Text: 1 Corinthians 15-12-20
Introduction: Happy Easter everyone! The Lord is Risen…He is risen indeed! This is the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. Here’s the story taken right from Luke 24:1-9: But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they (some women from Galilee) went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.
Though the resurrection of Jesus was witnessed by the apostles and another five hundred people according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:5-6 — … he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep, some still find it hard to believe. After all, it’s not every day that someone rises from the grave. Othersare just confused by it. I think of the Sunday School teacher who spent an hour preparing his class of second graders to make a presentation to their parents regarding the resurrection of Jesus one Easter morning. He diligently covered it, and then proudly invited the moms and dads in to hear what their kids had learned. The teacher asked the children what happened during the resurrection. One little boy who must nothave been listening very carefully said, “That’s when a big guy with a long white beard, dressed in a red outfit brings toys to all the children.” The embarrassed Sunday School teacher said, “No, not quite. Would anyone else like to try?” A little girl raised her hand. “That’s when a big bunny hides eggs around the house and brings candy to all the boys and girls.” Again, the teacher said, “Uh, no … do anyof you know what happened at the resurrection?” There was a long pause and then finally another little boy raised his hand. “Teacher, I know. Jesus died on a cross and was buried in a tomb. Three days later He Jesus came up out of the tomb…” The relieved teacher started to say something but the boy continued … “saw His shadow, went back in, six more weeks of winter!”
On the first Easter morning, some of our Lord’s followers doubted at first that He had risen from dead, but it didn’t take too long before they were convinced it was true. That tended to be the result when someone saw the Lord for himself after His resurrection … they believed. But not everyone believed. When the chief priests heard that the tomb was empty, they called the men who had been guarding it and offered them money to say that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body during the night (Matthew 28:11-15– Behold some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep“). Some refer to this as the first Easter Conspiracy, but it wasn’t the last. Throughout the centuries, many have sought to attack the legitimacy of the resurrection because if you take itaway, there’s really not too much left of Christianity. Think about it for a moment. Doubters don’t trouble themselves with the events of Good Friday. It’s not really a problem for them because everyone understands death. We read about it in the papers, watch it acted out on TV and even experience the death of family members and close friends. In fact, the death rate so far is 100%! We understand that death is real and always with us. So, when Christians say that Jesus died on the cross, people rarely seem to be bothered by that claim. What really bugs cynics, however, is not that Jesus died, but that Christians say He rose from the grave just as He said He would(Luke 9:22— (Jesus said to His disciples) The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life). I’m mean, come on, death is an everyday occurrence, but rising from the dead? Hardly. Yet belief in the resurrection may be the single most important factor in the faith of any Christian. The words of John S. Whalecome into play here. “The Gospels do not explain the Resurrection; the Resurrection explains the Gospels. Belief in the Resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith; it isthe Christian faith.” Listen … If our Lord’s body is still in the grave though He promised to rise from the dead, then how do we know that anything else He taught was true? We would have no response to the skeptic who claimed that Jesus was just a mere man, a good teacher who provided some principles to live by on the level of Gandhi or Confucius, but certainly not the Son of God.
In our text for this morning that comes out of 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, the Apostle Paul deliberately takes a contrary approach to the resurrection, but not because He doesn’t believe it. How could he doubt when Jesus also appeared to Him on the road to Damascus? That’s why he could confidently say to them, Have I not seen the Lord?– 1 Corinthians 9:1)? No,Paul takes this approach to show us how much for Christians hangs on the bodily resurrection of our Lord. In playing the Devil’s advocate, he uses the word “if“six timesin verses thirteen through nineteento demonstrate just how important the belief that Christ rose from the grave really is and how much of how faith hinges on it. Join me now as we consider four disastrous consequencesif Christ has not been raised.
