Title: The Focus of a Healthy Church: Our Future
Text: 1 Corinthians 15
Introduction: Ps 119.18
I found this in my clippings of illustrations. I have no idea where it came from, so I can’t cite who wrote it here…
On Tuesday, August 27, 1996, 26 years ago, yesterday, Shawn Hagwood began a journey of learning that would turn his life around. Earlier that week, 19-year-old Shawn made a cross-country trip to visit a friend in Rochester, Minnesota, a quiet, conservative community known for the famous Mayo Clinic. One night, he and his friend accompanied a group of local guys to an apartment complex inhabited mostly by Somalian residents. They were headed there with bats to settle a score with some of the residents for beating up one of their friends the night before. When they arrived at the complex, a group of guys came out to meet them with golf clubs. Things got out of control and a young Somalian kid from the apartments was seriously injured when someone in Shawn’s group swung a baseball bat. By the time the police got there, everyone involved had disappeared and the episode was classified as a racial gang crime of white guys against the ethnic residents …
Shawn was definitely part of the fight that summer night, but he never held a bat and was not the person who injured the kid. Still, when the authorities came knocking, the local guys Shawn had hung out with that night used him as an easy scapegoat, since he was from out of town. When the police brought Shawn in for questioning a few days later, it would be his last day as a free man for the next eight years …
Even though Shawn was basically on the fringe of the crime, and the only one put on trial at this time (two were brought to trial three years later and given a much lighter sentence), the jury came back with the verdict: Guilty …
Shortly after entering prison life, Shawn got his first visitor—one of the men from the jury. He thought maybe the man was there to help him get a new trial, but soon discovered he was simply there to be a friend. Though he initially put up a tough exterior, Shawn was happy to have company.
Shawn remembers, “He introduced himself as Dave Stensland, a clinical psychologist. He had driven four hours just to see me and to find out how I was doing. When he stood up to leave, I felt disappointed, but Dave promised to come again soon.”
Dave began regular monthly visits. They talked about everything from Shawn’s life goals after prison, to Dave’s evident faith in God, to how Shawn could cope with the sometimes paralyzing stresses of prison life and his bitterness over the injustice of his sentence.
For seven years, Dave visited Shawn faithfully …
By far Dave’s most important influence on Shawn was his faith. “He showed me the peace of someone who is close to God, but in everything he did and said, he was gentle. Because he shared Christ’s love with me consistently through the years, I began to open up more to the Lord.”
As Shawn studied the Bible with Dave, his life began to change. Through Dave’s example and guidance, Shawn finally found peace and purpose. He prayed to receive Jesus Christ into his life.
Question: What makes a man, like Dave, do something like that? To travel 4 hours one way, to a prison, nonetheless, and spend valuable time with a prisoner? Could it be his faith? Could it be he lived out what he believed?
Last week we opened up to 1 Corinthians 15 and we looked at the Gospel. Paul gave a simple outline of the Gospel presentation. At first glance, chapter 15 feels out of place. It seems to be a turn in direction and not in line with where Paul’s been heading over the last 14 chapters. But don’t you believe it? He’s still answering questions and keeping the overall context of the focus of a healthy church: relationships.
There must have been a question in their letter to Paul, asking about what will happen to those who’ve already died. It seems like they understood the rapture, but that came from a living viewpoint. What about those already dead, their bodies decayed – only the bones remained. Maybe some were beginning to doubt. What will it look like? How will it occur? What will happen to my loved one who has already died?
But really, that opening introduction simply gives us the context for the whole chapter. The context is about the Resurrection Hope you and I have as believers and the charge to stand firm in the faith in light of that hope.
Let me repeat that!
The Charge (Big Idea) in Chapter 15 is to “Stand” and “Hold Fast” and “Be Steadfast, immovable” (1f; 34; 58; ill.: Master and Commander of the Far Side of the Sea) just as the faithful who’ve gone before us had done. Be strong and stand firm in the face of strong opposition just as those who have gone before us have done.
The Reasoning behind this charge: is found in the Resurrection. Without it, there is no story here!
So here is a simplified outline of what Paul says in the 1st half of 15: The Gospel finds its foundation in the resurrection:
- The Gospel – Everything about your current life is built upon this foundation called The Gospel. He died, He was buried, He was raised (1-4).
- This one element, His Resurrection, is vital to the whole story. Indeed, without it, there is no Good News. It was established and validated by many witnesses (5-11).
