1 Corinthians 15:20
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
I. THE PICTURES HERE GIVEN OF THE DEATH OF THE SAINTS.
1. As a sleep. Not that the soul sleeps, but the body in its lonely bed of earth, beneath the coverlet of grass, with the cold clay for its pillow.
(1) With sleep we associate the ideas —
(a) Rest. On yonder couch, however hard, the labourer shakes off his toil, the merchant his care, the thinker his difficulties, and the sufferer his pains. Sleep makes each night a Sabbath for the day. So is it with the body while it sleeps in the tomb. The weary are at rest; the servant is as much at ease as his lord.
(b) Forgetfulness. The soul forgets not, and we have no reason to believe that the glorified are ignorant of what is going on below. But what do their bodies know? Take up the skull, see if there be memory there. See where once the heart was if there be any emotion there. Gather the bones, see if they are still obedient to muscles which could be moved at will as passing events might affect the mind.
(c) Benefit. In the old tradition Medet, the enchantress, cast the limbs of old men into her cauldron that they might come forth young again. Sleep does all this in its fashion. The righteous are put into their graves all weary and worn, but such they will not rise.
(2) The sleep of death is not —
(a) A dreamy slumber. The involuntary action of the mind prevents us at times from taking rest in sleep. But not so with the dear departed. In that sleep of death no dreams can come.
(b) A hopeless sleep. We have seen persons sleep who have been long emaciated by sickness, when we have said, "That eye will never open again; he will sleep himself into eternity." But it is not so here. They sleep a healthy sleep — they sleep to wake, and not to die the second death; go wake in joyous fellowship when the Redeemer stands in the latter day upon the earth.
(3) Ought not this view of death to prevent our looking upon it in so repulsive a light? Did you ever feel horror at a sleeping child or husband or wife? And do not wish the departed back again. Would you wake your friend who has fallen asleep after excruciating pain?
2. As a sowing. The mould has been ploughed, and the husbandman scatters his seeds. They fall into the earth, the clods are raked over them, and they disappear. So it is with us. We call Death a reaper — I call him a sower. He takes these bodies and sows us broadcast in the ground. And if this is so let us have done with all faithless sorrow. "The granary is empty," says the farmer. Yes, but he does not sigh over it; for the seed is put into the ground in order that the granary may be filled again. "Our family circle has been broken," say you. Yes, but only broken that it may be re-formed. The stars are setting here to rise in other skies to set no more.
II. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST AND THAT OF BELIEVERS. Some take very great delight in the hope that they may be "alive and remain" at the coming of Christ, but not to die would be to lose the great privilege of relationship with Christ as "the first-fruits." The allusion is to the Jewish feast, when the first sheaf was brought out from the harvest as a token of the whole, and first of all heaved upward as a heave-offering, and then waived to and fro as a waive-offering, being thus dedicated to God in testimony of the gratitude for the harvest. The Passover was celebrated first, then came a Sabbath-day, then after that came the feast of first-fruits. So Christ died on the Passover day, the next day was the Sabbatic rest. Christ's body therefore tarried in the grave; then early in the morning of the first day, the feast of the first-fruits, Christ rose. Christ was the first that rose —
1. In order of time. All who were raised before died again, and, with the exception of Lazarus, none were ever buried. Christ was the first who really rose no more to die. He leads the vanguard through the dark defile, and His brow first salutes the light of heaven, We admire the man who discovers a new country. Christ is the first who returned from the jaws of death to tell of immortality and light.
2. In point of cause; for as He comes back from the grave He brings all His followers behind Him in one glorious train. We read of Hercules descending into Hades and bringing up his friend. Verily went Christ thither, and He gave no sop to Cerberus, but cut off his head.
3. In point of pledge. The first-fruits were a pledge of the harvest.
4. As the representative of the whole. When the first-fruit sheaf had been waved before God it was considered that all the harvest had been brought into the sanctuary. So when Christ rose He consecrated the whole harvest. All the righteous dead were virtually risen in Him.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF THIS DOCTRINE.
1. Let us look well to the holiness of our bodies. "Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost?" Now if our eyes look upon vanity we have defiled the windows of God's house; if our tongues speak evil we have desecrated its gates. Let us see to it that our feet carry us nowhere but where our Master can go with us, and that our hands be outstretched for naught but that which is pure and lovely.
2. Are we among those for whom Christ stands as first-fruits?
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.