Those Who Live In a Different World
1 Corinthians 15-12-19
We have greeted ‘Happy Easter!’ And you have responded ‘Happy Easter’ with joy. So, I’d like to ask you. Do you believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Some of you may not completely accept the idea of resurrection. For those who don’t believe in the resurrection, the Easter greeting becomes a cliche. The greeting becomes just an exchange of empty words.
All the people I meet at a funeral service seem to believe in God, heaven and the everlasting life. That made me often led to disappointments during the early days of my ministry. I often observed at funeral services a bereaving daughter wail tearfully to her deceased mom, “Mom, please wait for me at heaven. I’ll follow you soon.” As I heard the wailing, I thought ‘Ah, she is beginning to awaken to a life in faith. Perhaps she may attend church next Sunday.’ However, such an expectation tended to prove false, and the wailing words ringed empty in my memory. Disappointments in these expectations came about because one’s conviction as once wailed out did not carry through in one’s resolve. I no longer have these expectations, since I have experienced enough of these disappointments. Rather, I only pray that these empty words would ring true one of these days.
Many people who exchange the Easter greeting may feel the same. While they may be outwardly greeting “Happy Easter!”, they may be thinking, ‘Resurrection? What resurrection? How can it be possible? How can I believe it?’ That is why the greeting becomes empty.
The fact that Jesus Christ was resurrected among the dead is not only hard to believe for those who are armed with scientific knowledge. People who are smart and knowledgeable are not the only ones who find the story of resurrection difficult to believe. If by any chance you do not believe in resurrection and that you are right for disbelieving, this is a big mistake. The thought of resurrection is equally difficult to believe for the uninitiated, those not trained in scientific knowledge, or for those not adept to these matters.
Believing in resurrection is not a matter of accepting or rejecting scientific knowledge. It depends on the view of the world. If a person thinks what he sees and touches is the only thing that matters in the world, he cannot believe in the resurrection. If a person who allegedly believes in resurrection thinks that the world that he or she can see and touch is everything, then it is either the faith is false or this person may not know the meaning of resurrection. Those who believe that nothing exists after death cannot accept the idea of resurrection. It is because resurrection does not mean to return to a state before death, but to pass through the state of death.
Let’s think about Lazarus, a friend of Jesus. According to Chapter 11 in the Gospel According to John, Jesus raises Lazarus who was dead for four days. As a matter of fact, the raising of Lazarus is much harder to believe than the resurrection of Jesus. It is because Lazarus’ life was restored to the previous stage. It is like a rewinding of movie film. The resurrection of Jesus is different from that. It is not like a rewinding of movie film. We thought the film stops at the moment of death but for Jesus, the film kept rolling.
Believing the resurrection of Jesus means believing in a world greater than the world we see or touch. It is earning a greater life than the life we feel through breathing. If we don’t open our minds to the fact that such life or world exists, we may not believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the moment we meet the resurrected Lord, we are instantly convinced that a world greater than the world we’ve known and a life greater than the life we’ve lived do exist. Believing resurrection means overturning the view towards the world. As the view of the world changes, our attitude and manner towards our lives will be changed naturally.
That happened to the first Christians as well as the apostles of Jesus. They believed that the world they saw or touched was everything before they met the resurrected Jesus. That is why they felt that it was the end when Jesus was crucified. They thought that all the hopes they had for Jesus Christ failed. And they feared death because of Jesus, so they hid in the dark attic in the back alley of Jerusalem, and locked themselves in. Even though Jesus taught them about the everlasting life and the kingdom of God so many times, they still thought the world they lived in or the life they had in their physical body was everything.
However, one day they were traveling around and witnessed that Jesus Christ was resurrected. Jews or Romans intimidated or imprisoned or killed them at times for silence. However, that never dwarfed them. They kept witnessing the resurrection of Jesus Christ even at the statement that their lives could be saved if they stop the witness. They didn’t stop witnessing even at seeing their friends being persecuted. They didn’t stop witnessing even if they were to lose their wealth or life.
