resurrection of the Body isn't just for Jesus!  When Jesus died and rose again, he also gave to everyone else the ability to experience his death and resurrection.

In the future, when Christ comes back, God will raise from the dead every single person who has ever died.  Men and women and children, tall people and short people, fat people and skinny people, people from every country and religion, righteous people and wicked people, all of them will come out of their graves!  Everyone who has ever lived will be resurrected from the dead, like Jesus was.

Good news for the sick and the disabled!  God will heal you from all your diseases.

God created the physical world and he created our bodies as well as our minds.  Our bodies are an important part of who we are.  That's why God wants us to have bodies for all eternity.

If God loves our bodies, we should love our own bodies. We need to treat our body with respect and care, because at the Resurrection it will be remade into the glory of Christ.  A lot of people don't like their bodies and they do everything they can to change them. But the good news is that God created our bodies and thinks we are beautiful... It's not a sin to make some small changes to our body be healthy and look good, but we should do it out of love and not because we dislike ourselves.

Every part of our body was created to be good.  The physical emotions that come from our body, including feelings like anger and anxiety and sexual desire, were created by God for a good reason.  They were twisted by the Fall, but their purpose is good.

Jesus felt all of these emotions, but he lived a perfect life without sin.  He sometimes felt sad or angry or afraid or depressed, and he didn't sin because he had perfect love for God.  (He chose not to get married for the sake of the Kingdom of God, but of course we know that it isn't a sin for Christians to get married.)

Now I will say something which may seem to contradict what I said before.  But it is very important!

Because of respect for our bodies, we have to resist all of the evil impulses that come to us from our bodies.  Our bodily desires were created good, but they were corrupted because we inherit a fallen and sinful nature—this is what Paul means, when he says that in Adam, we all die.

For example most people struggle with some kind of sexual perversion, something which is forbidden by the Bible, or anything else which you know isn't right.  Or perhaps you have an eating disorder, or a bad temper, or you're very lazy.  You're jealous when you see other people being happy, or you think it's funny when bad things happen to them.

But I don't need to tell you what things you struggle with.  You already know.

Partly these things come from making bad choices, but sometimes these sinful desires just come from our physical flesh. Our brain tells us that certain things will make us happy, and we have to do these things or else it feels like dying.

People are always saying, “I can't obey the Bible in some area of my life, because this is part of who I am. I didn't choose to be this way, and I can't change myself.”  It's true you can't change yourself.  But the Holy Spirit can change our hearts so that we want to serve Jesus and do his will.

Paul says that the Christian life is about dying and being raised from the dead.  That's why we get baptized, to say “I will die alongside Christ because I believe that those who are born of the Spirit of God will come back to life again.”  The blood of Christ has the power to heal us from all sin and transgression.  Some parts of our body will be healed in this life, other things will have to wait for the next life.

“I die every day,” Paul says in the passage we just read.  In other places he says that “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” [2. Cor 4:10], and that “those who are in Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its desires and passions.” [Gal. 5:24].

It's not just Paul; Jesus says the same thing: “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” [Matt. 16:24-25].

So you must treat your body with respect because it is good, but you must also allow the fleshly desires coming from your body to be killed, if you want to be saved.

I'm not talking about giving up just one or two things.  Nor do I mean treating your body harshly all the time, or never taking pleasure in life.  Not at all.  What I'm talking about is giving your whole self to God, and letting him decide what stays and what goes.  You can submit to death with joy and patience and hope, if you believe that the same God who raised Christ from the dead will raise you from the dead as well.

Even if it feels like you are giving up an important part of your identity, we have to trust him that he knows who we really are.  When you finally become the holy person that God created you to be, you will be more glorious than you can possibly imagine.

This isn't salvation by works.  It's trusting God to do what he promised by grace.  But you must submit to death; there's no way around it.  Don't be deceived.  The false Gospel says, “Christ died so that I don't have to die.”  The true Gospel says: “Christ died, so that I too can die and be resurrected along with him.  Those who suffer with him will reign with him in glory, and be happy forever.”

