Easter and Transformation (I Corinthians 15:20-23)
I. What are Firstfruits?
Leftovers. I don't know about you, but I generally like leftovers. Sure, some things don't re-heat very well. But for other dishes, an 'encore' performance is a welcome treat. But... if you had a very special guest coming over for dinner, you wouldn't serve that person leftovers, would you? No. But why not? Because even though some leftovers can be delicious, that person is worthy of something better.
In the Scriptures, there's a word that represents the exact opposite of leftovers. It's the word “firstfruits”. In ancient Israel, during both the spring festival and the summer festival (that is, during both the barley harvest, and then the wheat harvest), God's people were instructed to bring the first cuttings, the first pickings, the first bushel, the first-fruits to God's sanctuary as an offering. This was a way to honor God as provider and Lord; absolutely worthy of the first portion, the freshest cut, the very best.
Thus King Solomon encouraged his readers in Proverbs 3:9–10...
Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce;  then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
But I think we could also say this about such firstfruits: they were that set-apart portion that testified of more to come in light of God's abundant generosity. Keep that statement in mind as we look together at I Corinthians 15, verses 20-23.
II. The Passage: “Because He Continues Forever” (15:20-23)
As we wrap up our month-long meditation on the importance of Easter, let me suggest one more reason that Easter should always be your favorite day of the year:
Reason #4: Easter should be your favorite day because it's the day your future glory was embodied and ensured.
This is what the Apostle Paul is emphasizing in I Corinthians 15:20-23. After (in the previous verses) having his readers think about the futility of our faith had Jesus NOT been raised from the dead, he goes on to encourage them with these words...
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
Did you see, did you hear a familiar word in that passage (not once, but twice)? Yes, Paul talks about firstfruits in both verses 20 and 23. Notice how he's using the word there. Paul can talk about Jesus being “the firstfruits” because his resurrection was like that set-apart portion that testifies of more to come in light of God's abundant generosity. What was or is this more to come? It is that harvest of life that will take place when those who belong to Christ are resurrected to eternal life with God.
So Paul is using this OT image to describe not only what had happened (i.e., the resurrection of Jesus), but what will happen: resurrection like Jesus, because of Jesus, for those who belong to Jesus. Because we're talking about Jesus and the purposes of our sovereign God, we can say that the historical certainty of what did take place gives us solid hope in terms of the certainty of what will take place. Do you believe that?
Do “all die” in Adam, as verse 22 states? Absolutely. We live with that awful reality every day. That's an undeniable fact about our human existence: it comes to end (at least, existence in the body). But if that's true of us “in Adam”, then the promise of resurrection “in Christ” is equally true. You see, Easter is not simply about Jesus' personal victory over death. It's also about you sharing in that victory. “But,” as Paul wrote: “each in his own order.”
When an Israelite brought an offering of firstfruits to God's tent or Temple, it was a tangible sign that an abundant harvest was imminent. It would only be a matter of hours or days before the reaping began or was finished. Brothers and sisters, friends, that's the time in which we live today. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is the tangible sign that an abundant harvest is imminent. And if you belong to Jesus, by God's grace, through genuine faith, then that harvest will be a resurrection like that which Jesus experienced: a resurrection to life and glory (rather than a resurrection to judgment and eternal destruction).
And so, believer, on Easter, on that first day of the week, Jesus Christ embodied your future glory. He gave you a preview of what you can look forward to in eternity. As Paul wrote in verse 49 of this chapter: Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (I Corinthians 15:49) So our future will not involve an eternally formless existence as a spirit in some spiritual dimension. Like Jesus, we will have a body, one made for both eternal fellowship with God and an eternal existence in a new heavens and a new earth. As I expressed it in another message: “Like the first basket full of produce from a soon-to-be harvest field, Jesus' victory gives us a taste of what can be ours”.
