The singular importance of Christ’s resurrection
Sermon: Sunday, 4th April, 2021 1 Corinthians 15:12-34
Today, of course, is Easter Sunday, a day when Christians worldwide rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Let me begin with a question, just how important is Jesus’ resurrection? Well, it’s hard to overstate just how important it is. It is absolutely foundational to the Christian faith. In fact, Paul speaks about a few things which are of first importance to Christianity, and the resurrection is one of them. The truth that Jesus rose bodily from the dead on the third day is so important, we could say that it’s like a pillar holding up a building, and if it is not true, the whole building collapses. Christianity lives or dies with the claim of Christ’s resurrection. In other words, were we to find the bones of Jesus, this would prove Christianity is just a worthless religion, to be avoided at all costs.
There was a group in the church in Corinth who did not believe in the resurrection of the body: v12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? This group believed that Jesus had risen physically, but they did not believe that Christians would rise physically, but that only their souls would continue. They saw death as the end of the body. This is a false teaching, and necessitates some corrective teaching from the apostle Paul. Paul’s teaching is magnificent because it is so logical and because it absolutely hammers home to us just how important the truth of bodily resurrection actually is.
Paul begins by showing that their false belief that Christians do not rise again bodily doesn’t make sense, because it clashes with their belief that Jesus rose bodily. This is the first step in his logic. ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.’ (Verse 13)
Then, Paul says let’s imagine that Jesus did not rise from the dead, what would that mean for us? And with devastating honestly, Paul shows us several consequences which would logically follow, if Christ actually had not risen. It’s a very dark picture which Paul paints. Life would be grim for us, and without hope.
Then, in verse 20, Paul affirms the glorious fact that yes, Christ has indeed risen in body and in soul, and he goes on to highlight the wonderful consequences which flow out of this fact. By looking at both of these things together, Paul backs up the claim that you can’t have Christianity without a body-and-soul rising of Jesus from the dead. We have a tent at home with one central tentpole. If that pole snaps, you cannot put up the tent. The whole thing becomes useless. Likewise, without the resurrection, Christianity crumbles and is lost.
Let’s imagine the unthinkable – that Christ did not rise from the dead.
1. It would mean that our preaching is useless. (Verse 14)
Paul doesn’t mince his words. If Jesus wasn’t stronger than death, then we have no good news to preach to people. Jesus claimed to be the resurrection and the life, and that those who trust in him will live, even though they die. How could I preach that if Christ hadn’t risen?
And when we look at what the apostles preached throughout the book of Acts, again and again we see that their message is bound up with the resurrection.
- ‘They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.’ (Acts 4:2)
- ‘With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.’ (Acts 4:33)
- ‘A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.’ (Acts 18:18)
When we have the chance to tell others about Christianity what do we tell them? We tell them that there is a risen Saviour Jesus Christ, and the good news is, they can come to him and be saved. They can come to him in prayer, with the burden of their guilt and shame, and find rest and peace. Had the body of Jesus remained in the grave, this message would just be nonsense.
2. It would mean that our faith is useless (Verse 14c)
Verse 17 gives us the reason why our faith would be useless: ‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.’ So how does this work? Paul is saying, no resurrection, no forgiveness of sin. Remember that Jesus himself claimed on the cross our sins were wiped out.
‘When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’ (John 19:30) ‘It is finished’ – your sins have been paid in full. No more wrath remains. By raising Jesus from the dead, God the Father is saying: ‘I accept my Son’s sacrifice for sins.’
Sin has been dealt with. The Father approves. He is well-pleased.
Have you ever been in the supermarket and your card was declined – the payment was not accepted? Well, had Jesus remained in the grave, God the Father would be declining the payment.
“The resurrection is ….a divine endorsement of his mediatory work, a declaration of the power and value of his death, the ‘Amen!’ of the Father upon the ‘It is finished!’ of the Son”. (Herman Bavinck)
Christians are united, or joined to Jesus by faith. This means that what happens to Jesus happens to us.
“God’s declaration of approval of Christ is also his declaration of approval of us. When the Father said in essence to Christ, ‘all the penalty for sins has been paid, and I find you not guilty but righteous in my sight’ he was thereby making the declaration that would also apply to us once we trusted in Christ for salvation.” (Wayne Grudem)
‘That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.’ (Romans 4:22-25)
3. If Christ had not risen bodily, it would mean that we are liars.
Again, this is a really blunt point. But it is true. Either Jesus has risen from the dead or he hasn’t. The first apostles would be false witnesses because they claimed to have seen the risen Lord Jesus.
