Paul: The Apostle of Hope
Paul: The Apostle of Hope
There is a movie I watched recently. It’s Shawshank Redemption. It’s a story about Andy who was falsely accused of murdering his wife and he was sentenced for life in prison. The movie shows you how that prison just tries to take away the hope of the inmates to the point that they forget what it means to be free. Andy, had a hope that he will escape and that he could be free again. No matter how much suffered in prison, he didn’t let go of that hope. He then devised his ingenious plan and was able to be free from that prison. You must watch the movie to find out how he did it. The last line of the movie was, “Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. I will be hoping that this letter finds you and finds you well. Your friend. Andy.”
What is hope? How would you define hope? People might think that hope only means wishful thinking. Some would then use hope like this, “I hope to have a good family in the future, or I hope to have a big house, or an awesome relationship with someone.” The hope presented in the Scriptures is much different. Biblical hope is an assurance of a future based on a truthful past that shapes the way one lives in the present.
The question for us today is, “where does our hope lie?” Is it on our family? Relationships? Jobs? Power? Prestige? Success? Tim Keller in one of his messages said, “To get through life, you have to get through suffering, and to get through suffering, you need a living hope.” In a way, hope keeps us alive. Hope brings us forward when everything is holding us back. If our hope only lies on something we can see, then let me tell you just like the prison in Shawshank Redemption, life has a way of stripping those and beating those hopes away. And if our hopes are stripped away, then we also we have also lost our main reason to live. Therefore, we need to have a hope greater than what we can see, better than what we can ever work for, and more lasting than what we can ever realize, no amount of suffering and trial can stop us from truly living.
The Apostle Paul had that kind of hope. No amount of suffering was ever able to stop him from serving Jesus. In Paul’s 32 years of serving and following Jesus, he endured hunger, sleepless nights, fatigue, sickness, betrayal, abandonment, death threats, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and near-death experiences. Even when he was in prison awaiting his death sentence, he still didn’t lose the will to live. How could he have gone through all that and not give up? I believe it’s because he had a hope that carried him through whatever life had thrown at him. And he preached this hope to the believers back in that time. Today, let us explore where Paul’s hope laid so we can also live with a hope nothing in this world can take away.
Key Verse: 1 Corinthians 15:12-19
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
The city of Corinth was one of the richest provinces in that area and despite its success, found itself in moral degradation. The city of Corinth may be compared to Las Vegas today, but worse. Historians believe that there was a temple here for Aphrodite in which there were about 1000 prostitutes used for their worship. The believers found in Corinth was surrounded by a very corrupt and immoral society. The Apostle Paul wrote four letters to the Corinthian believers and we have two of them today. He wrote 1 Corinthians at the end of his third missionary journey in Ephesus on A.D. 53-55. This letter has a very stern tone in which Paul was addressing a lot of issues plaguing this church. This church was going through issues of immorality, disunity, pride and even theological disagreements.
In this chapter, Paul is discussing the issue regarding the physical resurrection of believers. Apparently, some believers in Corinth were doubting the validity of this teaching. In the Greco-Roman culture, the physical body is but only an irrelevant vessel to hold the immaterial soul, which was much more superior. Death then became an escape, that if one dies, the soul can finally be free from its improper vessel. So, it doesn’t really matter what one does with their physical bodies. Death will come, and the soul will finally be free. This teaching influenced some believers that they questioned Paul’s teaching of a literal bodily resurrection. Paul had to address this issue since the resurrection is one of the main foundations of the Christian faith. Also, the resurrection of the believers is one that Paul personally put his living hope in. 1 Corinthians 15 is a chapter dedicated to defending this doctrine. Today, we’ll see why we can rest in the hope of our resurrection and how this doctrine, which was dear for Paul, can help us go through this life victoriously. To defend this doctrine Paul uses a method of argument called reduction ad absurdum, in which he defends the resurrection of the believers by showing the absurdity of having no resurrection at all. Today I’d like to turn Paul’s arguments around, so my points would show the significance if the Resurrection was true.
Our Faith is not in Vain
v.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins.
