“But each one in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:23).
Rev C Bouwman began an Easter sermon with the following:
“Easter is the time of year when one speaks about resurrection. The past few days have seen various Easter messages doing the rounds in our land, and all speak about resurrection. What, though, is meant by the term ‘resurrection’?
To your ears and mine, the term refers to Jesus’ literally dead body being raised to new physical life. Such a resurrection, of course, is possible only because God the Creator is sovereign in heaven, and He could raise Jesus from the dead. But suppose you deny the existence of God. Suppose you embrace the very modern notion of an empty heaven, with earth’s existence the result of evolution. What sensible thing can you say then about Easter or the resurrection?
So many churchmen and writers in our land today are stuck with precisely this question. There is no sovereign God in heaven, and therefore there is no such thing as dead people coming out of the grave. So the Biblical notion of Jesus’ resurrection is seen as a metaphor for a different kind of resurrection. Resurrection is that lost hopes receive new life. Resurrection is that economically oppressed people are raised to new prosperity. Resurrection is that asylum seekers with no future are set free to build up a new future. You see what happens: the good news of Christ’s resurrection is denied as fact, but embraced as an allegory for what we ought to do for the oppressed of our world.”[i]
Such an interpretation, which seeks to marry the Gospel with the evolution theory, of course, contradicts Scripture and robs believers of the comfort of the Gospel. The gospel writers and the book of Acts relate how the risen Christ appeared bodily to many of His followers at different times before He ascended into heaven. The Apostle Paul, too, speaks about the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ to glory in that beautifully comforting chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, where we read that through Christ’s death and resurrection the sting has gone out of death and the grave has been robbed of her victory. Not only is our spirit immediately taken up to Christ in heaven when we die, but it will on the last day even receive a new body. Christ was first and is referred to as the first-fruits, but we will follow suit.
The late Rev T Dekker says:
“Paul will have nothing to do with claims that deny the resurrection of the body. He continues on to the comforting message to all believers that their burials are in effect a sowing of seed. When a farmer sows seed he does so in the hope that it will become a plant. When we die our bodies are like seeds and we need not doubt that God will later give to every seed a body, imperishable, glorious and strong through the Spirit of God.
Therefore believers will not choose to use cremation instead of burial. Not because the body won’t be able to be found then. It will always return to dust, even if it is buried. But cremation is not a confession of our hope. You cannot read cremation into the words of 1 Corinthians 15: ‘It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory.’
The resurrection of the dead seems unbelievable. Yet it is true, for Christ has been raised. The proclamation of his resurrection turns cemeteries into fruitful fields. Christ has risen from the dead, as first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
First-fruits. That term suggests the most important, and the first in time. In particular, however, it is the guarantee that all those who are his and who have fallen asleep will follow Him in being resurrected to glory.
‘First-fruits’ is a laden term. It is taken from the ancient liturgy. The first fruits of the flock, of the harvest, were brought to the LORD as an acknowledgement that He is the giver of all things; He remains the owner of all things. The first fruits symbolise the entire flock or crop.
Christ as first fruits is not only symbolical of all who are His. He is also truly Head of His body, the congregation. But the symbolism extends even further. With the first-fruits belongs the entire harvest. A risen Christ without His risen brothers and sisters would not be a first-fruits but an individual, lonely fruit.
The fact is, however, that Christ is the first-fruits. That is a surety at the grave of every child of God, and it is a surety when we see the day of our own burial drawing near. It is the assurance of our own blessed resurrection!”[ii]
Jesus is our sure defence
Why should we then fear or waver?
All our hope and confidence
Rests on Him, the risen Saviour
Even in our darkest hour
He will shield us with His power.[iii]
[i] Bouwman, C. sermon on Mark 16:8 held Kelmscott 20-4-2003 < http://theseed.info/sermon.php?id=31>
[ii] Dekker, T. in Joh. Franke (ed), De Unieke Troost, Boersma, Enschede, 1971.
[iii] Hymn 68:1, Book of Praise: Anglo-Genevan Psalter, (Authorised Provisional Version), Premier Printing, Winnipeg, 2010.