I’m a planner. For as far back as I remember, I have enjoyed making lists, checking them twice and then ticking things off. In the advent period, we so busily try to ensure we have everything prepared. We ready our tree, we decorate our home, we wrap our presents. But then it is over for another year.
Soon after the Christmas celebrations have finished, I begin thinking about the New Year and what my new resolutions or goals will be. Advertisements call to me- Do I want to shed a few extra kilos? Do I want to have a savings goal? Do I want to travel somewhere exotic?
Yet as I’ve put my daughter to bed over the past few nights, she has whispered in my ear- “Mummy, do you think we will see Jesus tomorrow? He had his birthday and maybe we will see him.” Through this little 3 year old (now 4 year old), I have been challenged in the depths of my heart- is this a year that Jesus will return? Do I want Him to? Am I ready? His return will not just be another Christmas that comes and goes. It will be a forever. Our lists will end. Those extra few kilos won’t matter. Whether I’ve gone on an African safari lately or trekked Machu Picchu will all be pointless unless they aided me in my pursuit of God.
In 1 Corinthians 15 we read,
51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 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.
Here, Paul reminds us firstly that we can be sure one day Jesus will return. We will also all be changed. In a twinkling of an eye, when the trumpet sounds (v. 51) we will have new bodies. Why? Because our mortal bodies must be replaced with bodies that fit us for eternity (v. 53). In this moment, Paul echoes the words of Hosea (Hosea 13:14), “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”.
As an aside, Paul makes time to point out the sting of death isn’t our pain associated with death, rather it is the sting of sin. As Verbrugge in Longman III and Garland exposits, “Paul digresses before he writes his grand conclusion. He wants to identify more closely what the “sting” is that will be conquered through the resurrection. That sting is “sin”. … But when Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for sin on the cross, died, and then rose again as the first fruits (1 Cor 15:20-23), the power of that sting was gone. Death remains an enemy… but only temporarily.” (2008, pp.404-405). Paul also shows that our knowledge of sin comes through the law, which we have been freed from at Calvary (Gal 3:13). Hallelujah- what a saviour!
So as we look to the year ahead? We should look to the reality that one year, Jesus’ will return. We should heed Paul’s grand conclusion- “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” (1 Corinthians 15:58). We are working together for the Lord, labouring (sometimes with pain) as the trials of life come our way, but with HOPE and ASSURANCE. As we write our ‘lists’ for this year ahead, with the Spirit at work in us (Philippians 2:12-16), may readying ourselves for the coming of the Lord be of first priority.
As I look back on last year, I can see God’s faithfulness, patiently working in me, conforming me little by little to the image of His Son. As I look forward I can trust in God’s Sovereignty and firm promise that one day He will return: it is a reality. Let us prioritise spiritual growth over that of holidays and weight-loss this coming year, encouraging each other all the more as we see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25).
Verbrugge, V.D. (2008) 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III & D.E. Garland (Edts. ) “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition 11: Romands – Galatians” Grand Rapids: Zondervan