Again, among the Corinthians, there were those who mocked and jeered at the reality of a literal bodily resurrection of the believers in the last days. In verses 12-16 Paul argued that if there really no such thing as a resurrection for believers then there couldn’t have been a literal bodily resurrection for Jesus Christ. If Christ was not resurrected, then Paul and the other Apostles were nothing but liars. They preached that God raised Jesus from the dead, and if there was no resurrection at all for believers, the resurrection of Jesus was just a complete sham. And if the resurrection was all just a lie, then the conclusion is that the faith of the believers is but futile and vain. It’s worth nothing. And they are still in their sins. Why? Because without the resurrection of Jesus, then there can be no payment for sins, there can be no forgiveness granted if Jesus remained dead. All of Christianity would crumble if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead because the resurrection itself is the evidence that believers have been pardoned by God from sin. All the other promises of God rests on Jesus being alive.
So why is this significant for us? The resurrection of Jesus gives us the confidence that our faith is trustworthy. We serve a risen Jesus that was raised from the dead. Our faith does not rely on a dead man, because to put it simply, dead men don’t do anything. Imagine if Jesus was still dead then all the songs we sing, all the time we spend and all the money and resources we give are all but for nothing. All his promises then cannot be fulfilled because he’s dead. We might as well leave this building and do our own thing if it’s proven Jesus didn’t rise. All we have learned and all that was said about in this pulpit was a lie.
It also means we have no answer for our sins. There is no answer for the guilt and shame that comes to us when we sin. We cannot have a relationship with a Holy God if there’s still sin in our lives. What we deserve is condemnation and judgment from Him for we have turned our backs away from Him. We have rebelled against His rule against us. We have no right to come before God, seeing we are wretched and dirty before His holiness. We still need to pay for our sins that we have done against Him. We need to pay for the hurt we have done against this All-Powerful and All-just being. If Jesus didn’t rise there is no one to intercede for us, no one to grant us access into the throne of God’s grace, and no one to give pray for us before God. We deserve Hell, to be separated from this God forever. If Jesus didn’t rise, we will get what we have always deserved.
But the resurrection of Jesus is a faithful and real historical occurrence. There is no one in that tomb. People have tried for centuries to debunk it, but even today, it stands as a reliable event. No other religion can claim that their founder has been victorious over death. Jesus being risen again, is a picture of us being born again. The resurrection does not just mean our souls will go to heaven when we die, it means there will be a time when our physical bodies will rise again just like Jesus’ body did. Jesus was the forerunner of what will happen to us in the future.
Because of this hope, what we are doing right now is not in vain. Our worship, our prayers, our service are not in vain because our Jesus is alive. It also means we can stand confident that we are forgiven by God. We are accepted by Him because of His son’s sacrifice and his resurrection is the proof of that acceptance. It means that sin has no longer control over us. We no longer will be punished by God to be condemned. We have been set free from the guilt and shame that comes from our sins. It also means we have the power to overcome any sin that torments us today. Because Jesus is alive we can have the hope that sin itself will be eradicated someday. We will no longer be tormented by our pride, greed, jealousy, lust, and any evil desires in our hearts. If Jesus is alive, our faith is valid, and we are victorious over sin and its punishment.
Our Tears are not Forever
v.18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
Now Paul adds to his arguments that if the resurrection isn’t real for believers then those who have already died or as he describes, those “who have fallen asleep” are in a miserable condition. They have perished with their hopes never going to have fulfillment. They were lied to. They have no hope after death. We may not understand it in the culture that we’re in today, but back in those times, society wasn’t friendly to Christians. Some of them were mocked, scourged, beaten and even put to death for the faith in this Jesus whom they believed have risen again. And because he rose, they also trusted that they will also rise. If the resurrection was never true, those believers who have sacrificed so much in the name of Christ, suffered for his sake while still living, and even died as a martyr have gone and wasted their lives.
Also, even the Old Testament believers were hoping for a bodily resurrection. We find some of these prophecies in Daniel 12:2, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” In Isaiah 26:19, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” Then all those great men of the Old Testament just perished for they all hoped in a lie.
