1 Corinthians 15:21-28
“Jesus Is Lord of All”
Post-Easter Series: “Living for Jesus”
May 12, 2019, The Fourth Sunday of Easter
Back in the 1980’s Larry Walters was a security guard for a Hollywood animation studio that produced children’s television series. He had always wanted to be a pilot, but had been turned down because of poor eyesight. His dream, however, would not go away. So, one day in the summer of 1982, Larry decided to take matters into his own hands. He went down to a military surplus store and bought 45 eight-foot weather balloons, filled them with helium, put on a parachute, and had friends strap him and the balloons to a lawn chair in his backyard in Southern California. His intent was to float over the Mojave Desert at a relatively safe altitude, using a pellet gun he would take along with him to burst some of the balloons in order to land.
It was a great plan. The only problem was that when the friends cut Larry loose, he proceeded to rise to an altitude of almost 16,000 feet, taking him directly into the approach corridor of the Long Beach Airport, where he was spotted by two commercial pilots. Remarkably, he did not panic, at least not at first. He shot several of the balloons, being careful not to unbalance the load, before dropping his pellet gun. But those downed balloons were enough to cause him to descend, where the balloons cables managed to get caught in a Long Beach power line, knocking out the electricity in the area for about twenty minutes or so. Otherwise, Larry landed safely.
Of course, the Long Beach police were there to arrest him. But before taking him away, the press that had also gathered were able to get a brief interview of three questions. The interview went as follows: “Were you scared?” “Yes.” “Will you try this again?” “No.” “Why did you do it?” “I had this dream for 20 years. It was something I had to do, and if I had not done it, I think I would have ended up in the funny farm.”
It’s remarkable to me how a dream can drive someone to remarkable extremes because of how it comes to dominate every waking minute, even to the point of causing them to do things that other people would think insane. But when you ask those persons why they are compelled to go to such extremes, they will be quick to tell you that this seemingly senseless approach to life is the only way they can make things add up. It is the lens through which those persons see all of life, and they will tell you that they simply cannot rest until they attempt what others say is impossible.
I don’t share that story to encourage foolhardy behavior, not at all. But I do find it somewhat fascinating that a person could be so unsettled in his spirit that he would go to such measures to order his life around something others would say is unachievable and even hopeless.
That’s sort of how I see Paul explaining to the church at Corinth his conviction about the importance of ordering one’s life around the notion of resurrection. Corinth was of course a Greek city and because the Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul, talk of resurrection seemed an absurdity. And it would have been, if Jesus had not been raised from the dead. But because he was, it becomes incumbent upon us who call ourselves his disciples to consider the implications of Jesus’ resurrection and to order our lives around those implications accordingly.
We’ve talked about some of those implications already. For example, we’ve talked about how his resurrection gives strength and substance to our faith and witness, and how it cancels the power of sin and death over us. But in this section of 1 Corinthians 15 that is before us this morning, Paul adds another important implication, one that elevates Jesus to be a Risen as well as a Reigning Lord, whose authority and power ultimately subjects everything on this earth to the ultimate will of God.
I don’t know that we can fully appreciate how subversive a message that was in Paul’s day until we look a bit more closely at the situation in Corinth. Corinth was a place where the Imperial cult of Rome held sway. The prevailing wisdom of Paul’s day was that the Caesars had already brought a “golden age” to the citizens of the Roman Empire. Therefore, many prominent citizens of Corinth, especially wealthier ones, would have discounted the idea of resurrection simply because they already were enjoying the benefits of the new order Rome had established. Paul, therefore, writes to show them that true salvation lies in God’s future, a future that has come crashing into the present through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is something that only God can bring about, not anything any Emperor can make happen. Thus in God’s grand scheme, there is an order in which everything is to play out, beginning with Jesus’ resurrection: “Christ, the firstfruits, then, when he comes, those who belong to him, then the end, when Jesus hands over the kingdom to God the Father, (and here is the important part) after he has destroyed all dominion, all authority, and all power…so that God may be all in all.” In other words, because of Jesus’ resurrection, every moment between then and now, and between now and the end, marks the defeat of everything and everyone that stands in the way of God’s redemptive purpose so that the way might be completely cleared for God’s rule to permeate everything and everyone.
What then does that mean for us? It means that we must live each day as instruments through whom our Risen and Reigning Lord might work to defeat every stronghold that seeks to frustrate God’s ultimate purpose. It means that we can no longer sit in our lawn chairs in the safety of our own backyards, content with life as it now is because of how life as it now is still much about it that is contrary to God’s ultimate purpose. It means that we must look for ways to engage this fallen world and all that is wrong with it so that we might put substance into that part of the Lord’s Prayer that we pray every Sunday in our worship, which goes: “Thy Kingdom, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It means, as someone has said, not worrying so much about getting in tune with this fallen world in which we now live, but instead learning how to practice in this present moment the tunes we will sing in God’s new world, where sorrow and crying and pain and death will be no more!
Can you do that this morning? Can you at least begin to hum in your heart the good news of the Gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord of all?
The problem with too many people today is that, like the ancient Corinthians, they want Easter and yet still want the world to be as it was yesterday. Because we have it reasonably good in terms of the world’s standards, we have become way too comfortable with the tune of this world. But rest assured that for all of us a day is coming when we will come face to face with some enemy of God, either sorrow or crying or pain or even death, and we when that day comes we will need to know the tune of God’s good future that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus makes possible. So, why not be lifted even now to a place where you can see God’s will being done even in the face of life’s headaches and heartaches?
The story is told that when Bishop Warren Candler, the bishop for whom the Divinity School is named at Emory University, was on his deathbed, a friend asked Bishop Candler if he was afraid of dying. “Please tell me plainly,” the friend asked, “do you fear crossing over the river of death?” To which the bishop is said to have answered, “No, not at all, I belong to a father who owns the land on both sides of the river.”
Let that thought dominate your every waking moment. Subject yourself to the Lordship of Christ, who subjected himself to God, and be at peace at how you will end up in a place where God’s Kingdom comes, His will is always done, and He at last is all in all.