Christianity Stands or Falls on the Resurrection
Topic: 1 Corinthians Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:12–15:28
Christianity Stands or Falls on the Resurrection
Pastor Allen Snapp
1 Cor. 15:12-28
Some time ago I got into a conversation with a man who had once been a pastor as a younger man, but at some point had left the faith (and the pastorate) and no longer believed that Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. When I asked him what happened to cause him to stop believing in Jesus, he told me that the moment he stopped believing in Jesus was at his father's funeral. As he stood there looking at his father lying in the casket, he felt convinced that death was the end of the line, that his father was gone forever and would never come back. In that moment he stopped believing in the resurrection and it decimated his Christian faith.
For me it was exactly the opposite. When my father - who was a primary influence in leading me to Christ - died, I found myself believing more than ever in the resurrection. I looked at my dad's casket and felt confident that he wasn't gone forever but would one day rise again and that confidence strengthened my Christian faith.
The Christian faith is built on the resurrection. You can't deny the resurrection without denying the saving work of Christ. And yet, that is exactly what some in the Corinthian church are trying to do. They are trying to hold to the Christian faith while at the same time denying the future resurrection of believers. There was a teaching that had gotten traction in Corinth that only the spiritual is good and all physical matter is evil. So why would God resurrect the physical - albeit glorified - bodies of believers when physical matter is evil in His eyes? The Corinthians thought that by denying the bodily resurrection of believers in the future they were just modifying their Christian faith a little. We still believe in Jesus and eternal life, they argued. We will live forever as disembodied spirits.
The bleak picture of a resurrection-less gospel
Paul recognized that to deny the resurrection isn't to modify the Christian faith, it is to decimate it. And so the first thing that Paul does is he paints them a bleak picture of what Christianity would look like if there was no resurrection. Actually, it's not so much painting as it is erasing, and the first thing that goes is the resurrected Christ.
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised (vs. 13)
Paul's just thinking through the logic of their position: if raising the dead isn't something God would do, then how could He, and why would He, raise Jesus from the dead? And if He is ok with raising Jesus from the dead, then why wouldn't He do what Jesus promised He would do, which is to raise all those who believe in Jesus from the dead? You can't have it both ways: God does resurrect the dead AND doesn't resurrect the dead.
If there is no resurrection, then the gospel ends at the tomb. Jesus died on the cross, was buried, and is rotting there. There is no resurrected Christ if there is no resurrection. And if the resurrected Christ goes, the next thing that goes is any value or purpose to Paul and the other apostle's ministry: And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and 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. (vs. 14-15)
Paul's entire ministry is built on the resurrection! He wouldn't even be a Christian much less an apostle if the risen Christ hadn't knocked him off his horse on the road to Damascus. His preaching has always centered on two things: the cross and the empty tomb. If there is no resurrection, then Paul's entire ministry is built on a lie. Nothing about his life: his preaching, his risk-taking, his sacrifice, his suffering - nothing would have any value because it would all be for a lie.
There are several classic Christmas movies that I really enjoy and one of them, I admit, is Miracle on 34th Street. It's a sweet story about a single mom who has been hurt by a past relationship and so she's raising her daughter not to be gullible but only to believe in the things that she can see and touch and explain rationally. And that doesn't include belief in Santa Claus. Into their lives comes a handsome young man who takes a liking to both the mother and the daughter, and a kindly old man who claims to be ole Saint Nicholas himself. It's a charming movie and I confess that I still get goose bumps at the end when they see Kris Kringle's cane mysteriously leaning in a corner of the vacant home the little girl believes is Santa Claus' answer to her Christmas wish.
But the movie sets up a dissonant chord in my heart: When the little girl is whispering to herself, I believe, I believe. It's silly but I believe! I'm not yelling at the TV screen, "Don't believe! That charming old man is a fraud!" I want the little girl to believe, I want her and her mom to escape the cold clutches of a life without faith or imagination. But we find ourselves rooting for the little girl and the mom to believe something is true that we know isn't true. Only in a movie can that work. If one of our youth campers were to tell their mom and dad that they wanted to dedicate their lives to the work of promoting a radical, risk-taking, life-changing belief in Santa Claus around the world, mom and dad wouldn't be calling that a miracle! It'd be a tragedy - a colossal waste of a life. Why? Because they'd be dedicating their life to something that is worthless, something that has no value or purpose. Something that isn't true.
If Christ wasn't raised from the dead, then everything Paul and the other apostles preach is a lie and the faith that their preaching has produced is worthless.
But Paul's not done erasing. The next thing that goes is the forgiveness of our sins. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins (vs. 17)
This is the most terrible result of a resurrection-less Christianity. We are still in our sins and we will die in our sins. It is the resurrection that affirms that God accepted Jesus' death as a full and acceptable payment for our sins, purchasing our forgiveness and justifying us in the sight of God. The resurrection is God's loud amen that Jesus' death was sufficient to satisfy His righteous wrath against our sin. If Jesus' body is rotting in a grave somewhere, then he is just another teacher who lived and died and there is no reason to believe that his death accomplished our justification before God.