If Christ has not been raised, we have no good news to share. That’s Paul’s point in verses fourteen and fifteen.(1 Corinthians 15:14-15— If Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vainand your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised). Focus on the word “vain” for a moment. It means “empty” or “useless.” It is used to describe something that has no value.What Paul is inferring is that everything we’ve been taught including the Gospel message itself and everything we’ve taught to others is a waste of time and energy if Christ has not been raised. All of the sermons you’ve ever head, the books about Christianity you’ve ever read and the sum total of all your personal study in the Bible amounts to a big fat zero. For me, it means that my three years of seminary training, the 10,000 pages of material I read every ten weeks, all the papers I wrote, the exams I studied for, the time I put into learning to use Greek and Hebrew in my studies, what I learned in my theology classes and everything else I managed to absorb was for naught. Paul goes on to say that not only is all of thisuseless, but anything we’ve taught to others from the Bible about the Gospel and the Christian life has misrepresented God. Wow — that’s a bummer! That’s the first implication if in fact Jesus is still in the grave and is not the resurrected Lord. Our good news is really bad news! Illustration: In August 2013 a public zoo in the third largest province in China temporarily shut down due to an unusual problem. Visitors discovered that the zoo’s lion was actually a dog posing as a lion. According to a report in a Beijing newspaper, the fraud came to light when a mother and her young son visited the zoo and the animal labeled an “African lion” starting barking. The outraged mother said, “The zoo is absolutely cheating us … I paid good money for the tickets and I feel defrauded.” Zoo keepers admitted that the so-called lion was actually a Tibetan mastiff, a large dog with a furry brown coat. They also admitted that other zoo animals had been mislabeled. Apparently there was a white fox in a leopard’s denand another dog being passed off as a wolf. Staff also swapped two snakes at the reptile house with two giant sea cucumbers. The chief of the park’s animal department claimed that they really did have a lion, but it was away at a breeding facility. The dog belonged to an employee and was put there “for safety reasons.” A spokesperson for the zoo said, “We’re doing our best in tough economic times.” No one enjoys being misled. It makes us wonder if others see us as fools. If they don’t think we’re smart enough to discern what’s real. And that, Paul says, is what those who hear the good news could wonder about those of us who preach it … ifthere is no resurrection. (Review: we have no good news to share)
If Christ has not been raised, we have no forgiveness of sin. (1 Corinthians 15:16-17– For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins). The word for “futile” is different from the word for “vain.” It refers to something that yields no profit. It’s like a bunch of seeds planted by a farmer in a field that produces no crop. Paul uses it here as a way of saying that even though we believe we are forgiven of all our sins through faith in Christ (Hebrews 10:17— Their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more),it’s just not true and we are still in our sins. Christians have long believed that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” as He hung on the cross, His work of atoning for our sins was completed. But how do we really know? If the Lord’s body is still in the grave, how can we be sure that His death was sufficient to pay for our sins? Isn’t it at least possible that He was no different than the rest of us, but talked a good game? In fact, we could ask, “What was finished?” “Perhaps He meant His life or His suffering?” Whatever He was referring to, the only thing we can say if there is no resurrectionis that He might have believed He was dying as our substitute to atone for our sin, but it’s highly doubtful. (Review: If Christ has not been raised, we have no good news to share, we have no forgiveness of sin and thirdly …)
If Christ has not been raised, we have no hope of eternal life. Christians believe thatthe very moment we begin a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we inherit eternal life (1 John 5:11-12— God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life— present tense — true right now). Eternal life isn’t what we get when we die, but what we gain when we pass from spiritual death to spiritual life at the moment we put our faith in Jesus. Here in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul wanted his readers to understand that if the resurrection never happened then what he said in verse eighteen is the dismal and gloomy reality for all of us(1 Corinthians 15:18— Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished–been fully destroyed). It would be as if he was saying, “Sorry, death wins.” Now, or course this isn’t what the Bible teaches about believers who die. It uses the metaphor of having fallen asleepto describe them. When you go to sleep, you expect to wake up at some point. That’s why Christians have always believed that Christ conquered both sin and death through His resurrection. “Death is swallowed up in victory! O Death where is thy sting? O Death, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” The belief that Christ has been raised from dead as the first-fruits, means that we can expect to be raised as well. But if Christ was not resurrected, then our bodies are just going to rot in the grave and, it turns out, our atheist friends are correct … we live, we die, and after that we’re just food for the worms. (Review: we have no good news to share; we have no forgiveness of sin; we have no hope of eternal life)