Is it possible that some of you, who who have been in this Church for such a long time, have never really understood or accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Even if you don't repent of your sins, God will still raise you from the dead.  But then I can't promise that you'll be happy forever.  Since our bodies are part of who we are, God will judge us in our new bodies for what we do with our bodies here on Earth.  So be reconciled to God.

So that is why Easter is important. It teaches us that God loves our physical bodies, that there is hope for the future, and that we can give things up with joy and confidence, because we know God will give our life back to us again, only a million times better.

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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6 Responses to Flesh and Spirit III: Easter Sermon

  1. TY says:

    This is a message full of hope, and a message for those who knowingly destroy their bodies through substance abuse. On the latter I continue in my attempts to convince someone to give up smoking.
    "God created the physical world and he created our bodies as well as our minds. Our bodies are an important part of who we are. That's why God wants us to have bodies for all eternity.'

    Aron, I'm sure the questions are being asked:Does God create disfigured bodies (with physical or anatomical abnormalities)?; and what do we (as Christians) tell those who are so afflicted to bring comfort to them, knowing these people unhappy, making major surgical "make overs", and are even suicidal.


  2. Aron Wall says:

    You could start by telling people that Jesus loves them, that he understands their sufferings and difficulties, that he died to save them from the power of sin, and that there is always redemption available for those who repent and believe. You know, the Gospel. And whether or not they are willing to accept that, to show the Gospel by loving them and showing mercy whenever you can (Jude 1:22-23).

    Disfigured bodies (and minds) are a result of the fact that we live in a broken and imperfect world; although God allows such things to happen I don't think we should regard it as his goal for humanity, which means that it is all right to medically correct such things. We see in the Gospels that, rather than calling blind or lame people "differently abled" and pretending that it wasn't really a defect, Jesus had compassion and healed them. Although he also taught that, paradoxically, the poor, the needy and the broken are better able to understand and appreciate God's grace than the healthy and rich; don't forget that either.

    At the same time, not everyone is healed in this life, and all of us have problems and issues that remain as a Cross to bear to the end of our lives. At the Resurrection, God will heal us perfectly, healing our physical limitations. Deformities will either be removed or else transformed into glories as Jesus' scars were. It will be a New Creation.

  3. wjb says:

    I have read the text of the sermon of which, I guess, you prepared and delivered.
    Do you think that your sermon was prepared under the inspiration of God?
    I do think so.
    What, if you disagree, is the difference between inspiration of your sermon and Scripture?

  4. TY says:

    Aron, that's a straight and honest answer and without platitudes. Thanks.

  5. Kevin says:

    One question, what happens to people Who Have never heard the gospel, They Could saved?

  6. Aron Wall says:

    Yes, it is possible for people who have never heard the Gospel to be saved! See my second and third replies in this conversation. Besides the passages I mentioned, there are some other relevant Scriptural passages too such as Romans 2:6-16, 3:25, Luke 12:48, John 15:24, Acts 10:34-35, Heb 11. This is in addition to all the passages which clearly state that God will judge the world with perfect fairness, without forgetting to be merciful. Abraham was saved through faith just as we are, although he didn't know the details of the Gospel.

    Also, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matt 25 shows people being in relationship to Jesus without knowing it, through their relationship with people in need.

    Matthew 12:32 / Luke 12:10, while a scary passage in other respects, seems to suggest that even some people who have heard of Jesus (the "Son of Man") and incorrectly speak against him thinking he is just a human being, can be forgiven, so long as they do so out of ignorance rather than through resisting the pull of the Holy Spirit. My post on "Is it possible to be good without God" also contains some more reflections about the state of nonbelievers.

    There are also lots of passages talking about the importance of faith in Christ for being saved, but these passages are (not surprisingly) mostly in the context of discussing people who have the opportunity to hear the Gospel and respond to it. Generally when the New Testament specifically discusses those who never had a chance to hear the Gospel in this life, it tends to present a more nuanced outlook.

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