Finally, the last thing to be erased is hope. Paul takes us to the caskets of loved ones who have died believing in Christ and he points out that if there is no resurrection than they have perished eternally. Perish is a bleak word - no hope in it. This morning I read in the news that an Indonesian plane carrying 54 people disappeared in bad weather over Papua. My heart got this sinking feeling as I read it because it is most likely that all 54 people perished on that plane. Those who have died believing in Christ have perished because they believed in a lie, and one day every one of us will perish too. We are, therefore, the most pitiful people on earth. IF…
But now Paul's done erasing with the word if. Now he begins to restate and restore what is true. Vs 20: But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (died). Paul joins me at my believing father's casket, he joins you at the casket of loved ones who believed but have passed on and with the conviction of a man who has seen the risen Christ, he assures us Christ has been raised from the dead! And then he begins to unspool the powerful, life-changing, history-changing ramifications of that truth being true! He begins with a refresher course on where death came from in the first place.
For as by a man came death…(vs. 21)
Because of Adam, death entered the world. That's not abstract concept - death is an inevitable and inescapable reality for all of us. At youth camp there was a young girl who had only come to faith in Christ about six months ago, and a few months later she lost a close friend of hers who died tragically. Many of her Christian friends were frightened that this would shake her faith. But her faith held strong and then at youth camp a girl in her cabin got the news that a young friend of hers had tragically died. She was able to pray with this girl and comfort her with the comfort the Lord had given her, but the fact is that death isn't an abstract concept - it's a reality that will touch each of our lives over and over again until finally it reaches out to take us. Death is an inevitable reality (unless the Lord returns), but praise God for the believer it is not the ultimate reality!
Paul calls Jesus' resurrection the "firstfruits". That isn't a term we use a lot these days, but in Biblical days it meant the first gathered fruits of a harvest which was dedicated to God in recognition of His faithfulness to provide the remainder of the harvest. Jesus' resurrection was the firstfruits of a greater resurrection: the resurrection of all who belong to Christ.
Paul then goes kind of cosmic on us as he describes what happens after the resurrection. Let's read vv. 22-28, unpack what it means a little, and then close by applying these cosmically grand truths to our lives.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every 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 “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:22-28 ESV)
It might seem like Paul is jumping tracks as he goes from Adam to the resurrection to this cosmic vision of the end, but in the same way that Paul unspins the ramifications of there not being a resurrection, here Paul describes the logical ramifications of the resurrection and all that it is inevitably leading to.
The event horizon of Jesus' resurrection
The outer boundary of a black hole is measured by what’s called the “event horizon” which is basically the point of no return: anything that crosses the event horizon will be swallowed up by the gravitational
pull of the black star. Nothing, not even light, can resist it's pull once it crosses the event horizon.
Jesus' death and resurrection was a kind of "event horizon". By Jesus' resurrection from the dead by the power of God, everything in creation is being pulled irresistibly and inevitably to the day when those who died belonging to Christ are also resurrected from the dead and every power and authority that is raised against Christ is destroyed. Paul says in verse 24 "then comes the end" not because this is the end, but because it is the end of all rebellion and disobedience and evil as Jesus brings everything under his perfect Lordship. Satan is finally cast into the lake of fire. And the very last enemy to be destroyed is death. After the end comes the beginning! The beginning of a glorious, perfect, resurrected, never-to-die-again, eternal life!
This is the opposite of the bleak picture that Paul painted if Christ had not been raised. Rather than being most pitiful of all people, we are incredibly blessed because our Lord and Savior is the Lord and Ruler of all Creation! Because our Risen Lord is the firstfruits guaranteeing that we who belong to him will also be resurrected from the dead on the last day. We don't know when that day will come - it might still be a long ways off - but it is inevitable, it has crossed the point of no return, nothing can stop that day from coming. It has crossed the Christ event horizon. It is just a matter of time as everything in history and creation is irresistably pulled into the glorious, redemptive, plan of God in Christ Jesus.
Let's take our remaining minutes to consider how this affects our lives here and now:
1. Comfort - death is a real enemy and it is a part of our lives. I was recently sharing a little of my story with someone and as I was sharing about my father and the huge influence he was in my life for Christ, I got choked up, had a hard time talking. Not just because of my love and appreciation for my dad, but also because he's gone. 36 years later and his death still brings my heart a sense of grief and loss. But there is a stronger sense of comfort, because of Christ. Dad belonged to Christ. I belong to Christ. We will see each other again. Resurrection brings a strong comfort to our souls in the midst of heartache and loss and confusion and suffering.
2. Courage - knowing that Christ wins in the end - wins everything! - gives those who follow him courage. Courage to live life, to risk for the gospel's sake, to live large believing God to use our lives for His glorious, eternal purposes.
During the filming of the movie "The Patriot", technical advisor Mark Baker was trying to teach Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger how to shoot a muzzle loading rifle and he gave them this advice, "aim small, miss small", meaning if you aim at a man and miss, you miss the man, but if you aim at a button on the man's coat and miss, you still hit the man. Gibson liked the saying so much he incorporated the line into the movie.
It may be good advice for shooting practice, but it's not God's advice for our lives. If we aim small, we'll probably live small. The gospel calls us to spend our lives for something bigger than making money and living comfortably and entertaining ourselves to death and whatever else we do to invest ourselves totally in this short life. The more we can get the eternal purposes of God in our hearts and believe that Christ rules over all, the more we will have the courage to step out of our comfort zone and serve him.
Serving the Lord in a big way doesn't necessarily need to be a really big event or production. The Lord
uses small things in big ways for His glory! I got an email this week from someone in the church who has had a ministry burden on her heart that she wanted to share with me. It is so exciting to see and hear people getting not only a vision for serving the Lord with their talents and passions, but getting the courage to step out of their comfort zones and see what God does.
Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection. Thank God it stands and we stand because the resurrection is true. We can believe it with all our hearts and build our lives, our faith, and our ministry labors for the kingdom on the full assurance that we serve a risen Lord!