St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Good Firstfruits, Good Harvest

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Text: But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

In a few days, we will celebrate the Festival of Thanksgiving. It is a wonderful time to pause and thank God for all of the blessings that he has given to us. In many of the decorations that you see that are associated with Thanksgiving, you will see some of the various plants that have been harvested. You see gourds, pumpkins, ears of corn, and apples. There are reminders of the good harvest that God has given to us. The apostle Paul directs our attention to another harvest, if you will. He shows us the first part of the harvest and that it points ahead to a great harvest. As we study this part of God’s Word, we take note of GOOD FIRSTFUITS, GOOD HARVEST. 1. Christ Our Lord Is the FirstFruits. 2. A Good Harvest Will Follow.

Usually, as you get close to harvest time, you will have certain plants that are ready to be harvested before the others. You know this, if you have ever had a garden. For example, some of the tomatoes are ready to be picked before the rest. Those tomatoes tell you that the rest of the harvest will follow. We could refer to those tomatoes as the firstfuits.

This is the picture that Paul uses in our text. “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (Verse 20) This verse reminds us of the main point of the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, which is resurrection. As you read through the first epistle to the Corinthians, you find that they had many troubles. One of them was regarding resurrection. While it does not appear that they necessarily had a difficulty with Christ’s resurrection, they thought that it was an isolated incident. Over the course of this chapter, Paul shows that Christ’s resurrection was not an isolated incident and that it has eternal consequences for every believer.

To appreciate the beauty of verse 20 (Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep), we continue with verses 21-22, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Note the stark contrasts between the first and second halves of those verses. There is death and there is life.

First of all, there is death. “Death came through a man.” We know the man. It was Adam. We know the place. It was the Garden of Eden. We know the reason for this sentence. “When you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:17) This death sentence did not apply to Adam alone. “In Adam all die.” This is something that all do. Death is universal. Death is merciless. This death sentence was handed down to all descendants of Adam. Because of Adam’s sin, all are sinners. Because of Adam, all die. We deserve to hear the pronouncement of the death sentence, because we have followed our forefather Adam’s footsteps and have sinned. We have broken God’s laws times without number. We deserve to hear the pronouncement of eternal death in hell. Our consciences tell us that this is true. It is what we suspect and what we fear. “Death came through a man.” “In Adam all die.”

When you see the first halves of those verses for what they are, you can clearly see the contrast in the second halves. “The resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.” This announcement is something totally unexpected. It is something our consciences do not know and our wildest dreams could never have imagined. We know the man. “In Christ all will be made alive.” This is the gospel message through and through. There are no conditions. There are no questions. It is only through Christ that there is any hope.

The reason for this is that Christ faced death for us. His life on this earth was leading to one place, the cross outside of Jerusalem. He came to be the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed for the sins of all people. This was the only way that we could ever be saved. Jesus needed to live a perfect life, which was sacrificed on the cross to wash away all of our sins. Jesus suffered and he died to pay the debt that we owed our God.

However, the account does not end with Christ’s death. If it did, we would have no hope. There would be no reason to believe in him. He would be just like all of the other religious leaders who have walked on this earth and have died and are lying in their graves. However, Paul declares, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.” (Verse 20) He didn’t stay in that grave. He rose from the dead, which announces clearly for all to hear that the payment for sins was completed. It is the Father’s seal of approval on all the Jesus did for us. This victory is complete. Christ’s resurrection tells us that sin is conquered. We no longer have to live with our consciences accusing us because Jesus paid for our sins. We know that we are God’s children through the working of the Holy Spirit. We know this to be true because sin was conquered when Christ rose from the dead. This is the firstfruit of the harvest of joy that awaits us when Christ our King returns in glory at the end of time.

As we said earlier, the firstfruit points ahead to the full harvest that is to come. Right now, we live in the joy of knowing that our sins are forgiven. Paul now points ahead to the time when we will fully enjoy all that Christ has done for us. He points us to the triumphant return of our Savior King. “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (Verses 24-25) This will be the end of all enemies who have threatened us and have sought to dominate us. It is the end of Satan, sin, and all misery. It is true that life on this earth is difficult. How many things aren’t we trying to juggle as we go through life? There may be health issues or financial issues or family difficulties. There is uncertainty in the world in which we are living because of the Corona virus. In addition, sin ruins so many things. We see the effects of sin in nature. We see the concern that people should have for each other is absent. On top of this, we have the fact that the devil delights in harassing God’s people. He finds ways to attack us for our faith. He tries to find ways to bring discord into congregations.

When Christ returns in his glory on the Last Day, all of those things will be gone. The end will be a beginning. It will be the beginning of joy and blessedness and peace in heaven. This was the reason that our Savior came. John writes in his first epistle, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8) We will be free from all that makes life so difficult on this earth. We find this description in Revelation 7:16-17, “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This is the harvest of joy that is waiting for us.

Paul adds in verse 26, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” There are many people who will tell you that death is natural. However, the Bible tells us that death is unnatural, something that entered the world as a result of sin. Death is an enemy. It always seems to win. However, this last enemy will also be destroyed. When Christ rose from the dead, he conquered death. It was defeated. When Christ returns in glory, death’s icy grip will be broken. All who died in the Lord will be raised from the dead to eternal life. They will join those who are still alive at Christ’s return in welcoming back the conquering King. In addition, because death has been destroyed, it can no longer separate us from those that we love. We will be forever with the Lord, singing his praises for all eternity.

There are some who will say that the first things that ripen from the garden are the best tasting. As you go further into the harvest, the produce doesn’t taste as good as the first things. This morning, we have looked at the harvest of joy that is ours as believers. It all starts with the firstfruit of joy, Christ’s resurrection. The news of this firstfruit brings rest and hope for our souls. It is because of the fact of his resurrection, that we have reason to hope for the rest of the harvest of joy and peace that are waiting for us. As we focus on this joy, we find our reason for giving thanks every day. Amen.