- Furthermore, this one element is foundational in the hope of those who had died and have gone before them (12-29). Without the resurrection, there are huge gaps in their or our faith (we’ll look closer at that in a moment)(12-19). The hope of the Resurrection caused those believers to remain steadfast in their faith in light of apparent persecution and death. And as a result, their witness led others to faith in Christ (20-29).
- Furthermore, it is also what drives us, Paul says, to continue to preach this message in light of the real danger of future persecution and death (29-32).
Let’s look at this Theological Truth and weigh its importance for our faith.
- Our Future Resurrection is founded upon one essential element of the Gospel Message: Christ is Risen (12)
exp.: Rd v 3-4; you received (1) that which I also received (3); Namely, that Christ died (and more specifically – for our sins), 2ndly, that he was buried, and 3rd, bringing out this essential element now, he was raised on the 3rd day!
app.: Paul is establishing a point here: without the resurrection, there is no gospel! It is an essential element of the Gospel message. But then, he takes it to another logical progression: rd v 12; Ah-ha! Here we find the information from their letter – some had said that there is no resurrection in the future for believers. By the way, this is a doctrine of the Sadducees that had made its way into Christianity. Paul clarifies here. Rd v13f;
Without the resurrection, there is so much wrong with Christianity: 1. Our faith is futile. 2. We’re still in our sins. 3. Those who have perished have no hope. 4. We as Christian are then, pitiful! Read through v19
But, that ain’t the way it is. Because Christ is raised. And, His resurrection is the first of many to come. Beginning with those who’ve gone before.
Check out this structure of his teaching in v 12-32:
- The Foundational Element: Christ’s Resurrection; The Gospel is Established in the Fact of the Resurrection; without it, there is no hope. (12-17)
- The Faithful’s Example: Their hope in their own future resurrection caused them to live faithfully for Christ – even to the point of death. That witness brought others to faith and faithfulness (18-20; 29). Added to this, is Paul’s personal example (30-34).
Let’s walk through these verses and see the way Paul presents them in what appears to be a Chiasm. Without the Resurrection of Christ, then
1. Our preaching is in Vain.
2. Your faith is futile.
3. We’ve been found to be misrepresenting God (our testimony is a lie).
4. You are still in your sins (hopeless and hell-bound).
5. And those who’ve died, they have perished and there is no hope for them (18)
6. We are to be pitied above all people. (19)
6. But Christ is raised (20)!
5. The “firstfruits” of those who are asleep and will one day be resurrected! (20)
4. Death came by Adam, But the hope of the resurrection comes through Christ who has removed the stain of sin.
3. We haven’t misrepresented God. He will be proven true when all things are subjected to him.
2. Your faith isn’t futile, because people believe and are baptized when they see the faith of those who’ve been martyred. (29)
1. Our preaching isn’t in vain. Indeed, we’re willing to face death to preach this message to the world (30-32).
Based on this, Paul issues a command: rd 33f; Wake up from your drunken stupor! Here is that call again, that charge to steadfastness and stability, to holding on to the faith, remaining unmovable, unshakable.
t.s.: As Jesus said to Martha in Jn 11.25: 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Conclusion: And I ask you, “Do you believe this?”
In the summer of 2003, after seven years of monthly visits to the prison, Dave’s wife Sandy called Shawn with the sudden and shocking news—Dave was dying of cancer.
The man who had mentored and loved Shawn like one of his own sons had only a short time left on this earth. Shawn recalls, “Although I didn’t want to live without Dave, I was so thankful that I had a chance to have him in my life for so long.”
A few weeks later, Shawn called Dave to see how he was doing. Sandy told him he was just in time to say goodbye. Dave was so weak that Sandy had to hold the phone up to his ear.
“He couldn’t respond much, but I knew he could hear me,” Shawn says. “It would be the last time I talked to him and it was a very hard conversation, but I was so glad that I was able to have it. I thanked him for everything that he had done and for being such a good friend to me. I told him, ‘I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for you.’ And then we said goodbye.”
A year later, Shawn was released from prison three years early for good behavior, and Sandy Stensland was there to give him a big sendoff. With tears of happiness, she hugged him tightly.
“Shawn, I know Dave would be so proud of you—and I’m proud of you, too,” she said. “Your life is going to be different now. Just remember that God has great things in store for you, and He’s giving you another chance.”
And who is Shawn Hagwood today? Besides being a happily employed software developer, he also uses his story to encourage others who are struggling with life, especially young people …
Because Dave Stensland took his faith seriously and he shared it with another person in need, a young man’s life was changed.