Sunday, April 16, 2023

“Because He Lives” [Matt's Messages]

“Because He Lives”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
April 16, 2023 :: 1 Corinthians 15:58

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

That is incredibly important.  You can tell from what we just read. It is incredibly important that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.

And it’s not just important one day out of the year. Every single day this week I posted on social media: “Good news! Jesus Christ is still alive today on Monday” and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday. You get the point.

We don’t just celebrate the resurrection on Resurrection Sunday. Every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday. That’s why we worship on Sundays!

And it’s why we worship every day of the week. Because:

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Last week, we said that the resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. 1 Corinthians 15:58 tells us how it changes everything. What all it changes in how we live.

You see that first word in verse 58, “therefore”? What’s it there for?

It’s there to signal that verse 58 is the punchline of the whole chapter! The “so-what” of the whole thing. Here’s how to live “Because He Lives.”

I love this verse. It’s one of my all-time favorites, and I’m glad that I get to preach it on this particular Sunday which marks a very important anniversary.

It was exactly 25 years ago this weekend that I first stood in this pulpit and got to preach the Word of God to this congregation. One quarter of a century!

On March 15, 1998, I got this email from Wallace Kephart. Yes, I printed it out and kept it. (Careful sending me emails. It might get read in church in 25 years.)

 “Dear Matt, We have just completed our meting of the Pastoral Search Committee, with [District Superintendent] Leroy Glover. We would like to invite you and your lovely wife Heather to come to Lans,e Pennsylvania as a candidate for the senior pastor position in the Lanse Evangelical Free Church. The suggested dates would be April 15 through the 22. [Which was also the weekend after Resurrection Sunday in 1998.] ... I will be anticipating your call. Feel free to call any time. May God richly bless you and Heather as we continue our pursuit of His will. Walking with Him, Wally.”

And so, Heather and I accepted this invitation and drove our little Chevy Nova eleven hours from Zion, Illinois across Indiana and Ohio on route 80 to Lanse, Pennsylvania at Exit 21 (Gas was $1.06/gallon). We came first to this location. We didn’t have a key, but we peered in the windows to see what it was like for the first time. There was, of course, a big gravel parking lot and no Ark Park yet. Those were still to come. But we could see the great big foyer and the classrooms and the possibilities. And then we went over to Blair and Ruth's home for dinner. They were the first people we met. And Ruth put out a spread!

And then we got to stay with Wally and Nesta and experience the warmest hospitality. And they took us on that weekend to Blue Knob where Bruce and Donna were leading a youth group retreat, so we got to meet the young people (who are in their 40's now!). And that same weekend we got to go to State College and meet the awesome Allegheny District because that weekend was the district conference right over the mountain. You had to go through Port Matilda to get over Sky Top. There was no 99 going there back then. And we got to have dinner with George and Betty Leathers there at a place called Eat-n-Park. (What a strange name! I hope you do the second before you do the first.)

And then on Sunday, we came here inside the doors, and I met a bunch of you. One of you handed me this bulletin. It was printed by Ellen Smith. April 19, 1998. It says, “Welcome Matt and Heather Mitchell.”

How many of you were here at this church in 1998? Raise your hands. I won’t make you stand. Thank you. Thank you. (All the rest of you folks, it’s these people’s fault!)

Seriously though, thank you for taking a risk on a rookie pastor like me. Wet behind the ears. I had probably preached fewer than twenty times at that point in my whole life. And here you were letting me stand here and open God’s Word.

Anybody remember what book I preached from? I don’t expect you to. It was the Prophecy of Habakkuk. Chapter 3.

And then we had a lunch together after church that morning back in that Fellowship Hall. And then a congregational meeting that evening where we answered questions about our philosophy of ministry and how we would try to pastor you if we had the chance. And then we hung around for a few more days, got to meet with the board and the Christian Ed committee. And a week later, you voted to extend a call to me to preach nearly every Sunday and to be your pastor beginning in June 1998.

That was 25 years ago this weekend, and I am so grateful. And ever since that time, I’ve been trying to preach and to live out the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:58. To live a certain way because He lives.

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58 NIVO).

I love how Paul addresses this church. He calls them, “my dear brothers.” Or “my dear siblings.” The Greek word “adelphoi” doesn’t just mean the male members of the church family. It means both the brothers and the sisters in this context. Paul thinks of them as his family. Church family. As Holly said in our meeting a few weeks ago, family as church and church as family. But see in v.58 that it’s not just family but BELOVED family. “My DEAR brothers.”