What made them change drastically? This is because their perspective of the world changed. I can find no other answer. They believed that true life exists which can’t be compared to their present life. They believed God’s kingdom exists which is greater than the one on earth. They thought they could forsake the world on earth to earn the God’s kingdom. They thought they could forego their properties to earn God’s treasure. They were convinced about the new world with confidence.
Jesus Christ lived an unrelenting life of teaching his disciples or followers. However, they neither realize nor accepted his teaching. That is why all of them were scattered when Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross. They were fearful that they could be persecuted as Jesus Christ. What made them changed, who were so doubtful, faithless or fearful?
It is because they saw him. They saw him for sure. They saw the resurrected Jesus Christ. They saw the resurrected Jesus Christ who showed up in an unbelievable look. They thought everything is over when Jesus Christ is crucified but it is not. Then they began to understand the meaning of Jesus Christ’s teachings. They realized the true meaning. They came to believe the facts that the God’s kingdom exists; an eternal life exists; death is not the end of a world; and something more eternal and greater exists. Their perspective to the world was overturned. That made their life styles changed also.
In the last verse of today’s reading, Apostle Paul says that:
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (Co. 15:19)
If resurrection is a falsity, Apostle Paul would be the most pitiful person. The world view of Apostle Paul has changed completely after meeting the resurrected Jesus. He cast aside his way of life and chose a completely different life. When he first met resurrected Jesus, he was a man of considerable stature. His achievements were of excellent pedigree. His ancestry, his place of origin, education, career, and his character were second to none. He was far beyond the best. With these attributes, he could have led a lofty life of easy living and doing what he wants. But, he met the resurrected Jesus Christ, and because of that, he could open his eyes to the new world.
After he had opened his eyes to the new world, he abandoned his proud career. If he thought that if the world on the earth is all, it seemed to be so great, but after opening his eyes on the heaven, he realized that everything on earth is not much meaningful at all. If he thought that the world on earth was wholesome, all things seemed to be good and benefit, but after meeting the resurrected Jesus Christ, these things seemed to be harmful. So, Apostle Paul says in Philippians like this:
I consider them rubbish. (3:8)
The world turned upside down completely without relenting. Not only that. He willingly bore any sacrifices to deliver the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus and for the kingdom of God. Once, Apostle Paul confessed how he endured suffering for the gospel.
I am more, I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep: I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (Cor. 11:23-28)
Apostle Paul lived like this, and at the end, he was martyred by being beheaded by the order of Emperor Nero. The only reason is that he met Jesus Christ. Because of that, he put up with unthinkable loss, hardship, indignity, and persecution. It is because he saw the heaven of God. It is because he opened his eyes about eternal life after he met resurrected Jesus. Because he believed in the unseen heaven, he lived for the heaven. In the secular view-point, it was rather misfortune for him meeting Jesus. However, Apostle Paul was not shaken because what he saw was so clear and sure. Although it was unseen and untouched, he surely saw it. So he devoted himself for the heaven.
So, Apostle Paul says that he would be the most pitiful man if there was no resurrection. It means that consider how and what sacrifices he had through after meeting resurrected Jesus. It means that we could empathize with his strong confidence in the resurrection by knowing his continuing calling for the gospel of resurrection, even sacrificing in such hardships. Apostle Paul says to those who say that they cannot believe in the resurrection: “ Look how I live. If I have slightest suspicion as to the resurrection, why do I live like this?”
I asked myself, while meditating about this part. “If there is no resurrection, how pitiful a person I am?”
If we think of the question in a different way, it will be like this: “what did you sacrifice for your faith in the resurrection? Because you believe in the resurrection, has your life changed and was your world turned upside down?” If there is not much sacrifice for heaven, my view point of the world has not turned completely; then, it is hard to say, “I do truly believe the resurrection of Jesus.”
