1 Corinthians 15:19-26: Christ, the First Crop of the Harvest

Christ is Risen2 (610x351)“I know that my Redeemer lives” is a confession of faith.  Yet, the Apostle Paul asserted a couple of verses before our Epistle reading: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

But then in verse 20 of our Epistle reading, Paul cries out: “But Christ, indeed, stands risen from the dead, the first crop of the harvest of those who have died” (vs. 20).  That’s why we can sing, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”  Because Christ stands risen from the dead, neither my preaching nor your believing is in vain.

God planted His Son on the cross, on the hill known as “Golgotha,” the place of the skull.  That dead Jesus was then planted in the grave.  But on the third day, the crucified and buried Jesus rose from the dead.  He is alive, never again to die.  No longer does death have dominion over him.  His resurrection from the dead is the unblinking truth that is also the eternal destiny for those united to Him.

Since Jesus stands risen from the dead, the harvest of God’s planting has begun.  Jesus is the first crop of the harvest.  That means those who believe in Him are part of the rest of the harvest.  You are that harvest, and you are to be that harvest.

The planting was harsh, cruel, and full of tears.  Because of our sinful flesh, God’s Law could not give us life but only death.  That’s why Jesus, God’s Son, came in the likeness of sinful flesh, coming to conquer our sin.  Yet, because of our sin, which He had taken into Himself, the Law condemned Him without mercy.

Suspended between two criminals on the cross, Jesus stands between and divides all humanity.  It’s not that He divides the sinners from non-sinners.  He is the divide between condemned sinners and forgiven sinners.

Jesus is both death and life for sinners.  For apart from Him, nothing but eternal death awaits.  For those unwilling to live united to Him, they have set their hopes on themselves.  But we’re not strong or holy enough to save ourselves!  Yet, for those who live in Christ, they live in the grace that delivers them from eternal death.  That’s because Jesus is the first crop of the harvest of those who have died, of those now in the grave, waiting for God to call their bodies out on the Last Day.

Yet, just as no Easter can exist without Good Friday, so also is that Friday not good without the Easter that follows.  Jesus had to die–and rise–to be the first crop of the harvest of those who have died.  And so those united with Jesus in His death are part of that harvest gathering.  He is the first of the crop that God has harvested.  What follows is God gathering in the rest of the harvest.

Those who now sow in tears will reap in eternal joy, for the harvest is full of life and joy.  Although joy awaits the faithful, the death of someone we love still saddens us.  For God never created us to die; death is still unnatural.  Yet, just as God worked the greatest good from His Son’s death, so also will He work, for you, the greatest good from your death.  For those who die in the faith, God will gather His harvest on the Last Day, uniting body and soul to live with Him in eternity.

Through the Word and water of baptism, God the Holy Spirit joined you to Jesus’ death AND resurrection.  In absolution, where you hear God’s forgiveness in Christ, God continues to nurture and exercise your union with Him.  In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ body and blood feeds you in that union.  The preached Word, which brings you to repent and live in God’s forgiveness, brings you to live with renewed vigor in your union with Christ.  And faithful, Christ-centered Bible instruction strengthens you in Christ as the truths of the one, true faith ingrain themselves in your mind.

God, the Gardener, sent His Son, the Seed that is the Word of God.  God planted that good Seed well.  For God’s own life is in that Seed.  And God planted that Seed in the soil of His choosing, watering it, and nurturing it to bring in a bumper harvest.

That Seed, Jesus Christ, was faithful to the Father’s will.  And now Jesus, who was buried in the grave of death, now stands risen from the dead.  God’s planting has flourished.  And just as that planting has been done, so also has the harvest begun.

Yet, for us to have this new life in eternity, we also must die.  This is so because sin and your sinful flesh must die.  Yet, this new life does not focus itself on death but, instead, the resurrection from the dead.

God will call our bodies, overcome by death, from the grave in the harvest of which Jesus’ resurrection is but the first crop.  In baptism, God the Holy Spirit brought you into the body of Christ, the Church.  And the Holy Spirit keeps you holy in the holy grace of baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper–the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

That life we have in Jesus’ resurrection is the life of being in the Holy Spirit that hears and lives in the preached Gospel of Christ.  For preaching and believing is not in vain, as the Apostle Paul tells us.  That’s because the Holy Spirit is at work in both the preached Word and our believing.  The Spirit brings Christ to us and makes Him ours.

Life in the Spirit is the life of faith.  It is a life united to Jesus, who is risen from the dead.  He is the first crop of the harvest of those who have died.  That means the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal body on the Last Day.  Christ, the Seed, planted for you in the cross and the grave, is the Word of God planted in you by the Spirit.  And that seed will come to full fruition when Christ returns and calls your body out of the grave to reunite with your soul.

From the darkness of the grave, light blazes forth.  From the sorrow of the tomb, joy explodes into life.  For, in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God recreates life as He meant it to be.  Jesus has given us–and continues to give us–His righteousness.  It is a future reality because it is a past fact.

To set your mind on this Gospel of salvation is not a useless pursuit.  For its content is Jesus, the first crop of the harvest being gathered.  Its power is the Spirit of life who raised Jesus from the dead and will give the harvest of life to our dead bodies.

So, set your mind on that Spirit and His work. That is, by faith, hold on to this Gospel. That means you first listen to the Gospel preached to you.  For that Word brings you God’s fulfillment of all He promises, made real in Jesus, the first crop of the harvest.

Because of Jesus, God now shines on you with His favor.  God’s delights in His Son–and because the Holy Spirit, in faith, unites you to His Son, God delights in you.  He shines on you with the light that burst forth from the dark and deadly tomb.

As Christ’s resurrection proves, God’s grace is stronger than the Law that condemns.  That grace is even the energy of God, which will produce in you the full harvest on the Last Day.  And to prepare you for this harvest, God calls you to receive His Word and Sacraments, week in and week out, as your body still tarries in its fallen state.

Live in that grace against sin, death, and the devil.  The Apostle Paul remembered how he had murdered many Christians, persecuting the Church.  But Paul lived in God’s grace, becoming productive and doing what others could not do.  Like him, live in God’s grace.  Even when you feel like the Seed of Christ within you is too weak to germinate, or the water of your tears has drowned it, or that others have trampled it, live boldly in God’s grace.  Don’t neglect on it.  Instead, cherish it, hold it, receive it, sing it, say it, and listen to it as it is preached into your ears.

Christ is the first crop of the harvest of those who have died.  Remaining in Christ, you are part of that harvest that God will reap.  That’s why, as His people, God calls us to give to Him the first fruits, the first crop, of what we have and earn.  This is a spiritual exercise and discipline that we live out in our earthly lives.  For it reminds us that our eternal life is real because of THE First Fruit, THE First Crop, Jesus Christ.

Not only will God gather His harvest, but He has already gathered in the first crop of the harvest: Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.  You are part of the harvest He will gather on the Last Day, when Christ returns.  For the Holy Spirit has planted you with Jesus in His death.  And because of that, you will be raised up with Him in His life.

The Lord is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.