The Greek word there is “agapaytoi.” You hear the word for “love” in there, “agapay?” “Agapaytoi,” dearly beloved. Paul had deep affection and care for these people. They were HIS people.

And that’s how I feel about you all. Heather does, too. You are our “adelphoi agapaytoi.”  Our beloved siblings in Christ.

Some of you will remember that in 2008, I preached a short series called, “The 10 Things” to mark our ten year anniversary. Ten things I had learned the first 10 years. Ten things I was trying to teach the first 10 years. And ten things I hoped for the next 10 years. I just read them again this week. Precious!

How many of you came to be a part of this church in those years? 1998 to 2008. Raise your hands. Thank you. We love you. You are our “adelphoi agapaytoi.”

Ten years later, at the twenty year mark in 2018, I preached a special message to commemorate two decades of ministry together. How many of you came during that decade? From 2008 to 2018? Raise your hands. Thank you. We love you. You are our “adelphoi agapaytoi.” Our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now it’s now been five more years. And those have been some difficult years. Not only did I somehow get to be old (I’m nearly 50 now, I was 25 when I came), but we went through the covid pandemic together. And so much changed.

How many of you came during the last five years to be a part of Lanse Free Church, from 2018 to today? If you haven’t raised your hand yet, this is the time to do it! Thank you. We love you. You are our “adelphoi agapaytoi.”  Our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ.

The hardest part about going on sabbatical in a couple of weeks is that we will miss you. You are our family. You are in our hearts. You are “our people.” I think it’s clear that I need a rest, and I’m so grateful to you for granting it to us. But I need a rest from responsibility, not from relationship. We will miss being here for your sporting events, the birth of your children, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and Family Bible Week. And, God-forbid, any of your funerals. We love you. You all are our “adelphoi agapaytoi.” Our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. 

We feel about you as Paul felt about the Corinthians, and we want you to live like Paul wanted the Corinthians to live because Jesus lives.

I think verse 58 can be summed up in three points. Because He lives...


That’s what he says, right? “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.” I think he means to let nothing move you from the gospel. Stand firm on the gospel.

Like he started the chapter with. In verse 1, he said, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved...” (1 Cor. 15:1-2 NIVO). Don’t abandon it. Don’t stray from it. Don’t bail on it.

You know what has been the hardest part of pastoring the same church for twenty-five years? Seeing all of the people who fall away. All of the people who bail on the gospel. People I have baptized who are no longer living as Christians. People I have discipled who are no longer living as disciples. People who have not stood firm.

It’s hard when there is a conflict and someone leaves. There have been several people over the last twenty-five years that have been disappointed with me or with the church and moved on to another church. Sometimes it’s been my fault, and I’ve tried to do my part to make it good. But if they are following Jesus just at another church, that’s not so bad. That’s hard, but it’s okay.

It’s those people who have not stood firm on the gospel. Those who have abandoned the gospel and walked away from Christ–those are the ones that hurt the most. Especially when I see them at Sheetz or at a football game.

I keep praying. I keep praying for them to repent and walk with Christ again. But Paul tells the Corinthians to not drift away in the first place. Because Jesus is alive, you and I should stand firm on the gospel.

As we have said a thousand times in the last twenty-five years: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is the gospel of Jesus Christ. A lot of things have changed in the last twenty-five years. A lot of things have changed in the last five years. But I hope that nothing truly important has changed because we are standing firm on the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that needs to be true not just for all of us together but for each one of us separately. Stand firm. Hold on. Keep going. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Don’t stop believing. Be steadfast.

Paul says the gospel of the risen Lord Jesus Christ is what saves us (v.2). Our sins are gone, gone, gone, gone because of what Jesus did on the Cross and at the Empty Tomb. “Let nothing move you” from that truth.

Christ has risen! He has risen indeed. Therefore, my dear people, stand firm. Let nothing move you. 

Because He lives:


Look at our verse again.  “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord...”

Something else that we’re not every supposed to drift away from is ministry. We continue to serve. He says, “always” and “give yourselves” and “fully to the work of the Lord.” The Greek word translated “fully” in the NIV is a word that means “overflowing.” It’s the root form of the word that I’ve illustrated before by pouring water all over this stage. How many times have I done that in the last twenty-five years?

The King James says “abounding,” “always abounding in the work of the Lord...” In other words, pour yourself out in the work of the Lord. I have tried to do that for the last twenty-five years, but this verse isn’t just for pastors or church leaders. It’s for all of Paul’s beloved brethren. It’s for all of us!