Not only would the apostles be liars, but the Old Testament prophecies about the resurrection would also be lies! Think of the words of King David: ‘… because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay’. (Psalm 16:10)
4. If Christ had not risen bodily, it’d mean Christians should be pitied for their foolishness. (Verse 19)
Christians would be deluded in their belief of an afterlife where body and soul will be reunited. We’d be dreamers. We’d be out of touch with reality.
Paul expands on how pointless his own life would be: ‘If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ (Verse 32)
What is Paul saying here? He’s saying it’s tough being a Christian. He has faced the wild beasts of persecution so many times. And for what? If there is no heaven to come it is all for nothing. In fact, he says we might as well just live for the moment, as materialists, as hedonists. Party on, because this life is all there is. How pathetic Christians would be denying themselves, storing up their treasure in Heaven, and experiencing all kinds of suffering and persecution if it were all just a pipe dream. We’d be missing out on all the fun for no reason. Think of Christians enduring extreme persecution.
This is really the logic of life without Jesus: we’re all going to die, and life has no ultimate meaning, so we might as well live any way we want, live as consumers, like animals, just eating and drinking. Because that’s all there really is. Well, should Christians be pitied? Absolutely not!
In verse 20, Paul moves on to think about the wonderful consequences which flow from the historical fact of the empty tomb, the fact of Christ’s resurrection.
• Because of the resurrection – we can flip the earlier hypotheticals on their heads
We can affirm that – our preaching is powerful – our faith is meaningful – we are witnesses to the truth – our sins have been forgiven – above all men, we are privileged – we have been found by God!
• Because Christ rose from the dead physically, we shall also rise again one day physically
It says that Jesus is the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. What does this mean?
In Leviticus 23, we read of the farmer bringing the first-fruits of the harvest; for example, the first sheaf of corn, to the priest. The farmer does this in thanksgiving, and as sign or a pledge that the rest of the harvest will follow. The farmer cannot see the harvest – it has not yet come – but he knows it’s on the way. The process has started. This reminds me of the first steps of a child; when we see these first steps, we know that more will follow (many more).
So it is with Jesus being the first human body to be raised imperishable! This is a sign which acts as a proof and promise that more humans will follow. We cannot see it yet, but the process has started. Jesus’ resurrection is just the beginning! The day of resurrection is coming. God has it in his diary. Wow! This ought to really strengthen our faith. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees the resurrection of all Christians.
• Because Christ has risen, we now have a life-giving representative
‘For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.’ (Verses 21-22)
What is Paul saying? He is taking us back to the garden of Eden. When Adam doubted God and disobeyed him sin entered our world. And because Adam was our representative, all of Adam’s children (all humans) are born as sinners. Everything hinged on Adam. It is a game of rounders. If someone hits the ball up into the air and ball caught, what happens? The whole team is out. The action of the one affects the whole. Or, think of David fighting Goliath. If Goliath wins the Israelites will be the slaves of the Philistines, but if David wins, the Philistines will be the slaves of the Israelites.
The good news is that for Christians, we have a new representative. When we trust in Jesus, we are no longer in Adam but transferred into Christ. Who is your representative today? There is only a choice of two.
• Because of the resurrection, Jesus reigns and his enemies will be destroyed.
‘But each in turn: Christ, the first-fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:23-26)
All of the enemies of Jesus will be destroyed. (Verse 25)
Death will be destroyed once and for all! (Verse 26)
Then, having finished both his work of saving the world (on the cross) and judging and ordering the world (on the last day) Jesus will, in his capacity as judge, hand everything back to his Father. (Verse 27)
Have you ever seen a long line of dominos falling down, after the first one has been pushed? The resurrection is the first domino, and has set in motion an unbreakable chain of events which cannot be stopped. It is the beginnings of Christ sweeping evil from the universe.
Let’s return to our question, just how important is the resurrection? Is it really a pillar? Well, Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, and this means: our sins have been forgiven, we shall have eternal physical bodies just as Jesus has, our labour in the Lord isn’t a waste of time but rather an eternal investment, we have a wonderful message to preach and share, and one day evil will be completely swept away. Why will this happen? ‘…So that God may be all in all.’ (Verse 28)