How does this apply to us? I want us to understand this. Those who have repented and believed in Jesus as their Savior are the ones being talked about here. This means we have a great comfort that those whom we have lost here on earth, will one day rise too and we will see them again. Heaven will be a great reunion among the family of God. Those who believe haven’t truly perished. Death didn’t win. Jesus did. This means that the grief and sadness we experience in our loss is only temporary. The tears we have shed are but for a moment. We haven’t lost them forever. We will see them again. Tito Roldan told me, “for Christians, there’s really no such thing as a goodbye, only see you again.” This is the hope we have. Therefore, in death, only Christians can truly grieve but also truly have hope. We no longer see death as a malicious unstoppable enemy, but a defeated enemy in which Jesus has overcome. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
However, I want to quantify that this is only for those, “who have fallen asleep in Christ”. Again, this only applies to those who have believed in Jesus. Those who have not believed in Him have and will perish. Christians are bound for a resurrection to salvation, while those who refuse to believe in Him are also going to be resurrected but for damnation. They will experience the perishing that comes from being separated from God for eternity. Jesus said in John 5:28-29 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
This passage should give us both a sense of comfort and a sense of great urgency. Comfort, because we will get to be with our beloved brothers and sisters who are in Christ. Urgency, because those who refuse to believe in Him are in a road of punishment forever being separated from this Holy, Loving and Gracious God who is waiting for them to repent and believe. This should provoke in us a sense that if the resurrection is true, then we will do everything we can for our loved ones to be saved and be with us in eternity. We have the greatest hope. Will we share it to those whom we love?
Our Lives are Worth Living
v.19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Paul then ends his arguments saying to the Corinthians that if their hope in Jesus was only good for this life, they are people that should be pitied the most. And not just the Corinthians but for every believer who has ever lived. If there is no such thing as a resurrection they have put their hopes in a lie. They were deceived, and they have spent every waking day wasting their lives in a false hope. All the sacrifices that even Paul has made are all for show. It would have been better for them to stay with their old religions and old ways of life before they met Jesus. Without the resurrection, Christianity falters because if there is no life beyond the grave, then people should amass all that they can in this life. Whatever we do here on earth will have no significance after we die anyway.
However, if we do believe that we Jesus resurrected and that because of Him, we will get resurrected the same way, then this life isn’t all there is. There is a life beyond the grave. That means, we cannot live in such a way only to please our lives here. We cannot only think of ourselves. Life means so much more if we believe we are going to be living forever. That also means that we are going to live our lives for things that will last forever.
Are we going to spend our days worrying about what to eat or what to wear? Or are we going to live our lives trusting that He who has risen from the dead will provide for all our needs? Are we going to live our lives in always complaining about life? Or are we going to be grateful for all the blessings we have? Are we going to live our lives in pursuit of more stuff to add to our already excessive trinkets? Or are we going to live our lives seeking ways we can love and bless other people? Some might think that it’s not possible living that way. It’s not possible to always think about the future and still live good for the present. They say, “You are so heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good?” But C.S. Lewis contradicts this idea. He says,
“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.
It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
What C.S. Lewis was saying was that God gives believers a glimpse of the hope of the resurrection and eternity because while living here on earth in the present, we need to be working in pursuit of the resurrection of all things. The resurrection wasn’t meant for us to have an escape from this dark and corrupt world. Instead, we should be working and serving for people to also have a glimpse of what it means to have the hope of resurrection in our lives. It means we should be striving to be transformed like Jesus; loving like he did, patient, humble, and sacrificial for those around Him. Also, we need to look at the world around us and seek to impart the hope that we have. Laboring for the poor, the lost, and the brokenhearted, giving them the Good News that our Jesus is alive. There is hope that nothing in this world can take away. Life is worth living only because of Him. The resurrection isn’t just good for us, but it’s for the whole world. Christians shouldn’t be pitied, but instead we should be living courageously, loving unconditionally, praying unceasingly, and hoping assuredly. That’s what it means to have the hope of resurrection. It’s leaving behind our old selfish desires and striving for a life worthy of being resurrected in Jesus. All our labors are not in vain, but will have an effect for our lives in forever. This is how Paul ends his discussion about the resurrection and I hope this is how we should live in hope of the resurrection.
1Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.