If Christ has not been raised, we have no higher purpose to live for(1 Corinthians 15:19— If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied). Why would this be his conclusion? If there is no resurrection, then we have been badly duped into basing our entire existence on living for a higher purpose, when in fact none exists. You may have heard someone say, “Even if Christianity was proven to be untrue, I would still live my life based on its principles.” But I would ask, “Why?” Christians are called to deny ourselves, take up our cross dailyand follow in the footsteps of our Lord. That’s not an easy life! It often results in hardship and even persecution at times. If none of this is true, I can find no good reason for not doing everything I can to look after myself and my interests. I think I’d probably become a hedonist(pleasure seekers) andjust reach and grab for all the gusto I can. And who cares if I have to step on others to get there. They’re not human beings made in the image of God, but obstacles keeping me from getting what I want. Listen: People need a sense of purpose and God can give it to them, if the resurrection is real. Illustration: In her book, “Seek Your Purpose Before Your Paycheck,” Christine Whelan shares the results of a national survey taken in 2016 regarding young people and a perceived purpose for their lives. More than 86% of young adults (18-24) say that making decisions in line with their purpose is what makes them an adult. Yet there’s a problem: 57% say they have no clear picture of what they want in life; and only 30% (3 in 10) know why they are here. The author comments, “This [study] isn’t good news: The majority of young adults who say they don’t have a clear picture of what they want in life also say they are existingbut not thriving, while (the minority) those with purpose more often say they are thriving.” For the last two millennia, Christianity has said that purpose is found in a relationship with God. We are eternal beings created in Christ Jesus for good works which He has in store for us (Ephesians 2:10). But if Christ is still in the grave, if He is not the Son of God, then everything we’ve believed is called into question. If there is no resurrection, Christians have nothing to offer this generation when it comes to a meaningful life that can impact eternity. The truth is that we’re as lost as everyone else!
No good news to share… No forgiveness of sin… no hope of eternal life… no higher purpose to live for. All of these are the logical consequences of no resurrection. Now if you happen to be feeling pretty blue right now, don’t despair, because here’s the good news found in verse twenty.
Christ has been raised, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep(1 Corinthians 15:20). Wow! Just when you were starting to feel really bad, here comes the best possible news! Jesus isthe resurrected Lord of the universe. In fact, no other historical claim has ever been more scrutinized and still affirmed. And He is merely the first-fruits. This is a term that referred to the first part of the harvest that was offered to the Lord. It was a happy day when you presented the first-fruits because it meant that there was a lot more harvest to come. And so, we know today that any person who puts His trust in Christ as Savior and Lord will be raised with Him … immortal, incorruptible, perfected, completed, glorified, free from sickness, with a clear mind, an unconflicted willand an undivided heart. How about you? Do you know with certainty that you will join in the resurrection on the last day? You can! But it requires that you repent of your sin and believe in Jesus Christ … that as the resurrected Lord, He conquered sin and death for you. Then He can set you free to live with confidence in the message, knowing you’re forgiven, with hope for eternal life and a real purpose and meaning right now.
Conclusion: On January 28, 1945, as World War II was groaning to a close, 121 elite Army Rangersliberated over 500 POWs, mostly Americans, from a prisoner of war camp near Cabanatuanin the Philippines. The prisoners, many of whom were survivors of the infamous Bataan death march, were in awful condition, physically and emotionally. Before the Rangers arrived, the primary guard unit had left the camp because of Japan’s massive retreat from the Philippines. The new situation was precarious. Japanese troops were still around and in the camp, but they kept their distance from the prisoners. The men of Cabanatuan didn’t quite know what to make of their new freedom—if freedom was in fact what it was. And then, without warning, the American Rangers swept upon the camp in furious force. One of one of the most interesting facets of the story was the reaction of many of the prisoners. They were so defeated, diseased, and familiar with deceit that many needed to be convinced they were actually free. Was it a trick? A trap? Was this real? One prisoner, Captain Bert Bank, struggling with blindness caused by a vitamin deficiency, couldn’t clearly make out his would-be rescuers. He refused to budge. Finally, a soldier walked up to him, tugged his arm, and said, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you want to be free?” Bank, from Alabama, recognized the familiar southern accent of his questioner. A smile formed on his lips, and he willingly and thankfully began his journey to freedom. LISTEN TO ME FOR ONE MORE MOMENT. The resurrection of Christ is God’s way of offering freedom from bondage to sin and death to all who are willing to receive it. Through faith in Jesus we can be forgiven of our sins, inherit eternal life that begins right now and find purpose and meaning beyond anything the world could ever offer. The only question left for any of us to answer is, “Do we want to be free?” If so, I can think of no better time to trust in Jesus than right now.