The Cooperation of the Dead
Cyril and Methodius, Missionaries to the Slavs
11 May 2017
Nothing has been more terrifying to me in my ministry than being at the deathbed of an unbeliever and to hear him express, using the supreme effort of an already decaying body, a decisive "no!" to the grace of God and the mercy of Christ. After leaving the hospital, I sat in my car and wept tears of frustration and grief that this person would not see the face of the Lord who redeemed him (2Pt 2:1) and would not exult in the glorious resurrection of the faithful. Nothing is more tragic than to die in unbelief.
The state of our soul is the salient fact at death; either it rests solely in Christ or it does not. The unbeliever is thrown upon his own resources for his afterlife. That will not work out so well. The tenacious and heroic unbelief that rejects God to His face is just another form of work righteousness and has the same result as religious work righteousness. Either case rejects the God who triumphs over death. As troubling, and even shocking, as death is (Gn 5), it is the portal unto life for us Christians. We fear not death as much as we fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt 10:28).
There is no way to talk the unbeliever into faith in the glorious resurrection of the faithful. There are no arguments sufficient to convince him that those who are dead will not remain so. The world has gone on in the grip of death as it has from the fall. The many die and stay that way. Few return from the grave to tell us otherwise. It remains a supreme gift of God to believe that we Christians will not die but live in the arms of our Savior and will be raised on the last day to have full use and enjoyment of the life of Christ in our own bodies. Now we have these things only by faith. We have all this now, we just don't experience or fully use the resurrected life. We feel the burden of death while we live in the life of Christ through faith; never seeing and always believing.
The resurrection of the flesh in glory once again reinforces the grace of God and destroys human pretensions to work righteousness. What contribution does a corpse make to his own resurrection? How do the dead cooperate with God to effect life? How do cadavers push back decay? No such thing is possible. The idea is risible, the premise of much horror schlock in our entertainment culture. Life is not in our hands. Only the dead are raised, whether at baptism or at the judgment. The dead cooperate not at all; not with baptism, nor in their resurrection (Eph 2:1). My efforts do nothing. God does all. Why should that be surprising to us in our trouble and suffering? God can make His kingdom perfectly well without our meddling cooperation. 

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"We must not interfere with God's wisdom and rule. That is too high and far removed for us, since we are under Him and He is over us as our Creator and Lord. Therefore we must listen to Him and believe what He says, so that His honor remains unblemished and His grace and mercy alone prevail, without any glory or merit of our own.
"That is the message which Paul is so fond of preaching and proclaiming. But, as I always say, this is of benefit only to those Christians who are in a position to receive and to believe this article [of the resurrection]. They feel their sin and death and experience this fact. They confess that they fell into sin through Adam and were cast under God's wrath and condemnation and became forfeit to death. That thought oppresses them continually, and they would like to be free of it. And although according to the flesh they are also reluctant to die, they are consoled by their desire to be liberated from this, by their longing for the resurrection, and by their willingness to suffer such terror of sin and death in the hope that Christ will free them from these.
"In their hearts there is nothing but yearning sighs too deep for words and a cry with all their might, as St. Paul expresses it in Rom. 7: 'Who will deliver me from this body of death. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, etc.' (Rm 7:24-25). It is as though he were to say: 'Indeed, I feel the death and the misery that I have from Adam. This pains me so grievously that my heart all but melts in my body. However, to remedy this I hold to the Man Jesus Christ and take comfort in the knowledge that I have life through Him.' This is, admittedly, a scarcely perceptible consolation. To console oneself in such deep sighing and longing is but a feeble undertaking, for the heart beats violently and feels nothing but the pressing burden of sin and fear of death, so that it must cry out. Yet it feels no more and can utter no more than the wish to be relieved of this and be saved. Thus the heart must be sustained and nourished solely by its sighing. But it serves the purpose of teaching a Christian to look for the true consolation in such fear; not in himself nor in men nor in any other creature but in the Christ, through whom alone so much has been earned and acquired that sin and death, transmitted by Adam, do not harm us, but that we come into life through it and from it.
"The non-Christians and unbelieving saints cannot do this, although they also cry out and are terrified when their hour strikes. But their thoughts cannot carry them so high, nor can their hearts utter such deep sighing, that God should and would deliver them from this for Christ's sake without any merit of their own; no, they must despair in terror and fear. For they do not know this teaching which tells us how to escape death, namely, that this is effected exclusively through this one Christ. Meanwhile they run here and there in their fright, first to this saint, then to another. They look for one work here, for another there. But a Christian leaves all of that out of consideration, for he has learned and experienced that there is no help on earth against death, which is innate in us. In fact, a Christian must also bear and suffer death the same as others. And of course it frightens and pains him. But he cries solely to God, believing that He will deliver him from death through Christ. In that way he strengthens himself daily until he passes from this life." 

Martin Luther, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15, 22
1 Corinthians 15:35-49

But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (ESV)
Lord Christ, You are the life of all the living, and the death of death, our foe. Give us the courage to confess Your life to all those whom we know, that they too might share with us in the glorious resurrection of the faithful on the last day. Drive away all our pretensions to work righteousness and meritorious cooperation with You. Help us to live only by Your grace that Your life might be triumphant. Amen.
For President Ken Hennings of the Texas District of the LCMS, that God the Lord would support him in his office
For Kirstyn Harvey, that the Lord Jesus would grant strength and healing
For Jonathan Pernoud, who suffered a concussion, that the Lord of all healing would grant him a full recovery
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Resurrection (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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