Apr 5

Easter vs. Tomb Sweeping Festival

This past weekend has been a special one on the calendar for multiple reasons. Sunday, April fourth beside being Easter was also “Children’s Day” in Taiwan; today, April fifth is “Tomb Sweeping Festival,” a public holiday. Tomb Sweeping Festival is the traditional date when families return to the ancestral tombs to clean and beautify the graves and to worship the ancestors. Family members offer up food offerings and burn incense and “hell money” to provide the ancestors with pocket change in the afterlife. Weeks before the actual day, families begin to pull weeds, sweep, and demonstrate their devotion in the belief that their dead ancestors have power to directly influence their present fortunes for good or ill, based on their performance or non-performance of these rites.

The calendrical accident which this year juxtaposed Easter and Tomb Sweeping Festival demonstrates a great irony: On the same weekend in which many people congregated in the graveyards to remember and worship the dead, Christians joyfully gathered to worship the living Christ and to celebrate his resurrection from the tomb. On the one hand service is superstitiously offered to those who have no real ability to influence the lives or welfare of the living; on the other hand service is offered to One who powerfully changes the lives of those who “worship him in spirit and in truth” and is able to deliver them from death. This juxtaposition of holidays illustrates the importance of the Easter message to our missionary task; the resurrection of Christ is at the very heart of our gospel message to this culture.

For this reason I carefully chose and prepared my message for Easter Sunday. 87 people attended our morning Chinese service and 27 were present in our evening English congregation. Both our regular choir and our youth choir sang in celebration of Christ’s resurrection. I preached the same message in both morning and evening services (contrary to my usual practice) because I wanted to make sure that all heard it.

We Shall All Be Changed” is the propositional truth declared in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. This passage, which concludes the “Resurrection Chapter” of the New Testament, reveals the transformation which all believers will experience in association with three related future events (all begin with “R”): (1) the Return of Christ, (2) the Resurrection of the dead, and (3) the Rapture of the church. Note four facts about this change which are declared in this text:

I. This future change is a theological necessity (v. 50). The “kingdom of God” in this verse refers to the eternal kingdom, also called the “new heavens and new earth” (2Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1) “wherein dwelleth righteousness.” It is impossible for mortal beings in whom sin is still present to enter into a spiritual, holy kingdom. Furthermore, the inheritance which God has promised to believers is an incorruptible and imperishable inheritance (1Pet 1:3-4); it is impossible for perishing men to receive an imperishable and eternal inheritance. We must be changed in order to be properly fitted and prepared to receive such a kingdom and such an inheritance.

II. This future change is a prophetic certainty (vv. 51-52). A “mystery” in Scripture is something which was previously unknown to mankind and is impossible for him to know or discover by human reason, but which God has now revealed for our benefit. This definition shows that the believer’s future transformation is a fact of divine revelation and is therefore sure and certain of fulfillment. Furthermore the resurrection of Christ is the pledge of this transformation of the Christian (Phil 3:20-21; 1John 3:2). The suddenness, the speed, and the signal of this change is here declared, and the order of the the three “R” events (the return, the resurrection, and the rapture) is described.

III. This future change is a supernatural victory (vv. 53-57) over sin and death. Although the possibility of physical death remains for the believer, its sting has been removed. Believers no longer fear death as the consequence of sin and as preparatory to judgment (Heb 9:27). Because Christ has fully dealt with sin on the cross, death is transformed for the Christian into “sleep” and robbed of its bitterness. The victory of Christ over sin and death assures to the believer the possibility of living a present life of victory capped by his future glorification. Those of us still living when Christ returns will never experience death, only transformation.

IV. This future change is a present motivation (v. 58) for life and service. The three duties commanded in this verse are based on the certainty of our future transformation and on our hope for the kingdom and inheritance which it makes possible to us. First, it motivates believers to stand firm in their faith and expectation of that future event (cp. Col 1:23). Moreover it demands that they not allow circumstances or evil influences to move them away from the behavior consistent with this belief. And finally it encourages them to labor for Christ in ever increasing measure as the time of fulfillment draws nearer day by day. This confident faith in our future transformation and glorification imparts to us the assurance that nothing done for Christ in this life will ever lack its reward in eternity.

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