Some time ago, I chatted with our church member preparing for a baptism. She told me that her husband finally came to believe in Jesus after seven long years of debating. He had a habit of not accepting things easily and deciding upon much calculation and exploring many thoughts. He had many negative views of the church and has distanced himself from the church. Then in his mid-life he happened to attend church to meet a professor, Son Bong Ho. Son Bong Ho is a philosophy professor who is achieved in teaching the scripture at church. Presently he is one of the most influential people with a popular voice in Korean churches. After hearing his message, he began to think, ‘My view of Christianity was in error. There is truth worth looking into in Christian religion.’
However, even after that, he still hesitated to be baptized, weighing his thoughts. If he were to believe, it had to be all the way, but there remained too many things he was not convinced with. Then he decided to be baptized finally and that was 7 years later. Here we can see God is patient. If a person could not decide on a marriage partner for 7 years, no one would wait for that person. But God waits, not just 7 years, but 17 years, or even 70 years. Without God’s patience, you and I are all without hope.
There is something interesting in his final decision after seven long years of trying to decide. That conclusion is this. ‘If I die without believing and find out that God exists, that would be a darn failure that cannot be reversed. On the other hand, if I lived believing in the existence of God and die to discover that God does not exist, there won’t be much loss.’ He told me this shyly and confided that he came to such a child-like thought back then because it was coming from his thinking. He confesses now he believes in his heart. His faith is not calculated, but it is based upon experience and understanding gained in the past.
In fact, people who think like this are not a minority. Some people try to evangelize using this method. How trying must it have been to resort to this way of witnessing? I can understand some ways are expedient, but witnessing in such a way is not correct, and faith based on such expedients is not good. Especially, saying that there is nothing much to lose when you have lived believing, even if one were to find out upon death that God doesn’t exist is to distort the essence of Christianity. If you keep true faith, there is a lot to lose because of your faith. Faith with no sacrifice cannot be true faith.
If we say we believe but give only a small portion of my time like a couple of hours a week or a month, there will not be much to lose even after we discover God does not exist. However, if a person has devoted the most precious part of his time every day, dedicated ample time to fellowship with God, and spent much time for God’s kingdom and church, that person has a lot to lose when he discovers there is no God. Perhaps he could have better used his time elsewhere.
If a person of faith has lived giving God only such a small portion of his wealth that having faith or not would not make any difference, that person does not have much to lose when God proves not to exist. However, if a person tithes and des not hold back his possessions for God’s kingdom and the gospel, he would have a lot to lose when God is proven not to exist. Wouldn’t it have been better had he used his material resources somewhere else?
Despite having faith, if a person lived for his own greed and ambition, and fought hard for only his own family and himself, he would not have much to lose even after having learned that God does not exist. Even if he comes to church only to seek for his own gain, he would have nothing to lose even when God is proven not to exist. However, if a person served Jesus Christ as the Lord, put down his greed and ambition before Him, and lived for Him, he would have a whole lot to lose upon learning that God doesn’t exist. Perhaps it would have been better to pursue his own ambition and greed.
If we have nothing much to lose when God is found not to exist, I am not certain whether that faith will be able to save us. If there was not much to lose, more than likely that faith was not true. If there is something to lose, it indicates there may have been some truth to that faith. It means that he or she saw the new world and as a result, his life was transformed even if it was ever so slightly. That is a fortunate thing. However, we have to be careful not to be too proud of ourselves. What God wants from us is not 10% or 20% but 100%. If we truly believe, no matter how much we give and share, we cannot be too proud. Rather, we would be grateful for the wherewithal to give and share.
That’s what believing is. Believing in the resurrection is not to seek comfort in one’s heart. It’s not to seek culture or society. Believing in resurrection is that world view that overturn, and that alters our attitude, purpose and direction of life. It wouldn’t say ‘no’ to those matters considered foolish to the worldly point of view. It is to choose the way of giving according to the worldly view. When all others choose the straight and wide, the believers choose the narrow and rutted path. They have different perspectives. Therefore, true faith is willingness to give, get insulted and persecuted for his kingdom.
