Scriptures: Genesis 2:7-9, 15-17; Genesis 3:6-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 15:12-24
Death Came with a Whimper, Not with a Bang
At the request of some people in the congregation, I'm going to be doing a sermon series looking at the biographies, if you will, of a number of people in the Bible. We will be looking at some of their basic information, yes, but mostly we'll be looking, through their stories, at what they can teach us about how to live a life of faith, and some of the pitfalls that can occur when we are doing so. All of our heroes of the Bible, except for Christ himself, were imperfect humans.
This series will take a while, especially since it's going to be interrupted in Lent. I have a different series I'll be moving to for Lent. But we're going to start at the very beginning, which is why we read from Genesis and our first “biography,” if you will, is going to be from Genesis 2 and the creation of humankind, Adam [pronounced ah-dahm as in Hebrew, likewise in the next few references to Adam], then at the new Adam that was Christ.
First let's back up a little. In Genesis 1:26-28 we also see the creation of humankind. It says God made humankind in His own image; male and female He made them. I don't want us to forget that in both creation stories He was there. God was creating humankind. But in this one it's a little more detailed.
It says that God formed the man from the dust of the ground, or clay, and He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living person, a nephesh in Hebrew. So Adam was not a living person until he had the breath of God within him.
I also want to note, a bit of humor that I mention whenever I talk about Adam. The word for earth, or dirt, in Hebrew is ha adam. It is a neuter word, in terms of gender – not male and not female. So essentially, God created man from dust and then called him “dirt-bag.”
The Lord God planted a garden, put the man there, not just to live but as the steward, the manager, of the garden. In order help him, later on He made woman from man. He did it by splitting Adam. I know we're used to hearing that He took a rib out, but if you read the Hebrew, it says He ripped the side. It has this idea of tearing Adam, almost in two, to create woman.
Then Adam is called an ish, which means male, and the woman was called an isha, which means female. So you have Adam, whom we refer to as male before that, but there's no indication of his sex, until after woman is created. They are reciprocal. They're meant to be together, and the two together form a greater whole. That's why at the end of chapter 2 it says the two became one flesh.
Now God had only one rule in that garden – aside from taking care of stuff. Don't eat of one tree's fruit. So when we think of all the choices that we're faced with each day, in this fallen world, about following God, doing what He has commanded and being obedient, we can go back to the beginning itself and see where the roots of our dilemmas have come from.
It was because Adam and Eve They committed the one thing – the one thing – that they were told to do. Because of that, there were consequences. We need to remember that even when sins are forgiven, there are still consequences that need to be carried out. All of you who have been parents understand this.
So death came into the world. There's no indication there was death before that. Now they were eating fruit from various trees, so there was some kind of life that was ending. But humankind did not die, before this. They were made in the image of God, and they were eternal.
When death entered the world, it entered with a whimper, not a bang. We see that because, as the liturgist noted, while Adam and Eve may have known more now, they seem to understand less. The first thing they did was try to hide, not only from God but from each other.
That hiding wasn't just physical. It wasn't just that they tried to make clothes for themselves out of fig leaves. It was emotional. It was spiritual. They were now separate. Before they had been naked and unashamed of that nakedness.
And that wasn't just physical either. Again, it was emotional and spiritual. They were vulnerable with each other. They had open communication. They were in sync with God, in fellowship with God. And then by their choice, they fell out of fellowship – not just with God, but with each other. And there were consequences for that.
We see those consequences in chapter 3. I want to note that Adam was just as guilty as Eve. People like to blame Eve for eating the apple, but it very clearly says that he was with her when she ate, and apparently he didn't say anything, or do anything, except accept it and eat some himself.
So God gave consequences. And I want to note, because a lot of people don't understand, that at this point with Adam and Eve, God did not curse humankind. We just had this discussion recently in one of the Bible studies. God cursed the snake, the serpent, who tempted Adam and Eve. God specifically says, “Cursed are you, and you will crawl on your belly” and so forth.
Then He turns to the woman, and He does not say, “Cursed are you.” What He says is, “Because of what you've done, now your pain in childbirth will be increased greatly, and your desire will be for the man, and he will be above you.” So no longer will they be co-equal, but because of the fallen nature of things, there will be a hierarchy of sorts.
Then He turns to Adam, and He doesn't say, “Cursed are you” to him either. What He says is, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, cursed is the ground because of you.” He cursed the earth itself. Creation fell because of what Adam did.
“With hard labor shall you eat from it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you, yet you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, because from it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
There's the consequences. Notice, again, that wasn't a curse. That was a consequence. God said if you eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you're going to die. They've already died spiritually, to God and to each other. But now God says they're also going to die physically.
So the consequence was, first of all, the easy life he had, in communion with God, is gone. He's going to have to work for every bite that he takes, and not work like he did in the Garden of Eden, where he was just a steward, caring for and managing the plants. He's essentially going to have to fight for what he can, just to survive. Then he's going to return to dust. Death will come.
That state lasted until Christ came. Christ suffered and died to cleanse us of our sins, but that wasn't sufficient, in and of itself. Because while we might have had a clean slate, our natures were the same, and there was no righteousness to allow us to stand before God. So Christ was raised again. He was resurrected, glorified, that we too might be made new creatures, have a new life, and be like him – the true man, if you will – not fallen anymore.
It was the only way. God crossed from being immortal to being mortal, in Jesus Christ, in the incarnation, and then conquered death itself in the resurrection, going from mortal to being immortal again, so that we too could once again know what eternity is like, and have the promise of an immortal life. As Paul says, that which was perishable will put on the imperishable.
Now this resurrection and this life are difficult for a lot of people to grab hold of. Death came with a whimper, not a bang. We talk about things coming with a bang, but really it came with a whimper to Adam and Eve. They hid. They were scared. Death came without big fanfare.
