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When I was a kid, my dad and I took a road trip from Lemmon, SD, all the way down to Corpus Christi, TX. We went to visit my brother Andy who was serving as a pastor there.
It was a hot trip down to Texas in the middle of the summer, especially since the air conditioning in our car didn’t work. And the scenery along the interstate wasn’t always very exciting. But as we moved through the state of Kansas, something caught my eye. It was a billboard with my favorite NFL running back on it. “Welcome to Wichita” it said, “Home of Barry Sanders, the Wichita Whirlwind.”
I remember thinking that was pretty cool. We got to drive through Barry Sanders’ hometown! Awesome!
Hometown heroes always have a draw to them, don’t they? Even the bad ones bring a measure of attention to a place. And the good ones can bring even more than that. Having someone from your hometown go out and succeed in the world says, “Hey world, our people are worth something. There’s talent in this little corner of the world, and we’re a part of it.”
Some hometown heroes bring even more than self respect and pride. Some bring jobs to the area. Think of all the jobs that Bill Gates and Paul Allen have brought to our part of the country.
Sometimes hometown heroes come back to change things in the city where they grew up. They lobby for reform. They built hospitals. They establish foundations.
In our sermon reading for today, the Apostle Paul speaks about a hometown hero we all can claim, no matter what town we were born in. A hometown hero who rose up from common stock, but was destined for glory by the eternal decree of God the Father.
1 Corinthians 15:20-23 (NKJV)
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.
Here Paul mentions a not-so-great hometown “hero”, Adam. We can all claim him, for we are all descended from that first man. But we’d rather not claim him. Through his evil choice, sin and death became part of our experience on this planet.
But Paul also mentions Christ. And he’s the type of hero we like to get behind. He came from heaven originally, but was born into the human race in a little town called Bethlehem.
He didn’t win a Superbowl. Never won an Emmy. Didn’t even establish an international corporation. But what he did do changed everything. He lived like no one else—without sin. And when he came to the critical point in his life, he chose to suffer the wrath of God for the sins of mankind. He suffered and died for every one of YOUR SINS, and every one of MINE.
And then, as was prophesied, he rose from the dead on the first Easter morning. Paul calls Christ the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The thing about “firstfruits” is, they’re the first, and the best, and there’s always more to come after them.
That’s the remarkable thing about this hometown hero. Christ Jesus didn’t just make a name for himself, he brought the goods home to share with us.
Adam brought home sin, suffering, and death. But Christ brought home forgiveness for sinners, and the promise of resurrection from the dead for all who trust in him.
Hometown heroes can bring self respect to a city. They can bring home jobs and reform to a community. But only Christ can restore the a relationship with God that was broken by sin.
Hometown heroes can build hospitals and foundations, but only Christ can heal the soul and lay the foundation for eternal life with our Holy Creator.
That’s why we worship Christ. That’s why we trust in him. Of all the people we could lift high and claim as “our man”, Christ Jesus is the one we cherish most. Because of Christ, we don’t even fear death. For in the end, in Christ, we shall be made alive.
You can hear Paul’s faith in Christ bleeding through his words in this part of First Corinthians. He says that Christ is the firstfruits of those who have FALLEN ASLEEP. He uses that phrase “fallen asleep” because for the Christian who dies, it’s only a sleep. In the final resurrection Christ’s people will awake from the grave as if only a short night has passed.
Without a shadow of a doubt Paul says, here’s the order that it’s gonna happen in: Christ rose first, later those who belong to Christ will rise when he returns to this planet to claim them.
As certain as Easter, that is how certain our own resurrection is. Christ is OUR MAN, the most unique of hometown heroes.
But Paul has more to say. Christ is also a king decreed by the eternal Father.
1 Corinthians 15:24-28 (NKJV)
24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.
On this planet, hometown heroes rise only so far as God grants them to—and no further. Many a young person leaves their city of origin with great promise of success. But no measure of talent or hard work can lift them up above what God has in store for them.
But for Christ Jesus, there was no ceiling. When God’s eternal Son became human, the Father made the decree, to this Man I give the keys to it all. All rule, all authority, all power—they are his. He will reign until every one of his enemies is defeated.
Now, some Christians try to make the kingdom of Christ into a little kingdom. They claim that the Bible says he will rule a tangible kingdom on this sinful planet. But that’s not what the Father had in mind. That would be far too small.
As Christ himself testified to Pontius Pilate,
“My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 NKJV).
No, Christ’s reign is not OF this world. But it is IN this world. Right NOW Christ is reigning in this world. With every sinner brought to trust in him for salvation and forgiveness Christ wins another victory over Satan.
Every day Christ Jesus is working through his Word and through the Holy Spirit to remind Christians of his cross. Every day he moves us to an attitude of repentance. To reject the evil, and to rely on him for forgiveness before the Father’s throne.
On a daily basis Christ is reigning in the hearts of his people. Helping them to wage war against their sinful desires and instincts, and to bring glory to God instead by following his path.
Every day there are little victories happening in the kingdom of God. Spiritual victories that are being won inside God’s people as he strengthens and educates them through his Word. And these bring much more than tax breaks, government programs, and improved healthcare. Christ’s reform heals us from the inside out, bringing wholeness to our souls as we interact with Christ.
Christ is reigning today, in the hearts of his followers. Christ is reigning today, working backstage of creation for the benefit of his blood bought people.
And in the end, even death will be defeated. It was a glorious thing when Christ rose from the dead on that first Easter morning, never to die again. And so humiliating to death and the devil. But how much more humiliating will it be to the forces of evil when at Christ’s command ALL his followers are raised to real, physical restoration, and everlasting life!
To the everyday hometown hero God may decree a championship, or some prestigious award, or even a global corporation. But to Christ, the Father has decreed complete victory—over all rule, authority, and power. ALL will one day stand under him, either as his defeated enemies, or as his faithful subjects.
God has decreed that this level of triumph belongs to a Man. And by the gift of faith, that Man is our King.
When a young person of promise leaves their hometown, no one can know if they’ll succeed, or fail. We may have expectations, but we can’t really know.
But in our sermon reading, Paul gives us a glimpse into the final glory of Christ. As his summary act, Paul says that after subduing all his enemies, the Man Christ Jesus will turn to his heavenly Father… and bow.
As the greatest Man who ever lived, he will bow before the Father, and return the kingdom to the Father who gave it to him.
And dear Christians, YOU and I will stand beside him as he does this. By faith in him we will stand in the Father’s presence and witness this event with our own eyes.
When a hometown hero comes home, everyone wants a piece of the fame. You know how it goes. Everyone has a story of how they knew him or her back in the day. Everyone jumps on the bandwagon—whether they really knew the person or not.
But Christ is a different Man, and a different King. Our hometown hero invites us all to come with him to the Father’s throne, covered in HIS fame, HIS glory, HIS sinless perfection—freely given to us.
Did you hear that? Our hometown hero invites us to come with him right to the Father’s throne.
Redeemed by his cross.
Cleansed of our ugly sins by his infinitely precious blood.
Raised to glory by his gift of repentance and forgiveness.
Christ is our Man. Christ is our hero. The only way to the Father. Christ our King. May he reign in our hearts by faith, until the God who created all is finally given the recognition he has always deserved.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts, and your minds, in Christ Jesus.