Context: Today many churches were full. The church where my family serves and worships, for example, was. We had to put chairs in the lobby to accomodate the crowds who gathered. It was a beautiful thing to witness.
When scores of people assemble to listen to the history of the risen Messiah, the One who was prophesied in the Old Testament, the One who cast demons out, the One who restored sight to the blind, the One who was three days and nights in the heart of the earth as Jonah was three days and nights in the belly of the great fish, the One who asked the unbelieving Jews, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46), the One who was the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 and was “smitten by God, and afflicted” who was “wounded for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities,” it is beautiful to be among those who sing—not out of defeat but out of gratitude for the gospel. Yes, we sing songs focusing on the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from that guarded tomb in Jerusalem, Israel.
A short history review: When Paul, formerly the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus but now the ransomed Christian and apostle Paul, was explaining the gospel in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15 focuses on why the historical bodily resurrection of the Christ was crucial. It’s “of first importance,” he wrote (1 Cor 15:3).
All that Jesus, the Christ, accomplished was of first importance. He did it all “in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4). As was typical of Paul’s style when trying to persuade people of the evidence for Christ as the fulfillment of the promises of God (2 Cor 1:20), Paul kept saying in sundry ways the same truth: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). In other words, where people stand vis-a-vis the gospel is the determining factor of their damnation or salvation. If people refuse to come to Christ in repentance and faith, the wrath of God abides on them still (John 3:36). But for all who come to Christ in repentance and faith, they become the children of God (John 1:12).
Paul points people to the historical evidence of the empty tomb, to Jesus’ historical bodily resurrection: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20).
The firstfruits was a Jewish feast that pointed, like all the Jewish Old Testament feasts, to Christ, the fulfillment of those feasts. That is Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 15:23: “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
Then comes verse 58 of that majestic New Testament chapter of 1 Corinthians: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Why verse 58 matters: When I am with those I love at church, when the Spirit of God is moving among us as we gather under the teaching, praying, and singing of the Word of God, where the triune God of the Bible is heralded, believers should rejoice in verse 58. “But why?” the skeptic might ask. Or “How can I rejoice?” another might ask, when he/she could easily say, “The world is such a mess, with men dressing as women, and Christian schools are being shot up by trannies, and drag queens are parading their reprobation in the government schools and taxpayer-funded libraries . . . .” and on and on.
Yes, that is true. That is what the unregenerate, fallen, depraved sinner wants. He/she hates the true God, hates the true Christ, hates the fact that Jesus was and is God in the flesh, that He was raised as the firstfruits for all who will see.
Verse 58 matters because it follows upon all that came before.
Believers are to be steadfast, immovable, and abounding in the work of the Lord because Christ was faithful in His life and in His death and through His resurrection. We have proof. Bodily proof. We have the history of the true church. We have the Scriptures. We have the conviction and direction of the Holy Spirit who points believers to the 66 books of inspired Scripture. This is why, I hope, all those who came today, assembled. Because verse 58 is rooted in the history of the One who both conquered the grave but who also authored the cosmos by speaking it into existence, the One who upholds the universe by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3).