However, at the same time there are things to remember. There is a high level of cost, which is incomparable to the worldly cost, for such faith. There is a precious price to pay incomparable to the materialistic loss and physical suffering. Although you pay much price to climb up the steep mountain, there is another incomparable value to gain. That is what the climbers climb up for. It is the same. Truly believing resurrection costs a lot, but there is incomparable gain waiting for.
The greatest gain is ‘joy.’ There is a joy in the life after encountering the resurrected Lord, opening spiritual eyes for the kingdom of God and living for the kingdom. This joy cannot be suppressed with anything. This joy differs in quality from the one coming from materialistic abundance. It differs from joy that comes from physical comfort. It differs from the joy of success and prosperity. It’s the joy of seeing the new world that was never seen before. It’s the joy from knowing that my existence is connected to everlasting God. It’s the joy from knowing that my life is used for the everlasting kingdom of God. It’s the joy from knowing that my life is used for the eternal value. It’s the great joy from knowing that I’m truly alive and also have a reason to live. This joy is not comparable to any other thing that we can obtain in this world.
Another gain will be earned in the kingdom of heaven. Those who live as a citizen of heaven on earth die and belong to heaven. The resurrected Lord is the proof that the kingdom of God is more real than the visible and tangible world in earth. If a person sees the kingdom of God in this world and lives for it, the person will surely find heaven. All the costs we pay on earth for the kingdom of God will be remembered. What did Jesus say to his disciples?
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. (Matthew 5:11-12)
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, do any of you find it difficult to believe in the resurrection? You are not alone. Resurrection is difficult to believe for anyone. Yet, I hope you would sincerely ponder over the news of resurrection at least once. You don’t have to throw away your common sense, reason or scientific knowledge. You just need to admit the limitation of your sense, reason and scientific knowledge. People once believed that the earth was flat. Those who trusted their reason believed that it was an absolute truth. However, the fact that the earth was round was proven eventually.
If we admit such limitations, we should sincerely ask ourselves at least once. Does a world exist, which is bigger than this visible and tangible world? Maybe death is not the end of ultimate destination for human beings? Maybe we are moving into another world through death just like a caterpillar being kept in a cocoon as if dead but transforming into a butterfly? If it is possible, maybe it is true that Jesus was risen. Maybe the story of the Bible is true, where the resurrected Jesus is still working to this day and meets those who seek Him?
As prudent human beings, we should deeply ponder into these questions. And if we find even the slightest possibility of resurrection, we should try to experience it; because if the resurrection is true, the world we have known will be just a small fraction of the true world. If the resurrection is indeed true and we live a life of denying the resurrection, we have too much to lose.
Beloved sisters and brothers in Christ, do you believe in resurrection? If so, you should carefully consider how genuine the faith is. In order to consider the truthfulness of our faith, we should ask ourselves this question: “How pitiful would I be if the resurrection of Jesus among the dead turns out to be false? If it turns out that God does not exist, how much loss do I take?”
If we do not have the willing sacrifice and dedication in our lives because of our faith, we would be the same as those who speak the empty words about heaven and eternity at the funeral. If we truly believe in resurrection, our world view should be overturned. If our world view is changed, how we live should be also changed. Do you have such change in your life?
I pray for you and me to reach the true faith of resurrection. I pray that we confess the resurrection not just by mouth but by demonstrating through our lives of living in a different world. A life of living in a different world is what the resurrected Lord wants to see. Non-believers do not need preaching as to the truthful of resurrection; they need to witness the life of a true believer who believes in resurrection. I sincerely hope that all of us can live such a precious life. Amen.
Lord who is resurrected,
Let us realize the wonders of resurrection.
And encounter the resurrected Lord.
Let us see the new world within the Lord,
And help us live for the new world.
Let us gladly live a life of sacrifice in this world
For the sake of the new world.
Let us have the eternal value
With a faith to renounce materialistic values.