In the Middle of Discouragement

Remember the Resurrection

Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 17,

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

© Copyright 2010  Rev. Bill Versteeg



Lord's Day 17 

Q. How does Christ's resurrection

   benefit us?

A. First, by his resurrection he has overcome death,

      so that he might make us share in the righteousness

      he won for us by his death.

   Second, by his power we too

      are already now resurrected to a new life.

   Third, Christ's resurrection

      is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection.


 

Corinthians 15

15    Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

 

      This evening, what I am going to say I will keep very simple. 1 Corinthians 15 is the hallmark resurrection passage of scripture. Paul not only recounts that the resurrection is preached, where we take our stand, he also recounts that it was witnessed by the disciples, then by over five hundred brothers, and then finally Paul who in response to them that revelation of the risen Christ, worked harder than them all - yet his work was not himself, Paul giving the glory where it belongs, it was the Grace of God with him.

 

      In this same chapter, which we have not read this evening, Paul then goes on to point out that without the resurrection of Christ, our preaching and our faith is pointless. We ourselves will not arise from the dead. If Christ did not raise up from the grave, we are to be pitied more than all men because we are fabulously deluded, we suffer for the hope of the gospel which is no hope at all. But the resurrection has happened, our hope is real, our anticipated future, our healed bodies, our no more tears, crying or pain is real. Our bodies will be raised like Christ’s body the first fruit, what was sown perishable will be raised imperishable, what was sown in weakness will be raised in power, we will bear the likeness of Christ in our resurrection. We will all be changed, we will be immortal. And so Paul quotes from Hosea 13:14 who wrote:

“I will ransom them from the power of the grave;

I will redeem them from death.

Where, O death, are your plagues?

Where, O grave, is your destruction?

 

We remember those words best from Paul however

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?”

Death has been swallowed up in victory!

 

Now Paul concludes those chapter, this segment of his letter to the Corinthians, and for a conclusion we might expect the following.

 

Therefore, my dear brothers, hold onto the hope or the resurrection, don’t be afraid of suffering and tears and pain, because one day it will be all over and the joys we will have will make today appear like a drop in the bucket.

 

Therefore my dear brothers, keep your faith strong, don’t be afraid to die.

 

Therefore my dear brothers, let nothing move you from your hope, this life does not matter much, put your treasure where your heart is (especially if he was raising money, like he really does in the next chapter).

 

How does he conclude this long chapter about the resurrection?

 

58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

 

Now it seems to me that that is a very interesting application of the resurrection.

58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

 

I don’t know about you, but like most others, I get discouraged. We give ourselves whole heartedly to something. Because we are doing it out of love and for the Lord, we burn the candle at both ends. Our very best is our offering of worship to the Glory of God. And we hope that others will use what we have to offered, that it will have some positive long term impact on those around us. But alas, we discover that our best efforts are often lost on others, the work we have done goes unnoticed, it benefits few if anyone, the impact we hope we had, well, its not obvious and we wonder what in the world we did it for. Our joy in service is gone. Our best efforts have not solved problems. Friction continues. Our fatigue overwhelms us. We measure ourselves a failure. Who have we helped in the end anyways?

58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

 

If ever there was a person who should have been discouraged, It was Jesus. His best miracles were misunderstood, sometimes attributed to the devil. He taught and those who listened often would not believe. His followers were few, only 12, but they to were so dull and thick headed and slow to believe, at times he despaired at why it took so much and so long. When he told them repeatedly about his suffering and death, they did not get it. One of his own followers betrayed him with a kiss. One of his followers that looked strong denied him three times. The rest deserted him, went into hiding. The cross he faced, he faced alone, abandoned by his father, his one last source of strength. So he cried out the first lines of Psalm 22, a Psalm which voices profound discouragement.

But the resurrection came, and all that turned around. The world was changed. His labour was not in vain.

 

Well, he was Jesus, how about Paul.

Paul seems to me to be one of the kings of discouragement.

“Paul started by a very long education as a pharisee only to discover his education was aimed in the wrong direction, he actually began by persecuting the very truth and the very movement he sought. Then in the process of being converted, he lost his eyesight. After regaining his vision, he discovered he had become a fugitive escaping by a basket through a city wall. He changed sides, but now his own side, the Christians viewed him with suspicion. His own brothers and sisters, the Jews were now his enemies. In Tarsus, his hometown, he was rejected and beaten. He wrote "I have worked 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..." He struggled with what a called his thorn in the flesh, probably a incurable disease. Friends deserted him. Others would come to the places he preached, and he was not a strong preacher, and those others would distort the very truth he traveled miles to bring. The list goes on - and yet...

And yet his work has lasted 2000 years, we know him as the greatest missionary in Christian history, and our lives are daily impacted by his writings. What was the secret to his resiliency?”

 

He knew there is a resurrection and because of the resurrection, our labour is not in vain. You see, even though we do not see it, Paul’s point here is that there is nothing that we do that is in vain. That which we do for the Lord, whether it be serving our children and cooking them dinner, to serving at work and being a faithful employee or boss, to learning and preparing for a career, to loving our husbands faithfully, what we do for the glory of God will never be pointless. The which is done to the glory of God has its eternal consequence, the resurrection guarantees it.

 

(Illustration from “On this Day” by Robert J Morgan)

“Robert Moffat was a strong, healthy, young man who loved working outdoors. He was hired by James Smith, owner of Dukinfield Nurseries; but Smith had misgiving, for he knew two things: first, that Robert's good looks would appeal to his only daughter Mary; and second, that Robert wanted to be a missionary.

 

It happened just as Smith feared. As Robert worked in the gardens, he met Mary and discovered that she, too, was a Christian with an interest in missions (having been educated in a Moravian school). Unknown to her parents, she had secretly prayed two years before that God would send her to Africa.

 

An intense attachment formed quickly, but when the young couple announced to family members their plans to marry and leave England as missionaries to South Africa, the reaction was violent. Robert's parents seemed resigned, but the Smiths refused to give their consent. All pleading and imploring failed. At last, with his heart breaking, Robert decided to abandon hope of marriage and leave for the field alone. "From the clearest indications of his providence," he wrote his parents, "he bids me go out alone. It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good." So on October 18, 1816, Robert Moffat sailed for South Africa, leaving his heart behind.

 

He arrived on the field suffering deep loneliness. "I have many difficulties to encounter, being alone," he wrote his parents. Meanwhile in England, Mary, too, was miserable. Three long years passed, and she finally told Robert in a letter that she had given up all prospect of joining him.

 

But her next letter a month later contained different news: "They both yesterday calmly resigned me into the hands of the Lord," she wrote, "declaring they durst no longer withhold me." Mary quickly packed her trunks, told her anguished parents goodbye with no expectation of ever seeing them again, and left for South Africa. There she and Robert were married before a handful of friends on December 27, 1819. And there they labored side-by-side for 53 years, becoming one of the greatest husband-wife teams in missionary history.

 

But here's the rest of the story. A number of years before, a faithful Scottish minister had been approached by one of his deacons who said to him, "Something is very wrong with your ministry here. You preach every Sunday, but in the past year only one person has been added to the church and he was just a boy." The old man listened and his eyes grew moist. "God knows I have tried to do my duty," he said. "I can trust him for the results."

 

"Yes, yes," said the deacon, "but by their fruits you shall know them." The old minister was nearly overcome with hurt and despair. In the course of a whole year, no growth, no visible results - except for one boy. But that boy was Robert Moffat”.

 



(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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