Dateline Jerusalem—On the eve of the annual celebration of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the 1 million inhabitants of this city were shocked by the announcement that a body, identified as that of Jesus, was found in a long-neglected tomb just outside the boundary of the city. Rumors had been circulating the last week that a very important discovery was about to be announced. The news, however, far outstrips all of our wildest guesses. The initial reaction of Christians here and around the world has been one of astonishment, bewilderment, and defensive disbelief. We will have to wait and see just what effect this discovery will have on the 2,000-year-old religion. To the mind of this unbelieving writer, it appears that Christianity will have to take its place on the same level with the other religions of the world. No longer can its followers claim that, unlike other religions, the tomb of its founder is empty. Evidently a 2,000-year-old lie has come to an end.
No, this is not a real news article. But imagine if this article was true. Would this make any difference to Christianity? Absolutely! Everything in Christianity hinges on Christ’s resurrection. If Christ is not alive, then nothing else of it matters.
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 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. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).
Some Christians (and we focus on this because this is the audience to whom this letter is written) began to wonder why believing in the resurrection was so critical. Couldn’t you be a Christian, yet dismiss the resurrection? But all through Scripture and all through church history, the hope of the resurrection has fueled everyone in this life.
But does the resurrection really matter? Can’t we still live nice lives and be nice people, and even come into a building like this and have a nice time with everyone? Can’t we still come and try and live good lives? In short, no! God has revealed Himself in His Word clearly—everything in regards to the Christian life, faith, and practice rises and falls on the resurrection. Everything rises and falls on Jesus being alive. Paul rounds this up by saying, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (15:19).
Why does the resurrection matter? Let’s get to work and find out.
The apostle Paul here employs a device to answer those who question the necessity of the resurrection. It was developed by Socrates called reductio ad absurdum. It’s where one begins with the argument the other is making, then takes it to its logical conclusion. Paul outlines five consequences for us if there is no resurrection at all.
1. If there is no resurrection, then Christ is not raised!
How critical is belief in just the basic concept of the resurrection? If there is no possibility of the resurrection, then not even Christ is alive. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul says:
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
Twice in this, he says, “according to the Scriptures.” The Scriptures are another name for the Bible, the Word of God. All through Scripture, there is a promise of one who would come to Rescue us from our sin, our self, and this world who would die but also be raised again. In fact, Jesus Himself told Peter and the disciples over and over in his earthly ministry that he would be killed but would be raised again (Matthew 16:21). So the testimony of the entire 1500 year span of biblical history testifies to this.
But he also made some appearances:
and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
Peter, the disciples, then to 500 at one time, James (his half-brother), the apostles, then to the author of this letter himself, the apostle Paul—Christ appeared physically. In fact, not everyone believed, even in seeing him. Was this a ghost? A figment of their imagination? Thomas felt that way. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the ails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). He was wanting physical proof that Jesus was bodily alive.
Jesus comes eight days later. He tells Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:27-29). This speaks not only to the brutality of Christ’s crucifixion (how could anyone survive that), but shows that Jesus rose physically. Many of these witnesses were still alive. Paul is saying, “Look, if you don’t believe me, there are dozens and dozens of witnesses who saw it.”
2. If Christ is not raised, then our preaching is in vain!
Preaching? How does preaching account into this? I have a vested interest in this. In my 10 years in preaching ministry and 20 years in ministry all together, I’ve been called a lot of titles. Pastor Matt, Bro. Matt, Dr. Matt, minister—and others I’m sure I’m not aware of. But the most common? I’m “The Preacher.” The preacher of what? The Bible! What about the Bible. Paul earlier in the letter that he aimed to “know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) and here in 1 Corinthians 15, that He is risen again.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.
Good news (that’s what the gospel means) is told! A young couple who are dear friends both socially and theologically sent me a text last night. The text? Their child was born! Yes, it was a text, but it was good news that had to be told.
Paul preached about what had already been accomplished in Christ. He declared and delivered, and they received it—embraced and grew devoted to it! In fact, the gospel is that on which Christians stand
3. If Christ is not raised, your faith is in vain!
Christianity is distinct religion from all other religions. Scripture notes that the offense of sin. We trust in the work Christ did in paying for that which we couldn’t pay for. But if Christ is dead, then this means that He couldn’t even rescue Himself—so the ball is back in your court to work it through so you can find favor with God on your own.
4. If Christ is not raised, we are misrepresenting God.
The main storyline all through Scripture is that God is a God who rescues us. This is what the prophets of Old and the men in the New Testament testified to! In Ephesians 1:20, Paul told the Ephesian church that God “worked in Christ whne he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” In Romans 1:4, Paul starts of this majestic epistle to the Romans by saying that Christ “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” In Galatians, we see that we are to walk by the Spirit, who gives us His fruit in order to live as Christ would have. But did not Jesus say to his grieving disciples that unless he left, the Spirit could not come to guide us?
In Philippians 2:5-11, we read about how Christ came in the form of a servant and submitted to death on a cross! But that “god has highly exalted him and bestowed on him a name that is above every name.” Paul told the Philippians that God raised His Son.
Every writer, OT and NT, said that God did this. But if there is no resurrection, then every Biblical writer and preacher has been misrepresenting God on top of everything else.
5. If Christ is not raised, you are still in your sins!
This is all there is! There is no hope outside of this life if Christ is still in the ground! Everyone that has died ‘supposedly in Christ’ is still dead. There is no resurrection for them. There is no hope of seeing our mothers or fathers, our friends, or in many cases our children. There is no hope. None!
But even worse—we are still in our sins! With no resurrected Christ, there is no victory over sin and its wages, death! Paul would not be able in good conscience before God to pen the words:
54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Paul makes the case that not only the resurrection making us the beneficiaries of Christ’s victory over death, but it is the motivation that what we do in Christ and for Christ is not futile!
But turn with me now to Revelation 21:1-8:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c] 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Do you see the hope? After judgment takes place and the defeat of the Adversary in Revelation 20, a new heaven and new earth comes. He is making “all things new.” In that new heaven and new earth with the holy city, the new Jerusalem, there will be no more funerals, no hospitals, no nursing homes, no temperatures to take, no bones to set, no diseases to inflict crippling pain—file those under “the former things.”
There would be no new heaven and new earth, no victory over Satan and his minions, no hope at all if there were no resurrection!
But he is alive! And for those who have surrendered to Him, this resurrection has no small matter. Yet, look at Revelation 21:8:
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
Are we ashamed of Christ? Do we habitually lie, running away from not only the truth of God but run away
Those of you here who are sexually immoral, living together outside of the bonds of marriage that God put in place—if you do not get out of that situation now, the Lord has shown you what awaits. All of these are lifestyle choices, chasing after those things which are profane and sinful—God will not tolerate. We will take that down into hell with us!
But if there is no resurrection, then we are destined for there as well!
Congress once issued a special edition of Thomas Jefferson’s Bible. It was simply a copy of our Bible with all references to the supernatural eliminated. Jefferson, in making his selections from the Bible, confined himself solely to the moral teachings of Jesus. The closing words of Jefferson’s Bible are from Mark 16:8: “There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the mount of the sepulcher and departed.” But thank God our Bible doesn’t end like that. Jesus is our living hope.
I leave you with this verse from 1 Peter 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).