New life in Christ came the same way. While Christ's death was with big fanfare – there were earthquakes, the graves spit up their tombs, the veil split in two, all kinds of things like that – his resurrection was quiet. The stone was rolled away. Maybe the Roman soldiers thought something, though most of them had apparently passed out (not surprisingly). But nobody knew for sure what had happened.
The Jewish leaders even went so far as to try and pay off the Roman soldiers to say, “Well, the disciples overwhelmed us and took his body away.” Like a bunch of ragtag Galilean fisherman could overcome armed, trained Roman legionaries. Oh please [sarcastically]. But some people bought it. A lot of people did. Because that was easier for them to believe than the alternative, that death had been overcome and Christ was alive again.
I have an illustration I found that I thought was interesting.
We are hardwired to resist the idea of someone coming back from to life from the dead. Lal Bihari is living proof of that. In 1975 he applied for a bank loan in India, but was denied because the government had him listed as “legally dead.”
Bihari spent the next nineteen years fighting Indian bureaucracy to prove that he was indeed alive. One report on his life listed “1955-1975, 1994 to present” following his name. After his great challenge to prove he was not dead, Bihari discovered he wasn't alone, so he created the Association of Dead People to help others with the same issue.
Christianity doesn't deny that it is difficult to believe the dead man came back to life, but that's just the point.
Christ came back to life, and this is the central part of our faith. Yes, it is critical that we understand that Jesus was God, fully human and fully God in the Incarnation. Yes, it is critical that we understand the substitutionary atonement. But if Jesus was just a teacher, as some people think, a moral man who lived an exemplary life and died for us to show us the way, and he didn't rise from the dead, those people would be right about him. We would be wrong, because there would be no life.
Paul notes that in the passage in 1 Corinthians 15 that was read today. “If Christ is preached that he has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say there is no resurrection from the dead?”
By the way, that's physical resurrection. The words that are used in Greek imply physical resurrection. There are those that say he was just resurrected spiritually. He came back as a spirit – not a ghost, exactly, but as a spirit. Of course some even said he was a spirit all along, because they couldn't handle him dying, period. But that's a whole other series.
Then Paul goes through this rhetorical discussion. If there's no resurrection from the dead, then Christ hasn't been raised. And if Christ is not raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith also is in vain.
You know why? You're still dead. You're still dead in your spirit, and you're going to be dead in your life, and then there's going to be nothing.
“If Christ was not raised, our faith is in vain and moreover we're even found to be false witnesses of God” – breaking the 7th commandment – “because we testified about God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.”
If Christ is not raised, we are still in our sins. Why? Because even if Christ's death cleansed us of our sins, our sin nature didn't change so we're just going to sin some more.
All of these verses here, just so you know, it's a rhetorical thing, as he goes back and forth. He notes that “then those who have fallen asleep in Christ” – and that means death – “have perished.” Again, they're gone. Annihilated. All we can do is leave with a whimper, rather than a bang.
“And if we have hoped in Christ only in this life, we are of all people to be most pitied.” Why? Because we suffer hardship willingly. Because we sacrifice – we are supposed to, anyway, if we're walking the way of Christ. Not “he who has the most toys wins.” Not be playing “Do unto others before they do unto you.” Not be trying, in our ambition, to step on others on the way up.
We live lives, on the whole, that suffer willingly, for the sake of what we believe. You can certainly see that in action today in China – an in many other places also, but China in particular right now – just because they believe in Christ. I read an article just the other day about another Bible study, where two pastors and eight members were thrown in jail by the Chinese government, just for opening Bibles, at home. The eight members were allowed to go home after two days, but the pastors are still in jail.
Why put up with that kind of thing, if Christ was not raised. All that sacrifice would be of no value. It's pointless, because when we died we'll just be dead. If it's for nothing, then they're fools to put up with such suffering, and they are to be pitied.
But the fact is, as Paul notes in verse 20, “Christ has been raised from the dead, and is the first fruits of those who are asleep.” The word there is more like progenitor, the one who starts something that is going to continue. What that means is, there's more to come. People are going to follow suit. It's not just one guy, one time, that's it. He's the first one.
And Paul explains why he's just the first. “For since by a man death came, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam” – our first man – “all die, so also in Christ” – the second Adam, Paul calls him in Romans – “all will be made alive.”
I want to make clear that he's saying that all of what he talked about before, what other people claim is true, that Christ was not raised from the dead, is not true. Christ did rise. That same second person of the Godhead, who left immortality to become mortal here in earth, in the incarnation, and died, took up immortality again when he was resurrected.
New life. So that when death comes for us in this world, we don't have to celebrate it with a whimper. We can go to death with a bang, with a celebration. Because to us, it's not death. It's a transition to new life.
There's a set of funeral prayers I use, from the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship – for the sake of ease, I admit, I don't try to create all my own prayers. I choose from the list what I think is appropriate to the funeral situation. There's one that I love in the “commendation,” that talks about believing in “life beyond life.” I love that phrase. Life beyond life. Because for us, death is no longer the end. It's more like a crack in the sidewalk, that you step over, as you go from one thing to the next.
We go from a life here, in Christ, celebrating forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the body, to life in heaven, and celebrating Christ and life in the body eternally. “O grave, where is thy victory, o death where is thy sting?” The whimper is gone, because of Christ.
So each and every day we have a choice. Do we want to live in death, that was brought on us by Adam? Or do we want to live in life, through Jesus Christ? I hope that as you make your decision, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, you constantly choose life.
And not only that, you share that life with others, because that is one of the amazing things about the Good News. We gain from Christ, but we can also help others, who gain as well. When we do that, God is pleased, because to Him is brought glory and honor and praise.
Choose life. Love life. Live Christ.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.