Opening Prayer: Almighty and Gracious Lord, You raised your Son from the dead almost 2,000 years ago, and you have unalterably changed the course of history. We thank you that in Jesus you have begun to remake the world and that because Jesus is King he is overseeing this process according to your perfect counsel. We ask that you would bestow greater faith and fuller obedience upon us now. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
Introduction: The Text and the Question
Paul says that the resurrection of Jesus is just the beginning (15:20). It is the firstfruits, the proof of what the harvest will be like. He explains that Christ is raised first as the firstfruits and afterwards everyone will be raised at his coming at the end (15:23-24). The end will be marked by Christ handing over the kingdom to God the Father (15:24). This will also mark the final end to all rule, authority, and power; which will be his to end because it has been put beneath his feet (15:25). The last enemy is death, and therefore all will be raised (cf. Rev. 20:12-15). Therefore, to the question, ‘What is Jesus doing now?’ we must answer unambiguously, Jesus is ruling the world and destroying all his enemies (15:25-26). But that leads to the next obvious question, ‘why is it taking so long?’
The Resurrection means Jesus is King
Because there are still problems and evil in the world, the constant temptation of Christians has been to downplay the reign of King Jesus. But Paul begins Romans declaring that Jesus is the seed of David that he was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead (Rom. 1:3-4). The promise of the Davidic covenant was a son of David who would also be God’s Son who would be King forever (2 Sam. 7:12-14). This is what Peter declares to be true in his Pentecost sermon: Because Jesus is raised from the dead, he has been exalted to the right hand of God until his enemies are his footstool (Act 2:32-35). Later, Peter says that all authorities and powers have been made subject to him following his resurrection (1 Pet. 3:21-22). This also explains why the resurrection was so offensive and threatening to the authorities (e.g. Acts 4:1-2, 17:31-32). If Christ’s resurrection was just a weird phenomenon then there’s really no reason to get worried. But if the resurrection means that Jesus is King of the World, then every rule, authority, and power has cause to be threatened (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24).
The Wisdom of the Cross
And so we ask, ‘if Jesus is King of the world, why does my car still break down?’ What don’t my children obey? Why does my husband talk to me that way? Why is my boss such a jerk? Why is there cancer and AIDS? Why do children die of starvation? Why do tsunamis wipe out whole communities? Why do stupid people keep getting elected to office? Why have more Christians died for being Christians in the last hundred years than all other years combined? If Jesus is reigning until all of his enemies have become his footstool, why is it taking so long? And why is it so hard? Part of the answer is seen in the wisdom of the cross: God conquered death by taking death upon himself. God conquered sin by taking sin upon himself. Therefore it should come as no surprise that God calls upon us to participate in the conquest of his enemies, the conquest of suffering, sickness, and hardships by taking them upon ourselves. And in this, he is making us the people he wants us to be.
For Communion: Paul says that he considers all of his accomplishments rubbish that through faith he may know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings and death (Phil. 3:10). For Christians, hardships ought to draw us closer to Christ. And if closer, surely we are made more like Him.
For Character and Hope: Paul says that tribulations produce perseverance; perseverance character; and character hope (Rom. 5:3-4). James says something similar when he insists that the testing of our faith produces patience and perfection (Js. 1:2-4). Paul says that for this reason, we are called upon to glory in tribulations. If we are convinced that God is it at work, how can we not glory? How can we not rejoice (cf. Js. 1:2).
For Ministry: Paul says that we suffer some tribulations so that we will be able to comfort others who are in any trouble (2 Cor. 1:4). Whatever the burden is that causes us to despair even to the point of death, the point is that God would have us place our trust in Him who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:8-10).
For Prayer: James says that if anyone is suffering, he should pray (Js. 5:13). Pain and hardship have a wonderful way of concentrating the mind. Hardships should make us know and feel our dependence upon God (e.g. Ps. 123:2).
For Thanksgiving: God gives tribulations and hardships to some so that when others bear their burdens with them, particularly in prayer, there may be even greater rejoicing in the deliverance that God grants (2 Cor. 1:11).
The resurrection is not merely ‘a good idea’. (e.g. the Gravity bumper sticker). The resurrection is not something that we hope will ‘catch on.’ The resurrection is not a fad. The resurrection is a fact, and therefore Jesus is King. This means that history is unfolding according to his perfect wisdom and counsel. This means that Jesus wants his people to grow up into a certain kind of holiness, a certain kind of faithfulness, a certain kind of joy. Jesus will reign until every enemy is beneath his feet; you have been called to become part of that story: therefore, rejoice.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, we take this opportunity now to publicly rejoice in all of the trials you have given to us. We do this not in a glib or superficial manner, but with the simple faith of children. Very often we do not have the slightest idea of what you are doing in our lives, but we trust you. You have raised Jesus from the dead, and this means that he is most certainly King of the world. Therefore, we give you thanks for the countless ways you are conforming us to his image.