Each one of us is supposed to be pouring out our lives in service to the King. “Always give yourselves fully to the work of Lord.” Work hard!

Work hard at ministry among this church family. Make this summer a wonderful joyful time of ministry for the church elders over the next few months. Just because I’m going to be away doesn’t mean that this church should slow down. This church is not about me. It’s about serving the Lord. It’s about keeping the main the main thing. It’s about always giving yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.

Church family, throw yourself into the work of the Lord in cleaning up our campus, in teaching the children in children’s church, in being greeters, in fixing up the men’s restroom, in serving coffee or a meal, in leading the devotions at Ladies’ Fellowship Hour, in starting up a new Link Group, in praying with someone in a prayer corner or over the back of a pew, or teaching a class, or going visiting or whatever the church family needs. The elders are going to pour themselves out for you, too. Pray for them as they give themselves fully to the work of the Lord.

Heather and I will continue to do the work of the Lord, as well, even when we are on sabbatical. We won’t be working vocationally. We’ll be vacationing. Our work will be rest. An recharging to come back and work hard here again. But we will still look for ways to serve the Lord wherever we are visiting in Great Britain. Just like the retired people in our church family serve the Lord even if you aren’t working full time.

But the work of the Lord is not just serving the church, is it?  There’s also doing our jobs as worship, too, right? So that Andrew and Benjamin are called to do their work as unto the Lord this summer. Taking pictures for Jesus’ sake. Fighting forest fires for the glory of Jesus’ name.

We need to stand firm on the gospel and work hard in the name of the Lord. Because Jesus lives, we should serve Him unceasingly. We don’t take a sabbatical from serving Jesus. 

In what ways are you tempted to stop giving yourself to the work of the Lord? Where you are tempted to let others carry what you know you should? Where are you tempted to run away from serving Jesus instead of running towards it?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, we have the best church for faithful servants. Some churches have an 80/20 rule where 80% of the ministry gets done by 20% of the people. That’s not how it is here. We have 80% of our people active in ministry! It looks different for different people at different times. We don’t judge each other. But we do spur each other on to love and good deeds!

Don’t quit! It’s so tempting to quit. I know. Because it often feels futile, right? It often feels like things are just not worth it. Things are just falling apart. And like no progress is actually being made. 

Like that guy in ancient mythology, Sisyphus. The guy who was cursed “the gods” who had to roll that boulder up the mountain every day and then the boulder rolled down the mountain again. And then he had to do all over again. And then all over again.

Does your life feel like that? “Life is hard, and then you die.” What is the point?!

Jesus is the point! And Jesus is alive. And that makes all of the difference.

See the logic here? “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Because He lives...


“Your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

What’s the worst thing that someone can do to you? Kill you, right? So you do all of this work for Jesus and then you die. But Jesus has come back from the dead and promises to bring YOU back from the dead, too.

That’s what Paul meant by that stuff he said about “firstfruits.” Jesus is the firstfruits from the dead meaning the early harvest that shows what the later harvest will be like. Because He lives forever, we will live forever, and that means that we can’t lose.

We can’t lose! Paul says that you “KNOW” that you can’t lose. You know that your work is not meaningless. It is meaningful. You know that it is worth it. Everything we do for Jesus is worth it. Because He lives. 

Spoiler alert: We KNOW the ending to the story that we are living in. We win! We are winners. “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.57).

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.

That means that you and I can literally die doing ministry and nothing can stop us from seeing the return on our investment. Paul could and will die doing ministry, and it doesn’t phase him one bit! 

Do you need to hear that? Nothing can stop you from seeing the return on your investment as your faithfully serve the Lord Jesus with your life. We can’t lose.

Now, that only applies to our work done “in the Lord.” If you are not “in the Lord” then you yourself will not have a blessed resurrection. Your work, your strivings, will achieve nothing more than whatever you can grasp in this life. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32). If you are “outside of the Lord,” then I fear for you, and I invite you to come in by faith to His salvation and His service. Put your trust in what Jesus did on the Cross and at the Empty Tomb.

And even for Christians, the things we do that are not “of” or “for” the Lord are spurious at best and sinful at worst. We need to be asking ourselves about everything we do, why do we do it. Do we do it for the glory of God?

The missionary statesmen C.T. Studd wrote a little poem that has been quoted many times in the last hundred years. It says, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

He means only one short life in this fallen world. Because there is a second life coming in the resurrection and what we do now will reverberate into eternity.

What we do now, for Christ will last.

We stand firm and steadfast on the gospel.
We work hard and pour ourselves out for the Lord.
Because we can’t lose.

Because He lives.