That transformation will take place. That transformation is yours because of Christ. Remember what we said, his victory both embodied and ensured that transformation. Does that comfort you? Does it encourage you? Does it thrill you? It should.
But that transformation is even bigger than just your body. I love how James expressed it, using that same OT image: Of his own will he [the Father] brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:18) The coming transformation not includes all those redeemed. It includes all of creation. In another passage, Paul expressed it this way:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:18-23)
There it was again, that word: “firstfruits”! In verse 23, Paul tells us that the present gift of the Holy Spirit for all who believe is that set-apart portion that testifies of more to come in light of God's abundant generosity. What is the 'more to come' here in Romans 8? It right's there in the final phrase: “the redemption of our bodies”. Wow! So both the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit both serve to point us to our own bodily resurrection to eternal life.
But did you hear what else Paul told us in this passage? The heaven and earth in which we live now is waiting for OUR transformation. Why? Because when we are fully and finally transformed, the rest of creation will also be transformed. It will be (v. 21) “set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God”. And again, Jesus is the firstfruits of this transformation. Why? Because of Easter. Because of His resurrection from the dead.
III. Groaning and Glory
So think about the implications of these staggering truths. Let me suggest three. First, real hope comes from that glimpse of the glory.
It's like being held in a prison cell for many, many years, and then one day, being taken to a beautiful seaside villa. At this villa you witness three things: first, many other ex-cons living free and fulfilled lives in this beautiful setting, second, a room with your name on it, and third, the signing of a contract that guarantees your place there, in only a matter of months. However many weeks you would have to wait until your release, that day you saw what awaited you, that day you knew your future was secure, that day would be your favorite day. It would give you hope on even the hardest days, wouldn't it?
The same should be true for us. Though it may be longer than weeks or months, there is a harvest coming. We've glimpsed it in Jesus, “the firstfruits”. That has to give us hope, for even the hardest days. Do you need that hope this morning?
Now, in light of the perspective God has revealed to us this morning, I think he might also be saying this: live more in light of who you will be, than who you are today. That statement isn't meant to minimize all that we have in Christ right now. It's meant to point us to the goal or conclusion of God's work in us. It's very easy to focus only on the here and now, on today's struggle, on one's present experience of God's work... but miss the comfort, the inspiration that God wants us to draw from the fact that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
On those days when we are crying out for change, God wants the reality of that promised transformation to carry us forward, as we look to his power and not our own.
Finally, we need to embrace the “groaning”. Remember how Paul talked about this life in Romans 8? He said that like creation, we too “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly” for that day.
What exactly does that mean. I believe it means that in every true child of God there is a deep longing for holiness. And yet we live in an unholy world. Within every true child of God there is a deep longing for God's glory. And yet we still wrestle with seeking our own glory. Within every true child of God there is a deep longing for peace and rest in God's presence. And yet we live in a restless world filled with the noise of human rebellion. And so... we groan.
There is a kind of holy exasperation that you need to acknowledge and embrace. Why? Because the groaning points you to the glory. And the glory inspires hope. The glory helps you live more in light of who you will be, than who you are today.
Hope. Glory. Transformation. All ours because of Jesus. All ours because of Easter.
Think about what we've seen over this past month. We talked about Easter and liberation; being set free from slavery under the fear of death by the One who beat death. We talked about Easter and validation; living each day in light of the resurrection's powerful testimony of Jesus as Lord. We talked about Easter and mediation; the reassuring reality that we have and always will have an eternal mediator. And finally, this morning, we talked about Easter and transformation; not only will you and I share in the resurrection glory of Jesus, but we will do so in a purged and perfect universe.
And so I ask you, in light of those incredible truths, how could Easter not be your favorite day?
Let's ask God to strengthen us with this perspective, that our favorite day would radically shape our day-to-day... right? And if you have never truly put your hope in Christ alone, then talk to God about that, even now. He is inviting you to experience the pardon, the power, and the peace that Easter makes possible.
other sermons in this series